Friday, February 28, 2014

March Roster


Coffee between services
Greeter/Sidespeople:  B. Cavey/T. Wittkopf
Counter: B. Cavey/T. Wittkopf                                   
Reader: T. Cromarty                                                 
(Exodus 24: 12-18,Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1: 16-21)
Lay Administrants: C. Aasen/ M. Rys                        
Intercessor: B. Popp                                                           
Lay Reader: D. MacNeill   (Matthew 17: 1-9)
Altar Guild (Green): M. Woytkiw/K. Hughes
Prayer Team:  L. Sanderson/ S. Jayakaran                          
Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen           
Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen
Kitchen: 9:45 – J. Johnston
Music: M. Chesterton
Altar Servers:  E. Jayakaran

March 9th, 2014 Lent 1  
DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME
Greeter/Sidespeople: The Aasens                        
Counter:  C. Aasen/S. Floden                                   
Reader: G. Hughes                                   
(Genesis 2: 15-17, 3: 1-7, Psalm 32, Romans 5: 12-19)
Lay Administrants: D. MacNeill/D. Schindel                                               
Intercessor:  L. Thompson                       
Lay Reader: E. Gerber  (Matthew 4: 1-11)
Altar Guild (Purple):  M. Lobreau/T. Wittkopf                           
Prayer Team: M. Chesterton/K. Hughes                                   
Sunday School (School Age): M. Cromarty           
Sunday School (Preschool): T. Laffin
Kitchen: The Popps
Music: E. Thompson
Altar Servers: A. Jayakaran

March 16th, 2014  Lent 2 
Greeter/Sidespeople: The Schindel’s           
Counter:  D. Schindel/ D. Sanderson                       
Reader: S. Jayakaran  (Genesis 12: 1-9, Psalm 121, Romans 4; 1-5, 13-17)                                   
Lay Administrants: G. Hughes/L. Thompson                                        
Intercessor: D. MacNeill                       
Lay Reader:  B. Popp  (John 3: 1-17)
Altar Guild (Purple) P. Major/L. Schindel
Prayer Team: K. Hughes/L. Sanderson                           
Sunday School (School Age): K. Durance
Sunday School (Preschool): M. Rys
Kitchen: M. Chesterton
Music: M. Eriksen                                       
Altar Servers: E. Jayakaran

March 23rd, 2014  Lent 3 
Greeter/Sidespeople: The Popps           
Counter: B. Popp/R. Mogg                                   
Reader: S. Watson                                               
(Exodus 17: 1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5: 1-11)
Lay Administrants: T. Wittkopf/D. MacNeill           
Intercessor: L. Thompson                                   
Lay Reader: L. Thompson   (John 4: 5-42)
Altar Guild (Purple) M. Woytkiw/L. Pyra
Prayer Team: M. Rys/S. Jayakaran                                               
Sunday School (School Age): M. Cromarty           
Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen
Kitchen: E. McFall                                    
Music:  M. Chesterton
Altar Servers: A. Jayakaran

March 30th, 2014  MW  Lent 4  
Greeter/Sidespeople: The Hughes           
Counter: G. Hughes/B. Popp                                   
Reader:  D. Schindel                                               
(1 Samuel 16: 1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5: 8-14)                       
Intercessor:  C. Aasen                                   
Lay Reader:  B. Popp  (John 9: 1-41)
Altar Guild (Purple):  M. Lobreau/MW                                               
Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen           
Sunday School (Preschool): T. Laffin
Kitchen:  V&J Goodwin                        
Music:  R. Mogg
            

March 3rd - 9th, 2014



COFFEE BETWEEN SERVICES THIS SUNDAY!

March 3rd, 2014
Office is closed.
3:30 – 7:30 pm  Loshbough Music Rental
March 4th , 2014
5:00 pm Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper
7:30 pm  ‘Meeting Jesus’ Bible Study #6
March 5th, 2014
7:30 pm  Ash Wednesday Service
March 6th, 2014
7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible Studies at the Bogani Café
2:00 pm Women’s Afternoon Bible Study @ M. Rys Home
March 7th, 2014
3:30 pm  Corporation Meeting
March 8th, 2014
7:00 pm  Malankara Church Rental
March 9th, 2014  Lent 1
9:00 am Holy Communion 
10:30 am Holy Communion and Sunday School 

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper: Tuesday March 4th. There will be two sittings, at 5.00 p.m. and 6.00 p.m.; the second sitting will wrap up at 6.45 to give time to clean up before Bible Study. Please sign up on the sheet at the back of the church or email Jen at stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 5th, and we will celebrate Holy Communion with the Imposition of Ashes at 7.30 p.m. Lent is about making intentional changes in our lives to improve our relationship with God and with others. The Ash Wednesday service says that we do this ‘by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God’. Why not make some plans, and then come to the Ash Wednesday service as a way of kicking off your holy Lent?

