‘The World’, by Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)

I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
And all her train were hurl’d.
The doting lover in his quaintest strain
Did there complain;
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,
Wit’s sour delights,
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
Yet his dear treasure
All scatter’d lay, while he his eyes did pour
Upon a flow’r.



The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog mov’d there so slow,
He did not stay, nor go;
Condemning thoughts (like sad eclipses) scowl
Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
Pursued him with one shout.
Yet digg’d the mole, and lest his ways be found,
Work’d under ground,
Where he did clutch his prey; but one did see
That policy;
Churches and altars fed him; perjuries
Were gnats and flies;
It rain’d about him blood and tears, but he
Drank them as free.



The fearful miser on a heap of rust
Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust
His own hands with the dust,
Yet would not place one piece above, but lives
In fear of thieves;
Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
And hugg’d each one his pelf;
The downright epicure plac’d heav’n in sense,
And scorn’d pretence,
While others, slipp’d into a wide excess,
Said little less;
The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,
Who think them brave;
And poor despised Truth sate counting by
Their victory.



Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
And sing, and weep, soar’d up into the ring;
But most would use no wing.
O fools (said I) thus to prefer dark night
Before true light,
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
Because it shews the way,
The way, which from this dead and dark abode
Leads up to God,
A way where you might tread the sun, and be
More bright than he.
But as I did their madness so discuss
One whisper’d thus,
“This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,
But for his bride.”



More information about Vaughan here.

Be Like Your Father – Love Your Enemies (a sermon on Matthew 5:38-48)

In 1569 a young man named Dirk Willems was burnt at the stake for heresy in the town of Asperen in the Netherlands. Some of you have heard me tell his story before; for others, it will be new. Today many Christians around the world look on him as a hero. Let me tell you why.

When Dirk was a teenager he met some Anabaptists. In 16th century Europe, these were the Christians who opposed the idea of having a state church. They didn’t believe that people could be Christians just because they were citizens of a so-called ‘Christian country’; they believed that you had to choose for yourself to become a follower of Jesus. They thought you should be baptized as an adult as a sign of this commitment, and you then would become part of a fellowship of people who were learning to put Jesus’ teaching into practice. In particular, most Anabaptists believed followers of Jesus should not participate in war, and should literally love their enemies as Jesus taught. The state churches considered the Anabaptists a threat to their power, and so hundreds of them were horribly tortured and executed.

Dirk was attracted to Anabaptist ideas, and he was baptized as an adult in Rotterdam. Then he returned to his home town of Asperen and quietly began to host illegal Anabaptist meetings in his house. At those meetings, he and others taught a way of being Christian that was very different from the way the established church taught it. Eventually he was arrested and imprisoned, but he managed to escape from the prison by climbing out of the window and clambering down a rope made of knotted cloths, and he ran for safety. However, he was seen from the prison, and a guard ran after him. It was early spring; Dirk approached a pond that was still frozen, but he had been eating prison food and didn’t weigh very much, so he made it across the thin ice. But the guard had been eating rather better, and he broke through the ice and sank into the frigid water. In terror of drowning, he cried out for help.

If you had been Dirk, what would you have done?

Dirk turned back. At great risk, he reached across the ice to rescue his pursuer. When the guard was safely on dry ground, he promptly re-arrested Dirk and incarcerated him in a more secure prison – the tower of the Asperen parish church. This time there was no escape. Dirk was tried for heresy and condemned to be burned to death at the stake. The execution was exceptionally painful; the wind blew the fire away from his upper body and he died very slowly. Witnesses are recorded as having heard him cry out many times, “Oh Lord, my God!” as he was being burned.

Was he right to do what he did?

For centuries, Christians have disagreed over the issue of war. Is it right for Christians to participate in wars and kill the enemies of their country? Those who say it is right have argued that Jesus’ teaching about loving your enemies was intended to guide personal behaviour, not state policy. Personally I think there’s a lot more too it than that, but be that as it may, what we have here is precisely a story about personal behaviour. So at least in theory, all Christians should be agreed that we can’t wiggle out of this one! Dirk did as Jesus commanded in our Gospel for today, and he was not miraculously delivered; he suffered horribly for his decision. Why did he do it? And why did Jesus command us to do it?

