My sermon this week was based on Matthew 5:21-37.
To download an audio of my sermon, click here.
So that may be an alarming title for a sermon, but bear with me. Jesus tells us that if we have hatred in our heart, we have already committed murder and if we have lust in our heart, we have already committed adultery, and we are liable to the fire of hell.
See you there.
I think it is fairly obvious that Jesus is speaking hyperbolically in this passage. If we all followed his direction to start hacking off limbs if they caused us to sin, I think we would all be stumps at this point. Sin, whether it be anger, lust, greed or whatever is simply part of the human condition, and we all have felt their pull, but it is actually what we do with and about that sin that defines us as people and as Christians.
Oddly enough, I think this passage has everything to do with community, even though Jesus doesn't mention in explicitly, once again bear with me.
When you ask a person in my age bracket (50 and under or so) what their religion is, how they practice their faith, their response is most likely something that has now become something of a cliche: "I'm more spiritual than religious".
More often than not, what this actually means is, "I like sleeping in on a Sunday", or "I don't want the responsibility that comes with being a member of a community".
My generation is extremely selfish. We are not joiners, we don't like to commit, we don't like strings attached. We are taught, although perhaps not in so many words, to be self-reliant, self-supporting, to stand on our own two feet. The problem with this attitude is that it does very little to foster a sense of community, and it is to our detriment, because it is only within the context of a community that we really become human beings.
Let me put it this way: if you were born and raised in a box and never had any contact with any other human being, you would most likely never have to learn how to cope with anger or lust because you would never have felt them. Other people are often the cause of or at least the sounding board for our own emotions. If we were raised in a box and somehow managed to have emotions of some kind, we would have no idea how to regulate them. Our communities, whether they be our families, our friends, our churches or our workplaces are therefore quite literally a training or proving ground in which we are able to practice, exercise and regulate our emotion. Our communities teach us what is appropriate and inappropriate in terms of our emotional reactions.
When you join a community, there are always expectations: dues to pay, volunteer positions to fill, schedules to keep, behavioural norms to adhere to, etc. I can't think of a single group or community that has no expectations whatsoever. Churches are no different. Many people, particularly in my age range, balk at those expectations, and fail to adhere to a community because they don't want to take on those expectations.
The other thing about my generation is that we are consumers. If we don't like the minister or the yogi or the soccer coach or the painting instructor, we just find one we do like. If we get into a disagreement with someone at our church, our yoga studio, our sports complex or our art class, we just leave.
The problem with this is that if we leave without resolving these problems, we deny ourselves of one of the greatest gifts of community, and that is reconciliation and forgiveness.
It has been said that anyone who thinks forgiveness is for the weak hasn't tried it. It takes enormous strength to forgive someone, to be forgiven, to forgive oneself. How could one do this without a community? True, without a community there would likely be no sin to begin with, but then in what sense could be possibly embrace the fullness of our humanity? Life in a box would be awfully boring.
I think the gifts of being in community far outweigh the drawbacks. I think that anyone who deprives themselves of community is robbing themselves of the full bounty of what it means to be human, with all our strengths and weaknesses, all our failures and triumphs, all our joy and sorrow. I for one am glad of the community that surrounds me and all the blessings and trials that brings.