Freedom in prayer

Matthew 6:7–15

We are talking again this week about prayer.

We are going back to look at the verses we skipped over in talking about freedom from religion. Here in verse 7 are some very familiar words where Jesus teaches about prayer. His first instruction is simple; “Don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.”

We saw an example of that in the video clip. Another example that would have been familiar to people listening to Jesus is the prophets of Baal, who were defeated by Elijah. As you know, Elijah challenged them to a contest to see whether God listened to them or to Elijah. Please read the story in 1 Kings 18.

On top of Mount Carmel, the prophets of Baal danced around for an entire day chanting “O Baal, answer us!” Elijah spent the day mocking them, suggesting that maybe they needed to wake God up from his nap.

It says in verse 28: “So they shouted louder, and following their normal custom, they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out. They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response.”

It was all futile. All the noise. All the effort. All the activity, for no result. It was all futile.

Two main lessons are to be gained from this, beside the obvious one of praying to the one true God. First, they were obsessed with technique. This is the assumption that if you dance in just the right way or slash yourself correctly then your prayer will be answered. Second, they were obsessed with effort. This is the assumption that if you want an answer from God you just have to shout louder and longer.

At the root of these wrong assumptions is the mistaken idea that it is all up to us.

Sorry to say, this way of thinking did not die with the false prophets but persists today in far-flung corners of the church. Prayer is not a set of techniques that can be used to manipulate God. Prayer is a relationship.

Jesus simply says: “Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!”

God knows what you need, but he doesn’t give you what you ask for automatically. If he did, would you dare pray? For me, it would be too dangerous.

We know that our father loves us. He knows our every need. So we can relax. Just talk in a calm and respectful way that is suited to talking to the Lord of the universe, who just happens to be your daddy. He isn’t busy and distant. Prayer is making humble requests. Prayer is sharing feelings and thoughts and experiences. Prayer is a relationship of trust and love, so stop making it into hard work.

Next Jesus gives us a lesson on prayer, what we call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ or the ‘Our Father’.

He teaches us to say ‘our’ and ‘us’ in this prayer. It is a prayer for believers to say together to their shared father, which is why we say it together every Sunday.

The prayer contains two groups of three statements.

The first prays for God’s name, kingdom and will. It concludes with the words, ‘on earth, as it is in heaven.’ That God’s name will be kept holy and he will be obeyed by all of us together, that his kingdom will come and we will live as citizens of his kingdom, and that all of us will do whatever he asks of us. We submit to him and we implore his victory over the powers of evil. These things are true now, and we want them to be true in the future on earth.

The next three are about our needs. Our need for food first. When we pray this we remember also that Jesus is the bread of life, and we depend on him for life. Every day.

Our need for forgiveness and our need for protection from temptation. The temptation is probably not only that temptation to do wrong, because it also means ‘time of trial’. We are asking for help to endure persecution, personal hardships, and the testing at the end of the age.

I want to spend a bit longer on the prayer for God to ‘forgive us our sins.’ Every time we gather together and say this prayer, we admit we need God to forgive us. As long as we have a sinful nature and until we are perfect, the inner battle continues.

Jesus says there are conditions attached to this forgiveness. He thinks this is so important that in verse 14, after his example prayer, he adds these instructions: “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

It may seem as though one comes before the other. As though you forgive and ‘then’ he forgives. But that would turn forgiveness into a reward. The word ‘then’ is missing from this text, however. Jesus is saying something subtly different.

It is not a lesson in cause and effect. It is a lesson about relationship.

If you are the kind of person who never forgives, it means you are the kind of person who cannot receive forgiveness. You can’t receive because you have a heart that is not in relationship with God’s heart, and is not in relationship with your brother or sister.

It is not enough for you to agree with this principle. It is not enough for you to say that one day, at some distant point in the future, you will get around to forgiving people.

What is required is for you to write off all the spiritual and emotional debts of others toward you. Write them all off and close the book. And then bury the book.

To pray the Lord’s Prayer authentically, we have to let go of all unforgiveness as we pray. When we say the words ‘as we have forgiven those who sin against us’ (or ‘as we also have forgiven our debtors’ [NIV]) we must mean ‘I hereby declare that right now I entirely forgive anyone who has done me any wrong ever.’

And we do it again every time we pray this prayer, because we continue to need God’s forgiveness. And we continue to need to forgive others.

Forgiveness is not optional. It is not a decoration on our authentic faith. It is core. Without it we cannot have a healthy relationship with God or with each other.

Unforgiveness is a rottenness in a fruit that spreads to the other fruit in the bowl, causing bitterness and grief to grow. The rotten fruit has to be removed.

Unforgiveness is a bridge to the past. It is a highway straight back to the hurt and pain. It keeps us always as a victim, by keeping the past alive. Forgiving breaks the link and sets us free. The pain stays in the past.

You may need to forgive yourself sometimes for being less than perfect and making a mistake. Sometimes we blame others, maybe even entire nations, for our situation. Or we are upset at getting old and frustrated with our bodies.

Forgiveness is an act of will. It is no use at all delaying until you feel like doing it. It will never happen. Just do it. Now!

It may seem impossible. Some people, maybe you, have deep wounds. You may need to receive compassionate help and support, not easy phrases and cool advice.

Forgiveness is often a journey of pain and hardship that has to be walked over time. One step after another. Step after painful step. Jesus knows it isn’t easy. Jesus never says anything that should make you feel guilty over how hard it is.

But Jesus does say we walk this journey together, praying together to our God.

The importance of relationships is explicit and emphatic in Jesus’ words. If you do not forgive your brother you cannot know God’s forgiveness. There is such tragedy in the lives of people who spend hours in prayer and yet cannot overcome some grievance.

Your relationship with God can never be right as long as you hide unforgiveness in your heart. It is impossible to cultivate a deep prayer life while you are crabby, critical and complaining toward others.

Jesus has issued us with an urgent request to a better way of life.

Turn your back on the swamp of depression and bitterness.

Shift your gaze from the hurts of life onto the Lord of your life.

Turn away from the offence of others to a quest for purity in your own life.

Forgive, and start to explore a new world of intimacy with God.

Discover true freedom in your prayers. Forgive. Do it today and tomorrow.

Amen

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기도의 자유

 

마태복음 6:7–15

이번 주에는 기도에 대해 다시 한번 이야기해 보도록 하겠습니다.