The reason Jesus commanded us to love our enemies is because this is the way God treats us. At the heart of the Christian Gospel is the story of a God who loves his enemies. And that’s what Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel reading.

But before we look again at the words of Jesus for today, let’s remind ourselves of what he’s doing in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. Earlier in the chapter he told us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will never enter God’s kingdom. The scribes and Pharisees were the most religious people in Jesus’ day, so this would have seemed like a tall order – rather like me telling you today that unless your righteousness exceeded that of Mother Teresa, you’d never measure up.  But Jesus had a different view. To him, Pharisaic religion was often only skin deep; too often, the Pharisees were satisfied with outward conformity to the letter of the law, while ignoring the spirit. So Jesus challenges us, his disciples, to go beyond the letter of the Old Testament law and to focus on the inner transformation that is God’s dream for us.

So as we saw last week, we aren’t to be satisfied with just avoiding murder while all the time nursing anger and resentment against others; rather, we’re to do all we can to be reconciled with one another. And it’s not enough only to tell the truth when we’re under oath in court; we’re to be such honest people that no-one would even think of asking us to take an oath, because they know we always tell the truth.

In all the examples Jesus gives in this chapter, he calls his followers to move beyond the Law of Moses and to learn to live by the more perfect law of love. He’s quite clear about what he’s asking his followers to do with regard to the Old Testament; over and over again he says, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times… but I say to you…”. Obviously, though he respects the Law of Moses, he doesn’t see it as completely adequate as a basis for living a godly life. So he ‘fulfils’ it, in the sense of exploring its deeper meaning and even, in some cases, apparently overturning it in favour of a more perfect way.

This is particularly relevant to today’s passage. In the Old Testament, as you know, there are many stories of wars and violence apparently being sanctioned by God, but Jesus offers his followers a completely different way of dealing with evil. Let’s listen again to his words, this time from the New Living Translation:

     “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’. But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.

     “You have heard the law that says, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy”. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect”.

I wonder what your instinctive reaction is when you hear these words of Jesus? Perhaps you think he’s being outrageous: how can he possibly demand such a thing? Doesn’t he understand that if we act in this way we’re just going to encourage people to continue their evil behaviour? Isn’t he being impossibly idealistic? I’m reminded of the story of a pastor who was preaching through the Sermon on the Mount. An old lady objected to his sermon about loving enemies, and when he replied that he was simply quoting the words of Jesus, she replied, “Yes, but he was a very young man when he preached that sermon!”

But here’s the catch: don’t we assume, every one of us, that God will treat us like this? Don’t we almost see it as our right?

The God Jesus describes to us in the Gospels is constantly loving his enemies. As Jesus says, God doesn’t check to see if you believe in him before he lets you benefit from the sunshine. He doesn’t check to see if you’ve obeyed the Ten Commandments before he decides whether or not it will rain on you. No, ‘he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (v.45).

The God we read about in the New Testament is constantly loving people who don’t deserve to be loved. It’s almost forty-five years since I first gave my life to Jesus. I have to say that I’m still confessing some of the same sins, on an almost daily basis, that I was confessing forty-five years ago. I’ve made progress in some areas, but in others I’ve gotten nowhere at all. Sometimes I put in an honest effort; at other times I just like an easy life too much. Sometimes, to be honest, I find a particular sin just too enjoyable to give up! And yet, day by day, I go to God and ask him to forgive me. I never say, “I don’t think you should forgive me for this, Lord – if you do, you’ll just reinforce my bad behaviour”. Do you? Of course not! I ask for forgiveness, and I know I’ve received it because he continues to bless me with a sense of his presence and an awareness of his mercy and grace. That’s what the Christian gospel is all about: a God who loves people whether they deserve it or not, because it’s his nature to love.

