Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes ‘and your ‘No’ be ‘No’
Matthew 5 : 33 - 37
Jesus taught that we should speak sparingly and honestly to one another not only in Church but in family life, work, leisure and in all our relationships. Jesus also told wonderful stories and parables and some of them were witty and humorous and some involved exaggerations to make the point. So - Jesus is not advocating some dull monosyllabic existence.
What he is criticising in these verses from the sermon on the Mount which we read earlier is false promising and falsely using God’s name to guarantee something and using spirituality as a pretext for gaining credibility in other matters. We are not to trade on our Christianity to gain unfair advantage over others nor are we to pose and posture as good people when we are being deceitful and dishonest. Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and let your ‘No’ be ‘No’. Jesus was saying that Christians should not and do not need to swear oaths such as ‘On the grave of my mother I tell you this is true’ or’ ‘By the lives of my children I promise to do this’ or ‘As God is my witness I will do this’ or ‘May God strike me down if I am wrong’.
It was part of middle east culture to make these extravagant types of oaths and you find them throughout the Old Testament. Often you read the words, ‘May the Lord do this to me and more if I do not do this before nightfall…’ and you can imagine the person making a cut throat gesture perhaps or something similar. When the prophet Nathan took his life in his hands by confronting King David after his adultery with Bathsheba, he told him the story we read earlier. David did not twig that the story was about him and so he reacted with anger and justice. “As surely as the Lord lives (that was the oath) the man who did this deserves to die. He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity” (2 Sam 12 : 6). Then Nathan pointed his finger at King David and said, ‘You are the man’. 'It’s you I’m talking about'. King Solomon rejected his mother’s petition on behalf of a rival for the crown with the words, ‘May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if Adonijah does not pay with his life for this request’.
But for Christians this kind of oath is not to be acceptable, says Jesus. We are prone as human beings to exaggeration. Our media live on and live by exaggeration. Our newspapers are full of false promises and false claims. Town and village gossip thrives on adding bits and pieces to what is passed on from one person to another. You don’t meet many people whom you think you can trust. Few, there are, to whom you might open your heart and share you innermost secrets. You should not need to and you do not need to. Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’.
Our government and our politics is infected by insincerity, spin and exaggeration. We do not believe anything that is told to us by those we trust with the management of our nation’s affairs. No wonder. We were told at this recent election that there needs to be a new politics and a new way of doing things. Days into the new government and it is the same old smoke and mirrors, clear lack of common sense, treating us like fools and engaging in exaggeration and untruthfulness. A highly placed government minister was found to have embezzled £40,000 of taxpayers’ money for his secret homosexual partner. But when he owned up he was described as ‘Mr Integrity’ and more or less offered another government job in a few months time. His young inexperienced Scottish replacement is described as having ‘all the intelligence, ability, potential required for the job’ despite the fact that other better qualified people were available. In no other walk of life does this happen other than perhaps the entertainment industry which is built on fantasy. Imagine, for example, the outcry there would be if an ambulance driver was suddenly ushered into an operating theatre and invited to perform open heart surgery. Or if a glider pilot was asked to take control of a four engined passenger jet airliner filled with people. Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’.
The Church of Jesus Christ is guilty of the same base conduct. If ever the wisdom of Jesus was relevant it was while the Pope and other senior Roman Catholic leaders were trying to explain the child abuse scandal. Time magazine led with an article entitled 'Why being Pope means never having to say you’re sorry'. The logic behind this is as follows. Presented with the scenario of a personal apology by the human embodiment of the church (the Pope) a well-placed Vatican official sighed as he weighed the theological and historical implications. “It’s dangerous”, he said. “It’s dangerous”. What distance has the church come from its Founder and its Living Lord Jesus! The Pope cannot personally apologise because to do so will be seen as weakness and loss of authority and will end the theology that says the Church is perfect even if it has imperfect people within it. We are a long way from letting ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ be ‘No’. We cannot identify Jesus Christ with his imperfect Church and we cannot limit the concept of Church to the Church of Rome and we cannot limit Christianity to Roman Catholicism. Some humility is required. It is the same doctrine that put the interests of the Church before the interests of abused children. And this is the same logic that our politicians use to decry the exposure of that highly placed minister who although a millionaire, embezzled £40,000. He did, however, realise that he had dome wrong and he did not try to tough it out as others wished him to do.
But let us not be complacent in the Church of Scotland. This past General Assembly has shown that we also are far from letting our ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and our ‘No’ be ‘No’. Lots of spin and public blandishments have occurred. The Assembly declared that the Church of Scotland must keep a territorial ministry throughout the whole of Scotland and at the same time agreed to proposals as yet not worked out, to deprive hundreds of communities of ministers in the future because there is not enough money to pay them in the medium term. Decent people like David Fergusson and Graham Finch were interviewed on the radio not telling the truth at all but waffling and spinning and definitely not letting their ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and their ‘No’ be ‘No’.
No-one has fronted up and given clear leadership to the members of the Church of Scotland. The media blame the Church for its predicament. The main points that should be made over and over again are these:
i) Centuries of nominal half-baked Christianity in the Church of Scotland are coming home to roost
ii) The intellectual credibility of Christianity is being attacked by militant atheists with damaging results
iii) The Blair government’s policy of making ‘religions’ equal to accommodate Islam has been disastrous for Christianity
iv) Christianity has been taken out of the state schools
v) The majority of the people of this United Kingdom have turned away from Jesus Christ and from practising Christianity
So what are we doing here this evening? Simply put we are:
i) Remembering Jesus of Nazareth as a real historical person who caused and originated this practice of Holy Communion
ii) We are affirming our personal faith in Jesus Christ risen from physical death and acknowledging Him as a living person in a different dimension from our human physical existence
iii) We are sharing in these elements of bread and wine as symbols of spiritual connectedness with our Maker
iv) We are witnessing to our belonging to the Body of Christ in the world, that is, the Church that is followers of Jesus, that is all our fellow Christians
v) We are expressing not the cold hard certainties of human life but its unseen depths and aspirations and longings, its hope and idealism and vision and sense of eternity.
We are letting our ‘Yes’ to Jesus be indeed a ‘Yes’.