종교로 부터의 자유에 대해 이야기 하지못한 구절을 다시 한번 보도록 하겠습니다. 여기 7절에는 예수님이 기도에 대해 가르치셨던 익숙한 구문들이 있습니다. 그의 첫 번째 가르침은 간단합니다. “너희는 기도할 때 이방인들처럼 쓸데없는 말을 되풀이하지 말아라. 그들은 말을 많이 해야 하나님이 들어주실 것으로 생각한다.”

우리는 비디오 클립에서 그것의 예를 보았습니다. 예수님의 말씀을 듣는 사람들에게 친숙한 또 다른 예는 엘리야에게 패한 바알의 예언자들 입니다. 여러분이 알다시피, 엘리야는 하나님께서 엘리야의 기도를 들어시는지 아니면 바알의 예언자들의 기도를 들어시는지 알아보기 위해 그들에게 도전을 했었습니다. 열왕기상 18장을 읽어보십시오.

갈멜산 꼭대기에서, 바알의 예언자들은 아침부터 정오까지 바알의 이름을 부르고 단 주위에서 춤을 추며 “바알이여, 우리에게 응답하소서!” 엘리야는 아마도 잠자는 그들의 신을 깨워야 할지도 모르겠다며 조롱하며 비웃었습니다.

28절에서 말하기를 “그러자 그들은 더 큰 소리로 외치며 그들의 의식에 따라 피가 흐를 때까지 칼과 창으로 자기들의 몸을 상하게 하였다. 이와 같이 그들은 정오가 지나고 저녁 제사를 드릴 때까지 미친 듯이 부르짖었으나 아무 응답도 없고 대답하는 소리도 없었다”.라고 말합니다.

그 모든 외침, 노력, 활동으로부터 아무런 결과가 없었고, 이것들은 모두 소용없는 짓이었습니다. 모든 것이 헛되었지요.

오직 진실로 하나님께 기도하는 확실한 것 이외에 여기에서 얻을 수 있는 두가지 주요한 가르침은 이것입니다.

첫째, 그들은 기술에 사로잡혀 있었습니다. 이것은 만약에 당신이 올바른 방법으로 춤을 추거나 자기 몸을 정확하게 베어야만 기도의 답을 얻을 것이라고 가정합니다. 둘째, 그들은 노력에 사로잡혀있었는데. 이것은 만약 당신이하나님으로 부터 답을 얻기를 원한다면 더 오래 아니면 더 크게 소리쳐야만 한다고 가정합니다.

이 같은 잘못된 추정의 근원은 모두 우리 하기에 달렸다는 잘못된 생각에 있습니다.

죄송한 말씀입니다만, 이렇게 생각하는 것은 거짓 예언자들과 함께 사라진 것이 아니라 오늘날까지 우리를 둘러싼 교회구석구석에 계속되고 있습니다. 기도는 여호와를 조종하는 기술이 아닙니다. 기도는 관계입니다.

예수님은 명료하게 말씀하시기를 “너희는 그들을 본받지 말아라. 너희 아버지께서는 너희가 구하기 전에 너희에게 필요한 것이 무엇인지 다 알고 계신다.”

하나님은 여러분이 무엇을 필요로 하는지 알고 계시지만, 여러분이 구하는것을 자동적으로 주시지는 않습니다.

만약 그렇게 하신다면 , 여러분은 기도하시겠습니까?

저는 이것은 너무 위험하다고 생각합니다.

우리는 우리 아버지가 우리를 사랑하신다고 알고 있습니다. 그는 우리의 모든 필요를 알고 계십니다. 그러니 우리는 마음을 놓을 수 있습니다. 조용히 당신의 아버지가 된 우주의 하나님께 존경하는 방식으로 말하십시오. 그는 바쁘거나 멀리 있지 않습니다. 기도는 겸손한 호소입니다. 기도는 감정, 생각 그리고 경험을 나누는 것입니다. 기도는 진실함과 사랑의 관계이므로 너무 어렵고 힘든일로 생각하지 마십시오.

다음으로 예수님은 기도에서 우리가 ‘주기도문’ 또는 ‘우리 아버지’라 부르는 것을 가르치십니다.

예수님은 기도에서 ‘우리의’그리고‘우리’라고 말하도록 가르치십니다. 이것은 크리스천들이 그들의 공통된 아버지께 함께 말하는 기도이고 우리가 매주 일요일마나 함께 말하는 이유입니다.

기도는 3개의 진술의 2 그룹을 포함합니다.

첫 번째 기도의 진술은 하나님 이름, 왕국 그리고 의지입니다 . 이것은 ‘뜻이 하늘에서 이루어진 것 같이’ 라는 말을 포함하고 있습니다. 하나님의 이름이 거룩히 여김을 받으시고, 우리 모두가 따를 것이고, 그의 나라가 속히 오셔서 우리 모두는 그의 나라 안에 살게 하실 것이고, 그가 원하는 것은 무엇이든 따를 것입니다. 우리는 그 분에게 우리를 맡기고 그의 능력으로 악으로부터 구해 달라 간청합니다. 이것들은 지금 사실이고, 우리는 앞으로도 이 땅에서 언젠가 이 모든 일이 이루어지기를 원합니다.

다음 세 개는 우리의 요구입니다. 우리의 요구는 음식이 첫 번째입니다. 우리가 이것을 기도할 때 예수님이 삶의 양식이라는 것과 우리가 그에게 의존한다는 것 또한 매일 기억합니다.

용서에 대한 필요성과 유혹으로부터 우리를 보호할 필요가 있습니다. 유혹이란 꼭 잘못된일을 하는 유혹 말고도 ‘시련기’라는 또 다른 의미가 있습니다. 우리는 박해를 견뎌내는 것, 개인적인 어려움, 죽음에 직면할 때에 시험에 들게 하는 것들로 부터 도움을 요청합니다.

저는 ‘우리 죄를 용서해주소서’라고 간구하는 기도에 좀 더 길게 얘기를 하고싶습니다. 항상 우리는 함께 모여 이 기도를 드리고, 우리는 하나님의 용서를 필요로 하는 것을 인정합니다. 우리가 죄 된 본성을 가지고 있는 한 우리가 완벽해질 때까지 내면의 전쟁은 계속될 것입니다.

예수님은 이 용서에는 조건들이 있다고 말씀하십니다. 그는 이것이 매우 중요하다고 14절에 그의 예시 기도문 다음에 이 지시를 덧붙였습니다.