DATES TO LOOK FORWARD TO:
March 9th – Daylight Savings Time
March 20thSPRING!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Imitating the God Who Loves His Enemies (a sermon for Feb. 23rd on Matthew 5:38-48)

In 1569 a young man named Dirk Willems was burnt at the stake for heresy in the town of Asperen in the Netherlands. Some of you have heard me tell his story before; for others, it will be new. Today many Christians around the world look on him as a hero. Let me tell you why.

When Dirk was a teenager he met some Anabaptists. In the 16th century, these were the Christians who opposed the idea of having a state church. They didn’t believe that people were Christians just because they were citizens of a so-called ‘Christian country’; they believed that you had to choose for yourself to become a follower of Jesus, that you should be baptized as an adult as a sign of this commitment, and that you then became part of a fellowship of people who were learning how to put Jesus’ teaching into practice. In particular, most Anabaptists believed that followers of Jesus should not participate in war, and should literally love their enemies as Jesus taught us. The state churches considered them a threat to their power, and so hundreds of Anabaptists were horribly tortured and executed.

Dirk was attracted to Anabaptist ideas, and he was baptized as an adult in Rotterdam. He then returned to his home town of Asperen and quietly began to host illegal Anabaptist meetings in his house. At those meetings, he and some others taught a way of being Christian that was incompatible with the way the established church at that time taught it. Eventually he was arrested and imprisoned, but he managed to escape from the prison by climbing out of the window and clambering down a rope made of knotted cloths, and he ran for safety. However, he was seen from the prison, and a guard ran after him. It was early spring; Dirk approached a still-frozen pond, but he had been eating prison food and didn’t weigh very much, so he made it across the thin ice. The guard, however, had been eating rather better, and he broke through the ice. In terror of drowning, he cried out for help.

What would you have done, in Dirk’s shoes?

Dirk turned back. At great risk, he reached across the ice to rescue his pursuer. When the guard was safely on dry ground, he promptly re-arrested Dirk and incarcerated him in a more secure prison – the tower of the Asperen parish church. This time there was no escape. Dirk was tried for heresy, and was condemned to be burned to death at the stake. The execution was exceptionally painful; the wind blew the fire away from his upper body, and so he died very slowly. Witnesses are recorded as having heard him cry out many times, “Oh Lord, my God!” as he was being burned.

Was Dirk right to do what he did?

Christians for many centuries have disagreed over the issue of war. Is it right for Christians to participate in wars and to kill the enemies of their country? Those who say it is right have argued that Jesus’ teaching about loving your enemies was intended to guide personal behaviour, not state policy. Personally I think there’s a lot more too it than that, but be that as it may, what we have here is precisely a story about personal behaviour, and so, at least in theory, all Christians are agreed that we can’t wiggle out of this one. Dirk did as Jesus commanded in our Gospel for today, and he was not delivered; he suffered horribly for his decision. Why did he do that? And why did Jesus command us to do this?

The reason Jesus commanded us to do this is because this is the way God treats us. At the heart of the Christian Gospel is the story of a God who loves his enemies. And that’s what Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel reading.

But before we look again at the words of Jesus for today, let’s remind ourselves of what he is doing in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. Earlier in the chapter he told us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will never enter God’s kingdom. The scribes and Pharisees were seen as the most religious people in Jesus’ day, so this might seem like a tall order, but as we read on we see that Jesus had a different view. To him, their religion was often only skin deep; they were satisfied with outward conformity to the letter of the law, while they ignored the spirit of it. And so Jesus challenges us, his disciples, to go beyond the letter of the Old Testament law and to focus on the inner transformation that is God’s dream for us.

