Getting to Church on a Sunday morning is always an achievement!
There are only so many hours in the day and days in the week and here we are to give an hour of high quality weekend time to the Lord Jesus.
As if gathering at such an hour wasn’t enough of a challenge you’ve just heard the most challenging passage in the Bible that’s set for today!
We’ve all been invited to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love our enemies and – wait for it – be perfect!
You might say – I even might say – give us a break, Lord!
This address isn’t geared to let you and I off the hook when it comes to the Sermon on the Mount. Many through history have taken its teaching literally.
Many others though have misread Christ’s teaching as a rule book full of impossible rules! As scholar Bishop Tom Wright puts it the worst mistake we can make about this famous and stunning passage is to see it as a list of rules (you’ve got to try hard to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love your enemies and be perfect). It isn’t. It’s a royal announcement that God is turning the world upside down – or, rather, the right way up.
I liked that when I read it.
What we’re about especially later on in the baptism eucharist is radical in the truest sense. The Eucharist is a meeting of rebels in something of an unforgiving society that’s somewhat indifferent to goodness, truth and beauty.
God came among us in Jesus because he knew his world had gone astray. In saying I turn to Christ at baptism we commit to a revolution and to being Christian soldiers helping turn the world the right way up. I repent of my sins… I renounce evil… I will fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil.
Forgiveness - turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, loving your enemies - is countercultural but it lays an eternal foundation in your souls and in the world you inhabit. Living in a culture full of contempt for those who fall short we’re aware how far that culture has shifted from being Christian. Courtesy is lacking, as is giving the benefit of the doubt. What’s urgent - what comes at the speed of Facebook - prevails over what’s important, like giving time to the elderly.
I was told me the story of a man walking along looking at his phone who was indignant at someone he bumped into saying ‘Couldn’t you see I was busy?’ Even as a priest I get folk saying to me ‘you must be busy’ – people expect priests to be busy more than they expect us to be holy. Our quest to get holiness before busy-ness is part of the revolution we’re talking about here. Putting God first and seeing less important things get sorted.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Striving for perfection is something we’re all to be about as Christians but it’s not striving so much as collaborating. As parents and godparents say in answer to the priest’s questions about commitment: with the help of God, we will.
That Gospel reading from Matthew 5 keeps us on our toes, yes.
As I said last week the Sermon on the Mount’s teaching is like setting your alarm clock an hour early to catch the plane for fear of over sleeping! It’s a wakeup call from the One sent not just to waken the world but to turn it upside down and it necessarily comes hard at us!
Christ’s teaching, people have observed, is very like that of the Buddha. But – and it’s a big but – the Buddha gave his teaching. Christ gave his life. God sent his Son, God came himself into the world to waken it.
That awakening is primarily to the transcendent power of the resurrection. This could only manifest when after he had taught the powers of sin, death and the devil brought Christ to death. In divine judo evil powers flew against Jesus and his death and resurrection turned them upside down and out at the count.
This is Christianity – death defying power – and it’s for us. Its power to turn the world not so much upside down but the right way up.
We all have times when our world, our recreational commitments, get turned upside down through trials. In going with the flow of these difficulties, seeing them as God’s invitation to bring love to bear we go with the flow of the Holy Spirit and are anointed.
That phrase we’re to use in a moment with the help of God, we will has very powerful resonance in Christian life. Even the pain of leaving a parish community that’s being felt by Anne and I - with the help of God, we will.
God’s loving commitment to help us is the bottom line of Christianity. This means our major spiritual challenge is tackling unrealistic self-sufficiency.
As Jesus died and rose to show God’s love for a world gone wrong our drowning of our sins, symbolised in the pouring of water at baptism, makes us his collaborators.
Yes as people and even as Christians we must strive – strive to say our prayers and get to Church on Sunday - but it’s not striving so much as collaborating that’s the key to perfection.
Whenever I come in or go out of Church I take holy water in the porch and make the sign of the Cross over myself. I commend this practice as a reminder of what it is to be Christian.
The sign of the Cross is a secret sign for Christians, the sign that Jesus came down from heaven to earth and died upon the Cross for me. The sign of I crossed out.
Using holy water in the porch says with the help of God, I will worship, or, having worshipped with the help of God, I will get on with my life and with turning the world upside down for him.
May all of us find the help of God to offer true worship at the altar this morning and to live our lives this week in the praise and service of God.