“너희가 다른 사람의 죄를 용서하면 하늘에 계신 너희 아버지께서도 너희를 용서하실 것이다. 그러나 너희가 다른 사람의 죄를 용서하지 않으면 너희 아버지께서도 너희 죄를 용서하지 않으실 것이다.”

이것은 마치 하나가 오면 다른 하나가 뒤따라오는 것처럼 보입니다. 당신이 용서하면 ‘그런 뒤에’ 그 분이 용서하시는 것처럼 보입니다. 그러나 용서를 보상 받는 것 입니다. ‘그런 뒤에’라는 단어는 이 부분에서 빠져있습니다. 예수님이 어떤 것은 미묘하게 다르다고 말씀하십니다.

이것은 원인과 결과, 인과관계 가르침이 아니라 관계의 가르침입니다.

만약 당신이 결코 용서하기 힘든 사람이라면, 당신은 용서를 받을 수도 없는 사람입니다. 왜냐하면 당신의 마음은 하나님의 마음과 관계와 당신의형제자매와도 관계를 맺고 있지 않기 때문에 용서를 받을 수 없습니다.

이는 여러분이 이 원칙에 찬성하는 것만으로는 충분하지 않습니다. 여러분이 시간이 지나서 미래의 어떤 시점에, 다른 사람들을 용서할 수 있을 것같다고 말하는 것만으로도 충분하지 않습니다.

당신을 향한 정신적이고 감정적인 빚을 탕감하는 것이 필요합니다. 이 모든것을 탕감하고 부채를 적은 책을 덮어세요. 그런 뒤에 그 책을 묻어버리세요.

진정으로 주기도문을 기도하기 위해서는, 우리는 우리가 기도할때 용서하지 못한 모든것을 버려야합니다. ‘우리가 우리에게 죄 지은 사람들을 용서해 준 것처럼’ 라고 말할 때 (또는 “우리 죄를 용서해 주십시오”) 우리는 ’지금 나는 이제껏 나에게 잘못했던 사람들을 모두 용서해주기를 분명히 말한다‘라고 의미해야 합니다.

그리고 우리는 계속해서 하나님의 용서가 필요하기 때문에 매번 이 기도를 할 때마다 이렇게 해야 합니다. 그리고 우리는 계속해서 다른 사람들을 용서할 필요가 있습니다.

용서는 선택이 아닙니다. 이것은 진정한 믿음의 장식품이 아닙니다.이것은 핵심입니다. 용서 없이는 하나님과 또는 다른이와 서로간의 건강한 관계를 가질 수 없습니다.

용서하지 못하는것은 그릇의 다른 과일까지 썩게 만드는 것이고, 쓴맛과 비통을 키우는 것입니다. 썩은 과일은 버려야 합니다.

용서하지 못하는것은 과거로 향하는 다리입니다. 그 길은 아픔과 고통으로 곧바로 이어지는 고속도로입니다. 그것은 우리로 하여금 과거속에 살도록 유지하여 항상 피해자로 만들어버립니다. 그 연결고리를 깨고 용서하시고 우리를 자유롭게 하세요. 고통은 과거에 남겨두십시오.

당신은 당신이 완벽하지 못하는 것과 실수하는것으로 부터 자기 자신을 용서할 필요가 있습니다. 가끔, 우리는 다른 이들, 심지어 국가와 상황을 탓하기도 합니다. 또는 나이 들어가는 것에 속상해하고 우리 자신의 몸에 좌절을 느낍니다.

용서는 의지의 행동입니다. 당신이 이것을 하고싶다고 느낄 때까지 미루는 것은 소용이 없습니다. 이런 일은 결코 일어나지 않습니다. 그냥 하세요. 바로 지금!

불가능해 보일지도 모릅니다. 어떤 사람들은,아마 당신이 일지도 모르지만,어떤 사람들은 깊은 상처가 있습니다. 당신은 쉬운 문구나 좋아 보이는 충고가 아닌 연민어린 도움과 지지를 받는 것이 필요할지도 모릅니다.

용서는 종종 오랜 시간에걸쳐 걸어가야할 고통과 어려움의 여정이고 계속해서 나아가야만 합니다. 한 걸음씩 나아가세요. 고통스러운걸음 이후 또 한 걸음씩 내디디세요. 예수님은 이것이 쉽지 않다는 것을 알고 계십니다. 예수님은 결코 용서의 어려움으로 죄책감을 느끼시도록 그 어떤 말씀도하지 않으십니다.

그러나 예수님께서는 우리가 하나님께 기도하며 함께 이 여행을 가야한다고 말씀하십니다.

예수님말씀에서 관계의 중요성은 분명하고 확실합니다. 만약 당신이 당신의 형제를 용서하지 않는다면 당신은 하나님의 용서를 알 수 없습니다. 살아가면서 오랜 시간 기도에도 불구하고 불만을 극복할 수 없는 비극이 있습니다.

여러분이 마음속에 용서하지 못함을 숨겨 놓는 한 당신과 하나님과의 관계는 바를 수가 없습니다. 당신이 다른 사람들에게 괴팍하거나, 비판적이거나 불평을 하는 동안에는 깊은 기도의 삶을 구축하기는 불가능합니다.

예수님께서는 우리에게 더 나은 삶의 방향을 위해 긴급한 요청을 하고 계십니다.

우울증과 쓴맛의 늪에서 등을 돌리십시오.

당신의 시선을 삶의 고통으로부터 당신의 삶을 여호와께 돌리십시오.

다른 이들을 비방하는 것으로 부터 벗어나 당신의 삶의 순수성을 추구하세요.

용서하세요, 그리고 하나님과친밀한 새로운 세상으로의 탐험을 시작하세요.

당신의 기도의 진정한 자유를 발견하세요. 용서. 오늘 그리고 내일 하세요.

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‘I hereby declare that right now I _____________________ entirely forgive anyone who has done me any wrong ever.’
‘지금부터 (자기이름)는 나에게 잘못을 했던 모든 사람들을 용서하기로 선언 합니다.’
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자유의 길

마태복음 6:1-6,16-18

예수님께서는 우리에게 성취하는 방법을 가르쳐 주셨고, 축복받는 방법을 말씀해 주셨습니다.  또한 완벽해질 수 있는 길을 가르쳐 주셨고, 의로워지는 법을 가르쳐 주셨습니다.

