BIBLE READING: Matthew 5:17-37
My father gave some wise words of wisdom. Under no circumstances, at any social gathering start talking about sex, politics or religion!
I’ve never taken him up on this advise, and have therefore certainly entered into some lively debate. But it is worth noting that these are subjects that are very sensitive to most Australians. But it seems to be less so now than in previous times. This is certainly true of the relationship between religion and politics.
Unlike the United States, our Constitution does not separate church and state. In fact our titular head, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, is also the head of the Anglican Church. Our Federal and State Legislatures have enacted laws that preserve the privileges of the state church - the Anglican church, and even the Uniting Church was formed and recognised back in 1977 by a bill that passed through Parliament.
More and more politicians are claiming to be Christian, and claiming the allegiance of Christians. What is even more amazing is that there are Christians in every political party working to maintain what they perceive to be Christian principals and ideals.
Sometime ago there was the concern expressed by a certain politician during an election about the Anglican Church’s editing of sexist language from hymns, prayers and the Bible. No matter how heartfelt the concerns of the man, by the very public nature of his office he politicised them. What was a religious issue, he transformed it into a political statement. He argued that to change the wording of the Anglican prayer book, or hymnal, or the bible would be an attack on “traditional values and beliefs”. He claimed that he stood for these traditional values and beliefs, and by implication excluded his political rivals from this position.
This politician was setting himself up to be the guardian of Christian values - which is all very nice, but in a political setting is fraught with danger. The church has not in two thousand years come to agreement over even basic issues. Take for instance the commandment - “you shall not kill” - does this mean never in any circumstances? Does it mean that in certain circumstances it is an option?
Politicians who are Christians I encourage - politicians who seek to make their Christian faith a political agenda I am sceptical of. It worries me when we have crusaders - they remind me of certain historical mistakes that the church has made in the past. Mistakes such as the Inquisition. Morals and faith legislated by the State. Everything the Communists did in Russia and her territories was first practised by the Christian Church, Roman, Orthodox and Protestant.
The danger for politicians with a Christian agenda is the implicit Pharisaism of their position. They know they are right - therefore their opponents are wrong. They know the truth, therefore their opponents no matter how intelligent, are unenlightened. And the temptation that comes from their office is to legislate the truth.
Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to do away with the law… I have not come to do away with them, but to make [them] come true… not the least point or the smallest detail of the law will be done away with - … I tell you, then, that you will only be able to enter the kingdom of Heaven only if you are more faithful than the teachers of the law and the Pharisees in doing what God requires”.
Maybe Jesus and certain politicians are saying the same thing? What is interesting about Jesus statement is that it urges his followers to outdo the Pharisees. To obey the law, every last detail of it. The church and every Christian have as their guideline the words of Jesus regarding the law. We are to obey it! And woe betide those who ignore God’s law - intentionally or unintentionally!
The eternal law of God is not to be confused with the various regulations and commands that God gave the Israelites for their 40 years of wandering and their behaviour in the promised land. These are laws and commands that are culture specific - laws that deal with a certain people, place and time. God’s moral and spiritual law is true in all places for all peoples and for all time. (Romans 2:12-16)
Yet Jesus goes a step beyond the law. People obey laws for all sorts of reasons. Out of guilt, fear and conformity. There are not many people who would obey the law if they didn’t have too. Jesus says that obeying the law but for the wrong reasons is not good enough for his followers. We are to obey the law out of joy and freedom. We are not constricted or restricted by God’s law - we are freed!
Yet this isn’t true in the lives of many in the church. The law is a burden of obligation and fear - It is the fear of hell and eternal damnation that urges them on.
A question for you to think about… Why are you a Christian? To save yourself from hell and therefore enter heaven, or because you love Jesus as a friend and saviour?
When Jesus says that to even think about your brother in an angry manner is the same as doing physical violence to them. Just looking at a women in a lustful manner is the same as the physical action. Jesus is taking us beyond the law into a place where mere obedience to rules is useless. Jesus is telling us to love others as we love ourselves, he wants us to love God with our very being and every breath.
In fact Jesus goes onto say later in his ministry that all the law and the prophets can be summed up in one commandment - to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbour as yourself.
The gospel for today is a warning as well as an exciting adventure. A warning against those who would legislate, and politicise what is right, proper and lawful, and who would make others obey out of fear or guilt or conformity.
It is exciting because Jesus has changed law into love! Instead of keeping rules because we have to, now we can see law as a way to show how much we love and respect others! Love, its mercy and justice, is our guide. Make the law of love your way of life; for whoever obeys the law and teaches it to others will be great in the kingdom of heaven. Amen.