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Sixth Sunday after Trinity

D. G. Phillips

Evening Prayer

Crousetown – July 15 AD 2007

Romans 6:3f      Matthew 5:20f

 

Jesus said unto His disciples, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

Tonight, we would see Jesus.  Tonight, we would enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

And if we are attentive to the prayers, to the hymns, our minds will be lifted to heaven – and we will offer our praise and thanksgiving to God undistracted.  Our love, God’s love in us, will be returned to its rightful home, in praise and thanksgiving and adoration.

 

But in order for us to enter into that Kingdom of heaven, to offer our praise to God, to return the love he has showered on us – we must be aware that we don’t redirect that desire, that love to some other end – twisting it and distorting it so that it falls back on us, and never reaches its true end.

 

The greatest distortion, is when all of that love is turned back only on ourselves.  We do all that we do for ourselves alone, in a sense we worship ourselves – we are the only ones that are worthy.  And any threat to this view of ourselves, or our authority, we respond to with indignation, with anger – how dare someone not worship me!

 

Our Lord asks us today to consider if our love is distorted by looking at how we respond when our authority is challenged in our work, in our family relationships, with others in the church, in our relations with strangers, when we are driving in the street – do we become angry – even inwardly?

 

Jesus gives three degrees of anger in his example in tonight’s second lesson:

whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. 

 

The first is when we hold the anger inwardly, the second when we dismiss someone as a silly person, the third degree, when we call someone a fool to their face.  They are signs of progressive anger revealing itself within our souls.  And the three judgements corresponding to these degrees of anger suggest progressive punishment – the judgement, a body constituted under the Law in different cities in Israel to try cases – they could pronounce a sentence of hanging; the council, a body constituted by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to try special cases, who could pronounce a sentence of stoning; and hell fire, that is to be burned alive (Wesley).

 

This is a pretty strong warning about the danger of even the smallest bit of anger – even if we say nothing outwardly.

 

It may seem strange that Jesus gives us this warning, when in other parts of the Gospels, he himself speaks in anger: we remember him making a cord of ropes and driving the money changers from the Temple; we remember him in a long invective against the Scribes and Pharisees, calling them, you breed of vipers!; and elsewhere Jesus speaks to them using the very word – fool – calling the Scribes and Pharisees, not once, but several times, Ye fools and blind

 

Remember, our Lord is without sin – his actions are perfect in every situation – if fact, we can say that every act of his was an act of love.  His very anger is love.  So Jesus' sermon to us about anger is not about avoiding particular words, there must be a righteous anger, and there must be an unrighteous anger. 

 

Do we know which is which when it arises in our hearts?

 

Remember, our purpose in looking at this is that we might enter into the kingdom of heaven – even tonight – and to offer to God our praise and thanksgiving – worthy praise, and adoration.  Jesus says,

Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.

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Our First Lesson gives us a clue about discerning which anger is righteous and which anger is unrighteous.  Speaking of our baptism, St. Paul says,

If we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. 

 

St. Paul makes the distinction between the old man, the body of sin, which is crucified with Christ in our baptism, and the new man that should rise to walk in newness of life in Him.

 

Is our anger arising from the old man or from the new risen man in Christ?

 

The Scribes and Pharisees were still acting from the old man in Adam.  Jesus described them elsewhere as whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones – outwardly they looked fine, but the thoughts of their hearts were not set on the love of God.  They showed themselves to be full of pride and envy, which led to anger, when their authority was challenged.   Remember how on the Sabbath day, when Jesus healed a man, instead of rejoicing they were outraged, and began secretly to plan how they might murder him.  It was not righteous anger that put our Lord to death upon the Cross, but the unrighteous anger of the old man in Adam.

 

And we can look way back, to the beginning of the Bible, to Genesis, to see the troubles of the old man.  Remember Cain and Abel the sons of Adam and Eve.  We read of Cain, envious of his brother Abel’s acceptable offering to God of the gentle lambs.  The chilling tale then relates how Cain goes out with Abel into the field, and in a rage, strikes his own brother dead. 

 

Within two chapters of Genesis following Cain’s murder of his brother, this kind of depravity of the soul has spread to all the world:

And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.  And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them. [Gen. 6:5, 11-13]  And God sent upon the earth a flood that it might not be utterly destroyed – a flood for the cleansing and restoration of the Creation.

 

As it was with Cain, so it is with all of humanity,

Sin is couching at the door; its desire is for [us], but [we] must master it.

 

There is righteous anger – our Lord shows it to us again and again, and the saints through the ages have shown us righteous anger.  We know the righteous anger of St. Stephen, stoned to death by the Sanhedrin.  We know the righteous anger of St. Paul against those who would wrongly demand circumcision of Christians – He says, I wish they would mutilate themselves!  We have witnesses to the righteous anger of Christians through the ages who have stood up in the face of injustice – moved by love, because love makes us angry in the face of injustice.

 

But is our anger rooted in the love of God or does it stem from pride and envy in our hearts? 

 

St. Paul reminds us that Christians, have been through a cleansing flood, that old man was crucified with Christ, was drowned in the waters of our baptism.  And there is a new man in us, who is rising up in Christ to take his place.

 

Unrighteous anger arising from the old Adam (from pride, envy or covetousness) is a brooding, dark, unreasoned hatred, seeking our neighbour’s harm – cutting them down with words, or by making them afraid, even by physical violence.  And we cannot see the kingdom of heaven inwardly but only spiritual darkness.  We cannot enter the kingdom of heaven to offer praise and thanksgiving, because we only stay on the surface of things, continually stirring up resentment in our souls about injustices, it can lead to a state where we think that everything and everyone is annoying and stupid.  In such a soul, how can the love of God, the Holy Spirit, make his way?  Such anger must be crucified in us.

 

But righteous anger, leads us to action to resolve real injustices – it speaks clearly and with reason to bring about the change in another for their good – it is motivated by love of God and neighbour.  It is the anger of Christ, it is the love of Christ – shown to us by His clear words, and then, by his clear actions, overcoming the world’s anger by laying himself down upon the Cross they made for him.

 

Tonight we want to enter into the Kingdom of heaven, and we can because of that Cross and the flood of our baptismal waters.

 

As we turn inward, to discover that Kingdom – because it is found within us and above us – let us confess any unrighteous anger that we discover ourselves fixed on, and let us ask our Lord to take it from us.  And He will take our twisted love and redirect it to its true end – to move us beyond our perceived injustices, and tonight, even beyond the real injustices, so that we might return all our love to God.

 

O GOD, who hast prepared for them that love thee such good things as pass man's understanding: Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

 

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