이제 예수님께서는 우리에게 자유의 길을 가르치십니다. 우리에게 자유로워질 수 있는 방법을 말씀해 주십니다.

자유란,  옥스포드 영어 사전에서는 이렇게 정의 되어 있습니다. ‘그 사람이 원하는 대로 행동하고, 말하고, 생각할 수 있는 권리나 힘.’  모든 사람이 중력의 법칙 아래에서 우리는 아무도 중력에 거스를 수 없다는 측면에서 보면, 여러분은 자유롭지 않습니다.

그러면, 예수님께서 말씀하시는 자유란 무엇입니까? 물론 그는 우리를 죄에서 자유롭게 하셨습니다. 우리를 억압에서 풀어주신 것입니다.

그러나 2, 5, 16절에서 예수님께서는 우리를 위선에서 자유롭게 하시기를 원한다고 하십니다.  그는 우리를 사람들의 종교에서 자유로워지기를 원하십니다. 그리고 그는 우리에게 독실함의 세가지를 예를 사용하여 가르쳐 주십니다.

그는 1절에서 즉시 경보를 울리며 첫 번째로 말합니다. “조심하라!  다른 사람들로부터 존경 받는 것을 위해, 공개적으로 보이기 위해 좋은 일을 하지 말라. 그리하면 천국의 아버지께 상급을 받지 못할 것이다.”

만약 여러분이 존경 받기 위해 공개적으로 종교적인 행위들을 한다면, 조심해야 합니다. 왜냐하면 여러분의 축복을 잃는 것이기 때문입니다. 가난한 심령으로부터 오는 축복을 여러분은 잃게 될 것입니다. 여러분은 하나님과의 관계를 잃게 될 것입니다.

예수님은 기도와 금식에 대해서도 이것을 두 번이나 말씀하셨습니다. 이것은 그 세 가지의 분명한 패턴을 만들고, 메시지를 강조합니다. 그 메시지는 못 마땅하게  당시의 일반적인  종교생활의 양식을 거부하고, 반항하는 것처럼 보입니다. 그 메시지는 위선자가 되지 말라는 것입니다.

예수님은 이런 것들을 하지 말라고 하신 것이 아닙니다. 예수님께서는 그것들을 남모르게 해서, 하늘에 계신 아버지만이 그 사실을 알게 하라는 의미입니다. 종교적인 어떤 의무에서 팡파레와 포스트로 대대적으로, 공공연히 알리는 것은 잘못된 방법이라는 것입니다.

이것은 예수님때에만  보편적으로 있는일이 아니라, 우리도 아직 그렇게 하고 있는것을 발견합니다.

그것은 마치 우리 본성에 내재된 것처럼 보입니다, 그리고 아마도 예수님께서 그것에 대해 그렇게 강조하시는 이유이기도 합니다. 우리는 종종 처음에는 좋은 의도로 시작하지만, 점점 자기 자만심과 자신의 흥미 쪽으로 점점 기울어지게 됩니다. 

그러면 여러분은 어떻게 자유로워질 수 있습니까?  여러분이 얼마나 많은 금액을 교회에 헌금하는지 다른 사람에게 이야기 하지 마십시오. 그저 관대하고 은밀하게 하십시오.

어떻게 여러분이 자유로워질 수 있습니까? 예수님께서 말씀하시길,  보여주기위한 기도는 하지마라고 하였습니다. 그렇습니다. 자주 기도하시고 즉각 기도해야 합니다. 만약 여러분이 해야한다면 길가에서도 기도해야 합니다. 그러나 종교적인사람들이 하는 것처럼 사람들에게 기도하는 것을 주의를 끌기 위한 목적으로는 해서는 안됩니다.

예를 들어 예배시간에 여러분이 대표기도를 한다고 해서, 특별한 목소리로 바꾸어서 하지 마십시오.  여러분은 어떤 사람이 대표기도를 할 때 목소리를 조금 바꾸어서 하는 사람이 있는 것을 들어본 적이 있으실 것입니다. 또는 평상시 대화에는 전혀 사용하지도 않는 단어들을 가지고 기도를 하는 것을 들어보셨을 것입니다. 아마도 그들은  ‘주님께서는  거룩하시며’ 대신에 ‘당신(thou-당신의 옛말)은 거룩하시며’라는 단어들을 들어 보셨을 것입니다. 또한 ‘안전한 여행’이라는 단어 대신에 ‘여행하는 자비’를 베풀어 달라는 단어를 사용하기도 합니다.

금식에 대해서는 아마도 우리가 금식을 자주 하지 않기 때문에 덜 일어날 것입니다.하지만 여전히 사람들은 노골적으로 저녁 파티에 참석해서는 지금 금식중이라 먹을 수 없다고 하며 종교적인 행위를 드러내려고 하는 사람이 있습니다.

여러분의 마음은 어디에 있습니까? 여러분은 여러분의 이익을 위해서 부지런히 기도하고 금식하십니까, 아니면 하나님을 위해서 입니까? 여러분은 누구를 섬기는 것입니까?

위선자의 문제점은 남들에게 알려지는 것을 원한다는 것입니다. 예수님은 사람들이 갈망하듯 사람에게 보여졌다면, 하나님께서 주시는 상급을 잃는다고 하셨습니다. 얼마나 슬픕니까?

예수님께서는 하나님을 기쁘게 해드리는 영성이 깊은 자유에 대해 가르쳐주고 계십니다. 예수님은 다른 사람들을 기쁘게 하려는 속박을 벗어나는 자유를 주시고 계십니다.  그리고 또한 다른 사람들을 기쁘게 하는 것을 그만두라고 말씀하십니다. 여러분의 일을 다른 사람들이 알아주기를 기대하지 마십시오.

진정한 영성은 최대의 은밀함에 있습니다.

진정한 영성은 숨겨진 깊이에 있습니다.

진정한 영성은 많은 훈련 속에서 은밀하게 감추어져 있습니다.

예수님은 반복해서 하나님께서는 보이지않으시며 우리는 은밀하게 영적인 행위들을 실행해야 한다고 말씀하십니다. 우리의 진정한 동기가 이렇게 살아날 때, 우리는 종교활동을 공개적으로 펼치기를 요구하는 사람들의 비판에 대해서도 무시할 수 있는 자유를 발견하게 될 것입니다.  우리는 남다른 것에서부터 자유로워질 것입니다.

