Wembley Downs Uniting Church
Current Sermons
The Law and Living on the Edge (Kerry Macmillan and Russ Revell) 12.2.2017
Readings: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20; Matthew 5: 1-7

Russ:
If you have ever sat in a Court Room, you would have become acutely aware of the different types and classes of people around you and the different voices and tones of expression, for example: ` Silence in the Court`. This morning we are going to begin our service with 30 seconds of silence.

And in that brief time we ask you in our setting to become aware of those around you, who like you, are here to offer their form of worship to the same Spirit of Life within each of us.

So let us reflect for 30 seconds.

We live in a society where the Law neither prevents nor demands our presence here this morning, and it is likewise for the faith to which we have attached ourselves.

We are here because we have the freedom of choice and we choose to worship and respond to the Spirit of Life within us and to join in community from which relationship can flourish.

We remind ourselves that Jesus of Nazareth lived an example in which relationship was the key - a relationship that extended to every person with whom he came in contact and that together they were in relationship to the whole of the created order - bound together by that which is beyond the Law - to that which is of the heart and mind through love, caring, compassion and forgiveness - that which brings justice and peace for all. Amen.

Candles are lit for celebration and also for remembrance, everything from pageantry to mourning.

They are made of just two components - wax and a wick, but importantly they are self-consuming as they give out light.

So we light this candle symbolising that Jesus brought fullness of life to us and the world.

Kerry:
Children`s address - Living on the edge. (screen shots)
Refer to plants and animals on the edge - what do you think of? (danger, risk, impossibility, amazement, desperation, struggle)
People engaging in activities on the edge - what do you think of? (fear, danger, bravery, excitement, achievement, thrilled, sick)
Some people chose to live on the edge. What about living on the edge because you have no choice? - what do you think of? (courage, worried, making the most of what you have, danger, sadness, luck good or bad)
People helping others in dangerous situations - what do you think of? (bravery, team work, supporting each other, taking risks, fear
) Today we will hear more about what it might mean to live on the edge.

Russ:
This morning we are using the lectionary passages from the Old and New Testaments. Before you listen to the Old Testament, here is a quick outline of Deuteronomy.

Chap 1-3 Moses recounts the story of the Exodus as this band of escapees from Egypt are about to enter the promised land - this is the story that became so central to the Jewish faith.

Chap 4 is a call to obedience with demands to observe the Law. Example -. Verse 2: You must carry out all the commandments of the Lord your God which I lay upon you`.

Chaps 5 to 26 Spell out hundreds of details of what the law entails including threats for disobedience. It is a time of blessing and cursing.

Chap 30: that recognisable Verse 19 - `I offer you the choice of life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life and then you and your descendants will live . . .`

Chaps 32 and 33: The appointment of Joshua and the death of Moses.

Reading: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20
However we choose to understand or interpret the book of Deuteronomy as history, mythology, metaphor or a mixture of all three we` ll leave to you. However it does carry with it the contentious issue of `A Chosen Race` and `A Promised Land`, the outcome of which still reverberates to this very day.

Whether the forty years of wandering in the desert is history or symbolism for `a long time`, it was a long journey about survival, subsistence living and no doubt deprivation of every kind. As this band of wanderers were about to enter the Promised Land there is the suggestion they were now a whole new generation of people than those who left Egypt.

The foremost theme of the book is keeping Mosaic Law, together with the impossibility of doing so. There was social order to be maintained, coupled with discontentment and rebellion that relied on leadership to ensure it did not all collapse. There was the endless sacrifice to atone for the sins of those who continually transgressed the law. It was a time of `Living on the Edge`. Moses, perhaps more than anyone else, was `Living on the edge`. Remember he had been a reluctant leader arguing with his God that he was not capable of doing the job; there must surely be someone more suitable than himself. He finally relents and takes on the assignment without any guaranteed superannuation and to cap it all never actually enters that Promised Land.

Imagine the task of organising that group. Moses` solution seems to have been promulgating Laws which he believed to be God`s Laws. It was imposed and in administering it he was certainly `Living on the Edge` to successfully pull off the task he was given.

We might laud Moses for his heroics in leading the people to their promised land. However, if we continue the story it is disturbing to read of the destruction of the people in the cities of the land they occupied. In Chapter 1 of Joshua, God says to Joshua - `Now it is for you to cross the Jordan to the land which I am giving them. Every place where you set foot is yours`. from the desert and the Lebanon to the great river Euphrates, and across all Hittite country westwards to the great Sea, all this shall be your land.`

Hittite country was most of what is now Turkey. This vast tract of Promised Land also puts Aleppo well in its midst. On the film clip you will see a contrasting way to `live on the edge` that challenges the way of violence and says `there is nothing you can do to make me change the way I choose to live in promoting a peaceful way of life for all`.

Watch the video

We have a minute - would anyone like to share their response? Some would say he was deranged where others would say he was just stupid or obstinate. Still others would say he was the sanest person in Syria at the time.

Reading: Matthew 5: 21 - 37


Kerry:

How well this reading follows the Deuteronomy reading. In Deuteronomy, following the law was a matter of life and death. The future of the Israelite nation was at stake. The success of their journey depended on laws that would protect and uphold them, ensuring their health, social cohesion and single-mindedness of purpose. Obedience would lead them safely to the Promised Land. Disobedience would mean failure.

