Saturday, February 19, 2011

A, Epiphany 7 - Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:38-48 "A Tale of Two Traditions"

There are many saying of wisdom in the world. There are also just as many sayings contradicting these wise words, but are they any less wise? For example the idiom, “history tells us” or, “tradition has it” is a good reminder of worldly wisdom’s opposites.

History tells us many things have improved our lot in life, but history also tells us we’ve become a lot worse off. One will say, “History never repeats itself” while someone else will say, “History has to repeat itself” and yet both are wise sayings in different contexts.

One thing worldly wisdom does is builds an authority, common amongst a community of people. This authority common to the community is called commonsense. Within this authority of common wisdom there is a generally accepted human model which sees us divided folk into good and the not so good — good blokes and lovely ladies as opposed to gullible girls and blokes who are jokes.

Those we tend to label as jokes or gullible are those we don’t like for one reason or another. They don’t match up according to the common authority of worldly wisdom’s sense of right and wrong. Nevertheless, we seek to be seen as good people under this tradition, this authority, and this wisdom — lovely ladies and good blokes.

In total contradiction to this authority, tradition, and wisdom of being either good and not bad, Jesus began teaching a new wisdom, a new Tradition, and a new authority.

On the Sermon on the Mount, many good folk gathered — well many came and listened who appeared to be good. But Jesus addresses the hidden folly of their wisdom, their traditions, and the authority under which they sought to live.

In the last couple of weeks we have heard sections of his address on the mountain. Beginning in Matthew chapter five, Jesus lays out the foundation of this new wisdom in the beatitudes. The beatitudes begin his teaching, acting like a summary of the contents, after which he unpacks these sayings.

He tells those gathered what it is to be blessed, and then he instructs them they are the light and salt of the world. They will be the bearers of this new foundation on which we’re taught to believe the church is built today.

Next Jesus prefaces the unpacking of this new wisdom by saying their old ways were not wrong, just misguided. The Tradition which was laid out by God through Moses was made to look like a joke. But the Israelites had in fact become the brunt of the joke — gullible to the ways of the world.

Many of them and their religious leaders had corrupted the ways of God so his authority, wisdom, and God’s Tradition, written in his wise words of Law ended up being used to point to them and their authority, wisdom, and traditions. And the leaders loved looking like good blokes leaving many of the followers wondering how they too could copy their pious virtues and dutiful deeds.

However, Jesus upholds the old covenant wisdom saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them”. (Matthew 5:17 ESV) The Greek word for think in this verse comes from the Greek word for law. So Jesus tells them not to law a new law, don’t write off the wisdom God has already written.

Jesus knows the way we think and the way our wisdom works. At the Sermon on the Mount he returns humanity to the holiness of God’s Law, telling them not to outlaw the holy Law given though Moses. What he needs all of us to know is our wisdom, our authority, and our traditions make us outlaws against God and his good and holy Law.

So Jesus says, “…I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. (Matthew 5:20 ESV)

We can understand this must have astonished those who listened on. Why can we identify with their astonishment and shock? Because it still comes as a shock to us who seek to be good blokes and lovely ladies in our good person — bad person perception!

You need to know — unless your goodness surpasses the practices and commonsense of all worldly wisdom, authority, and tradition you will not enter the kingdom of heaven!

Jesus continues to unpack his teachings by reminding the listeners each time what was common wisdom by saying, “You have heard that it was said… (κούσατε τι ρρέθη)” If we use today’s language, he said, “History tells us... traditionally you have done this… the common practice might be… or, you might have it on good authority…

Five times Jesus points out what they have heard said to be the common practice; six times if we count his continuance from adultery onto divorce. He points out the status quo but then six times says, “BUT! But I say to you… (γ δ λέγω μν)

Today we hear the last two of these teachings of Jesus, which herald a new wisdom, and the new Tradition, refocusing Israel with all humanity back under the true wisdom, the true authority, and the intended tradition God put in place for all people.