이것이 팔복에서 정의하는 우리가 살아야 할 방법의 제일 근원이라고 할 수 있습니다. 이것이 영적으로 가난하며, 의에 주리고 목마른 상태가 되는 것입니다.

이것은 진정한 축복의 삶으로 이끄는 길입니다. 예수님께서는 이 축복을 정의하시지는 않으셨지만, 우리는 다른 곳에서 그가 말씀하셨던 성부,성자,성령의 깊고 친밀한 교제임을 알 수 있습니다.

예수님께서는 위선자를 잘 가려내라고 이런 가르침을 주신것이 아닙니다.

예수님께서는 우리에게 위선자로 의심되는 사람들에게 그 들을 비난하라고 허락을 하신것도 아닙니다.

그러므로 이 가르침은  여러분 스스로 점검할 수 밖에 없습니다. 여러분은 아주 성능좋은 현미경아래에 있습니다.  여러분의 영적인 삶에 대해 다른 방향으로 비춰보고 있지 않았습니까?  여러분의 기도가 얼마나 남에게 보이게 했으며, 얼마나 개인적으로 이루어졌습니까?

예수님께서는 여러분이 공개적으로도 기도하기를 원하십니다. 예배드릴 때, 평상시의 목소리로 그리고 평소 사용하는 단어들을 사용해서 말입니다. 하지만 예수님께서는 이것이 개인기도를 위한 빙산의 일각이 되기를 원하시는 것입니다. 여러분의 대부분의 기도는 개인적으로 이루어져야 합니다. 만약 여러분이 기도하는 유일한 시간이 공적인 기도라면, 여러분이 여러분 자신을 돌아보아야 합니다.  만약 여러분이 공적으로도 개인적으로도 전혀 기도하지 않는다면, 또한 스스로를 점검 해 볼 필요가 있습니다.

예수님께서는 여러분이 가난한 자들에게 관대하게 베풀기를 원하십니다. 하지만 아무에게도 말하지 않고 말입니다. 만약 여러분의 가장 친한 친구조차 당신이 너그럽지 않는 사람이라 생각하더라도 괜찮습니다.  하나님만이 그 사실을 아셔야 할 유일한 분이기 때문입니다.

여러분이 금식하는데 아무도 모릅니까? 좋습니다. 그렇게 하십시오. 오늘날의  대부분의 금식은 다이어트로 불려지고 비밀과는 거리가 멉니다. 또한 완전히 다른 이유로 행해지고 있는 것입니다.그 에 따른 이득도 이 생에서만으로 제한 될 것입니다. 다이어트를 하는 것이 잘못되었다고 말하는 것은 아닙니다.

우리는 계속해서 우리자신이 사람들에게 보이는 종교생활의 방법에 흔들리고 있지 않은지를 점검해야 합니다.  우리는 우리 자신을 은밀한 영적인 방법으로 돌려야 합니다. 이것이 예수님께서 말씀하시는 자유로움의 길 입니다.

우리는 공적인 행동의 필요에서 자유롭습니다. 우리는 공적인 기준을 충족시켜야 한다는 필요에서 자유롭습니다. 우리는 다른 사람들을 기쁘게 해야 한다는 필요에서 자유롭습니다. 왜냐하면 우리는 하나님을 기쁘시게 해드리기 때문입니다. 우리는 위선에서 자유롭습니다.

우리는 종교적인외관을  유지하는 것에서 자유롭습니다.

여러분은 비밀리에  여러분의 아버지를 기쁘게 해주는 삶을 유지하는 것에 최우선순위를 두어야 합니다.

진정한 영성은 하나님의 시선을 위한 것입니다. 다른 사람들이 어떻게 생각할까하는 걱정은 그만하십시오. 여러분은 사람이 아니라 하나님을 기쁘게 해 드려야 합니다.

그리고 하나님을 기쁘게 하는 것은, 사람들에게 관대하게 줄 때, 은밀하게 주님을 찾고 그와 함께 이야기를 오랜 시간 나눌 때, 그리고 남모르게 금식할 때 입니다.

이것은 여러분이 지금 바로 시작할 수 있는 것들입니다.  기다리실 필요가 없습니다.

여러분이 대표기도를 할 때, 여러분이 평소에 사용하는 언어와 문장으로 기도하시면 됩니다. 여러분이 종교적인 단어들을 사용하지 않는다고 다른 사람들이 생각할까봐 걱정할 필요가 없습니다.  오직 기억하실 것은, 하나님께서는 여러분이 마음으로부터 오는 진실한 기도를 원하신다는 것입니다. 그러면 여러분은 그를 기쁘게 해드릴 수 있습니다.

이번 한주간 우리자신을 돌아봅시다. 그리고 하나님을 기쁘게 해 드립시다. 우리들의 아버지, 모든 것을 보시고, 상 주실 그분을 말입니다.

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The way of freedom

Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18

Jesus has taught us the way of fulfilment, and told us how to be blessed. He has taught us the way of perfection, and told us how righteous we must be.

Now he teaches us the way of freedom. He tells us how to be free.

Freedom is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as: “The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.” In the sense that every body is under the law of gravity, none of us are free to act contrary to gravity. So you aren’t free.

What then is this freedom of which Jesus talks? Of course he sets us free from sin. He releases us from captivity.

But in verses two, five and sixteen Jesus says he wants to set us free from hypocrisy. He wants to set us free from human religion. And he teaches us using three examples of religiosity.

He sounds the alarm immediately in verse one, saying first: “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.”

If you do your religious deeds in public to be admired, watch out because you will lose your blessing. You will lose the blessing that comes from being poor in spirit. You will lose your relationship with God.

He says this two more times regarding prayer and fasting. This establishes a clear pattern of three and reinforces the message. And the message seems to be rebel, go against the grain, refuse to conform to the normal pattern of religion. Do not be like the hypocrites!

He doesn’t say to stop doing these things. Jesus says do them in a hidden way so that your father in heaven is the only one who sees them. The wrong way to do any religious duty is with a fanfare, with announcements and posters. Not only was this common in the time of Jesus, we still come across it.

It seems to be built into our nature, which perhaps is why Jesus needs to make such a big point about it. We often start well, with good intentions, but then gradually veer toward conceit and self-interest.

How can you be free? Jesus says, Don’t tell anyone how much you donate to the church. Just give generously and secretly.

How can you be free? Jesus says, Don’t make a show of praying. Yes, pray often and urgently. Pray on a street corner if you must. But don’t do any of the things that religious people do to bring attention to their prayers.