And so, as we saw last week, we aren’t to be satisfied with just avoiding murder while all the time nursing anger and resentment against others; rather, we’re to do all we can to be fully reconciled with one another. It’s not enough only to tell the truth when we’re under oath in court; we’re to be such honest people that no-one would even think of asking us to take an oath because they know we always tell the truth.

You see, in all the examples he gives, Jesus calls his followers to move beyond the Old Testament laws and to strive to live by the perfect law of love. He’s quite clear about what he’s asking his followers to do with regard to the Old Testament; over and over again he says, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times… but I say to you…”. Obviously, though he respects the Old Testament law, he doesn’t see it as completely adequate as a basis for living a godly life, and so he ‘fulfils’ it in the sense of exploring its deeper meaning and even, in some cases, apparently overturning it in favour of a more perfect way.

This is particularly relevant to today’s passage. In the Old Testament, as you  know, there are many stories of wars and violence apparently being sanctioned by God, but Jesus offers his followers a completely different way of dealing with evil. Let’s listen again to his words:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

I wonder what your instinctive reaction is when you hear these words of Jesus? Perhaps you think he’s being outrageous: how can he possibly demand such a thing? Doesn’t he understand that if we act in this way we’re just going to encourage people to continue their evil behaviour? Surely he’s being impossibly idealistic here! I’m reminded of the story of a Scottish pastor who was preaching a series on the Sermon on the Mount. An old lady objected to his sermon about loving enemies, and when he replied that he was simply quoting the words of Jesus, she replied, “Yes, but Jesus was a very young man when he preached that sermon!”

But here’s the catch: don’t we assume, every one of us, that God will treat us in this way? Don’t we almost see it as our right? The God Jesus describes to us in the Gospels is constantly loving his enemies. As Jesus says, God doesn’t check to see if you believe in him before he lets you benefit from the sunshine. He doesn’t check to see if you’ve obeyed the Ten Commandments before he decides whether or not it will rain on you. No, ‘he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (v.45).

The God we read about in the New Testament is constantly loving people who don’t deserve to be loved. It’s almost forty-two years since I first gave my life to Jesus. I have to say that I’m still confessing some of the same sins, on an almost daily basis, that I was confessing forty-two years ago. I’ve made progress in some areas, but in others I’ve gotten nowhere at all. Sometimes I put in an honest effort to change; at other times I just like an easy life too much. Sometimes, to be absolutely honest, I find a particular sin just too enjoyable to give up! And yet, day by day, I go to God and ask him to forgive me. I never think of saying to him, “I don’t think you’d better forgive me for this, Lord – if you do, you’ll just reinforce my bad behaviour”. No, I ask for forgiveness, and I know I have received it, because he continues to bless me with a sense of his presence and an awareness of his mercy and grace. That’s what the Christian gospel is all about: a God who loves people whether they deserve it or not, because it is his nature to love.

The God we read about in the New Testament is constantly turning the other cheek. And in this case, it’s like Father, like Son. Jesus, of course, was the ultimate practitioner of his own sermon. He loved his enemies and prayed for those who persecuted him. When the soldiers were nailing him to the Cross he prayed for all who were involved in his execution, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing”. And his death was the ultimate example of how God treats human sinfulness. God chose not to send the entire human race to hell for our rebellion. Instead, he came among us in Jesus and took the sins of the world on his own shoulders. Rather than making us suffer for our sins, he chose to bear the suffering himself, so that we could be forgiven.

So this passage, you see, is rooted in the Gospel, the good news of God’s grace. Grace is a Bible word that means ‘love that you don’t deserve’. You don’t have to earn it, you don’t have to do something to purchase it; it just comes to you for free, because God is that kind of God. God doesn’t love us because we’re loveable; he loves us because he is love, whether we’re loveable or not.

And that’s the wonderful good news that Jesus has commissioned us to announce to everyone, everywhere: that God has declared an amnesty to all who will take advantage of it by coming to Jesus and putting their trust in him. You can be the older brother who never left home or the younger brother who squandered his father’s property with prostitutes. You can be a self-righteous Pharisee or a tax collector who’s broken every rule in the book. God’s not choosy – if you turn back to him and put your life in Jesus’ hands, you can be forgiven.

