Sermons on justice
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church The Rev. Barbara Hutchinson 4 Epiphany Year B 2018 January 28, 2018 I was fascinated with the variety of expressions on the faces depicted in various places in the Holy Land of those who had seen Jesus, the living incarnation of the holy, the Son of God, and the source of our salvation. In each of the places where Jesus had been, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, Jericho and of course Jerusalem, there were mosaics, frescos, paintings and…
In Matthew’s gospel, today’s story is Jesus’ last teaching opportunity before he is crucified, so we have to imagine Jesus has saved the most important for last. Jesus is saying to us that our actions matter. We are to be accountable to what Jesus has asked us to do. This really is non-negotiable. You may notice that Jesus’ last teaching has nothing to do with orthodoxy, right belief, or how the church is to be structured, but rather, it’s all about orthopraxy – walking the walk, being authentic, making a difference in the world, being accountable for our choices or the choices others make on our behalf. We are living an authentic Christian life when we receive the bread on Sunday and on Sunday afternoon, as we plan our week ahead, we orient our lives to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and welcoming the stranger. Jesus did all of these things, which is why, when we do them, these moments are sacramental. Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you. In receiving the broken bread, we become Christ’s body, so that we can see, be, and do for Jesus, so we can be sent out into the world to move it toward justice, where wrongs will be set right, and only God’s love will pour from all hearts.
It is a courageous act of civil disobedience that helps change the tide of history. They are the first two links in a chain of many people who will eventually be lead out of slavery and oppression in Egypt by Moses. Liberation starts here, with two women willing to say “no” to an act of cruelty and injustice.
And Peter exhorts them not to give into fear. He suggests rather, in the midst of trials and persecutions for “doing good”, for living as Christ did, to prove themselves faithful to the essence of Christ, with the deep belief that people will recognize that, and lives will be changed. His model for evangelism was, in my summary, “live a good life, by a quiet and steadfast witness to what you believe to be true, and people will want it too and people around you will be changed.”
The disciples took with them their broken hearts, their sense of foolishness for believing in something good, perhaps some hurt pride, because they thought they were right and it turned out they weren’t, or at least at this point in the story. They took all of this brokenness and betrayal and walked away. But Jesus comes alongside them, and they invite him to stay with them, perhaps just as a common gesture of the day, or perhaps because they had a sense that something wanted to be broken open within them. And it was. Jesus broke open the bread and broke through as the Risen Christ. The two travelers broke open their blindness to see another way. The now-disciples gave it all away, by their action of running back to Jerusalem, full of confidence, giving their story and their lives for others, so that bread could be broken for everyone, and all can be fed.
At the deepest level, however, the Sermon is not primarily a set of rules or directives. At the deepest level, the Sermon on the Mount is an act of imagination – and a rather wild and crazy act of imagination at that. In the Sermon, Jesus reimagines the world and invites us, the church, to live into this new, alternative reality.
As Christians, we stand at the gate of our own Jerusalem each time we peer into our own souls, into that holy city where God resides within us. The process of making our hearts ready to receive the holiness of Christmas is one of cleansing ourselves from distractions, purifying our souls from the darkness which creeps in occasionally, forgiving others and ourselves, and releasing our reliance upon ourselves. This is our Advent work, so that when we awake on Christmas morning, we will be ready to receive the Christ child into our lives, again and anew.
Whereas it is true that we could never win this case God has brought against us, the exercise was never about winning or losing or justice or punishment. It was always and will only ever be about God’s love for us – about mercy, about opening the pathway for us to be back in right relationship with God. This is what the judgment of God looks like: mercy, love, forgiveness, and an invitation to wholeness. When we declare our Confession of Need today, we will say, “Compassionate God. We confess our weaknesses and our need for your strengthening touch.” Our weaknesses: our forgetfulness of God and each other, and our need for God’s strengthening touch. This is what God desires to give us, to touch us with God’s holy strength, and to make us whole.
But you probably know this ~ God doesn’t work in the comfortable or solid. God works in the threshold times of new possibilities. So perhaps a life in Christ is not finding an equilibrium to hold onto, nor trying to control the stasis, but of knowing it’s a constant process, it is a dance, that we must rely on our spiritual maturity to lead us through
Benedict also goes on to state in his Rule, “We must remember to start over and start over and start over until someday we control life more than it controls us. And so each moment we begin to feel offended by someone’s actions or words, or find we want to grumble about some unfairness of life, we need to start anew, we need to turn ourselves around and put ourselves in the role of the last hired. Because only when we know the vulnerability that person lives in can we truly find in our hearts and comprehend the generosity that the landowner bestowed upon the last-hired, and offer the same to that person.