SERMON IN CR CHURCH SUNDAY 9 FEB 2014    4TH SUNDAY BEFORE LENT    PROPER 1.

ISAIAH 58:1-12.  PS 112. 1 COR 2. MATTHEW 5:13-20

The Old Testament reading from Isaiah 58, which we heard at Mattins, begins: SHOUT OUT, DON’T HOLD BACK; LIFT UP YOUR VOICE LIKE A TRUMPET. Another translation, consistently more earthy, says: raise your voice like a ram’s horn. You can’t imagine anything more raucous, more blaring, than that. In Matthew 12 Jesus is going to quote a different prophecy, from Isaiah 42, “He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets”.  Today’s Gospel spells out exactly just how Jesus was a true revolutionary and, like all true revolutionaries, was a quiet one. It’s the quiet ones of whom we need to be afraid, because they’re the ones who really challenge us. Yes, challenging not just to the people who heard Him with their own ears, who touched Him with their own hands but challenging us too, 2000 years of Christian teaching later, the Word of Life.

It’s so tempting to polarise Jesus’ teaching: on the one hand He teaches nothing that isn’t typical of the Judaism of his day. A great Jewish rabbi, He’s simply fulfilling God’s promises to Israel . On the other hand, He’s one of the greatest of all revolutionaries; He’s left Judaism altogether behind and offers teaching which is completely new. In the Epistle, Paul focuses on the Crucified Christ, not the type of Saviour wanted or expected either by Jews, or even Christ’s own disciples but the Gospel reading shows how Christ Jesus isn’t either/or, He is both fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets and yet totally new and unexpected. This has always been - and continues to be - a challenge to the church: He is Crucified and continues to be crucified every day in His children. It is always a temptation for us to want the Resurrection, without the Crucifixion, in our midst.

However, note the context of today’s Gospel reading. The opening words have been put there by the compilers of the Lectionary. They aren’t there at all at Matt 13: 20 when today’s reading begins. No, Chapter 13 starts: Jesus went up on the mountain and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to teach them:

So the first 12 words of today’s Gospel are in fact the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount and today’s Gospel, 20 verses later, is a sort of reflection on the new commandments - the Beatitudes -  that Jesus, the new Moses, has just given his 12 disciples, who will sit down and judge the Twelve Tribes of Israel, at the last day.

A way of looking at Jesus’ ministry is to think of the Three Persons sitting down together looking at the world and seeing what a mess it’s in. One of Them says, “We’ve tried sending great leaders, Moses, Joshua, all those amazing prophets, giving them lots of laws, regulations and wonderful speeches to get them on the right track but it doesn’t seem to be working. They always seem to get hold of the wrong end of the stick. The only way is ... to SHOW them.” “Yes, I’ll go, says the Son”. "What exactly will you show them then?".  “I’ll show them how to love”. The other Two giggle and dig each other in the ribs: “They know plenty about that, don’t they?”.  “Don’t be so disgusting! Isn’t real love’s a bit more than that?”. "So what is it then?"  “If I have to, it means giving my life away, however horribly, for their sake.  No one will believe God really loves them, unless one of us dies for them. It had better be me. Then, maybe, they’ll know the truth, that God is Love, nothing less, nothing more. No one has ever seen God but anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father”.

It looks as though Matthew is giving the Beatitudes - and today’s reading which follows - the most authoritative setting he can: Jesus is MORE than Moses, his teaching is MORE than Torah, more than the whole Old Testament.

Of course, St Paul says something equally staggering, to return to today’s Epistle, where at the very end, Paul says: “We have the mind of Christ”. What more can we ask? What more can He give us?

        Antony Grant CR