Sunday 16th February 2014
Deuteronomy 30:15-end and Matthew 5:21-37
The Hebrew slaves in the desert are at a crossroads - will they choose life or will they choose death? You would think it an easy choice to make - life actually please!! But just as in the Garden of Eden the ways of death (“surely you will not die if you eat the fruit of that tree”) seems so much more attractive than the ‘boring’ ways of life’ (“everything else is for you”!).
For the Hebrew slaves that are becoming a nation, the patterns of living seen in the surrounding peoples will test their own sense of call and identity. As they move among the new nations, will they hold on to what they have known to be true (being led and fed in the wilderness, seeing the glory of God) or will they be lured away by other things that appear true as well. As they enter to transform the lands around them will they unwittingly be transformed by them? Going in God’s image - whose image will they become? They take with them the laws and festivals which will help them remember who they were and now are. They are called live out the life they have been given, which aims to create ‘holy habits’ that will continually offer the ‘path of life’ for them. But will they choose it?
This of course is no ancient problem. It is an issue that the Church has faced in local and national expressions throughout the centuries. When does the engagement with culture become assimilation to culture? This is a hard issue to resolve and we should not be tempted to short circuit the much needed conversations that will be necessary nor be tempted to think ‘we have it all, they have nothing’. This where mission really matters. This is where theology and ‘faith seeking understanding’ mix into the very messy world we find ourselves in. To walk the fine balance of being a community that seeks to live the way of life whilst trying at the same time to work out what may be the patterns of life that lead to ‘death’. They are not always clear cut - voices from outside the Church (alongside those within it) led the Church beginning to see the role women should play in leadership ; yet voices within the Church (alongside those outside it) helped society see the evils of slavery.
Jesus continues his major assault of surface religion and spiritual shallowness in this section from the Sermon on the Mount this week. He is redefining what it means to be a follower of God: what the believer’s life will look like as it engages with the messiness of life. He midrashes his way through some key texts/laws and then seems to make it harder, throwing in a good number of hyperbolic grenades at the same time.
Jesus knows that living his life in the world will require a lot of discipline, thought, prayer, and ultimately an inner transformation that will mean continually revisiting what we are called to be. This inner transformation will affect our actions. Yet we also listen to the need to create ‘holy habits’ ourselves that seek to replace the ‘worldly habits’ that we will very easily pick up. What ‘holy habits’ can you create? What ‘holy habits’ are offered to you in your local church?
John is the Vicar of St Paul’s, Tupsley and St Andrews, Hampton Bishop in Hereford Diocese. He’s also currently doing Doctoral Studies at Kings College London.