When you pray during this service, for example, don’t adopt a special voice. Have you noticed people sometimes have a special voice for saying prayers. Or they have a special vocabulary and begin to use words that they would never use in normal conversation. Perhaps they say things like ‘thou art holy’ instead of ‘you are holy’ and they ask for ‘travelling mercies’ instead of ‘safe travel’.

As for fasting, maybe this happens less often because we fast less often. But still people can manage to point to themselves as being religious by blatantly attending a dinner party and then announcing that they are fasting and cannot eat.

Where is your heart? Are you giving generously, praying diligently and fasting for your own benefit or for God’s sake? Who are you serving?

The problem with the hypocrites was that they wanted recognition. Jesus said that as soon as they got the recognition they craved, they lost the recognition of God. How sad.

Jesus is pointing us toward the freedom to engage in spirituality that please God. He is giving us the freedom to stop trying to please others. And also telling us to stop pleasing ourselves. Don’t desire recognition for your work.

True spirituality seeks the way of maximum hiddenness.

True spirituality needs to have hidden depths.

True spirituality should actively conceal the cost of discipleship.

Jesus keeps repeating that God is unseen and we must perform our spiritual acts in secret. When our true motivation is to live like this, we shall discover the freedom to ignore the criticism of those people who demand public displays of religiosity. We shall be free to be different.

This is the route by which we live out the characteristics defined in the beatitudes. This is what it looks like to hunger and thirst after righteousness and to be poor in spirit.

This is the way to a life of true blessing. Jesus doesn’t define this blessing, but we know from elsewhere that he is talking about a deep and close relationship with God the father and with Jesus the son and with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus has not given us these teachings so that we can be alert to hypocrites. We do not have permission to condemn others whom we suspect are hypocrites.

This teaching is so that you can examine yourself. You are under the divine microscope. Have you begun to drift in the wrong direction with regard to your spiritual life? How much of your prayer is offered in public and how much in private?

Jesus wants you to pray in public, in the worship service, speaking in a normal voice and using normal words. But he wants this to be the public tip of a private iceberg. Most of your prayer should be done in private. If the only time you pray is in public, you need to examine yourself. If you don’t pray in public or in private you also are in need of some self-criticism.

Jesus wants you to give generously to the poor, but without telling anyone. If your best friend thinks you never give, that is fine. God is the only one who needs to know.

Do you fast but no one knows about it? Good, keep it that way. Most fasting these days is called dieting and is far from secret. It is also being done for entirely the wrong reasons. Any benefits will be limited to this life. I don’t mean it’s wrong to diet.

We have to keep checking that we aren’t drifting into the way of human religion. We have to keep bringing ourselves back to the way of secret spirituality. This is Jesus’ way of being free.

We are free from the need to publicly perform. We are free from the need to meet public standards. We are free from the need to please others, because we please God. We are free from hypocrisy.

We are set free from the bondage of keeping up religious appearances.

You have to make it the governing priority in your life to please your father in secret.

True spirituality is for God’s eyes only. Stop worrying what anyone else thinks. You’ve got to please God, not man.

And what pleases God is when you are generous in giving, when you seek him out in secret and spend a long time talking with him, and when you fast quietly.

This is something you can start right now. There is no need to wait.

When we come to open prayer in a minute, you can pray one sentence in normal everyday words. You don’t need to worry that someone thinks you didn’t use special religious words. Only remember that God wants you to pray simple prayers from the heart. Then you can please him.

Let’s examine ourselves this week, and seek to please God. The your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Amen

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Called to be perfect

Matthew 5:33–48

This week we have reached the last of Jesus’ six intensifications.

Here he is intensifying Leviticus 19:18 – ‘Love your neighbour’. But Jesus adds to these words. He says, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbour’ and hate your enemy.”

There is no verse in the Bible that says ‘hate your enemy’. It is to be supposed that this was a teaching of the rabbis. Maybe it had grown out of Deuteronomy 7:2, though there is a passage in the Dead Sea Scrolls that says ‘the sons of light hate the sons of darkness’. In the context of Jesus sermon it appears that enemy is those who persecute his followers. It means they are not your personal enemy, but the enemy of the Church. They are God’s enemy.

The first five intensifications have been hard enough, starting with our having to be more righteous than the Pharisees. But this has got to be the hardest of all.

It would be easier if Jesus had merely reinforced the command to love our neighbours. But he goes far beyond that by telling us we have to love our enemies.

He gives two examples of what this love looks like in action. First, it looks like prayer. Verse 44 says we must pray for them. And second in Luke 6:27, we should do good for them. Don’t think you are to pray bad things for the enemies of God.

For the Jews, the enemies would have been us. Gentiles. And the neighbours would have been fellow Jews. For us the neighbours are fellow disciples of Jesus, and the enemies are the persecutors.

Jesus emphasizes this in two ways. He says that loving your enemies will make you truly and son or daughter of God. You will have the family likeness of self-giving love. He tells us how the father loves family and enemy alike. God gives the rain and the sun to all of the human race without any regard to their spiritual condition. It isn’t that God doesn’t know who is good. God clearly sends his blessings on the ‘evil and the good’ and on the ‘just and the unjust’.

He clearly sees the true state of every person, and still chooses to love them.

In order to be like our father we have to recognise a person is evil or unjust and then love them despite it.

There are three missionaries in prison in North Korea right now. One from Australia, one from America and one from South Korea. How do you feel about the evil regime in the north that persecutes your brothers this way, torturing them and locking them up just for telling people the good news about Jesus. Do you want to hate them? Do you want God to send down a bolt of lightning and erase them from this world? Jesus says you must love them as God does. God gives them sunshine and rain just as he does people in South Korea.

Jesus also compares our love with the love of pagans and tax collectors. These are people who are despised. Pagans reject God and refuse to obey his law. Tax collectors are collaborators with the enemy and help oppress their own people. Can such people even love?

Within their families and groups, they do love. They greet each other and support each other. It’s normal human love. If that is all you do, you are no better than them.

Jesus demands that we walk a path of supreme righteousness. That path will make out of us a group of disciples who not only avoid hatred, but who actively love even their persecutors. That is what the church should be known for. Sadly it all too often isn’t.

In these six intensifications Jesus has taken us from his challenge to be more righteous than the Pharisees all the way to “you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

What kind of perfect is that?