The God we read about in the New Testament is constantly turning the other cheek. And in this case, it’s like Father, like Son: Jesus was the ultimate practitioner of his own sermon. He loved his enemies and prayed for those who persecuted him. When the soldiers were nailing him to the Cross he prayed for everyone involved in his execution: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing”. His death was the ultimate example of how God treats human sinfulness. God chose not to send the entire human race to hell for our rebellion. Instead, he came among us in Jesus and took the sins of the world on his own shoulders. Rather than making us suffer for our sins, he chose to bear the suffering himself, so that we could be forgiven.

So you see that this passage is rooted in the Gospel, the good news of God’s grace. Grace is a Bible word that means ‘love that you don’t deserve’. You don’t have to earn it, you don’t have to do something to purchase it; it just comes to you for free, because God is that kind of God. God doesn’t love us because we’re loveable; he loves us because he is love, whether we’re loveable or not.

That’s the wonderful good news Jesus has commissioned us to announce to everyone, everywhere: God has declared an amnesty to all who take advantage of it by coming to Jesus and putting their trust in him. You can be the older brother who never left home or the younger brother who squandered his father’s property with prostitutes. You can be a self-righteous Pharisee or a tax collector who’s broken every rule in the book. God’s not choosy – if you turn back to him and put your life in Jesus’ hands, you can be forgiven.

But here’s the catch: if you want to take advantage of God’s grace, you have to commit yourself to living by the same principle of grace in your own life. Jesus spelled it out for us in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”. He goes on to say, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Yes, we were God’s enemies, but fortunately for us God is in the habit of loving his enemies, and so instead of being cast into the outer darkness we were welcomed home to the Father’s house. Very good, Jesus says – now: go and do likewise.

The way Jesus sees it, children who have good parents should want to be like them; if they don’t, there’s something wrong. So often when we’re confronted with our own sinfulness, we say, “I’m only human, you know!” And of course God understands that, which is why he’s such a patient and merciful God. But he longs for us to aim higher than that! He longs for us to look up to him and say, like a little child who is so proud of his father, “When I get older, I want to be like my Dad!” And so Jesus ends today’s reading by saying, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v.48). This sounds like an impossible ideal, and no doubt it is very difficult, but let’s remember that the word ‘perfect’ in this context means ‘complete, with nothing left out’. What Jesus is saying is ‘Our heavenly Father leaves no one outside the circle of his love, and you must do the same’.

No one ever said this would be easy. No one promised it would never get us into trouble; Jesus certainly never promised that. Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). People who were carrying crosses were on their way out to be executed; they weren’t on their way to an uplifting discussion about the meaning of life at their local Starbucks!

Dirk Willems was well aware that turning back to help his enemy would probably mean his death. But he did it anyway, because he wanted to be like his heavenly Father, and like his Master Jesus. Followers of Jesus are content to do as Jesus says, and trust that the same God who vindicated him will one day vindicate us as well. And so, like Jesus, we modern Christians are also called to walk the costly path of love. Let us pray that the God who strengthened Jesus will strengthen us also, so that we too, like our Father in heaven, are able to leave no one out of the circle of our love.

Love is Action

Random Discipleship thought for today:

Jesus tells us the the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. We modern Christians often get confused about what this means, because to us, ‘love’ primarily describes a feeling. But in the Bible, love is not a feeling.

Yes, of course, there is a feeling that we call ‘love’, but the most important kind of love is not a feeling but a decision, an action. To pick up your tool belt and help build a Habitat for Humanity house is love. To give money to World Vision is love. To spend time with an emotionally needy friend when you’d rather be doing anything else is love. To tell someone the truth when you suspect they’re going to throw it back in your face is love. To take your spouse a cup of coffee in bed is love. To choose to stay with the person you promised you would stay with rather than the new young thing you feel attracted to is love. To give up some of your dreams so that you can be there for your kids is love. To forgive your enemies whether you feel like it or not, because Jesus told you to do so, is love.

And so the list goes on. These are not things that we do because we love someone. These actions are loving someone. Love is action.

14199058269_3f0cd61324

Some things I’ve learned over the years about marriage

For Valentine’s Day, here’s a repost of something I wrote a few years ago. I’ve made lots of mistakes over the years when it comes to marriage and love, but hopefully I’ve learned a few lessons on the way that might be helpful to a few other people. For the record, back in October Marci and I celebrated our 37th anniversary. She is a very patient woman.

