Epiphany 7 • 19 Feb 2017

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

Rev. Dr Bruce Roy

We usually read three Bible lessons each Sunday
and these come from the Revised Common Lectionary,
used by many denominations in many countries.
There is in fact a fourth reading - from the Psalms -
that is often neglected.
The old Presbyterian hymn book included all the Psalms
in metrical form for singing.
The Psalms section of the hymn book had each page cut in half -
the top part had the tunes
and the bottom part had the words.
The translation into metric was a little tortuous at times,
so I have not asked you to sing it.
Instead I will read today’s Psalm.

Notice that it’s about following God’s statutes and commandments
but the prayer does not emphasise obedience -
it is about asking God to teach us,
to give us understanding,
to lead us along the right path, etc.

Ps. 119:
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes,
and I will observe it to the end.
34 Give me understanding,
that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
36 Turn my heart to your decrees,
and not to selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes from looking at vanities;
give me life in your ways.
38 Confirm to your servant your promise,
which is for those who hold you in awe.
39 Turn away the disgrace that I dread,
for your ordinances are good.
40 See, I have longed for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life.

One of the images that people have about the Christian faith
is that it is a code of behaviour
based on, say, the Ten Commandments,
other Old Testament scriptures
the writings of Paul,
and the record of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels.
And the human response to these codes and rules
is that we must obey them or risk divine judgment.

But this psalm suggests a more relational aspect
to our relationship with God and God with us.

If you examine other elements of the Jewish Torah
it becomes apparent that it is not so much
about obeying rules and regulations as such
but being in tune with God and living accordingly
- what one writer has described as “Torah consciousness”
rather than “Torah acts”.
Being conscious of the will of God,
allowing it to permeate your consciousness,
leads to a life lived in communion with God
not because you have obeyed some regulations
but because you live a life of God-consciousness.

And in our highly individualistic society,
we need to remind ourselves that
this consciousness is a communal consciousness -
it is about the people of God.

Our Leviticus reading is of particular interest
in that relationships with neighbours are a key aspect
of this God or Torah consciousness.

Not only is not about me as an individual
it is also not about the tribe I belong to.
God’s law is concerned for the well-being
of the sojourner and the poor and others outside “the tribe”.
The dropping of grain and grapes at harvest
is to be deliberately left where it falls
so that the outsider may be cared for.

It is in how Israel treats its neighbours and the needy
that it lives out God’s will and law.
This is done not because it is a rule or regulation to be obeyed
but because it is how God sees people as community,
and it then becomes part of our consciousness
as God’s people.

Paul addresses this communalness
by telling the Corinthian Christians
that they are God’s temple.
This is sometimes interpreted as
each individual is God’s temple
and God’s Spirit lives within each of them.
But Paul uses the plural “you” and, in the original Greek,
clearly means that the whole Christian community
is God’s temple.

And so we come to Jesus’ teaching
assembled by Matthew into one sermon on the mount.

What is characteristic of this sermon
is the rhythm that goes:
“You have heard that it was said…
but I say to you…”
Jesus seems here to be saying,
Following the letter of the law is limited -
extend your awareness of what God desires
to include love of neighbour and love of enemies!

Last week Chris quoted from T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For thine is the kingdom.
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow …

As Chris indicated,
the concept of the Shadow is a key element
in the writings of Carl Jung,
and represents those aspects of our personality
we are not conscious of,
yet influences the way we think and act.
The forces in this Shadow are often seen as negative
but there can be suppressed positive forces also.

With that in mind, I’d like you to think about this from Khalil Gibran
as it relates to our gospel reading this morning:

“And God said “Love Your Enemy,”
and I obeyed him and loved

Carl Jung is very popular in spiritual development teaching
as it encourages us to explore our shadow
in our search for greater God-consciousness -
searching for hidden treasure and
dealing with stumbling blocks that prevent us
living a full, rich God-consciousness.
Or in Kahlil Gibran’s image
loving the enemy within myself.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said:
“Love your enemies because they bring out the best in you”.
Coming to terms with your enemies
involves coming to terms with yourself
because we often project on them fears, resentments, anger
that lay hidden within us.
So Nietzsche is suggesting that loving your enemies
brings healing to your shadow, to you.

I was at a Defence Force Chaplains retreat
at a delightful Catholic retreat house at Point Piper.
Our spiritual director that year
had us playing with clay.
We were invited to do anything with the clay
that related to our spiritual journey or ministry.

I chose to make a small clay pot.
This had hints of Jeremiah’s words about the potter
and was easier to make than
some of the elaborate responses by other chaplains.
But one of my favourite stories is one about a cracked pot.
I had quickly created a perfectly round pot
and while the others were beavering away at their masterpieces
I sat and stared at this pot.
In then end I created a cracked pot.
I “owned” my faults.

Here is the story:
“A water bearer in India had two large pots,
each hung on each end of a pole
which he carried across his neck.
One of the pots had a crack in it,
and while the other pot was perfect
and always delivered a full portion of water
at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house,
the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily,
with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water
in his master’s house.
Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments,
perfect to the end for which it was made.
But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection,
and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half
of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure,
it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.
“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologise to you”.
“Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”
“I have been able, for these past two years,
to deliver only half my load
because this crack in my side causes water to leak out
all the way back to your master’s house.
Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work,
and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot,
and in his compassion he said,
“As we return to the master’s house,
I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”
Indeed, as they went up the hill,
the old cracked pot took notice of the sun
warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path,
and this cheered it somewhat.
But at the end of the trail,
it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load,
and so again it apologised to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot,
“Did you notice
that there were flowers only on your side of your path,
but not on the other pot’s side?
That’s because I have always known about your flaw,
and I took advantage of it.
I planted flower seeds on your side of the path,
and every day while we walk back from the stream,
you’ve watered them.
For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers
to decorate my master’s table.
Without you being just the way you are,
he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”

Coming to terms with your cracked-ness
is coming to terms with your shadow.
Coming to terms with your shadow
is to enter into a free and honest relationship with God
that frees you up to love your neighbours and your enemies.