God is awesome, powerful, holy, omnipresent. Are we supposed to be omnipresent? No, that isn’t what perfection means. It means that we are to perfectly be who we were created to be, without any contradictions. The relationship between our ideal, which is what God has in mind for us, and our reality, has to be perfect.

We are to have such a close warm loving relationship with God that it is perfect. Just as was the relationship that Jesus had with his father, our father.

Our call to be perfect is a call to be pure. It is a call to integrity. It is a call for our mind and heart to be one with God’s mind and heart. All the time. At work, at home and even while asleep.

The minimum standard that God has set for us is perfection. It is the minimum. There is no standard lower than this for his children.

Which brings us to a major point. Who then can be saved? Can anyone?

The answer is that nobody can be saved. There is no hope for anyone. Except we have faith in Jesus, we are lost. We need to be clothed in his righteousness. We need his new birth. We need the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and interceding for us with groans.

If we are disciples, there is no place for even the smallest complacency.

Jesus has spoken words to excite us and spur us into action. We are in pursuit of a goal, and the race will take our whole life. Every day from now until we reach glory is about striving onward and upward for perfection. The perfection of love for our enemies. The perfection of righteousness greater than that of the Pharisees. The perfection of purity. The perfection of integrity.

Totally unlike all the rules of the Pharisees for external conformity, we are called to an invisible inner conformity with God’s ideals. Every moment of every day we are called to excel at sacrificial love, purity of heart. Every moment of every day we take a new risk of faith. Who do we trust with all our heart?

The last beatitude pointed out that persecution is the inevitable lot of a follower of Jesus. The last intensification makes the same point. The way of perfection is the way of persecution. The way of suffering is the way to God.

We are learning to cry with God, instead of crying over our own suffering. As we shed tears together with God at the loss of his ideal and the pain of sin, we grow closer to him in heart and mind. We share intimate feeling and thoughts with him, and our relationship is enhanced through shared persecution.

When Jesus was on the cross, on the verge of death, in great pain, he didn’t pray for himself. He prayed for his persecutors. He lived out his teaching.

When Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, and then healed the man who had come to arrest him, he was living out his teaching. At every moment of every day, Jesus lived out his teachings. They were in perfect harmony.

This is what we also have to do. We are called to a life of perfect harmony between the teachings of our Lord and master, and our daily actions.

As we labour every day to make real in our lives the beatitudes and intensifications of Jesus’ Sermon of the Mount, we become living testimony to the Good News.

We labour together, not alone. We walk the way of suffering as members of a fellowship, not as lonely pilgrims. We need the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but we also need the community of brother and sister disciples. We need God and the Church in order to be perfect.

Believe you can be made perfect. Live like you believe. It’s what we are called to do.

Amen

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Forget revenge, just love

Matthew 5:31–48

What would you do if you bought a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s drive through and then spilled it on yourself? In 1994 a woman who did this decided the best idea was to sue McDonald’s. She claimed she was burned because the coffee was too hot. She won.

What would you do if your teacher gave you an A instead of an A+ for your course? In 2003 a boy sued his school, claiming damage to his career prospects. He lost.

Exodus 21:24, Deuteronomy 19:21 and Leviticus 24:20 say, “Your rule should be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

Very often these days we think that this law means we should be remorseless and unswerving in our relentless pursuit of a full measure of revenge and make every effort to get all we are due. Never let them get away with anything.

In America that means running to a lawyer and suing. In other places it may mean running for a gun or a bomb.

When this law was given things were different, its purpose was to restrict and limit the scope of retaliation.

In gang warfare you get the other guys back double or more, and take the law into your own hands. There is an escalation of tit for tat attacks. This Old Testament law was intended to stop that practise and bring a measure of justice.

Even so, an eye for an eye could, and often did, get vengeful.

By the time Jesus was speaking, physical payment in kind had been replaced by financial compensation. He reminds his hearers of the original law and then introduces the higher level of righteousness that God demands.

So how should we respond to those who do us harm? In verse 39 Jesus says, “Do not resist an evil person.”

Don’t sue them. Don’t shoot them. Don’t resist them in any way at all, legal or otherwise. Jesus not only asks us to give up retaliation and revenge, he asks us to put aside all resistance. This messianic extremism is indeed extreme.

Some of you may even now be thinking that it doesn’t make sense in this world. Jesus must have meant something else, you may think. Who ever lived like this?

Well, Jesus did. It is precisely what he did when he was arrested, tried and executed.

Jesus tells us that the priority for God is mercy over revenge, and radical servant-hood over self-assertion.

It works like this. Someone is angry for some reason and their emotions rise. They slap you on the right cheek. This is a terrible insult. In Jesus day you could take them to court for this and they would be heavily fined. This is a situation of anger and mockery and libel, not of physical assault. Instinct says hit back – hard! A calmer and more rational person would seek out a lawyer and take them to court.

Jesus says give up the violence, and forget the courts. He says, turn the other cheek.

You have rights in this situation, give them up. Let it go. Don’t make enemies. Leave the way open for reconciliation. Maybe he is already looking ahead to the persecution that his followers are all going to experience.

In Jewish law, a court could never take away a person’s outer garment. For humanitarian reasons, they were always entitled to keep the cloak on their back (Exodus 22:25-27). Jesus once again is extreme, in verse 40 he says we should be more zealous than the person who is suing us. Hand over your coat as well as your shirt if you are taken to court. Be willing to pay more than is asked or required of you.

In the ancient days a royal messenger was sent out on one horse. When that horse got tired he had the right to stop the first person he saw and exchange horses with them. He could not be refused. Similarly a Roman soldier could stop anyone and they had to help him carry his burden. This is what happened when Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross for Jesus.

It is most probable that people were resentful and angry about being made to carry out this task, though they were unlikely to show it. Against all common sense Jesus says in verse 41 that we should carry the load for a second mile.

In his fourth example, a man wants to borrow some money. Jesus tells his followers not to turn that person away. We are expected to lend willingly and generously to people in need.

In the version of this sermon in Luke 6 Jesus says: ‘Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back.’ He also says: ‘Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid.’

These four examples looked at together show us a new way of living. They also show how we so easily we can become defensive and protective. We want to fight back. We want to defend ourselves. We want to keep all we own. We want to do as little as possible reluctantly when ordered by a foreign soldier. We want a guarantee we will be paid back for our loans. We put ourselves first all the time.

