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The cheek of it… October 17, 2008

Posted by Andy in Recent Sermons.
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Continuing some of the hard sayings of Jesus, this week we focus on Jesus’ exhortation ‘if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also’.

Turning the other cheek is neither natural nor easy. It is important to remember that to turn the other cheek is not: to become a doormat for others to walk all over; to ask for another hit; a sign of low self-confidence.

When Jesus says that following a strike to the right cheek you should turn your left also, he is suggesting that if anyone not only assaults you physically but also insults and humiliates you, you should not retaliate. This is because the back-hand slap that strikes the right cheek is a symbolic blow: it was given by masters to slaves, husbands to wives, parents to children in Middle Eastern culture. Retaliation does taste sweet but it only disguises the poison. To continue the retaliation is already to have been overcome with evil and can never achieve reconciliation.

The other interesting aspect is that to turn the left cheek after being hit on the right actually means that your master or enemy can no longer back hand you – because your nose is in the way! You cannot backhand someone twice – it is like telling a joke a second time. If it doesn’t work the first time, you have failed. By turning the left cheek you are defiantly saying that you refuse to be humiliated.

Victor Shepherd has the last word:

What makes non-retaliation hard is that it is going to make you look weak in the eyes of the world. We are going to be laughed at as “losers.”  We must be prepared for this.  But of course we can be prepared for this just because we know that “losing” has always been the way God wins.  It’s when God himself appears to be the biggest loser of all (a Jew, the person the world relishes hating, executed by the state, rejected by his followers, dangling from a scaffold at the edge of the city garbage dump;) it’s when God appears most to be a “loser” that he achieves his greatest work of reconciliation.  It’s precisely when he appears most helpless that he’s most effective.  It’s precisely when it appears he can’t do anything that he achieves the purpose for which God sent his Son.

The divisive gospel October 10, 2008

Posted by Andy in Recent Sermons.
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A local CofE school in our area has been the victim of a verbal attack in the letters page of our local paper. The school’s signpost says that it is a place where children can experience the love of Christ. The un-named letter speculated how on earth the teachers could sleep at night ‘knowing they are peddling such an untruth’. Thankfully there was an avalanche of counter-comments the following week! 

But it raises the issue of the divisive nature of the gospel. There are some parts of the gospels where the words from Jesus are anything but easy or comforting and we need to have a theology that includes them even if they are not as pleasant on the ear as other parts. The first sermon in this new series was based on some of the words of Jesus in Matthew 10.

The tone of Jesus’ instructions in this chapter shows that he knew that the mission would be divisive – it would be seen as an attack on the religious authorities. ‘I have come to bring a sword, not peace’, he said. TheKJV has it: ‘Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.

The word ‘division’ – used in KJV – could also read ‘conflict’. Therefore it refers to the division or conflict that will come when commitment to Christ conflicts with commitment to family, friends, work etc. Following Jesus in his original Jewish society did not always bring peace to a family, but had the potential to divide it up, the precise function of a metaphorical sword.  

In its truest sense, the sword Jesus referred to is actually the gospel itself. The sword he has brought, the sword that is an alternative to the peace of the world, is the sword of the cross. Dietrich Bonhoeffer refused to side with the Nazi party and spoke against it as evil and dangerous even before war began. He said this:

‘the cross is God’s sword on this earth. It creates division… and all that for the sake of God’s kingdom and its peace – that is the work of Christ on earth! No wonder the world accuses him… God’s love for the people and human love for their kind are utterly different. God’s love for the people brings the cross and discipleship, but these, in turn, mean life and resurrection’.