What? Who chose THAT Bible reading?

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Speaking on a passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and from chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel- 2 challenging sections… lets just say I was slightly more worried than I sometimes am. The text below is part of what I said- there was a whole chunk which only came to me 10minutes before I got up to speak, which you’ll need to listen to on the website to hear, and also sometimes its easier to hear compassion than to read it…

There are some weeks when the Bible readings we set just line up really well, and as a preacher you’re in the equivalent of a sweetshop… where do I start? And there are other weeks where there’s just one simple idea that clearly speaks… and then there are weeks where you look at your feet, a bit embarrassed and wonder where to next? In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth we have throughout one of the biggest tellings off in the whole Bible- for 16 chapters Paul says, in various ways ‘you have every reason and opportunity to be like this, but instead you are…’ ‘just look at yourselves- you’ve let the school down, you’ve let your parents down’… all that… in this passage we have ‘I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly- mere infants in Christ’- to the church he founded in one of the greatest cities of the world… I gave you milk, and you’re still not ready for solid food… Go back right to the start and look at the basics- its not about the person, its about God- its always been about God… Paul is addressing Christians here, and his word to them is- God is it. God is at the heart of our faith, at the heart of our Church, at the heart of our vision and our activity, at the heart of everything we do. Our worship is about drawing close to God, praising Him for who he is and what he has done- and the choice of song and the musical instrument used should be irrelevant. We are allowed preferences, for sure- we are individuals and we’re called to unity, not uniformity. But if our desire to sing ‘this song’ or our dislike of ‘that song’ gets in the way of encountering God… then we are right with the Corinthian Christians…

We often hear the verse  ‘I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow’ to remind us that God uses different people at different times of our faith journeys- and that is true, but the point behind it is that there was a disagreement going on, which was threatening to split the church because Christians had allowed their preferences to become more important than God.

A difference of opinion that is poorly managed turns into a disagreement that turns into an argument, then a feud… and somewhere along the line there is something that cannot be said…

The seeds we plant and we water are the things that will grow in our lives.

What seeds are we planting?

Jesus, when speaking in the sermon on the mount as we heard, is speaking to those who’ve chosen to come and listen- to the not-yet-but-on-the-way-to being-called-Christians, most of them Jews.

And he refers back to their laws- having previously said that he’s come to fulfil the Law, he now goes much further- not only don’t kill, but recognise that anger is the first step towards murder so be reconciled; not only don’t commit adultery, but don’t even let your thoughts head in that direction… divorce- no, its not an option that those approaching marriage should have- the ‘we grew apart’ line is just that- a line we hear… its not true. It was a decision, or a series of decisions not to keep growing together… and then this section about oaths and promises- interesting, we might think making a promise is a sign of commitment, but Jesus speaks against them- do not swear, just let your yes be your yes and your no be your no…

This gives us a hint of something important here- Jesus has just highlighted the importance of one particular covenant promise- marriage, and how significant the breakdown of that is, and then goes on to say that his followers should be cautious of making promises… because we can break them…

In the context of the earlier statements, and within the sermon on the mount where this whole passage is set, Jesus sets these incredibly high aims- the beatitudes, the challenge to be salt and light, to fulfil the law etc… but in tension with this is just, us- the hearers of this word, the readers of Pauls letter and us… and we get angry, we entertain silly ideas, we don’t have the integrity that we might wish for… and so we beat up on ourselves for our failures. But… in between, there is the grace, the forgiveness, the healing, the transformation… the possibility… the hope.

And love helps us to take hold of that hope and the possibility of transformation, and work at it…

Love of God for us, and our love of others.

In Paul’s great rant to the Corinthians there is a passage that I’m sure you’ve all heard- but I want to read part of it again… having torn a strip of them for so much, Paul writes  ‘And now I will show you the most marvellous way… If I speak in the tongues of men andof angels but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have a faith that can move mountains and have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is… Love never fails…

This, he’s saying, this is what we’re meant to be like- this is what we’re meant to show to the world…

This is what we’re meant to show to Barnstaple, to Newport, to Hillcrest and Rumsam, Old School and Clinton Roads- to Park Lane and Cherry Grove, to all the places we live- and to those where we don’t. This is what our prayers tonight and whenever we gather together in prayer are about- that we might grow in love and show love, that God would soften people’s hearts to know love.

This is not easy- this is deeply challenging for us. This is love your enemy territory, this is mind how you speak of others when they are and aren’t around… this is how we answer the phone, post on Facebook, drive our car, treat our colleagues and all the rest…

And this is the miracle. That because of his love for us, somehow, sometimes, when you really wouldn’t expect it, we find it possible to do this. Its because of his love for us that says yes, you can be saved, forgiven, healed, transformed- and those things repeatedly… as often as required. Its because of that, that we’re empowered and enabled to love… its so much easier to respond to someone who has shown you consideration… but someone has to go first or it never gets started…

So let us love, and in that love let us be united, reconciled, pure, commited and filled with integrity.

Amen

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