So, in no particular order, here we go:

  • You will have to choose between (a) making enough money to have the same lifestyle as your neighbours, or (b) having enough time to love your spouse and children. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll have time to do both.
  • It’s not a good idea to live common-law before you get married. Statistics show that this dramatically increases the risk of your marriage ending in divorce (see here).
  • Be skeptical about 75% of what the media tells you about love and marriage. Most of the people who write those movies and songs haven’t been able to hold down a relationship for more than four or five years.
  • Similarly, be skeptical about how ‘normal sex’ is described in popular novels, movies etc. If you take that as the norm you’ll be setting yourselves up for dissatisfaction and failure. Technique is fine, but love is far, far more important.
  • Remember – love is a choice, not a feeling. If feelings lasted forever we wouldn’t need marriage vows. When the feelings start to wane in intensity, don’t be scared: this is normal. Do what you promised to do anyway, no matter what you feel, and eventually something deeper and stronger will start to grow. This is the most important secret of a lasting marriage.
  • Go out for coffee together regularly, and leave your cell phones at home when you do. The object is to get away from distractions and focus on talking.
  • Conventional wisdom tells us ‘lovers look at each other, friends look together at something else’. This may be true, but it hides a deeper truth: your love is more likely to last if it also includes friendship – if, in fact, your spouse is your best friend. And friends aren’t absorbed in each other, they’re absorbed together in something else. So find something you can both get absorbed in, and do it together. This leads to the next point…
  • A marriage needs a mission. Marriages in which the couple are totally focussed on each other, rather than on some form of service to others, are narcissistic marriages. For many couples, the major mission is raising their children to become happy and healthy adults. Don’t see the attention you give to this as competition for your marriage; it’s part of making your marriage less selfish and more loving.
  • Remember that when you learn to love God more than you love your spouse, you will then find that you are loving your spouse far, far more than you did before. It’s a paradox, but it’s true all the same.
  • Put the teaching of Jesus and the apostles into practice in your marriage. Make reconciliation with each other a priority, and if you have a problem with your spouse, speak to them about it first. You’re not perfect, so don’t expect your spouse to be perfect either; be quick to apologise and quick to forgive. Don’t let resentments fester; talk them through as soon as possible. Choose to stay together and work on your problems rather than getting a divorce. Don’t commit adultery with your eyes and your heart, and you probably won’t commit it with your body either. Tell the truth to each other. Live a simple life focussed on God and your neighbour, not on storing up earthly treasure. In other words, being a better follower of Jesus will make you a better marriage partner.
  • Don’t be passive about your marriage; don’t, for instance, take the attitude, “I hope it works out”. Instead, the two of you together take responsibility for making it work out. Expect this to be difficult, and don’t be intimidated by the difficulty.
  • Finally, a word for the guys from the character played by Dennis Quaid in the movie In Good Company. When asked by a younger man what his secret of a lasting marriage is, Quaid’s character replies, ‘You find the right person to get into the foxhole with, and when you’re out of the foxhole, you keep your ____ in your pants’. Every time I’ve shared that story in mixed company, the women have shaken their heads about how offensive it is, and the men have nodded their heads, knowing that ‘lowest common denominator’ wisdom is often a good place to start…!!!
(Credits: The first idea, about not having time for both getting rich and loving your family, is adapted from a statement by Mary Pipher in her fine book The Shelter of Each Other. And the idea about loving your spouse more if you love God first is something I first ran across in one of C.S. Lewis’ letters.)

You don’t need a Kindle or a Kobo to be able to read Kindle or Kobo e-books

kindleappLittle known fact: you don’t actually need to actually own a Kindle or Kobo to be able to read e-books for Kindle or Kobo.

You can download a Kindle or Kobo app for your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Then you can go to the Kindle, Kobo or Indigo stores, buy e-books, and read them on your device.

For Amazon.ca, go to the Kindle store section of the website and then click on the linkunnamed ‘Free Reading Apps’. It will take you to this page, where you can download the app for your device (computer, iPad or other tablet, iPhone or other smartphone). On other Amazon sites, search for the appropriate tab. (You can also download the app directly from the Apple App store; I’m assuming you can do the same thing from the equivalent stores for apps for other platforms).

