Monday, November 20, 2006

Sermon on the mount part 5

We have now come to some of the most difficult passages in the whole of the new testement. I believe this is where Jesus begins to explain justice in the kingdom, and particularly in the kingdom breaking into the world.

Matthew chapter 5

An Eye for an Eye
38"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'[g] 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor[h] and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies[i] and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus starts this sermon outlining the upside down nature of the kingdom of God, he then begins to tell us of our calling, He moves on to morality, and now he begins to talk about justice. Now this isn't Jesus call for justice for the poor, or the marginalized, but rather our sense of self justice. And he starts right at the heart of the matter with the "old way".

He says that the old way of eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth is not the rule for this kingdom. He then says some very extreme statements. Do not resist and evil person! If someone strikes you do not strike back! If someone is trying to take away your shirt, give them your coat also! If someone compells you to go with them a mile, go with them two, and give to whoever asks to borrow from you!!! Jesus tells Jewish men, who abhor the Romans, and feel incredibly wronged to be under their rulership, and believe they are justified to fight against this oppression, that when a Roman soldier tells you to walk with him a mile and carry his pack (a legally acceptable practice that could not be turned down) rather than fight against this oppression you are to go with them twice.

This seems completely unfair does it not? Do not resist an evil person? Come on! I take a very unique and uncommon view here, I actually believe that Jesus meant what He said. I believe this because He then spends his life demonstrating it. He actually does it, and then His disciples do it. He did not live like this was just some hyperbole, to make a point, He actually lived it out. And calls us to follow Him.

He then explains that God allows both good and evil to cop both good and evil. That the Father often appears unfair in his dealings with the world, and also calls us to do the same. To be perfect in our love for those that are good and friends, and for those that try to hurt and injure us. This is not easy. Infact is is very very hard. Almost as hard as being told to sell everything you own, give the money to the poor and live a life as an itinerate preachers apprentice. Rather than try and make this softer, easier, more palatable, I would rather say: this is Christ's teachings, and though I fall short, I will fall upon Gods mercy and empowerment, and attempt to grow into this level of faith. Lord help my unbelief!

The road is narrow, and hard, and few choose to walk it, but it truly does lead to life. Jesus is telling us as we walk this narrow road, our sense of personal justice is to be sacrificed to a new law of love. The good news is, God's Spirit promises to empower us to do just that.



David said...

Jesus said love your enemies, not your friends. This explains why Christians dispute each other so often. Or does it?

Rev, if you've been watching a DVD and eating, then I suspect you still have some posessions left. Would you give your remaining stuff away to anyone who asked for it? Without judging their needs?

Like most extremist ideas, it would be silly to literally adopt these ones. If you're stupid enough to do all that turn the other cheek stuff, where do you think you would end up? Living destitute as a vagrant?

If these ideas are so powerful, why don't we see the majority of Christians practising them? Or are all those church-going people not real (whoops, I meant authentic) followers of Christ? (Excuse my incorrect use of current Christian jargon)

The Rev said...

Yes David I said I don't live this completely, but just incase you are wondering, I actually believe its okay to eat. My television, computer, most of our dishes, most of our furniture was all given to us.

And yes I share my belongings with those who ask.

And most Christians don't live this way because they find it too hard, or are taught that Jesus didn't really mean it. And once again you sit on the sidelines and mock the players while refusing to get off you lazy ass and actually something. Must be a nice life for you.


halieus said...

Christian Rulers over the ages have avoided these sayings because you can't control a State or go to war and kill people or do any of the nasty things that governments do and justify them if you believe these sayings.

It's well borne out in the history of the Church. If Christians want to control society and have "Christian" countries they dump these saying as the first priority.

During the reformation as the Catholics murdered to maintain control of a totalitarian empire, the Protestants had the opportunity to re-invigorize this aspect of Christianity, but they wanted their own states and their own control and moved in the same way to persecute anyone who tried to teach and live like this, like the predominant sect of anabaptists who refused army service, capital punishments and lived as pacifists.

Church leaders that desire to control and manipulate society make it impossible to follow these teachings.

Well done Rev, for teaching the truth.

