Sermon 12th February 2023

Readings Matthew 5, 21=37,, 1 Corninthians 3, 1-9 also Psalm 119 1-8

So where do I start this week? Last week’s three readings from Isaiah, Corinthians and Matthew were pretty uncompromising- as Jesus perhaps summarised, we have the choice to be salty salt and the light on the hill, or salt that has lost its saltiness and is useless, or a light hidden under a bowl, also effectively useless as far as God was concerned, not building the kingdom, not serving God and not loving others.

This week it seems, Paul’s chastising of the Corinthian Church continues unabated, and Jesus makes some strong statements about how God’s law, as seen in the scriptures should be interpreted, for the context of his day, and whether we like it or not, the parallels with our and the church in general's modern context are painfully obvious.

The word of God speaking into our lives.

But we should also see, in both readings that there is encouragement. So where is that hiding, you might ask?

Let’s go back to our opening Psalm, those first verses from psalm 119, a psalm indeed all about God’s law as revealed in the scriptures.

To paraphrase the first few verses, blessed are they who perfectly follow God’s laws and seek him with all their heart and walk in his ways. And the psalmist laments his own failure in that, which mars his ability to praise God perfectly.

In some respects,  these words are a simple summary of the search for salvation that the whole of the Old Testament is about, and the gospel of the New Testament reveals the solution- Jesus Christ who perfects us before God by his sacrifice and resurrection so that our love and worship may not be marred by our imperfection.

But there is a key sentence I was drawn to; “Blessed are…..those who walk according to the law of the Lord” The psalmist could have just used the word “obey the law” but the use of “walk according to the law” implies something much more active, not a passive obeying one could do from your pew or your comfortable seat at home, but a walk, which means getting our of your seat, moving in a specific direction with a destination in mind, not being distracted by alternate routes or paths, seeking the best route, even if the path is a little overgrown, steep or treacherous. The destination we’re headed for is twofold, as Jesus tells us, the ultimate perfection of achieving God’s kingdom on earth where all are loved equally and all love God perfectly, and the promise of eternal life.

Now, to me, that’s a pretty attractive destination, even if we don’t achieve it within this physical lifetime, but irrespective of that the psalmist says we should be walking in that direction.

And Jesus, in the sermon on the mount and in his other teachings gives us some pretty prominent signposts to help us on that journey. Run too fast and you might miss a signpost, take a wrong turning, walk too slowly, or with your head down looking at your own feet, and you might never get to see the next signpost to find your way.

This weeks passage may seem a little specific, but, like Jesus used parables, he’s using what his listeners would find familiar and embraces deeper meaning in simpler concepts. So he starts with the obvious, the most heinous wrongdoing in God’s law- murder. Everyone knows that’s wrong, but he takes it a step beyond, perhaps even a step too far in some of his listener’s ears. Being angry with your brother or sister is just as bad, he says.

Then he moves down the level’s of seriousness, gifts at the altar, going to court, adultery, divorce, swearing oaths, each a less “serious” possible misdemeanour than the previous. He’s leading his listener from an obvious serious crime and law in God’s word that would be plain o them, toward gradually more complex and difficult areas of life and interpretation of God’s law. And his solution in each case boils down to the same thing. Compassionate selfless love for others and complete trustworthiness. Truth and love.

And, of course, you’ll see those themes running though all Jesus’ preaching like the name runs through the centre of seaside rock down to the last bite. Indeed, Jesus boils all the law down to two, love god and love others as yourself. Do that and everything else that God desires in your life will follow. And we have to be active in that we have to walk the path to discover what Jesus is pointing us to when we struggle with knowing how to interpret God’s law of love for ourselves. And that way is often not easy, and the path can be long and tortuous as we’ve seen in the discussions in the Anglican Synod around same sex marriages and as our own church experienced in discovering God’s will for the Methodist Church. To walk the path of love, compassion and trust rather than relying on our human literal interpretations of what we think God’s law says, just as Jesus showed his listeners in our passage this morning

And it is plain too, that we are experiencing a long and sometimes difficult path over our partnership agreement between the churches in Sark, but, as the psalmist says, we must walk God’s path, not sit on our comfortable seats and just proclaim we’re obeying God’s law of love when in fact he’s laying out a path in front of us and the signposts that point the way are love, compassion and trust.

So finally, we come to Paul’s letter. And the message is much the same. Paul says he can’t feed the Corinthians with the solid food of the gospel, he has to still feed them milk, because what is evident in all their squabbling, divisions, jealousy and pitting one leader against another is that their focus is all too human.

 Their spiritual maturity is not great enough to yet receive the more solid food of God’s gospel he is eager to give them. He urges them to have the spiritual maturity to love and trust each other, to recognise that each has unique gifts and abilities and that they are all different. One plants, he says, the other waters, but in the end, it isn’t up to one or the other, because it is God that gives the growth, and in fact, both planting and watering are needed before God can give the growth. The spiritual maturity and insight that is needed to see that relies on those simple things, love for God, love for one another and trust in both.

Trust in God, and trust in each other, Paul say’s so simply in picture language, as the psalmist did, as Jesus did, we are all co-workers in God’s service- not for our own ends, but for God’s and we all have our part to play, planters and waterers.

I pray that here on Sark we will seek that spiritual maturity that through love for God, love for each other and trust in both, will enable us to walk in God’s ways, to follow his paths and lead others along the way too.

For that is all God asks of us.

And to him be the glory. Amen