For Kobo, go to Kobo.com, and at the very top of the page you’ll see a link for ‘Apps and E-Readers’. Follow that link to download the appropriate app for your device. For Apple, it will direct you to a link in the iTunes store for iPhone and iPad, or on the Kobo site itself for desktop or laptop computers. There are similar links for other platforms.

meadowvalecover-smallOnce you’ve done that, your next step is to purchase Meadowvale for Kindle on Amazon.ca or your own local Amazon site, or at Indigo or the Kobo store for Kobo! What could be better?!

Of course, there’s a lot to be said for owning a dedicated e-reader like a Kindle or Kobo. You’re not so distracted by the temptation to check your email or browse the web. And you don’t have to deal with backlit screens either, so they won’t keep you awake at night.

But if you already have a device and don’t want to fork out the extra cash for a dedicated e-reader, you don’t need to miss out on reading books that are only available as e-books – books like Meadowvale, that is!

 

The Greater Righteousness (a sermon on Matthew 5:21-37)

If a preacher stood up in a pulpit today and said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of Mother Theresa, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”, I suspect the members of the congregation would be shocked. Mother Theresa, who gave her entire life to serving the poor of Calcutta? Mother Theresa, who thought nothing of cleaning out bedpans and washing the hideous wounds of lepers? Mother Theresa, who spent an hour in prayer every morning before the Blessed Sacrament? How the heck can we have a greater righteousness than hers?

And this is exactly how the crowd would have felt when they heard Jesus speak these words from the end of last week’s gospel reading: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

In the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were highly respected for keeping the Law of Moses. They had calculated exactly how many ‘thou shalts’ and how many ‘thou shalt nots’ were in the law, and they had added all sorts of traditions to apply the commands to every conceivable situation in daily life. In the gospels we mainly get a negative view of the Pharisees, but we should remember that most people in the time of Jesus looked up to them and saw them as the most holy and devout people of their generation. So for Jesus to talk about ‘a greater righteousness than that of the scribes and Pharisees’ would have been astounding to the people of his day.

What does he mean by ‘a greater righteousness’? Well, that’s what we’re going to find out today and next week, because Jesus spends the rest of Matthew chapter five giving us six concrete examples of this ‘greater righteousness’. With each example, he’s going to show us the problem with the Pharisees: they were satisfied with a strict obedience to the bare demands of the Law of Moses, but they weren’t going any further than that. They weren’t asking the question, “What sort of person is the Law designed to produce? How does God want to change me on the inside, so that breaking the Law is something I would never even think of doing?” Another way of looking at it would be to say that a Law-oriented person is going to ask, “What’s the least I can get away with?” whereas a follower of Jesus is going to ask, “How can I grow in love and become the sort of person God dreams for me to be?”

How does this work out in daily life? Well, let’s take a look at the first four examples, and see how the basic principle is worked out in them. The other two will be in our gospel reading for next week.

Jesus starts in verses 21-26 with the commandment against murder: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’, and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgement’” (v.21). We can imagine a strict Pharisee being proud of himself at this point and saying, “Yep, I can tick that one off on the scorecard; I’ve never murdered anyone”. How comforting it would be for us to know that there are no murderers in this church! We might even congratulate ourselves on what a godly church we are!

But Jesus is going to take it further than that. He’s going to ask us, “But what causes murders? Often, it’s anger, and resentment, and the desire for revenge. So I’m not only going to outlaw murder – I’m going to outlaw anger as well. And here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to make reconciliation a number one Christian value. So whenever you realize that there’s something wrong between you and someone else, drop whatever you’re doing and go and do all you can to make it right. This should be priority number one for you”.

You see what he’s doing? He’s going deep into the inner meaning of the Law of Moses and ‘fulfilling’ it – in other words, ‘filling it up’, asking not only ‘what’s the letter?’ but ‘what’s the spirit?’ And he’s going to do the same thing with the other examples too.