Here's a little quote from G. B Caird on the love your enemies text that I think makes a good point:

The men [Jesus' disciples] who were bidden to love their enemies were living in enemy-occupied territory, where resentment was natural and provocation frequent. They were not just to submit to aggression, but to rob it of its sting by voluntarily going beyond its demands. To those who believe in standing up for their individual or national rights this teaching has always seemed idealistic, if not actually immoral. But those who are concerned with the victory of the kingdom of God over the kingdom of Satan can see that it is the only realism. He who retaliates thinks that he is manfully resisting aggression; in fact, he is making an unconditional surrender to evil. Where before there was one under the control of evil, now there are two. Evil propagates by contagion. It can be contained and defeated only when hatred, insult, and injury are absorbed and neutralized by Love. (Saint Luke, by G.B. Caird, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963, "The Law of Love, Commentary on Luke 6:27-38" pages 103-105.

David said...

This philosophy is the other extreme to a vengeful approach.

A more practical approach would be to diffuse violent situations. Or run away as fast as you can. But to stand there and let the perpetrator continue the violence is just obviously silly.

Imagine this philosophy applied in the Australian Defence Force. Now that would be stupid.

You said you share your possessions. But Jesus said to give them away to those who ask.
Giving possessions away to people just because they ask for them? Hello? Do you actually think about how impractical theses ideas are, Rev?

Follow that Jesus Christ fool - no thanks. Lets have a more balanced approach, thankyou.

halieus said...

Yes, it is interesting isn't it. If only we remove Jesus from the religion it can become quite palatable, quite noble, even popular amongst the politicians and warmongers. An inoffensive little belief system with the right variety of platitudes and homilies. A system by which we do everything the same as before but predicate our doings with the word "Christian". A Christian army, a Christian war, good Christian killing and maiming. A Christian country filled with wonderful Christian institutions, and Christian peoples, where even atheists can be somewhat Christian.

Jesus does seem to be an object of offence, a rock over which people stumble.

The sayings of Jesus certainly aren't natural or easy to believe and even harder to do. If the gate were wide and the way as broad as possible I'm sure the offence would be reduced or even removed.

I'd say a Christian who believes the words of Jesus would be unwise to join the defence force or is that aggression force.

Travelling ten thousand miles at the behest of the state to slaughter people you've never met and who have done you no wrong to settle disputes you know nothing about would seem an absurd way of achieving the resolution of conflict.

Entirely practical though for our leaders who have in place the machinery of war and people willing to kill for their purposes.

Furthermore, Love and non-retaliation will often diffuse violent situations.

However I speak only for myself and my understanding when I say the first point for a Christian is to recognise the truth regardless of his inability to live it or his inadequacy in relation to it, rather than deny the truth to justify his inability. The former is humility, the latter is pride.

Since none of us are able to live the truth impeccably we can all be sure that humility is required in relation to God and other Christians who struggle with us, each with different shortcomings.

David said...

Yes, governments do nasty things even by a standard of "reasonable" ethics I alluded to in my previous post. But then, I've often thought that the state acts in the interests of capital or "national interests" and such action is usually without regard to ethical considerations - the only constraints on state power being other (somewhat) independent sources of power that have not yet been muzzled sufficiently like the press, courts, or a democratic process.

But back to a critique of Jesus' ethical system. You seem to want to embargo the teachings of Jesus inside a sacred sphere; give them a special status of "the truth" as if they should not be subject to analysis or criticism or tests of reasonableness. Why should any ideas, teachings or philosphies have this status?

That idea of turning the other cheek, for example. Now I can understand this acting as a counterweight to the tendency for revenge. But as previously stated, both the seeking of revenge, and the meek acceptance of personal attack are two extremes that would hardly ever have applicability. In most cases, a diffusion of or an active calming of the situation would be better.

halieus said...

Certainly people are free to criticise and analyse the teachings of Jesus and they do, both within the church and without.

However I'm not aware of any religious believers who openly denigrate or deny the teachings of their founder. Such a position would appear to be contradictory to believing them.

It's not a requirement for believers to be critics or to subject the teachings to ethical analysis. Simple faith is required.

