Sermon – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost June 17, 2018
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
2 Corinthians 5:16-17
Today I begin the sermon with the words of the Apostle Paul to the Church at Corinth. I do this partly to bring to your attention a news story from earlier this week when a government official, a politician that I will not name, used the words of this same Apostle….words from a different letter, written to the Church at Rome…to attempt to give scriptural validation for an immigration policy that is as inhumane as it is unchristian. As I have mentioned before I try very hard not to bring politics into this pulpit but when issues that should be of concern to Christians are politicized…and in this case, the very teachings of our own holy texts have been misinterpreted and misrepresented for evil purposes… all of us who claim the name of Christ must speak up. We must speak against those who would use Biblical language to validate unholy attitudes and policies enacted in the service of isolationism, elitism, and bigotry. We must speak truth to power and denounce those who would do irreparable harm to children and their parents because in their desperation and fear they came seeking asylum at our borders.
I believe very strongly in the separation of Church and state because anything else has the danger of discriminating against those of faiths other than Christian and against those of no faith or who practice a different type of Christianity than those in power. But when these evil people…and yes I do believe they are evil….claim to speak for Christians I take offense because it is clear from their actions that they worship only power and follow the god of this world rather than the risen Christ who lived, died and rose again that all people would be welcome and have a place in the kingdom of God. Brothers and sisters things may get worse before they get better and we as the hands and feet …and voice of Christ in this world must work and speak for peace and justice for everyone especially the most vulnerable and helpless among us. This is our sacred call as those who have been baptized by water and Spirit, sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever.
In our lesson today Paul tells us that we have been made new creatures in our baptism. The old rules no longer apply and everything is being made new under the life-giving law of love. Doing the right thing is not difficult if we allow ourselves to embrace fully the reality of Christ’s love. Living in this love we can find strength and courage to stand against hate and violence. We can find the patience to be loving even to those who seem unlovable. We can find the wisdom to discern the most loving alternative when faced with a decision to make. Perhaps the most life and world-changing gift we receive in this loving relationship with Christ is the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of grace that helps us forgive others for the pain they have caused us. It is this grace that can also give us the strength to forgive ourselves and to be free from the guilt for the wrong that we have done. Every moment we are being remade into the likeness of Christ…new creatures ever rising from those baptismal waters to walk in newness of life recommitted to becoming Christ and to making the kingdom of God present in the lives of everyone we encounter.
In our Gospel today Jesus tells us that this mysterious kingdom of God is as if someone scattered seed in the night and the new grain sprang up from the soil as a surprise gift. Its origin is unknown but the blessing becomes more and more evident as it grows. He also compares this kingdom to a grain of mustard seed….tiny and seemingly unimpressive and yet from it grows a bush big enough and strong enough to become home to families of birds who nest in its branches.
From small beginnings come great things. We do not have to be capable of miraculous or powerful or impressive feats. God takes our tiny offerings…our efforts for good no matter how small and prospers those so that they spread and grow until everywhere we are is the kingdom of God and every act we do in love becomes a blessing shared by the citizens of that kingdom.
I know it seems like the world has become a terrible place where those in power act without compassion or concern for the very people they are supposed to represent and where more and more people seem capable of thinking, saying and doing cruel things to others, acting out of fear or anger or cynicism. People of good heart are feeling increasingly helpless as the servants of the evil one spread violence and hatred through neighborhoods and cities and nations. Brothers and sisters we must not lose heart. We can change things for the better if we can overcome our spiritual inertia and reach out in love and compassion to help ease the suffering of those whom God brings into our lives.
I am not saying that thinking good thoughts and doing little kindnesses will change the world overnight. But keep in mind that as long as there have been humans there have been those who have been driven by a desire for power, influence or wealth to do horrible things to other people and the other creatures of this planet. This is not a new situation and history shows that nations rise and fall…leaders rise and fall….some better some worse but all temporary. God in Christ Jesus has given us the hope of the Resurrection and the promise of eternal life when our time here is ended. Even now the power of the Resurrection is breaking through into this age and bringing with it the hope and courage for people of faith to begin to live Kingdom lives even in this broken and imperfect reality.
Whatever happens in the next few days…or months or years…we, as the bearers of Christ in this world must not become complacent. We must not make peace with oppression but continue to speak for those whose voices have been silenced and be willing to bear our neighbors burdens…to weep with those who weep and to offer comfort wherever we can. Do not let false christians who follow a perverted gospel be the ones to speak for the Church. Let the world know that the Christ we follow…the God we worship is a loving God who calls his people to be loving and compassionate…welcoming the stranger and caring for the poor and the vulnerable. Because we have been shown mercy we can in our turn show mercy. God’s love is limitless…and unconditional. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. While we were yet sinners our Lord Jesus Christ offered everything…his suffering…his human future…his very life for our salvation…to show us the depth of God’s love…while we were yet sinners.
For me, one of the most heartbreaking images I have seen in recent weeks was a post on my Facebook feed from a priest friend. It was a photo of rosaries that had been confiscated from immigrants by border control agents. These desperate people were not even allowed to keep their devotionals…these strings of beads with which they prayed and which offered comfort and a reminder that their God had not forsaken them. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being treated like criminals. Who have we become that we sit idly by while babies are being taken from their parents and children are being incarcerated? …no one allowed to comfort them as they weep…children who don’t know why they were taken or if they will ever see their parents again. This obscenity should make all people of good heart weep and mourn and rend our garments in sorrow.
After my brother Michael died my mother had nightmares in which she could see him walking around and around a deep pool of water right at the edge. She had always had a strong fear of water and in her dream, she knew her child was going to fall in before she could reach him. I can remember her waking up weeping and terrified at the thought of losing one of her children. I cannot help but wonder how she would have felt had any of us been taken from her with no indication of when or if we would be returned. As difficult as Mike’s death was for her I think not knowing where or how he was would have been worse.
Brothers and sisters…pray for those who suffer from the unjust actions of governments wherever they are in the world. Pray for parents who have lost their children and babies who cry out for their parents. Spend some time studying the Bible so that you can know if someone is misinterpreting or twisting the Scriptures…even someone who professes to follow the same faith as yours. Do not be afraid to preach Christ live-giving gospel of love with your words and with your actions. Do not be afraid to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit when she calls you to act in love.
As a Christian and a priest I do not really care what your political leanings are…who you vote for or why. But I do care that the gospel of Christ is being misinterpreted and that perversion is being preached by those in power and being accepted as the truth by those who either do not know any better or who prefer to believe a lie. Anyone who claims that God in any way advocates for the devaluing of human life and approves of abuse or the wanton and heartless infliction of pain and suffering on any of God’s creatures is a liar. To believe or speak this is blasphemy and to act on it is sin.
Gentle people, we must not remain silent. Let us speak the truth of God’s love to all who will listen. Let us show the truth of God’s love in our actions as we the bearers of Christ in this modern age work together to bring the Kingdom of God into the present. You may be wondering where the “Good News is in all of this. You are the Good News and I am the Good News. We have the power to speak love into being and to ease suffering with our actions. Do not feel guilty when God gives you a moment of joy in your family…or your fellowship with friends and at Church…in your worship. This is the food of the soul and will nourish you and give you strength to do the work of loving this world out of the darkness. In all of your good works do not forget to pray and to thank God for we have been reborn in Christ. Let us then try to live as people who have indeed been made new.