In verses 27-30 he turns to the commandment against adultery. There it is in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not commit adultery”, and once again we can imagine a righteous Pharisee saying, “Yep, I can tick that one off too: I’ve always been faithful to my wife and never had sex with anyone else”. But once again, Jesus is asking the hard questions. “What causes adultery? Surely, it’s uncontrolled lust. How are you doing on that score, mister Pharisee? You may never have committed adultery, but do you have a roving eye?”

Jesus is not talking here about just noticing someone; we all do that. He’s talking about indulging that impulse, nursing it and cultivating it. Of course, in his day he never had to deal with the rise of Internet pornography, but we know today that it’s a huge problem in many lives. So Jesus is going to the root of the problem: the best way to head off adultery is to deal with lust, and the way to deal with it is to ruthlessly cut out all opportunity for it in your life. It might not literally involve cutting off your hand or gouging out your eye; it might mean, instead, putting some external controls on your Internet use, so that you become accountable to others for what you look at and what you don’t. A pastor friend of mine told me some years ago about a computer program that had been developed to help this happen; you give it the list of a small group of friends you want to be accountable to, and each day it emails them a list of all the websites you have visited.

This may sound drastic, but Jesus sees the damage that can be caused, and so he encourages us to take drastic measures, far beyond a bare obedience to the letter of the Law. The goal, of course, is a pure heart, one that’s committed to loving in a way that conforms to God’s dream for us. Jesus is telling us that this is a treasure worth making sacrifices for, so we ought to do whatever it takes to become that sort of person.

Of course, these commands of Jesus are demanding, and they touch every one of us. Many of us have been seriously hurt by people in our past, and we find it very difficult to avoid being angry and resentful. Sometimes, it’s all we can do to just avoid murdering them! And the Jesus we read about in the gospels is gentle on us sinners; he knows what we’ve been through and the difficulties we face. But he’s encouraging us to press on, to see the Law of Moses as just a start. God has a dream for us, and we will find our real freedom and joy as we press on toward that dream.

The same applies to lust. We live in a culture that’s soaked in sexual innuendo, and the media milks it for every cent it’s worth. Let’s be honest; to put Jesus’ teaching into practice here is very, very hard. But once again, we know he’s right when he says that it’s worth it. We all know marriages and families that have been wrecked by the pain of adultery, and we know that this all starts with looking, and indulging and cultivating that looking. So Jesus encourages us to go to the root of the problem.

The next topic that Jesus turns to is one that touches even more of us. Many of us here have been touched by the pain of divorce; many of us have been divorced and remarried. And once again Jesus turns to our Pharisee, who looks at the Law of Moses and finds there a command that says, “If you want to divorce your wife, be sure to give her a certificate of divorce”. So once again our Pharisee can congratulate himself and say, “Yes, I’ve done that one too; my divorce was all strictly legal and above board! Well done, me!”

But Jesus won’t have it; to him, every divorce is a tragedy, and we know he’s right. Maybe, in a small number of cases, the tragedy of the marriage was such that there truly was no other option, but there’s no such thing as a divorce that doesn’t cause pain and heartache. And, as Jesus says in another place, “In the beginning it was not so” – in other words, God didn’t design us for serial marriages, he designed us for lifelong faithful monogamy. So if you want to pursue God’s dream for you, that’s what you need to pursue, he says – keeping in mind, of course, that every single one of us has fallen short of God’s ideal for us in one way or another, and that the Gospel assures us that God always starts with us where we are, not where we ought to be.

Can I pause here and point out that the order in which Jesus has examined these first three examples is not an accident? Surely, if we want to save a difficult marriage, anger and lust are two major issues that we need to deal with. Many times, when marriages are full of unresolved conflicts, both partners are keeping score cards and lists of all their grievances, and as the lists get longer and longer, the chances of saving the marriage get smaller and smaller. Unless we can deal with the issue of anger and resentment, and learn the way of reconciliation, then Jesus’ words will become sadly relevant to us: we’ll never get out of court until we’ve paid the last penny! And it’s obvious that the issue of lust – adultery in the heart, as Jesus calls it – is a major factor contributing to the breakdown of many marriages. These examples Jesus gives, you see, are not isolated; they’re all connected to each other, and as we address one area, it has an impact on the others as well.

