Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s – Moultrie, GA
July 11, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I used a quotation from Yoda from the Star Wars saga, where he told Anakin that he must “train himself to let go of everything he feared to lose.” In the first episode of the Star Wars series, young Anakin appears before the Jedi counsel to determine his fate to become a Jedi himself. He was facing a series of tests and questions, and at one point the counsel asks if he was afraid of losing his mother. In a most sarcastic tone, he responds and asks what difference that makes. Master Yoda replies to him, Everything! “Fear is the path to the Dark Side, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”

I mention those lines because of our Gospel lesson from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus takes the Sixth Commandment and then elevates it to an even higher level. As you know the Sixth Commandment declares, “Thou shalt do no murder.” Jesus as he is teaching the crowds declares that even anger without a cause is liable to judgment.

There are multiple points that I think need to be examined here that begin to help us understand the depth of this passage.

First, of all, let us look at the phrase, angry without a cause. Anger is certainly an emotion that is natural, and when used properly can bring about positive results. After all, Jesus himself expressed anger when he made a whip of cords and drove the money changers out of the Temple. In that case, he certainly had anger and did in fact have a cause for his anger. The difference being, he did not direct his anger at any one person as an individual, but rather, he directed it at the abuses that were taking place in God’s house. We must remember though, the inherent dangers that unchecked anger can lead to. As Master Yoda told Anakin, the natural progression of pure anger is that it leads to hatred that stems from an all-encompassing state of fear.

As St. John declares in his first epistle, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”

So, what is Jesus getting at here? I believe he wants us to understand the depth that lies behind the Ten Commandments. After all, he expands the teaching on the Seventh Commandment in the passage following ours that we heard this morning to include lust. He wants us to recognize the utter fallenness of our human condition and the depths we must go to arrest those feelings and temptations that plague us each and every day of our lives.

One of the tenets of the sixth commandment deals with the whole notion of life itself. In the beginning, God breathed life into Man and thus in addition to our being made in the image and likeness of God, we have a piece of God Himself within us – His very life-giving Spirit that causes all life to be and exist. Since it comes from God and is His gift to us, we have no right to take that very life away. God gives life, and He is the only one entitled to know when that life is destined to return to Him. When we commit murder, we take away that very thing that we have no right to tamper with at all. We are committing the same in Adam and Eve did – we are attempting to be like God.

What can we say about Jesus’ expansion of the sixth commandment to include anger? I believe it is because anger/hatred is a direct affront to charity. I’ve heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather apathy. Apathy in the sense that you could care less whether the person were alive or dead. In a spiritual sense you are committing the moral equivalent of wishing they never existed, thus killing/murdering the very Spirit of God that lies within. It then leads to the inability to see Christ in our neighbour and when that happens the highest of all Christian virtues, charity, becomes impossible.

That is why Jesus commands us to get our thoughts in order because these very thoughts lead to the very actions that the Ten Commandments explicitly condemn. Look at how Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. He progressed from the simple/the material to the more complex and spiritual. If we do not keep the simple in check it will inevitably lead to the far greater sin against charity itself. No, I certainly don’t think I will ever have to visit anyone here in prison for actually committing capital murder, but I’m absolutely certain that I will at some time hear a confession in which one has fostered wrath and anger toward a fellow brother or sister in Christ, and that repentance, forgiveness, and absolution is the only thing that will ultimately heal our soul.

Just as Yoda explains to young Anakin that there is a progression from fear, to anger, to hate, and then to suffering, Jesus declares that we must arrest our feelings and actions at the very beginning before they lead us down the path toward the Dark Side, to borrow from Star Wars again.

Our prayer and petition to God must come in the form of asking for His help in turning and forming our thoughts, our feelings, our wills, our desires toward Him, so that we then eliminate those areas where we are destined to fall into sin. We must do so each and every day of our lives. St. Paul goes so far as to bid us to pray without ceasing. The enemy, declares St. Peter, is like a roaring lion seeking whom he will devour. Just like an animal of prey, he is constantly looking for his next meal, his next victim. So too is Satan looking for a willing home in which to make his abode. May God give us the strength and the power to arrest those feelings of fear, of anger, of hate, so that we may not taste the suffering that the Enemy wishes for us to experience. Then, as our collect prays we may enjoy those good things that our Lord has for us to partake in, and obtain those very promises which exceed every expectation we could ever desire.

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