Sermon Preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Third Sunday in Lent.
Sunday, March 03, 2013
Lenten Attitudes: 3 Attitudes to Others
All it takes is a little spark. Lisa watches as the furnace sweep across her outback home in New South Wales. A few hours ago, it was just a little flame caused by the sunlight focussed through a broken bottle. Now spread by the wind and feeding on the dry grass, the wall of fire rages over the ground consuming bush, tree, house, and animal without any hesitation. It had such a small cause but, because there was nothing to stop it, the devastation is great.
All it takes is a little spark. David watches as his family tears itself apart, his sons rebelling against him, his kingdom in tatters. A few decades ago, it was simply the sight of a beautiful woman washing herself. Now spread by adultery, an arranged murder of her husband, and the death of the resulting offspring, the intrigues between David’s sons wrestling for his kingdom have caused civil unrest in Jerusalem. It had such a small cause but, because there was nothing to stop it, the devastation is great.
All it takes is a little spark. Cain watches as he struggles to find a home in the land of Nod, his feet sore with walking, dispossessed from his home, his farm and his God. A few weeks ago, it was simply a twinge of indignation as God judged Abel’s offering better than his. Now, after his anger has blown out of all proportion, his hands have crushed the life out of his younger brother, he has been found out, confronted and banished from his home by God, he walks into uncharted territory solitary and afraid despite God’s protecting mark upon him. It had such a small cause but, because there was nothing to stop it, the devastation is great.
Anger and Lust are both burning fires which can spring from innocent causes. God has imbued us with sexual attraction. Not only is it natural, it is very necessary for forging relationships, building marriages and growing happy families. There is nothing wrong with finding someone attractive but it can ignite a flame which can grow and ruin lives.
Anger is born out of a sense of justice and fairness. Our Lord Jesus Himself grew angry enough to throw the money changers out of the temple. Anger has been the catalyst for some very necessary social reform. However, anger is also responsible for the loss of life on immense scales and often justified rationally. The fury of anger devastates nations and will continue to do so.
At what point does a natural attraction turn to unbridled lust? At what point does a righteous indignation turn to a fierce rage?
There is a reason that Anger and Lust can be said to be consuming. Under their influence, only the source of that anger or that lust matters. Our vision is narrowed to what has set us on fire to the point that we forget everything. In particular we forget that there is a picture bigger than our perceptions. We forget that the object of our desire has a life, choices, ideas, thoughts al independent of any designs we might have upon them. In our rage, we forget that the person who has caused that rage probably has acted based upon good reasons of their own.
King David forgets about Beersheba’s marriage to Uriah. He forgets about Uriah’s rights as Beersheba’s husband. He forgets the law of God. He forgets that there are always consequences to adultery.
Cain forgets about the fact that Abel is his little brother. He forgets that God has reasons for choosing Abel’s offering over his. He forgets all sense of proportion for what’s at stake. He forgets that there are always consequences to murder.
Our Lord says, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill ; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment… Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery : But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
For Our Lord, the solution is clear. We need to widen our view of the situation. To deal with Anger, Our Lord tells us to make peace with anyone who might have a grudge against us, not to make peace with those who have offended us. Our Lord reminds us that while someone may have angered us, we may very well have caused someone else anger. We remember other people’s humanity by remembering our own frailty. Peace-making is a beatitude, a blessing by which we become children of God.
To deal with Lust, Our Lord is pretty fierce, for He says, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish , and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” Yikes! However, this shows how seriously Our Lord treats Lust. We should rather want to cut bits off of ourselves than treat another human being as less than human. The Lord does not mean that we should chop bits off, but He does want us to take firm action.
We cannot allow ourselves to succumb to the flames of Lust and Anger. They are certainly forgivable sins but they are called deadly for a reason. To be a good Christian, we need to be successful fire-fighters. Do you know how to put out a fire?