St Andrew's Church

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Choose Life

A Sermon by Chris Ramsey, 12th Feb 2017

Deut 30:15-20 , 1 Cor 3:1-9 , Matt 5:21-37

What did you choose this morning, did you choose life or did you choose death? I imagine, actually, that you probably didn’t think much about life and death at all – perhaps about whether to brave the cold outside or how long the sermon might be whilst you lose all feeling in your feet from that same cold.

I wonder if you thought much about what you would wear – maybe thoughts about staying warm, maybe thoughts about wanting to dress smartly or whether to dress down a little. What did you clothe yourself in? Me, I’m wearing jeans, a t-shirt, shirt jumper, one pair of socks and of course this robe. I don’t think much about what to clothe myself in as I’m sure my dear wife would tell you, I have a penchant for dressing down and being comfortable in what I’m wearing. But the clothes we wear do affect our outlook and how others perceive us.

If I wear a suit, rare I know, I tend to act and hold myself more formally and properly. If I put on my jogging bottoms and a hoodie I tend to slouch around and want to be more chilled out. If I’ve been working at home all day, I will get changed once I stop as a way of saying to myself – right down time now. It’s curious isn’t it how the clothes we wear might affect our attitudes, our behaviour towards others and even the way we think of ourselves.

When I used to work at BT I went through phases – I can recall in one department where I started, I quite deliberately wore a suit even though most of my colleagues came to work in jeans and open necked shirts or t-shirts. I was there as an alleged expert in a particular field and I felt the need to clothe myself accordingly. I dressed myself, if you like, in my own competence. I quickly found that actually everyone there was an expert in some way or another – and I felt rather foolish in what I wore so joined in and dressed down more.

I wonder what you choose when you dress in the morning.

Our readings today offer us a choice about what we dress in – do we dress in life, or do we dress in death. We’ve heard talk of being faithful to God, or not being like the people of this world, of anger, of lust, of petty rule keeping and of promises made to be kept.

Jesus speaks of anger first – of how like one who murders, if we are angry with others then we – note we, not they – will be brought to trial. How if we call others foolish or worthless, we not they will be called to task. Jesus speaks of adultery and of our thoughts – of how actually we cannot hide our desire in simple fantasy but must answer for it and of the seriousness of our thought patterns and actions.

He speaks of divorce – and I’m going to be a little careful here in what I say and I want you to hear me aright – Jesus does not condemn you if you divorce. What he condemns here is the simple approach which the Pharisees of the day taught – that you could simply write out a note and give it to your spouse and that you were then divorced. He’s saying it’s a lot messier than that – your lives are entangled and no little note is going to justify your actions. Divorce is nearly always painful and will leave questions and hurt behind. You don’t break the marriage commitment lightly by simply signing a note and walking away. Jesus knows that relationships are complicated and that sometimes it just doesn’t work out and also he knows that sometimes deep hurts are committed by one person against another, even in a supposed relationship of love. I  very believe in the sanctity of marriage and the commitment between two people to love one another, but I also believe that no-one should be made to endure the impossible where that bond of love is abused or broken. I’ll not say more except to reiterate that Jesus, here, talks about the practice of a simple justification, “well I gave you a piece of paper divorcing you” – divorce is never that easy.

And Jesus speaks of promises and of giving your word – let your yes be yes and your no be no.

Jesus speaks to the listeners of his time about the very narrow technical descriptions of the law as was being taught by the Pharisees and rabbis. There was much technical, self-justifying going on about ways of thinking and acting to which Jesus says “no”. You cannot claim to have love and be completely  at peace with God if you harbour hatred in your heart –even though you haven’t physical hurt them, that hatred is as real as though you were planning murder.

You cannot claim love and be at peace with God and your spouse if you constantly lust after another even if you never act on that desire. Get your head and heart right, Jesus says, go and make peace with the other party before you bring your offering to God.

The problem with the kind of ways that the ancient Israelites tried to justify themselves before God is that they were dressing themselves in their own excuses born of such technicalities. And the trouble for us is that we do that today just as much as we did back then.

I see this acutely in family – and I’m sure you’ve seen it as well, either at home, or thinking back to school or work, maybe in community – you see it in school playgrounds and you see it in the house of commons, over matters small and over matters big and significant –no one wants to take the blame. I despair at the moment on the political scene at the excuses people come up with in justifying their actions – typically being that of self-preservation which points to a lack of love and compassion. I’m deeply disappointed at the ending of the Dubs amendment scheme to bring in child refugees who have family in this country – what excuse can they possibly offer which is completely credible to deny refuge for children. Yes a scheme might be hard to administer and be fraught with risk but surely the risk is worth it. I long for our leaders to take responsibility and say this is how it is yes, and there may be good reasons, but all we see is the spin that attempts to self justify and avoid making the tough call to say yup its rubbish, give us time and help us to fix it. Anyway I mustn’t get too political, we get plenty of that all week in the news.

We’ve always been so good at making excuses and we teach it to our children really well. My children, as they’ve grown have come up with every excuse under the sun and the trouble is it makes me angry:

You see in their excuse making, they try to justify behaviour which just isn’t acceptable. I get angry firstly because I know the bigger picture –I see more. I see both my children (typically squabbles are between two of them) and I love both of them equally and I long to forgive them, for them to forgive each other and to let go of hurts – to love one another. They do not need to compete for my love or get one over the other – I love them both equally, if only they could accept that.

I also get angry because in their excuses I hear my own voice and attempts at self-justification. I see myself in them and I do not like what I see. Their excuse making reveals the many holes in the excuses I often clothe myself in, the raggedy clothes I try and take security in. Is my security in Christ or is it in the excuses of my life that I have woven together to justify myself. If only my children would take responsibility for their thoughts and actions knowing that I will hold them and forgive their hurts. It’s what God does with us –he always loves us  and is far more patient with us than I am with my children – but we can only receive his love and forgiveness, like a new set of clothes if we are prepared to try and stop clothing ourselves in the rags of our own justification.

So what clothes did you decide to wear today – do you choose life and being clothed in Him or do you choose the death of your own self-justification.

I’m just me under these robes, scruffy normal Chris, warts and all. I’ll make excuses for some of it I know, but I am also clothed in something else. It’s the only real reason I’m happy to wear robes – yes they help against the cold, yes it means that I don’t have to think too much about what I’ll wear to take the service in, but most of all it reminds me, week in and week out not to clothe myself but to be clothed in Christ. Its why, in the tradition of adult baptism the candidate has new clothes to wear after they come up out of the water – it symbolizes that they are clothed with Christ. Of course wearing the robe does nothing for me really  – it doesn’t mean I’m somehow more Holy, but may it serve as a reminder to all of us to clothe ourselves in Him who loves us and longs to make us Holy and pure before the Father by His Holy Spirit.

Amen.


Contact

Rev'd Chris Ramsey
Tel: 01787 376 293
Email: vicar@standrews-gc.org.uk.
Further contact details can be found under the "About us" menu

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