Andrew Bunch’s Sermon on the Summary of the Law – God, Neighbour and Self.
It wasn’t long after I started my career in scientific research that I made a very significant
Discovery which unlocked the door to doing research which actually has value.
What was the discovery? That when you are trying to interpret any data be sure that
You are aware of the assumptions you are making & how they influence matters.
Now I suspect that this discovery has been made over time by a huge number of people
And that it is a prerequisite for all good research, both scientific and non-scientific.
However, when I started working in industry I found it had wider applications.
I joined an American company and, as part of my induction programme, I had to go to the USA
And work in the parent company for six weeks – it sounded like a great opportunity.
I didn’t have any real fears or anxieties about going to America for the first time –
I thought that since they spoke the same language – all would be fine!
The truth was, that trip was dire, everything was strange, I felt ill at ease, I didn’t understand
The nature of the culture I was living and working in; all I wanted to do was go home.
That was when I realised that my discovery about assumptions had a wider brief that just data
It also applies to the assumptions we make in our interactions with others.
Life in Houston, Texas was not the same as life in London –
Making the assumption they were the same was the cause of my grief on that visit.
Eleven years later I returned to the States, with a very different attitude of mind –
I knew there were huge differences in culture and I wanted to experience them,
I enjoyed myself as I discovered what the differences showed me about the assumptions
That I make, quite unconsciously about the life that I had been living in London.
Now you might be asking yourself, why is he telling me all this when he should be
Giving an address about the Commandments and their significance for us?
So let’s see how this introduction is significant to our subject.
This morning we have had two readings, one which sets out the Ten Commandments and
The second which sets out the summary of the Law in the Two Great Commandments.
We can easily assume that the two are totally compatible, that both really point the same way
It is simply that the two commandments are a summary of the Ten Commandments.
But this doesn’t give us the whole picture; it simply skips over the very different ethos
Which undergirds the two sets of commandments.
The Ten Commandments are the foundation of a set of laws which define those things
Which must be avoided if a good and Godly society is to be maintained.
Apart from the commandment about honouring your father & mother, they have a negative tone
And as long as you don’t break them, you could be considered as keeping the Law.
The two commandments are very different, they set the intension about the way life is to be lived
They are not restrictive, they are expansive, but because of this – There will never be
A sense in which you can definitely say you have accomplished all its possibilities.
The contrast between the two approaches was described well for me in a book entitled
“Ethicability” by Roger Steare in which he points out differences between societies.
When laws are defined to ban certain behaviours, more and more laws have to be created –
People lose a sense of personal responsibility and they devise ways to get around the Law.
When the approach of positive intentions is adopted, people have full responsibility for
Their own actions, they have to judge what is right and wrong for themselves.
The second approach may seem more risky, more open to personal abuse, but let’s ask ….
Which type of society Jesus was living in? And which did he want to promote?
It is fairly evident that the society advocated by the scribes and Pharisees was law based –
They wanted to define a code for society to live by which would ensure good behaviour.
They want to be able to justify themselves and prove that they are in the right.
The Law provides the system by which they can judge the actions of others,
To determine whether they are acting in accordance with God’s command.
But is this the approach that Jesus is advocating? I think the answer has to be No,
The beatitudes point to a far more intentional approach to life.
The clashes Jesus has with the scribes and the Pharisees about healing on the Sabbath,
Plucking grains of wheat, touching the leper – all violate the Law that they advocate.
And isn’t it strange how Jesus affirms that the scribe is close to the Kingdom of God
When he affirms the validity of the two commandments.
So the question is, where do we stand in relation to Jesus’ teaching?
Do we have a more law based approach to life or have we adopted the intention of love?
A few years ago, a member of my parish died of cancer whilst he was in his forties –
He had a young family; he was at the height of his career and so at his funeral
We have the gospel reading from the parable of the workers in the vineyard and
The first words of the address were…. “It’s not fair!”
