Sunday, November 4, 2012

how nice is 'nice?'



May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

I sometimes begin to think that the concept of being 'nice' is the guiding principle of ethical living for many in today's world. By 'nice' I am talking about never doing or saying anything to make someone else uncomfortable about how it is that they chose to live their life. To do otherwise is to be 'mean' ... it is a world-view where 
there is no such thing as right or wrong, there are only things that make people feel good or feel bad … and if behaving a certain way makes someone feel good, then the behaviour itself must be good. 

This attitude, of course, stands in opposition to nearly 2000 years of Church teaching that suggests it is important for people change how they live ... that we are called as children of God to holiness of life ... and that such holiness is not always compatible with this kind of 'nice.'

There are, of course, some who point to scripture & say this 'niceness' fits in very well with what Jesus had to say. In our Gospel reading today he says one of the most important commandments is to love our neighbours as ourselves … and if you take that along with what Jesus says in St John's Gospel about giving us a new commandment that we love one another, then perhaps one can see why ... 

Of course, all the rest of the things that Jesus said might be something of a problem … he did say elsewhere for example that it was important to keep the commandments … not to steal, do murder, commit adultery, lie … in fact, Jesus seemed, in places, to be even stricter than the Old Testament about what it meant to break the commandments … looking lustfully at someone or divorcing them was the same as adultery … angry or insulting words were like murder … 

Which is a bit of a stumbling block if you don't want to in any way say or do anything that might make a person even the teeniest bit worried that anything they say or do might be wrong … sinful, in fact, if we may use what in modern parlance is very often regarded as the 'S' word, a term not to be used in polite, that is to say 'politically correct' company …

But that can be then countered by the fact that Jesus also said not to judge others … no judging, only love … seems like a pretty good recipe for live and let live, for not only not caring whatever it is that others get up to, but positively approving it, cheering them on, in fact ... a person may lie, cheat on their taxes, steal, cheat on their spouse ... but w
ho is anybody to judge? Someone would have to be pretty mean to say it was wrong in any way … and certifiable to say that it was a sin ...

So why has the Church taught differently for almost 2000 years? Was it that it that all those who have gone before this generation didn't love others ... and that we are only now figuring out what it was that Jesus truly meant? I think not … I would suggest that they saw the command to love in a different way … that their love for others saw past the momentary 'feel good factors' of this life, and saw as the true goal of that love as the salvation of souls … they didn't want people to go to hell … they wanted them to go to heaven … and they thought that meant that people had to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow the Crucified Lord… and they saw the Sacred Scriptures and Holy Traditions of the Church as being a help and a guide toward living the kind of holy life on earth that would prepare us for eternal life in the next …

They read passages like our Old Testament reading today from the Book of Ruth, where she says 'your people shall be my people, and your God my God.' and saw it as meaning we had to make choices in this life … and that those choices had consequences … just as Ruth can't both go with Naomi and stay home or worship the false gods of her homeland and worship the One, true God … so we can't expect to live with no concern for God's laws and also receive the reward of Eternal Life … they read passages like the one we heard today from the letter to the Hebrews where it says that Jesus 'entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption' and thought that if Jesus had to shed his blood to redeem us from our sins, then our sins must be real and there must be consequences for leading a sinful life. They didn't think it was possible to both cling to a life steeped in sin and also be washed clean in the blood of the Lamb … 

And they took seriously verses like the one in our Psalm today where it says: 'Put not your trust in princes, nor in any human power,• for there is no help in them.' Which meant they laughed at any 'princes of this world,' who tried to tell them loving one's neighbour didn't involve a concern for their immortal soul … and they believed that this concern entailed reminding them what God's Word and God's Church teaches about how to live … that the kind of 'love' that ignores or encourages a life that is not in accordance with God's law is not love at all … it is a something that is worse than hate …

And so I end, as always, with a prayer: I pray that we, & all God's children, will, with God's help, love others enough to worry about their fate in the next life more than their pleasures in this … that we will love them enough to risk their rejection and hostility by challenging them to lead holy lives … and that we will love them enough to always show them how to live by our own example of holy living. Amen.

sermon notes 4 Novemeber 2012 4th Sunday before Advent

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