"The word Christian means a follower of the teachings of Christ and therefore suggests that although some differences in interpreting the sayings might exist that those who go by the name believe both that He and his sayings are the Truth. That's what he taught and so we believe.

Many of Jesus' sayings are not reasonable. It's almost incomprehensible for a man to seek from his God the forgiveness of those who are in the process of murdering him or for him to have compassion on them and forgive them himself.

The life and truth of Christianity concerns the highest expression of Love, not to be confused with a mere moral code or what might be reasonable in the light of self interest or self preservation.

What is your interest in Christianity David?

David said...

"although some differences in interpreting the sayings might exist that those who go by the name believe both that He and his sayings are the Truth"

1. As you know these differences in interpreting can be confusing and contradictory. And so how can you grace them with the term "The Truth", if they are not clear?

2. You have indicated they are not reasonable. Why do you wish to live by unreasonable standards? To participate in some "highest expression of love"? What's the point if you die in the process - unless you think the world is better off without your presence.

3. "Simple faith is required", and presumably following these ideals goes along with that. If the majority of people attending churches are not following these, why don't you come out and honestly state that these people are not followers of Christ, not Christians?

Me thinks you are telling lies.

halieus said...

1. Most people believe things to be true that they neither understand fully or in some cases are able to comprehend sufficiently to claim they reached their belief through intellectual pursuit. At some point they believe, even though their knowledge is partial.

Christianity is a belief that the illiterate to the erudite have found in some way compelling enough to accept. This suggests something more profound is at work than a belief based totally on incontrovertible evidence.

2. The world may be better off without my presence, that's not really for me to judge. No doubt your familiar with the expression, "No person shows greater love than to lay down his life for his friends". I don't have a desire to end my term in this world but it may be required as it has been for many ohters who willingly sacrificed their own lives for a greater ideal than self interest.

3. David said:
Simple faith is required", and presumably following these ideals goes along with that.

No, believing them goes with that whether we are able to follow or not. Believing is the requirement, demonstration is the ideal we reach toward.

David said:
If the majority of people attending churches are not following these, why don't you come out and honestly state that these people are not followers of Christ, not Christians?

Some people believe that to be the case, I'm not one of them. I'm not their judge, don't know their thoughts and my beliefs are more spiritual than to decide those things about others who claim Christianity. I'm might try to have some input into their lives and share my personal beliefs but I'm no better than anyone else in Christ who may struggle in any manner of orthodoxy or orthopraxy.

Telling lies? I'm not trying to deliberately deceive or manipulate you. No doubt if you paw through the things I say you will find inconsistencies and contradictions. You should decide whether it's churlish to find and concentrate on them or whether you have some genuine need to understand.

What is your interest in Christianity David?

halieus said...

Actually David, I should revise something I said. I should say that generally I accept that people who profess Christianity are Christians. There are some people who claim Christianity whom I don't believe to be Christians. They probably come in two categories.

1. People who by virtue of their birth have Christianity as their culture who don't actually believe any of it. Difficult to tell from the outside however.

2. People who profess Christianity for some type of expediency, like political expediency for example but whose allegiance is clearly to some other religion or belief.

I don't consider them to be Christians.

But what is your interest in Christianity David?

David said...

(A) "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast"

(B) James speaks of faith without works being dead.

The message seems to be that entry into God's Kingdom is entirely through God's work alone through faith (which is also a gift from God), and not through any good works of our own. Later good works (fruits of the Spirit) are then evidence of such transformation - in fact good works are the entire purpose of the Christian life. Whether there is some quick conversion event, or whether it takes place over time is not clear. Also, there seems to be some human effort required, for example, in seeking God in the first place, and the ongoing struggle to follow Jesus' commandments.

So your statement that "believing them goes with that whether we are able to follow or not. Believing is the requirement, demonstration is the ideal we reach toward" seems to be only partially true. If someone has this "faith in God", the demonstration of works should be a natural consequence.

Now, I have probably badly stated these concepts, but the ideas and practice of Christian life is of interest. What is difficult to accept is the truth of Christianity; and the idea of the atonement seems to be non-sensical.
Additionally, the observation that there appear to be very few professing Christians whose lives are indeed transformed as a consequence of their faith, seems to be devestating evidence against the alleged reality of supernatural forces that supposedly underly this whole process.

halieus said...

a) I think you've stated well, and come straight to the heart of the matter. Both the Faith and the Grace are gifts from God. We can't contribute to this process, it's a gift.

