This Sermon was given to the congregants of the St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church as part of a pulpit swap amongst the Christian churches in Kiama.
From Little Things, Big Things Grow
Before I began this homily I would like to thank Fr. Chris and Fr. Mark for their kind invitation.
As we relate to and with each other as Christians, as people of the Way, we find that we should focus on the things that hold us together rather than the things that keep us apart – as we have done in the past.
I bring greetings from the Church Council and Congregation of the Kiama-Jamberoo Uniting Church.
Father God, use the words of Holy Scripture that we have heard to transform our lives and mark out the pathway for the journey on which you have set us.
In Jesus’ name.
I have to admit it – I’m a bit of a fan of classic old films. If it’s in black and white, it’s usually on my radar.
One of my favourite old films is a drama called ‘Trials at Nuremberg’, starring, among others, Spencer Tracey, Judy Garland and Burt Lancaster.
The film focusses on the international magistrates who are trying the case of a minor World War II criminal, set in the late 1940s – as the Cold War begins.
A man who was a judge in Nazi Germany is on trial for his role in the judgment and for the consent he gave to persecute people simply because of their race, religion or even their disability (sounds like a government making news in the Northern hemisphere).
This judge is shown film footage of bodies of victims from concentration camps being bulldozed into massive pits and he is asked to explain why he allowed this to happen to six million people.
The judge replies that he never knew it would end like this. The prosecuting judge says, ‘It was always going to lead to six million dead the day you sent your first person to prison, through a bigoted, ideologically based political judgement.
In our passage today, maybe Jesus is reminding us of the dangers of ‘minor’ sins and where they might lead – for as we hear in a popular song – ‘from little things, big things grow.’
Today’s Gospel Lectionary passage sits in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount – commonly called the Beatitudes or what many Aussies may refer to as ‘beaut attitudes’.
In last week’s lectionary readings we heard Jesus calling to his followers then, as now, to be ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light to the world’ – to be like a seasoning that brings out the flavour in others and to radiate our light to the worlds in acts of service and the spreading of the Good News.
But our saltiness and light is also shown in the way we live and the standards we keep.
Jesus starts this section of his sermon with ‘You have heard it said to those in ancient times…. But I say to you ….’ – He says this several times as he lists sins.
He goes from talking of an inactive past to an active present that requires action now.
He finishes this section with those famous words, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’.”
In other words, don’t say one thing and do the opposite.
Despite the fact that Jesus mentions sins of murder and adultery and breaking of contracts that most of his audience, then and now, have not committed – there is still a decisive relevance and message that he is conveying.
Anger, lustful thoughts and lying – sins he does mention – are all part of most people’s experience.
- We know that when someone cuts into the traffic without warning or indication.
- We know it when a telephone canvasser rings you yet again at dinner time and we react.
- We know this when we are trying to downplay our wrong decisions or actions.
- We know this when we shut down discussion when we don’t want to listen to another opinion.
These things too sit on a spectrum (the same spectrum) – even if it appears more trivial than the ‘big’ ones – the ‘mortal’ ones.
The letting past of small things can lead to much bigger wrongs (even unintentionally) – as the presiding judge at Nuremberg was pointing out to the German judge.
Small fractures in our standards, in our ethics, in our actions and in our judgements can indeed lead to catastrophic consequences.
Sometimes, it is not just that we refrain from doing wrong – we passively assent to wrong – when we know something is wrong – yet we do nothing about it.
We are reminded of this in a quote from Martin Niemoller, a German priest in the 1930s who said,
First, they came for the Socialists,
and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.
We are all sinners, and we all fail and we all fall.
We are not perfect, but we are forgiven.
Yet Jesus calls us:
- to strive to be better
- to pursue a higher calling
- to be that ‘salt’ and ‘light’ to the world in the here and now and
- to follow God’s cause which says – May your ‘yes’ be ‘yes and your ‘no’ be ‘no’ and not ‘maybe’.