Summary: What do we value more our RIGHTS or our RESPONSIBILITIES
Sermon on the Mount (3)
Rights and Responsibities of Christians
Story: A number of years ago, Newsweek magazine carried the story of the memorial service held for Hubert Humphrey, former vice-president of the United States.
Hundreds of people came from all over the world to say good-bye to their old friend and colleague.
But one person who came was shunned and ignored by virtually everyone there.
Nobody would look at him much less speak to him.
That person was disgraced former president Richard Nixon.
Not long before, he had gone through the shame and infamy of Watergate.
He was back in Washington for the first time since his resignation from the presidency.
Then a very special thing happened, perhaps the only thing that could have made a difference and broken the ice.
President Jimmy Carter, who was in the White House at that time, came into the room.
Before he was seated, he saw Nixon over against the wall, all by himself.
He went over to Nixon as though he were greeting a family member, stuck out his hand to the former president, and smiled broadly.
To the surprise of everyone there, the two of them embraced each other, and Carter said,
"Welcome home, Mr. President! Welcome home!"
One president to another, from different parties, they understood what they had in common, what burdens they had born in common, they were elected presidents.
Commenting on that, Newsweek magazine asserted, "If there was a turning point in Nixon’s long ordeal in the wilderness, it was that moment and that gesture of love and compassion."
Reaching out to Nixon wasn’t a vote winner – but Jimmy Carter was a committed Christian – and still is.
And he realised that as a Christian he has RESPONSIBILITIES – and in this case a responsibility for reconciliation
I think our Gospel reading today is one of the most difficult sayings of Jesus, because if we follow them WITHOUT CAREFUL CONSIDERATION our society would degenerate into lawlessness.
Jesus is not telling us to throw the “law out of the window”
Indeed Jesus had a very high view of the Law in the Old Testament and so we ignore it we do so at our peril
He is rather touching on the relationship between our RIGHTS and RESPONSIBILITIES
But before we look at the passage, let’s look a bit at the background to what the Law was all about.
Last week at Magdalen, I explained that there were three different types of OT Law
If I may recap what I said:
There are basically three types of OT LAW
1. THE MORAL LAW
2. THE CEREMONIAL LAW and
3. THE CIVIL LAW
The Moral Law
The Moral Law tells us about God’s character.
These never change, just as God himself never changes
They tell us what God likes and dislikes.
The Ten Commandments for example are MORAL LAW.
Jesus summed up the requirements of God’s Moral Law by applying two great principles.
The first is from Deuteronomy 6:5
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might."
The second is from Leviticus 19:18
"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
The second type of OT Law is the Ceremonial laws - all of which prefigured Jesus’ death on the Cross.
They related to the services of the sanctuary, the offering of sacrifices, and the priestly ministration.
Every sacred festival foreshadowed a saving event in the redemption of the world.
Every country has a civil Law and Israel was no different
So to Israel as a nation were given laws in the OT governing how justice was administered.
They were for a place (Israel) and a time (and were the law of the land in those days)
Unlike the Ceremonial Laws, which were wholly symbolic in nature, the Civil Laws were not abolished by the death of Christ but rather do not apply to us as we are not in the Land of Israel.
We therefore no longer need to observe
the CEREMONIAL LAW
(as was settled in the First Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15) nor
the CIVIL LAW
(as we are not Jews living in Israel) but
we do as Christians need to observe
the MORAL LAW OF GOD.
With that in mind, let’s look at Jesus words, from the Sermon on the Mount in our Gospel reading today
I think the key to understanding this passage has to do with
RIGHTS and RESPONSIBILITIES
We hear in the news all the time about people’s rights – but so rarely responsibilities!
Story: Convicted prisoners in the United Kingdom will soon, courtesy of the European Court of Human Rights be able to have the right to vote in our elections.
Can you imagine in a marginal seat with a large prison population. Is the MP going to be determined by the prison population.