But here’s the catch: if you want to take advantage of God’s grace, you have to commit yourself to living by that same principle of grace in your own life. Jesus spelled it out for us in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”. He goes on to say, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Yes, we were God’s enemies, but fortunately for us God is in the habit of loving his enemies, and so instead of being cast into the outer darkness we were welcomed home to the Father’s house. Very good, Jesus says – now: go and do likewise.

The way Jesus sees it, children who have good parents should want to be like them; if they don’t, there’s something wrong. So often, when we are confronted with some piece of sinfulness in ourselves, we say, “I’m only human, you know!” And of course God understands that, which is why he is such a patient and merciful God. But he longs for us to aim higher than that! He longs for us to look up to him and say, like a little child who is so proud of his father, “When I get older, I want to be like my Dad!” And so he ends today’s reading by saying, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v.48). This sounds like an impossible ideal, and no doubt it is very difficult, but let’s remember that the word ‘perfect’ in this context means ‘complete, with nothing left out’. What Jesus is saying is ‘Our heavenly Father leaves no one outside the circle of his love, and you must do the same’.


No one ever said this would be easy. No one promised it would never get us into trouble. Dirk Willems knew very well that turning back to help his enemy would probably mean his death. But he did it anyway, because he wanted to be like his heavenly Father, and like his Master Jesus. Followers of Jesus are content to do as Jesus says, and trust that the same God who vindicated him will one day vindicate us as well. And so, like him, we are called to walk the costly path of love. Let us pray that the God who strengthened Jesus will strengthen us also, so that we too are able to leave no one out of the circle of our love.

Friday, February 21, 2014

February 24 - March 2nd, 2014


DATES TO LOOK FORWARD TOO!
March 4th – Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper
March 5th – Ash Wednesday Holy Communion Service
March 9th – Daylight Savings Time
March 20th – SPRING!

February 24th, 2014
Office is closed.
9:00 – 3:00 pm  Threshold Ministries Rental
3:30 – 7:30 pm  Loshbough Music Rental
February 25th , 2014
7:30 pm  ‘Meeting Jesus’ Bible Study #5
February 25th – 27th, 2014
Clergy Retreat for Tim
February 27th, 2014
7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible Studies at the Bogani Café
2:00 pm Women’s Afternoon Bible Study @ M. Rys Home
7:00 – 9:00 pm Helmman Rental
February 28th, 2014
4:30 – 6:30 pm  Derksen Wedding Rehearsal Rental
March 1st, 2014
12:30 – 2:30 pm  Derksen Wedding Rental
March 2nd, 2014  Last Sunday after Epiphany
9:00 am Holy Communion 
10:30 am Holy Communion and Sunday School  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Greater Righteousness: a Sermon for February 16th on Matthew 5:21-37

If a preacher stood up in a pulpit today and said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of Mother Theresa, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”, I suspect the members of the congregation would be shocked. Mother Theresa, who gave her entire life to serving the poor of Calcutta? Mother Theresa, who thought nothing of cleaning out bedpans and washing the hideous wounds of lepers? Mother Theresa, who spent an hour in prayer every morning before the Blessed Sacrament before she went out to her day’s work? How the heck can we have a greater righteousness than hers?

And we need to start by understanding that this is exactly how the crowd would have felt when they heard the last words of last week’s gospel. Look with me again at Matthew 5:17-20:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

In the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were highly respected for keeping the Law of Moses. They had calculated exactly how many ‘thou shalts’ and how many ‘thou shalt nots’ were in the law, and they had added all sorts of traditions to apply the commands to every conceivable situation in daily life. In the gospels we mainly get a negative view of them, but this shouldn’t blind us to the fact that most people in the time of Jesus looked up to them and saw them as the most holy and devout people of their generation. So for Jesus to talk about a greater righteousness than that of the scribes and Pharisees would have been an astounding thing to the people of his day.

What does he mean by ‘a greater righteousness’? Well, that’s what we’re going to find out today and next week. He spends the rest of Matthew chapter five giving examples of the sort of thing he means. And we get a clue in the word ‘fulfil’: “I have come not to abolish but to fulfil” (v.17). In the rest of chapter five Jesus is going to give us six concrete examples of the greater righteousness. With each example, he’s going to show us that the problem with the Pharisees was that they were satisfied with a strict obedience to the bare demands of the Law of Moses, but they weren’t going further than that: they weren’t asking the question, “What sort of person is the Law designed to produce? How does God want to change me on the inside, so that breaking the Law is something I would never even think of doing?” Another way of looking at it would be to say that a Law-oriented person is going to ask, “What’s the least I can get away with?” whereas a follower of Jesus is going to ask, “How can I grow in love and become the sort of person God dreams for me to be?”