Obedience to the law was an issue for Matthew`s community too. Matthew` writings reflect the friction in his time between the Jewish Christians and those from the established Jewish Synagogue Tradition. It was suggested that those who followed Jesus wanted to abolish the law, but Matthew is at pains to point out that this is not so. Prior to our reading, in Ch 5 verse 17 he has Jesus saying ` Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfil them.` In this passage, Jesus is challenging us. We know the laws of our forefathers, and if we hear them and interpret them literally, then full-on murder is just as bad as an angry insult. Adultery is just as bad as a lustful thought about another person` s partner. And every offence will be punished equally. Only the perfect will escape the fires of hell. If taken literally, this is plainly ridiculous.

The law is just the starting point. To simply follow it literally is not enough. It`s not enough just not to kill someone. You must deal with your feelings of anger and hatred, not only in extreme situations, but in the everyday matters of living and relating with others. It`s not enough just not to commit adultery or to never break on oath. Nathan Nettleton sums it up well: `If you think that religious righteousness is only about avoiding breaking any biblical laws, then your guiding question will be `how bad can I be without breaking any laws?`, whereas Jesus wants you to stop worrying about the wording of the laws and make your guiding question, `how good and loving and just can I possibly be?` `

We cannot avoid having laws, but laws in themselves are inadequate in dealing with every personal or societal difficulty. If we believe in the love and generosity and forgiveness of God, then we need to apply that to our own lives, both in our attitude to ourselves and the way we relate to others. This may well bring us into conflict with existing social attitudes or even with our legal system. How do we approach those with whom we`ve had a falling out? How do we stand up to injustices we come across? If we are locked in to the generally accepted mindset that people are either good or bad; behaviour is either right or wrong; bad people and wrong behaviour must be punished, then we miss the point of Jesus` teachings. In aiming to follow Jesus` ultimate law, to love one another, we will almost certainly be confronted with choices that will pit us against the social norms of our community, or against the laws of our country. Will we call out injustice when we see it? And even though we say God loves everybody, will we stand beside those who are rejected by our community - even if they are utterly unlovable - and risk our own reputation and standing? Will we uphold the command to `love one another`, even when we don`t want to, or if it conflicts with the laws of our land? That would be living on the edge: a risky place to be.

Russ:
Whilst we have no obligation to comply with Moses` 3000 year old laws we still have a plethora of contemporary laws governing every aspect of our lives. Whether we agree or disagree with them we are all caught up in the system in which our lives are lived out. Let`s not forget that the Church over the centuries has been keen on introducing laws to suit its own purposes but is much less effective in doing so in the present age.

It is reasonable to assume that we cannot live without certain laws that give certainty and stability to our communities, and that laws suitable to more tribal living in the past are not suitable to the present day of globalisation, communication and the massive movement of people around the world. The issue for us is to be sure that laws are beneficial to all people and contribute to building relationships, harmony, fairness, and the sustainability of the created order - in other words all that brings fullness of life about which Jesus spoke of and lived out. The question is `What do we do about it if the law seems so totally wrong and contrary to those things? And what might taking the phrase `Living on the edge` mean in reality?

Moses lived on the edge with a multiplicity of laws. Jesus lived on the edge at the cost of his life with fewer laws - really saying you can get by with just two - Love God and love your neighbour as yourself.

So moving from Mosaic Law to the Jesus Way, we ask you to consider how we might react or live life more on the edge, rather than just accepting what is claimed to be `lawful`. By doing nothing we are in fact authenticating those laws which we would see as `unlawful`.

Kerry:
It is now awareness or thinking time. We are going to do this by thinking about Laws that have an effect upon us all either directly or indirectly.

Between each segment there will be a moment of silence for you to reflect upon your reaction to them and how it may be necessary for us to live `more on the edge` in relation to them.

Let us pray, reflect or think about these things.

Russ:
We as a country participate in legally acceptable ways of killing people by waging or participating in wars, rather than pursuing totally a system of relationship and peace. We have some sections of Christianity who still believe in `A Just War`. Let us acknowledge that modern warfare kills far more innocent civilians than armed opponents. And that the effect and suffering of warfare continues after cessation into the generations that follow. Silence

Kerry:
We participate in a legal system of punishment that relies on ever increasing lengths of incarceration in spite of evidence from all quarters to the contrary. We do this rather than pursuing totally a preventive system and restorative justice. At this time of electioneering in our State we hear again the familiar catch cry of `getting tough on crime` and pushing for longer sentences for deterrence. We are mindful of the disproportionate incarceration rate of indigenous people.

Silence

Russ:
We are caught up and are participants in an economic system that in the main favours the already favoured, rather than the poorest of the poor. It is well recognised that the gap between rich and poor is increasing dramatically. We need to consider as individuals as well as a nation - from where does our wealth come and how it is spent?

Silence

Kerry:
We are witnesses to an unprecedented movement of people around the world and a refugee crisis that at the moment shows no improvement. Figures from UNHCR show 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homes. And in Australia we still have 1200 refugees stranded on Nauru and Manus Island. Notably some of the poorest countries in the world are hosting the most refugees. Where do we stand and how do we respond as a Christian nation?

Silence

As we have found in raising these issues, easy solutions have probably not come to mind. However the issues remain before us as does the question - how are we to `live life more on the edge?

Russ: (The candle is extinguished.)
`The candle has been further consumed during the period of this service, yet when relit its light will be as bright as ever until it totally consumes itself`.

Life on the edge is ever before us in this community of Wembley Downs, and also in the wider world in which we are engaged.

We go from here aware of the Spirit of Life forever within us - accompanying us along the way.

Amen


130 Calais Road, (crnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882

Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands,
Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands