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Sunday February 12, 2017
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Matthew 5:21-37

The importance of "having the fullness of our humanity engaged."

“There was once a sculptor who worked hard with hammer and chisel on a large block of marble. A little child who was watching him saw nothing more than large and small pieces of stone falling away left and right. He had no idea what was happening. But when the boy returned to the studio a few weeks later, he saw, to his surprise, a large, powerful lion sitting in the place where the marble had stood. With great excitement, the boy ran to the sculptor and said, “Sir, tell me, how did you know there was a lion in the marble?”

That old story about Michelangelo, retold by Henri Nouwen in his book on Spiritual direction, comes in a chapter entitled ‘Where do I begin?’

In our old testament reading today, Moses has been teaching the Hebrew people in readiness for entry into the Promised Land; it could easily be entitled “Where do we begin?” Moses offered the people seemingly stark choices: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing.” And with the Promised Land in sight we can easily think that the Hebrew tribes had to make a quick decision – an urgent choice – “choose life that both thou and thy seed may live.” Moses is a great salesman but he is not selling Joshua a second hand car! This great sermon of Moses comes after many, many years of travelling through the desert and will be followed by many similar years of establishing a home in the Promised Land. What we witness in this passage from Deuteronomy is a stage on the journey and the presenting of choices that would have to be considered time after time, after time, as a nomadic people became a nation.

At our doctrine class last Tuesday evening we were thinking about the doctrine of the Trinity and how living in community reflects our belief in the Trinity. “Let us make man in our own image” says God in Genesis and he does – male and female and they become a family and multiply and form a network of interdependency with one another and with God. In our course we considered some words of Archbishop Rowan Williams on attentiveness. He said this, “Human beings deserve to have the fullness of their humanity engaged.” [1]

We live in a world where more and more individualism is encouraged but the bible is not about being an individual, because we are all made in the image of God and God is experienced as a Trinity of persons – a oneness that is understood in communal terms: three persons, one substance. Our humanity is not fully engaged until we begin to enter into the mystery of God, recognizing that we are made in his image and, therefore, have a responsibility for the world around us and our neighbors. Is it not significant that Jesus, who in last week’s Gospel passage told his disciples that he had come to fulfill the law also tells them that the whole law and the prophets are summed up in just two simple sentences: Love God with all your heart...and love your neighbor as yourself? (Matthew 22:37b-40)

When we hear Moses offering choices to the 12 tribes he was not offering them simply to individuals but to the community of faith – to God’s chosen people. By responding individually and collectively, they mirrored God’s image. Sadly, this is not what we are told in the world – we are bombarded with the idea that “I” comes first and that what “I” want matters most. But we all know what the middle letter of the word sin is! Tim Keller, a pastor not far from us, has said this: “Community is no longer natural or easy under our present cultural conditions. It will require an intentionality greater than that required by our ancestors, and uncomfortable to most of us. But building Christian community is not simply a duty. It should not be a distasteful act of the will. Community grows naturally out of shared experience, and the more intense the experience, the more intense the community.” (Tim Keller Blog October 11, 2008)

We make community because the Lord said that that loving God and loving our neighbor reflected the relationship that he had with the Father and we, in turn, become more like him – more attuned to God in our everyday lives - “having the fullness of our humanity engaged” so others can see Christ in us: “Sir, tell me, how did you know there was a lion in the marble?”

So as we continue our reading of the sermon on the Mount – Jesus’ private teaching of his disciples; the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples seem uncompromising and hard with difficult topics such as anger, falsehood, adultery, divorce and perjury, and he gave seemingly impossible suggestions of how to deal with failure; these hard sayings of Jesus are radical, in that they take the old Law to new heights. I don’t think he expected people to actually cut off limbs or gouge out eyes, after all he regularly used parables in his teaching, but those powerful images must have shaken the disciples with the urgency of his message. Jesus expected more of a community of faith that would one day describe itself as his body. “You have heard that it was said…but I say unto you…”

How far would they have to go – do we have to go? The Lord told his disciples, and he tells us, that reconciliation is essential to the life of faith. Jesus set the bar high but his ultimate example came in his fulfillment of the law through his own self-offering on the cross for others; his blood, shed for the redemption of the whole world.

Paul, writing to the Colossians says this: “He is the head of the body, the church…in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things…by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (cf. Colossians 1:18-20)

The fullness of Jesus’ humanity was fully engaged with the fullness of God’s glory. On the cross a new people of God were brought into being, and we who are baptized into that death can make a difference to the world through faithful witness to his teaching and his redeeming love: ‘Love God; love your neighbor;’ or you could say, like Moses, “Choose life!” We are made to live in community and that, as the Lord explained to his disciples on the mountain will be hard and will require a conversion of the heart and coming to terms with our sinfulness. As Jesus suggested in the Beatitudes, we are blessed when we put God first and not the values of the world; when we are attuned to God and, therefore, also attuned to one another’s needs or, as Fr Daniels so elegantly put it last week, “In a fallen world the followers of Christ can model what an alternative kind of common life looks like, what a community looks like, when it knows one essential thing, Christ crucified.” [2]

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[1] Interview at Resurgence Festival of Wellbeing 2013.

[2] Sermon preached at 11 a.m. on February 5, 2017.


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