How does this work out in daily life? Well, let’s take a look at the first four examples, and see how the basic principle is worked out in them. The other two will be in our gospel reading for next week.

Jesus starts in verses 21-26 with the commandment against murder: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’, and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgement’” (v.21). We can imagine a strict Pharisee being proud of himself at this point and saying, “Yep, I can tick that one off on the scorecard; I’ve never murdered anyone”. How comforting it would be for us to know that there are no murderers in this church! We might congratulate ourselves on what a godly church we are!

But Jesus is going to take it further than that. He’s going to ask us, “But what causes murders? Often, it’s anger and resentment and the desire for revenge. So I’m not only going to outlaw murder – I’m going to outlaw anger as well. And here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to make reconciliation a number one Christian value. So whenever you realize that there’s something wrong between you and someone else, drop whatever you’re doing and go and do all you can to make it right. This should be priority number one for you”.

You see what he’s doing? He’s going deep into the inner meaning of the Law of Moses and ‘fulfilling’ it – in other words, ‘filling it up’, asking not only ‘what’s the letter?’ but ‘what’s the spirit?’ And he’s going to do the same thing with the other examples too.

In verses 27-30 he turns to the commandment against adultery. There it is in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not commit adultery”, and once again we can imagine a righteous Pharisee saying, “Yep, I can tick that one off too: I’ve always been faithful to my wife and never had sex with anyone else”. But once again, Jesus is asking the hard questions. “What causes adultery? Surely, it’s uncontrolled lust. How are you doing on that score, mister Pharisee? You may never have committed adultery, but do you have a roving eye?”

Jesus is not talking here about just noticing someone; we all do that. He’s talking about indulging that impulse, nursing it and cultivating it. Of course, in his day he never had to deal with the rise of Internet pornography, but we know today that it’s a huge problem in many lives, including the lives of many good churchgoers. So Jesus is going to the root of the problem: the best way to head off adultery is to deal with lust, and the way to deal with it is to ruthlessly cut out all opportunity for it in your life. It might not literally involve cutting off your hand or gouging out your eye; it might mean, instead, putting some external controls on your Internet use, so that you become accountable to others for what you look at and what you don’t. A pastor friend of mine told me some years ago about a computer program that had been developed to help this happen; you give it the list of a small group of friends you want to be accountable to, and each day it emails them a list of all the websites you have visited.

This may sound drastic, but Jesus sees the damage that can be caused, and so he encourages us to take drastic measures, far beyond a bare obedience to the letter of the Law. The goal, of course, is a pure heart, one that’s committed to loving in a way that conforms to God’s standards. Jesus is telling us that this is a treasure worth making sacrifices for, so we ought to do whatever it takes to become that sort of person.

Of course, these commands of Jesus are demanding, and they touch every one of us. Many of us have been seriously hurt by people in our past, and we find it very difficult to avoid being angry and resentful. Sometimes, it’s all we can do to just avoid murdering them! And the Jesus we read about in the gospels is gentle on us sinners; he knows what we’ve been through and the difficulties we face. But he’s encouraging us to press on, to see the Law of Moses as just a start. God has a dream for us, and we will find our real freedom and joy as we press on toward that dream.

The same applies to lust. We live in a culture that’s soaked in sexual innuendo, and the media milks it for every cent it’s worth. Let’s be honest; to put Jesus’ teaching into practice here is very, very hard. But once again, we know he’s right when he says that it’s worth it. We all know marriages and families that have been wrecked by the pain of adultery, and we know that this all starts with looking, and indulging and cultivating that looking. So Jesus encourages us to go to the root of the problem.

The next topic that Jesus turns to is one that touches even more of us. Many of us here have been touched by the pain of divorce; many of us have been divorced and remarried. And once again Jesus turns to our Pharisee, who looks at the Law of Moses and finds there a command that says, “If you want to divorce your wife, be sure to give her a certificate of divorce”, so once again he can congratulate himself and say, “Yes, I’ve done that one too; my divorce was all strictly legal and above board! Well done, me!”

