SERMON 26 AUGUST 2007 6.30
I have a problem handling anger. We were driving back from France last week. We had been on the road for ten hours; it was eleven thirty at night and we were desperate to get home. We finally made it to the M25 but when we were approaching our exit the motorway was closed and to my horror we were diverted on to the M23 towards Gatwick Airport. I was furious. I was really angry. We got home two hours later than we expected.
Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at the Sermon on the Mount, and the main reading that Trevor read to us is part of that. Throughout the Sermon Jesus wanted his disciples and us to live righteous lives. He wants people to be salt and light in the world. For that first audience it meant don’t be like the Scribes and Pharisees - who reduced the law to a series of prohibitions and observances. And we shouldn’t be like the materialistic world around us. Yes Jesus wants his audiences to do what the law commands but he wants our hearts and minds tuned into the law as well.
In verse 20 Jesus says “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus sets out to show how we can live righteous lives. Jesus takes the ten commandments as his starting point. And offers practical ways of living by them. From verse 21 – 48 he comments on the commandments, he breathes new life into them, revitalising them making them come alive.
This evening we’re going to look at verses 21 – 26 Jesus’ where Jesus comments on the sixth commandment “You shall not murder.”
In these verses
· Jesus says that anger and insults towards a sister or brother is equal to murder.
· Jesus says to be angry with a brother or sister puts you in danger of the fire of hell
· Anger is an obstacle to worship.
· Therefore be reconciled to our brother’s and sisters.
· Do this quickly
· So that you can return to true worship and living a righteous life.
In verses 21 – 23 Jesus says anger and insults are just as bad as murder.
He says “anyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgement”. Here Jesus talks about the anger that comes from a desire to get rid of somebody; somebody who stands in our way. And that for Jesus is murder. It’s an anger the spills into insults and abuse. It’s an unrighteous anger motivated by hatred, malice and revenge.
Hamlet is a play dominated by revenge. In it we are given a portrait of a revenge hero from ancient Greece. Pyrrrhus – a man seeking revenge for the murder of his father at any cost physical or spiritual.
'The rugged Pyrrhus,,Black as his purpose, did the night resembleSmeared with blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons,roasted in wrath and fire,And thus o'er-sized with coagulate gore,With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish PyrrhusOld grandsire Priam seeks.'
Recently I’ve had some difficulties with a neighbour over parking. I didn’t know what I’d done to upset him. He became quite rude. Every time he saw me he’d swear at me. I tried to talk to him about it but he wouldn’t listen. As a result it was me that became angry. Every time I drove home I thought about him. I was like the person in
1 John 2:1 1 where he says “ whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him”. More about my neighbour later.
Hatred changes the way we live. It changes the way we behave towards people. It can turn our work places and homes into battlegrounds. Jesus says the issue of anger towards people is so important that it excludes us from the Kingdom of God. 1 John 3:15 says Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
Have you ever been so angry that you have almost lost control? Which is one reason why Jesus wanted any angry disputes solved as quickly as possible. Jesus wanted a nation united so that all their energies could be devoted to living righteous lives, worshipping in truth and purity of spirit. Jesus wanted his listeners to be a light to the world.
But conflicts were common is Jesus’ day. He lived at a time when the Jewish nation was under great pressure. Any country that is occupied by a military force is under stress. People feel fragile, insecure and vulnerable. Under these conditions it is no wonder that conflicts develop.
Also Israel in Jesus’ time was a highly structured and segregated society. And this too can be a cause of arguments. A Roman soldier insults a Jew, a Samaritan attacks a Jewish neighbour, and a Jew fights back. And within the Jewish community there were many different factions.
Is our society so different?
Okay we are not under military dictatorship but many of us live under huge amounts of pressure. Often we are stretched to the limits of our resources. Our neighbourhoods and our homes can become a breeding ground of anger, resentment and hatred. The newspaper headlines this weekend are full of gang culture and gun violence. To Jesus, when we are angry at someone its just as bad as if we were using a gun. For the LORD looks at the heart.
And this makes our worship meaningless. So we need to acknowledge our anger and tackle it. Jesus says a breach in the relations between people makes their worship fit for the rubbish dump.
In verse 24 those who use insulting language “will be in danger of the fire of hell”. The word “hell” is a translation of the word “gehenna”. To Jesus’ first audience it is a word that they understood. It is mentioned throughout the gospels. In the Old Testament it is a deep and narrow ravine just beyond the southwestern walls of Jerusalem. It was a cursed place. It was a place where the rubbish of the city was burned, where the bodies of executed criminals were dumped and where the Canaanites sacrificed children to their God by burning.
Our worship must be without blemish or fault.
It says in Leviticus 22:21 “When anyone brings from the herd or flock - traditionally a peace offering to the LORD - it must be without defect or blemish to be acceptable”.
But Jesus wants more than just the physical details of our worship to be right. He wants every aspect of our worship to be perfect. Our whole lives are to be a living sacrifice. When we have hurt someone Jesus says we should even interrupt our worship and be reconciled to the one we have hurt.
Imagine for a moment what that would have entailed to one of Jesus’ listeners. The penitent and the priest both have their hands on the sacrifice at the alter of the temple in Jerusalem. And the penitent is just about to say these words “I entreat, O Lord; I have rebelled… but I return in penitence and let this animal be for my covering” ……………. when he suddenly remembers somebody he has hurt. He lets go of the animal walks back along the long queue of penitents, to the three-day journey back to his village in Galilee. Where he finally knocks on a neighbour’s door and humbly asks for forgiveness for the wrong he has caused him. Then he turns round and looks down the road and the three-day journey back to the temple and wonders if the priest is still holding the goat he had brought.
Jesus’ solution to the breach in relationships is much simpler. And that is reconciliation, now.
Making peace involves being sensitive to the people in our lives.
It involves letting go of our self-centredness. It’s about being aware of how we affect others. Making peace involves a genuine and humble attitude to God, the people we come into contact with and our worship. It is an on going process; we must attend to it daily. We need to adopt an attitude where we are prepared to change, to admit the pain we cause others and move on.
This happened to me once years ago here at Christ Church just before a Communion service. A friend came up to me. He took me aside and asked for my forgiveness. Actually I didn’t know what wrong he had committed against me but his face was so pained and awkward so I said I forgive you. Then he hugged me and we returned to our seats. He did not want anything to come between himself and God or between God and me. He wanted our worship to be perfect.
Reconciliation is hard. It involves a denial of our pride and our ego. It’s a sacrifice of the heart. It says in Psalm 51 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart.” That could not have been an easy thing for my friend to come up to me. He had made himself vulnerable and weak. But he did it anyway.
In Mathew 5:21-26 Jesus’ examples of anger and insults between people show us that God sees our anger as if we were killing someone. Whenever we are aware of the hurt we have caused others we should make peace with them as soon as possible. Without reconciliation our worship is meaningless.
And so now, back to my neighbour and our parking problems. Late one night I met him walking his dog. A few hours earlier he was swearing at me as usual. And then he came over to me and said, “I’ve had enough of all this,” and offered me his hand. And since then we’ve been fine. It seemed as if his anger was a burden to him as well as it had been for me.
Jesus is telling his listeners not to let anger take hold of our lives. Anger locks and shackles us to the world. It keeps us prisoner. In it we can barely see heaven. We should stop it before it affects our worship and our relationships with other people.
Be perfect, therefore just as our heavenly Father is perfect.