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Pastor's Letter 20200216 - 16 February 2020 - God's Law is Freedom


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16 February, 2020

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Today’s Theme:  “God’s Law is Freedom”

You may have noticed my episcopal crest in the masthead, above.  The banner under it reads, “God’s Law is Freedom.”  Considering the general opinion of most people, that all law is negative,in that it seems to always “prohibit” some particular activity, that ensign might seem to be a contradiction. However, let me offer some perspective: The “freedom” to which that motto refers is “freedom from sin.”  In observing the Ten Commandments, their collectively proscribed abstinence from moral abuses define a life lived in accordance to what human beings believe to be the “Will of God.”  Since we conceive of God as all good, all powerful, all knowing, all just, and all loving, it follows that to observe tenets of behavior that promote those qualities in our own lives will similarly be “Godly.”   

 As author Mark Rushdoony recently wrote: “The essence of a Godly society is a Godly people, not a state-imposed legal structure. Laws that get ahead of the willingness of a people to submit to them may only teach contempt for both law and morality in general. Conversion and persuasion must come before the political process.”

 He continues:  “The greatest hurdle most people have…is their assumption about God's law itself. Quite simply, they often assume God's law is repressive and necessitates a denial of liberty. This perspective comes from a very non-Christian view of liberty….  The equating of sin with freedom comes naturally to man as a result of his sin nature. Men in rebellion against God want to see their rebellion as freedom. Those who daily repeat Adam's sin desire freedom from God and His governing law. They define their sinful rebellion as normative and God as an intruder into their freedom. Paul, however, saw nonbelievers as slaves to sin…moving toward certain [spiritual] death.  His exhortation to those freed from such slavery was to become servants to God (Romans 6:15-23.)  [In doing so,] we observe God's "perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25.)   In order for Christians to put “teeth” to their faith and make it applicable to all of life and thought, they must first get past an understanding of sin as true freedom….  Biblical law was given to a Hebrew society under a decentralized tribal government. It is moral law, though certainly intended for social and civil application. Only later did the Hebrews have a monarchy, [which was...] on the whole, perhaps more conducive to the corruption of God's law than to its implementation.  As moral law from God, it was directed to individual self-government, family government, and social and cultural standards that certainly had very real and necessary applications at the civil level.   The essential thing to remember is that Biblical law is God's law because He was, is, and always shall be the Sovereign Ruler of all of His creation. God rules; the only remaining issue is whether we acknowledge His rule or rebel against it. The first response will always bring us to Biblical law; the latter returns us to Adam's rebellion and slavery to sin.”

Jesus and the Law

All civilized human beings are subject to law.  Jesus, being no exception, was subject to both human and divine law.  He obeyed Joseph and Mary, the laws of the land and the divine laws of God...finding no fault with law.  Rather, He objected to the narrow way it was interpreted and applied by the religious leaders of His day.  For them, observing the letter of the law was sufficient.  Jesus knew it was the “spirit” of the law that was most important—not just observing its “jot and tittle.”

 For the Pharisees, only a person’s outward acts merited scrutiny. Jesus said we must not only be judicious in our acts, but also our unexpressed, hostile thoughts and desires—even though they may never actually lead us to commit sin.  He also noted, for most people, obedience to law was rooted in fear—stemming from the consequences of running afoul of the law.  Jesus’ whole relationship with His heavenly Father was based upon love.  His new and significant message was:  Where there is love, there is no need of law. Far from contradicting or abolishing the Old Law, Jesus’ New Law of love went beyond it, bringing it to perfection. When we live within the confines of the law of love, we achieve ultimate freedom.  As Jesus’ disciples, we are, in essence, urged to be truthful.  

 Jesus interpreted law in a positive way.  For example, the fifth commandment: “Thou shalt not murder,” was expressed as, “You must love your neighbor.”  The seventh: “Thou shalt not steal,” was restated, “You must share your goods with your neighbor, when he is in need.”  The act of obedience, which was usually based in fear, was reimagined as an act of love, because, when you love someone, you avoid doing anything to hurt them. Where there is love, there is really no need for law.  

 To reiterate, then, Jesus’ New Law brings the Old Law to perfection.  He taught us that all of God’s laws could be reduced to two: Love of God; and Love of neighbor. In truth, there is only one law—the law of love.    

Handling Anger

When Jesus tell us, “Do not harbor anger for your brother  (Matthew 5:22,) He was not condemning anger, in itself.  All of us have anger within us.  Many of us learned from our childhood that anger was a sin—in fact one of the “seven deadly sins.”  No wonder then, that we feel guilt when we get angry—and oftentimes we attempt to deny or repress it.  We must accept that anger is normal, and even healthy.  If we love and value ourselves, we will naturally get angry if we are treated badly.  

 Whenever we find ourselves getting angry, we should look inwardly to find its cause.  It may spring from a tendency to be hypersensitive, overly impatient or from suffering some “hurt,” with which we haven’t adequately dealt.  Oftentimes, an “attitude adjustment” may alleviate the problem.

 Psychologists tell us that shouldn’t deny our anger, but allow ourselves to feel it and deal with it.  Anger is neither “good,” nor “bad,” from a moral perspective; nonetheless, anger can be a “dangerous” emotion. A saying from the Talmud illustrates this:  Anger in the heart is like a worm in a plant.”   Therefore, anger should not routinely be stifled.  Acknowledgement will help to overcome its destructive power in our lives. But the longer we hold our anger inside, the more agitated we become, so when it erupts, the outcome will always be ugly.  Repressed anger may result in self-hatred, depression or even bodily ills.  It needs to be released, but in a wholesome way.  When anger is given a means of expression, relief follows.  If anger persists, we should seek out some trusted, disinterested, third party, and discuss what we are feeling.  

Remembering that sometimes we ought to become angry—like when we encounter unjust situations—our anger need not give rise to hatred. Anger becomes dangerous when it turns into hostility.  Hostility can cause us to “act out” our anger; leading us to harbor deep resentments, negative attitudes, insults, etc., which are then directed at the object of our anger. 

There may be times when the cause of our anger lies with others, and we may have to reevaluate our relationship(s) with them. We all know how very difficult it can be to live with a perennially angry person. If you can’t change the person or circumstance, which has angered you, then change yourself (“attitude adjustment,” again….)  Anyone can return evil for evil, but it takes a courageous person to allow love to flow from their hearts instead of hatred. Even if your mind wants to take revenge, prayerful meditation may help to find the willpower to offer forgiveness. It might not change the external problem, but it will change your internal ability to handle the situation.  Once you have truly forgiven someone for their having wronged you, they will then be thought of as “forgiven” in your subconscious mind (re: Sigmund Freud,) and you will not continue to dwell on their offense.  We must also realize that those whose hearts are filled with anger are, themselves, disadvantaged, possibly because of difficulty sleeping, eating properly…or even smiling.  Anger can destroy a person’s health, friendships—virtually every aspect of their lives—thereby becoming sources for perpetuating anger.  

 If the cause of our anger is an unjust situation, we should look for ways to put things “right,” having given the problem proper scrutiny.  Righteous anger can spur us to rectify a grievous wrong.  (Remember that Jesus expressed His righteous anger driving the unjust moneychangers from the Temple.)  An old saying comes to mind: “You measure the size of a person’s soul by the size of the things that make them angry.” Here, “size” could be interpreted as “importance.”  While we cannot always avoid getting angry, we can control our attitude and our reaction to it.  We must remember Jesus’ teaching, and lovingly seek to be reconciled of our anger. 

May God Richly Bless You!

“Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things pare pure, whatever things are lovely,

whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”  (Philippians 4:8)

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