But Jesus won’t have it; to him, every divorce is a tragedy, and we know he’s right. Maybe, in a small number of cases, the tragedy of the marriage was such that there truly was no other option, but there’s no such thing as a divorce that doesn’t cause pain and heartache. And, as Jesus says in another place, “In the beginning it was not so” – in other words, God didn’t design us for serial marriages, he designed us for lifelong faithful monogamy. So if you want to pursue God’s dream for you, that’s what you need to pursue, he says – keeping in mind, of course, that every single one of us has fallen short of God’s ideal for us in one way or another, and that the Gospel assures us that God always starts with us where we are, not where we ought to be.

Can I pause here and point out that the order in which Jesus has examined these first three examples is not an accident? Surely, if we want to save a difficult marriage, anger and lust are two major issues that we need to deal with. Many times, when marriages are full of unresolved conflicts, both partners are keeping score cards and lists of all their grievances, and as the lists get longer and longer, the chances of saving the marriage get smaller and smaller. Unless we can deal with the issue of anger and resentment, and learn the way of reconciliation, then Jesus words will become sadly relevant to us: we’ll never get out of court until we’ve paid the last penny! And it’s obvious that the issue of lust – adultery in the heart, as Jesus calls it – is a major factor contributing to the breakdown of many marriages. These examples Jesus gives, you see, are not isolated; they’re all connected to each other, and as we address one area, it has an impact on the others as well.

The final example we’ll look at today is his fourth one: truthfulness. Once again, we can imagine our little Pharisee congratulating himself and saying, “Yes sir! Every time I’ve made a promise, I’ve kept it! If I swear by the gold of the Temple, you can be sure I’ll keep my word, and if I sign a contract with you, you’ll get exactly what you’ve been promised”.

But once again, Jesus is going to the heart of the issue. Why do we have to make promises? Why do we have to use oaths or sign contracts? Surely, it’s because people can’t trust our bare word! What are we actually saying if we feel we have to swear an oath? Are we saying, “Well, normally, you can’t trust what I say, but now I’ve made an oath calling on God to punish me if I’m not telling the truth, and I do fear God, so now you can finally trust me”?

Jesus is encouraging us to imagine a different level of honesty. Imagine a situation where I’ve been called on to be a witness in a court of law. So I take the stand, and the clerk approaches me with the Bible so I can swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. But suddenly the judge stops the proceedings. “Wait a minute”, he says, “that’s Tim Chesterton up there. The whole world knows that he’s a man of absolute integrity and honesty. There’s never been a known occasion when he’s told a lie, or when he’s said he’s going to do something and failed to do it. It would be an absolute insult for me to ask him to take an oath and swear to tell the truth, because that’s what he always does”.

Is that me? No, I’m afraid it’s not, but I have to say that I would love to be that person. Jesus is telling me that this is God’s dream for me: a life of absolute honesty and integrity. So aim for this, Jesus is saying. Don’t settle for a life of controlled dishonesty; aim to be known as a person who lives truthfully and speaks truthfully.

If you’re like me, these four examples Jesus has given today both scare you and excite you. They scare us, because we know we’ve all fallen short. But they also excite us, because we know in our hearts that Jesus is describing a life of integrity, of love, and of holiness, and this is attractive to us. We know instinctively that if we’re going to find the peace of mind and heart we’re looking for, the path Jesus is laying out for us is the right one.

Next week we’ll go on to the last two examples Jesus gives, revenge and love for enemies. But as we come to a close today, let’s remind ourselves of what the Beatitudes tell us. They tell us that the kingdom of God is for the weak, the poor, and those who know their need of God. The Sermon on the Mount is the curriculum in the School of Jesus; it’s not the entrance exam! The entrance exam is simple – repentance, faith, and baptism. If you’ve been baptized, and you’re making a serious attempt to turn from your sins and put your trust in Jesus, then you’re in.

As someone once said, “God loves us so much that he accepts us just as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us there”. As we continue to explore the Sermon on the Mount, we’ll discover the ways in which God is patiently teaching us a new way of living. As we learn to put that new way of living into practice, we’ll gradually find ourselves being transformed – not just on the outside, but on the inside as well – and we will discover for ourselves what the greater righteousness is all about. In the end, of course, there’s a very simple name for it: the greater righteousness is all about love.