What Jesus has told us to do is absurd. It is nonsense. He says we should not stand up for our rights. He says we should willingly serve others for no pay or reward. As Mother Teresa put it, We should love until it hurts. This is the way of Jesus.

Any time someone tries to initiate a relationship with us based on hate or anger, or any other wrong basis, we are to reject it. We are to instead try to initiate a relationship with them based on pure sacrificial love.

Because of how stupid this sounds. Because it seems like it would never work, most of us have never really tried to live this way. Christians are always taking each other to court. There are huge arguments about giving aid to enemy states such as North Korea. Some people say aid should only be a reward for good behaviour. There are huge arguments about social benefits, social medicine, joblessness and many other things that all come back to this.

But in fact Jesus is not talking about states or nations or governments. He is talking about you and me. He is speaking about how much we love all of our brothers and sisters. He is talking about our intentions to build up or break down relationships. What are our values?

What Jesus has given us is not a new law. That would be to slip back into the legalism he rejected. Jesus is calling us to a new righteousness and a new level of love. There are complex issues around this that we must wrestle with, but unless the foundation is right God cannot build the kingdom of heaven.

So please don’t rush out and give all of your money to the first beggar you see.

Jesus is seeking to build us up into a community of radical servant-hood. People who live for others, whoever they are and however we dislike them.

We are called to serve the unjust and exploitative, not to fight them with justice. Being a follower of Jesus isn’t about being right, it is about being loving.

Amen

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Reconcile your words and deeds

Matthew 5:31–48

On the 19th of October last year, The Magistrates’ Association of England and Wales rejected a proposal to end the practise of swearing an oath on the Bible.

For centuries, magistrates have dispensed justice in England and Wales, and relied on the Bible to force people to tell them the truth.

Its moral force was unquestioned, placing intense pressure on witnesses to tell the truth.

The oath, still sworn by witnesses and defendants as they hold a holy book, has given the English language one of its most familiar sentences.

“I swear by Almighty God [to tell] the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

There are the oaths of office that people take, such as when being sworn in as president of the United States of America.

Is Jesus saying in Matthew 5:33–37 that all of these actions are evil?

Well then, what of the oath that God swore to Abraham? We can see it in Hebrews 6:13, which says: “For example, there was God’s promise to Abraham. Since there was no one greater to swear by, God took an oath in his own name.”

Jesus first summarises the prevailing attitude to oaths by quoting Leviticus 19:12 – “Do not bring shame on the name of your God by using it to swear falsely.” – and Numbers 30:2 – “A man who makes a vow to the Lord or makes a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do.”

Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 says, “When you make a promise to God, don’t delay in following through, for God takes no pleasure in fools. Keep all the promises you make to him. It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it.”

The intention of the law is to promote integrity by emphasising that oaths should be taken seriously. That is similar to the use of the oath in British courts and it was the reason given last year for keeping the oath.

Jesus attacks grandiose oath taking that uses religious symbols to make our promises seem more credible. Since heaven and earth and the holy city are not subject to our authority, using them in oaths is gratuitous and meaningless.

More than that, they tend to insult God by reducing him to the role of a guarantor of our words. It is almost like using God in an advert to endorse our product. Is God our servant or hired lackey?

Jesus doesn’t like this kind of oath and tells us not to say these things.

He is not any more lenient with non-religious oaths, such as swearing by the hairs on your head. These days you would more commonly swear on your mother’s life or on your grandmother’s grave.

Again we are seeking to give credibility to our words through associating them with things over which we have no control. Jesus mocks such oaths, saying who can turn their hairs black or white. Obviously he had never heard of L’Oréal.

The reason for these kinds of oaths was that people were habitual liars. It had become necessary to make some special indication that these words were different from your normal words, which could not be trusted. But Jesus is adamant that all of our words should be trustworthy and not ever need any emphasis.

On two more occasions Jesus speaks about oaths.

Matthew 15:3–6 – “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honour your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honour their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition.”

Matthew 23:16 – “Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’ Blind fools! Which is more important—the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding. How blind! For which is more important—the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred?”

Jesus is calling us to be more righteous than the Pharisees, who would use an oath to God to disrespect their parents. He is calling us to a level of righteousness where all people know that we have integrity and there is never a need for an oath to show that these words now are trustworthy.

Jesus takes his own advice when questioned by the High Priest in Matthew 26.

‘Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “You have said it.” ’

Can people trust what you say?

Jesus says that every word we speak has to be trustworthy.

When you tell someone you will do this thing or that thing, do they have any reason to doubt you? When you say you will be in a certain place at a certain time, can this be relied on?

Have you ever agreed to meet a friend, who then turned up at a different time than you agreed or even didn’t turn up at all? Jesus says this kind of behaviour is unacceptable.

He demands integrity. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. If you say it, do it.

When we talk about integrity we are again talking about relationship. Integrity is the relationship between what we think, what we say, and what we do. Are they in harmony with each other? Are they closely related? Are they tightly connected?

As always with Jesus, the focus is not on the obvious external situation. He is not talking about whether it is right to swear on the Bible when giving evidence in a court in England or Wales.

He is talking about your attitude to what you say. He is talking about your integrity. Are your words and deeds reconciled. Do they love each other.

Jesus is yet again intensifying, and he is steering us away from the legalistic outlook of the Pharisees.

Do you have a reputation for honesty? Do all your friends know that you only say what is true? Do all the non-believers who know you trust your words? Are you a person of such integrity that no one would ever think of requiring you to take an oath?

Whatever the world says about white lies and half-truths, Jesus says we should be people of our word. We should be paragons of integrity.

I think all of us have experienced people who are unreliable, who say things easily but don’t follow through. This is not what we are called to be like.

Swiss watches are world famous for their integrity. If a Swiss watch tells you it is 4:27 you know it really is 4:27 and not 4:28 or any other time. That is what we are called to be like. We are forbidden to use an excuse such as, ‘I didn’t promise.’ If you said it, you are bound to your words.

Otherwise, don’t say it. Don’t say ‘yes’ when the real answer is ‘no’.

I understand that there are cultural issues that make it harder, or less intuitive, for some people to adopt this new standard of righteousness. But we belong to a new culture with a new standard. This new culture is the one that Jesus is defining for us week by week through his Sermon on the Mount.

It is a culture that focuses on our inner standards of holiness. It is a culture that demands our integrity. From now on if you haven’t already been doing this please speak honestly and live with integrity. Bring honour to God with your life.

As Jesus says in verse 37: “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.”

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