Sermons on conflict
“Grant us the strength to cry for justice, to be angry for love. Grant us the grace of a strong soul, O God, grant us the grace to be strong.” John Phillip Newell, a contemporary Celtic theologian, offers these words in an evening prayer from his psalter, Sounds of the Eternal. In our gospel reading today, Jesus reveals the strength to cry for justice, to be angry for love, and “live and move and have his being” as coming from the place of a strong soul. Jesus is focused on overturning that which distracts or inhibits people from fully worshiping God, be it the unjust sacrificial temple tax system that excludes the poor from entering the temple he found in Jerusalem or the many priorities we place in our lives over that of worshiping God. Jesus knows that when we worship God with all our heart, mind, and soul, we can do no else but acknowledge and embrace a holy anger set deep within us that empowers us to right the wrongs, to overturn the imbalance in an oppressive political or religious system, to fight for justice and peace, and to care for the least among us, as Jesus did.
I’ll end by returning to where we started—talking about the church year. I like how this Season after Pentecost roughly corresponds to the growing season in our northern hemisphere. And being in this rural community, it’s easy to witness just how difficult it is to grow things. Several years I’ve noticed that farmers have had difficulty getting crops in because of too much rain in the early part of the season, only to be faced with the loss of that same crop later because of drought late in the season. I’ve thought also of the force, drive, and energy it takes for a tiny seed to shoot up a tiny tendril that manages to plow through several inches of dirt just to make it to the surface, let alone survive gnawing critters in order to reach maturity. And that’s what this Season after Pentecost is about: the struggle, hope, and faith it takes to grow. Let’s continue to grow together this season, encouraging each other to be Christ to and see Christ in each other and in our neighbors—that’s all we need to do to make disciples because being Christ and seeing Christ is one way that Jesus is with us “always, to the end of the age”. Amen.
Dialogue happened, lives were changed, and the living water began to flow more freely. This all seems to be a part of God’s plan.
It is almost unfathomable to me that God leads us into temptation, and yet we pray against that happening each week in the Lord’s prayer as we say, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.” If we pray against it happening, it means we must imagine it as a possibility, and one that only the grace or mercy of God can prevent. And our gospel story today reinforces the concept that God leads us into temptation, as it is clearly stated that the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness, into the place of testing and temptation. Somehow the time of testing and temptation serves the Spirit’s purpose. Does that seem odd to you?
Many of us can look upon the time Matthew describes as analogous to our current time. We too may be anxious and wondering what it means to be Christian and what the future of Christianity may hold. Daily, we hear extreme voices on what it means to be Christian on both ends of the polarized political system we find ourselves in. This is why we must listen very carefully to Jesus’ words in our gospel today, so we may return to the common ground that Christian identity and vocation is all about.
So where are we, where are you, in regards to the solidness of the dividing line between the faith we believe to be true and real and the way to our salvation, and those for whom God has been revealed in differing sets of beliefs or practices?
The experience of invisibility can manifest as simply as being the last one picked for a sports or spelling bee team in third grade, not being invited to a party all your other friends are eagerly anticipating, or as complex as not being considered for a job promotion you believe you deserve. Whenever or however it happens, it hurts. It is humiliating. And it pushes back against one of the truths we hold most dearly: that each one of us has been made uniquely and creatively by a God who loves us and who sends us out into the world each week, after being forgiven, restored, and renewed, in order to make our particular contribution, as we join God in mission in our world.
These questions of “Does including the new and different mean that we are letting go of the values that have always defined us? Or do the values that define us compel us to be more inclusive and open?” represent a major turning point in the story of the early church. It is also the crux of much of the turmoil in the contemporary church as it takes little imagination to see how this same question applies to many of the controversies the Episcopal Church has walked through recently. The Episcopal Church continues Peter’s work by continually making the circles ever wider.
Jesus, the King of the Jews, the Son of God, stands squarely before him, bearing all things, empowering all people, and says the only thing that needs to be said to change the world, I am the truth.
I once remember living in mid-air. I was wholly terrified and equally exhilarated. I felt unprotected, yet strangely safe. I felt as though my world had cracked open and the contents of my life’s story had came spilling out, never to be reassembled with the same plot, without even a glimpse of the new stories yet to be written.
Jesus, the Word, redeems each of us who have ever cried out from the depths of our soul, “Where were you when I needed you?” Jesus, the Word, redeems each of us who feel consumed with pain, and fail to find God within it, but rather blame God for it. Jesus, the Word, redeems each of us who have ever seen only our own dilemma, as the entirety of the world, and failed to see the larger picture of the Kingdom of God. Jesus, the Word, redeems each of us who have ever protected our hearts from lavishly pouring out that precious gift God gave us to give away: love. We must be willing to be broken open to love. It is what allows Jesus to save us.
Jesus stands still and says, “Call them here” to you who push others aside; to you who look the other way when injustice is right in front of you; to you who toss a coin to the hungry person on the street and dare not look at the larger issues causing this person’s poverty; to you who have grown tired and weary at watching the news and having your heart broken and have learned to shut it all out all. Jesus stands still and says, “Call him here.”, to you.