Here's another:

"...21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is revealed, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? No: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law."
[Romans 3:21-28]

b) Faith does lead to works through the work of God in us. James is reminding us, pleading with us to allow this process to happen. He states that if you see your brother in need and close your heart, in other words hold back the compassion, how can the love of God dwell in you? Yet he is speaking to Christians, believers. It's a rhetorical question to convict, to stir up the gift in us. When he speaks of dead faith he's not accusing them of being unbelievers although it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that, but we resist, or find ourselves incapable of exercising the gift. There is only one option under that circumstance, humility. We rely and lean upon Him, for more grace and the power to go forward in love, His love and we, like king David can ask God to make us humble, to give us the right attitude and a soft heart that will love and that will do right.

I contend that different people "work" in different ways and we all maintain some shortcomings in some areas and some, many, in many areas. And if we have no works that are evident to the world then we're here to help each other to grow assuming that in our hearts we know what is true and right.

Jesus story of the publican, all he could say was "have mercy on me a sinner". But Jesus said he went away justified when the Pharisee who by all observation had all the works required was condemned. Because he was a proud hypocrite, the worst thing we can be as Christians considering how we got here.

People assume the publican went away and never sinned again. I don't, I assume he was trapped in his faults, at least temporarily, yet his heart was right and his humility brought justification. Not in the eyes of the world but in the eyes of God.

When you ask me questions of this nature, on theological matters, I hope you understand that I don't represent any church, sect or orthodoxy. My beliefs may be individual and different from others who have thought over these issues.

I believe that all worthy actions in Christianity proceed from the heart, not from a grudging duty, and they are present in the moment, like the good Samaritan who loved his neighbour on the way, in the moment.

Even if the only demonstration visible is humility, I believe that the process is in action.

But I may be biased. I deal with, in my Christianity, many people so hurt and rejected by the church or other Christians that they display even anger and hostility toward God and the church. I can't reject them also, I'm drawn to them, everything in me compels me to love them and help them and sometimes that's enough for God to do his good work in them. And I'm nothing in the Church, without esteem, imperfect me, filled with faults and shortcomings. Yet He works in and through me and largely despite me.

David said:
"but the ideas and practice of Christian life is of interest. What is difficult to accept is the truth of Christianity; and the idea of the atonement seems to be non-sensical."

David, it's not possible to rationalise these beliefs sufficiently to satisfy your intellect. Your intelligent enough for sure but it comes back to the gift. It's a gift, both the faith and the grace. Many scholars have pondered these ideas to some satisfaction but it's never enough to satisfy unbelief because the belief and intellectual knowledge are two different worlds. They work in harmony sometimes and at others they collide. My sincere belief is that only God can reveal the truth to the heart of a person and grant them this faith we speak of.

David said:
"Additionally, the observation that there appear to be very few professing Christians whose lives are indeed transformed as a consequence of their faith, seems to be devestating evidence against the alleged reality of supernatural forces that supposedly underly this whole process."

I can understand why you feel like that. I know that there are millions of Christians around the world who try to do the right that they know. But they rarely get the attention.

I believe that God gives teachers and leaders and pastors to lead people in the right direction but many times they scatter, they misdirect and deceive many sincere Christians in the wrong direction, away from the calling of their heart and the truth in Christ. Jesus spoke of this too.

In my life I see Christ working in and through people of no apparent consequence all the time. People doing the little that they know, helping the poor, comforting the lonely, denying themselves for others, because it's the conviction of their heart they follow, often without rationale or reason other than that knowing that we believe he delivers to us and outworks through us.

Personally I think the Rev is doing his best to live his convictions and demonstrate the things he knows in his heart are true and just and right without making judgements on others who can't. He's not perfect but there is an outworking in him that testifies and hopefully convicts others to do the same. I don't know him, have never met him, have had but a dozen words of a casual nature over trivialities with him on a blog but in my estimation he is to be commended and encouraged as he follows his heart to live the truth of a true life.