If you have ever caught yourself saying those words when you consider the events of life
Then be warned- the assumptions you are building your life around
Probably owe more to a Law based understand of God, than the one Jesus advocates.
Salt was rubbed in the wound of my assumptions when it finally clicked that the nature of
The crucifixion of Jesus is the ultimate situation demanding the response “it’s not fair”
Jesus was condemned by actions which were unjust; the nature of his death made him
Condemned by the Law – And this is the way our salvation came about.
When Jesus talks with the people he keeps on saying things like –“Those who have ears hear”
“Or they have ears but they cannot hear, eyes but they cannot see.”
How can this be? I believe it is because when our base assumptions of life are incorrect
Then what we see and hear, simply doesn’t make sense and hence we want to reject it.
The scribes and the Pharisees were so rooted into a system of the Law and a sense of Justice
That they simply could not understand what Jesus was on about.
In such circumstances, the simplest response was to walk away and reject what is foreign
Just the sort of reaction I had when I first visited America.
But the more fruitful approach is quite the opposite and in the discomfort we experience
We recognise that there is an invitation to go deeper and understand something more.
So, when you hear phrases like “love your enemies”, “forgive others” and “have mercy” and
All you want to do is totally the opposite – recognise that your reaction may indicate
The assumptions you have about life are at odds with those Jesus advocates.
I believe that what Jesus wants for us as his disciples is to adopt a way of life which has
A clear intention to be motivated by the principle of love.
He isn’t interested in the concepts of Law and justice, as these don’t square with his
Emphasis on the principles of mercy and forgiveness.
What Jesus wants for us is for us to become at one with God, for our will to become
Aligned with God’s will and thus allow God’s righteousness to be expressed in the world.
So, are we doing this already? – how can we check out our position and see
What more we have to learn?
For years I have wanted to visit India and last month I realised my ambition.
The reason I wanted to go was quite simple – I wanted to experience a different culture
And from this experience discover more of my hidden assumptions about life.
The day we arrived we took a walk around Delhi with its untidy mix of life and chaotic traffic,
Pigs and cattle were wandering in the road, litter was everywhere – it was a mess.
But the strangest thing was people kept on coming up and asking if they could help.
Could they show us where we wanted to go… we assumed it was a scam & avoided them.
The first week of the holiday was tiring as we tried to get our bearings.
We gradually accepted that rules, especially rules of the road, meant very little,
People simply drove wherever they wanted – It was dodgems on a life-sized scale.
In the second week, as things became easier to accept, we made two very significant discoveries
- Everyone in India has a sense of the divine in their life
- Although they never fully obey the rules of the road – we never witnessed a crash.
These two facts made me realise how much my approach to life is still very law based –
I expect people to abide by the rules in life – and drive on the correct side of the road.
I expect that rules and regulations are the way to regulate behaviour in our society and
This is the way (the only way!?) we will help to avoid future crashes and calamities.
But what the experience of India asked of me was to re-evaluate my assumptions
And question whether they were actually in line with the faith I profess.
Am I willing to accept the real shift in outlook which comes from letting go of relying on
The concepts of law and justice and instead fully embrace the ways of love?
Ghandi said that he had enormous respect for the teaching and example of Jesus –
But the trouble was that Christians had never really tried to put this into practice.
Recently on Radio 4, Alan Bennett recognised that one of the features of life that
England is world class in is … hypocrisy.
I just wonder if we Christians have pretended to take Jesus’ teaching and example seriously
Whilst secretly thinking that it was too risky to really apply ion practice.
I believe that fundamental discoveries and shifts in society happen when
Hidden assumptions come to light and are seen to be not fit for purpose.
Which makes me think that perhaps we are on the verge of discovering a richer understanding of
Jesus’ teaching which could indeed transform the society in which we live.
- What passages in the Gospel do you either ignore or find difficult to accept?
What does your reaction reveal about the nature of your faith?
- What have you learnt about your attitude to life by visiting different cultures?