Sixth Sunday after
D. G. Phillips
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
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
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.
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
As it was with Cain, so it is with all of
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.