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:38-39, 43-45a ESV)

Next to these new Traditions announced by Jesus our commonsense wisdom sees God’s way as nonsense. “How can one have any sort of authority by not standing up against evil? And ‘loving your enemy’ what’s this all about? This sounds like we should be submitting and serving the very type of people we’re called not to be as Christians — the evil, our enemies and the enemies of God! Surely we can’t be associated with those condemned as jokes, or those who are gullible?

The reality though is when we allow ourselves to go the way of the world and return to the deeply rooted desires of our hearts, our wisdom, our authority and our traditions, love and compassion are lost to revenge and hatred. Regardless of history repeating itself or not, we repeat ourselves by constantly turning back to the nonsense of the heart. God and his word reveal humanity’s commonsense as mostly nonsense.

Why is this so? Because there is more to righteousness, wisdom, authority, and tradition than being good or bad! True wisdom will move us to see through the good bloke and lovely lady sentiment to a reality which asks, “How good is good enough for God? Can I ever be good enough?” and “Why do I need to be accountable to God anyway?”

True wisdom places itself in the Traditions of authority outside this world, so we might be seen as Sons of heaven. This wisdom gives us a sturdy footing on which to stand in this world, in this life, in the face of evil. This authority enables us to endure evil by standing up in something other than retaliation or revenge. We’re lifted in holiness by the Holy Spirit, who stands us in Christ, and therefore stands us in good stead with God the Father, and causes us to be the light of world and the salt of the earth.

I know I no longer have anything on good authority from the world! My experience and worldly traditions show me up as the same as those in whom I see evil and whom I believe to be the enemy. Therefore, I also know I’m trapped by the wisdom of this world, and need a Saviour to redeem me, and make me truly good before God.

Jesus concludes this section of his teaching on the mountain by stating what the status quo must be, to be truly good before God. In one line he tells us what fulfilling the Law is all about. He says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 ESV) Jesus repeats what God told Moses at Mt Sinai when he said, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV)

Your righteousness must be perfect, not one motive out of place, not one thought out of place, not one deed out of place, nor one emotion out of place. So how do you do it? Do you think, feel, or act as if you can do it, even for just a moment?

You’re under the most burdensome wisdom if it’s all about being a good bloke. You’re tradition of trying to stand as a lovely lady only ensnares you as a gullible girl in this life.

God’s perfection is not about being good or bad; rather it’s about being holy. He needs us to be holy so his holiness won’t destroy us. But how can we live when perfection or holiness is out of our grasp?

The first part of God’s capital “T” Tradition is in fact knowing it’s out of our grasp. The second is trusting that God has reached out and grasps us? There is no more struggling to be a good bloke or a lovely lady, rather God makes us better than this, he makes us holy.

How does he do it? Jesus was not just a teacher teaching a new Law, he wasn’t another prophet calling for a return to the Law. He came with a new Tradition, a new wisdom which continues to confound the wise of this world, and came with authority so good it was holy.

Jesus is our wisdom personified! Jesus’ has authority to make you good blokes and lovely ladies, pleasing to our Father in heaven. And he does this by loving us even though we feel, we act, and think like enemies by being continually seduced by the traditions and wisdom of this world.

Jesus does this by not standing up to the evil of the world, but by being lifted up as a capital criminal on the cross. He took all our sin and evil, and in return gives us the holiness of his Sonship. He now seeks to stands up in us so we might stand up in faith focused on him as we endure all enemies and evil.

This is the new Tradition, the capital “T” Calvary cross Tradition, and it makes you God’s holy temple where the Spirit grows heavenly wisdom. And this new wisdom produces faith and hope enabling you to see God’s Traditions are life-giving eternal traditions.

In conclusion Paul tells us, "Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ So let no one boast in men." (1 Corinthians 3:16–21a ESV)

Let no one boast about being a good bloke or a lovely lady, but let us trust our Lord Jesus Christ who loved us, even unto death. Amen.