The final example we’ll look at today is his fourth one: truthfulness. Once again, we can imagine our little Pharisee congratulating himself and saying, “Yes sir! Every time I’ve made a promise, I’ve kept it! If I swear by the gold of the Temple, you can be sure I’ll keep my word, and if I sign a contract with you, you’ll get exactly what you’ve been promised”.

But once again, Jesus is going to the heart of the issue. Why do we have to make promises at all? Why do we have to use oaths or sign contracts? Surely, it’s because people can’t trust our bare word! What are we actually saying if we feel we have to swear an oath? Are we saying, “Well, normally, you can’t trust what I say, but now I’ve made an oath calling on God to punish me if I’m not telling the truth, and I do fear God, so now you can finally trust me”?

Jesus is encouraging us to imagine a different level of honesty. Imagine a situation where I’ve been called on to be a witness in a court of law. So I take the stand, and the clerk approaches me with the Bible so I can swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. But suddenly the judge stops the proceedings. “Wait a minute”, he says, “that’s Tim Chesterton up there. The whole world knows that he’s a man of absolute integrity and honesty. There’s never been a known occasion when he’s told a lie, or when he’s said he’s going to do something and failed to do it. It would be an absolute insult for me to ask him to take an oath and swear to tell the truth, because that’s what he always does”.

Is that me? No, I’m afraid it’s not, but I have to say that I would love to be that person. Jesus is telling me that this is God’s dream for me: a life of absolute honesty and integrity. So aim for this, Jesus is saying. Don’t settle for a life of controlled dishonesty; aim to be known as a person who lives truthfully and speaks truthfully.

If we’re honest, these four examples Jesus has given today both scare us and excite us. They scare us, because we all know we’ve fallen short. But they also excite us, because we know in our hearts that Jesus is describing a life of integrity, love, and holiness, and this is attractive to us. We know instinctively that if we’re going to find the peace of mind and heart we’re looking for, the path Jesus is laying out for us is the right one.

Next week we’ll go on to the last two examples Jesus gives, revenge and love for enemies. But as we come to a close today, let’s remind ourselves of what the Beatitudes tell us. They tell us that the kingdom of God is for the weak, the poor, and those who know their need of God. So if you feel like you’ve fallen short, don’t be discouraged by that; the way of Jesus is for people just like you! The Sermon on the Mount is the curriculum in the School of Jesus; it’s not the entrance exam! The entrance exam is simple – repentance, faith, and baptism. If you’ve turned from sin and evil, put your faith in Jesus and been baptized – whatever order those things happened in – then you’re in.

God loves us so much that he accepts us just as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us there. As we continue to explore the Sermon on the Mount, we’ll discover the ways in which God is patiently teaching us a new way of living. As we learn to put that new way of living into practice, we’ll gradually find ourselves being transformed – not just on the outside, but on the inside as well – and we will discover for ourselves what the greater righteousness is all about. In the end, of course, there’s a very simple name for it: the greater righteousness is all about love.

Would you like to help me reach more people with my e-book?

Many thanks to the 24 people (so far) who have bought copies of ‘Meadowvale: a Novel‘ on Kindle or Kobo!

If you wouldn’t mind, here are three things you can do to help me reach another twenty four people!

1. When you have finished the e-book, go to the site you bought it from (Amazon, Indigo, Kobo etc.) and rate it out of five stars. Be honest – I don’t mind!

2. If you would take the time to write a short review, this would REALLY help. When it comes to books appearing in the algorithms, the number of reviews is really important. And if you wouldn’t mind copying your review to the other sites (Amazon, Kobo, Indigo, and – if you’re a member – Goodreads – that would also really be helpful.

3. Share the link to my e-book on your own Facebook page and/or blog, with a few words about what you thought of it.

Thanks very much! I really appreciate your help!

Just a reminder of where you can get the e-book:

Amazon.ca (if you’re not in Canada, search for it in your own Amazon stores – it’s in all of them).

Indigo.ca

Kobo.com

 

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