Every time we renew our Baptismal Covenant, we promise to commit our lives to Christ as we answer six questions. Every question is important. I would like to focus right now on just two of them.
The fourth question asks: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
The next one asks: Will you stive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Our answer is: I will with God’s help. After all, we can’t possibly do this on our own.
If we spend our lives seriously living into these questions, they will change the direction of our life. How can they not? However, we live in a world filled with tension and upheaval. Not all people believe we all deserve love and not all believe in justice for all people. Many of these people call themselves Christian. This creates tension for those who work hard to create a different world in which to live.
We work toward peace for all in a world where young boys are kidnapped for military purposes; as women’s rights are trampled on not just in this country but worldwide. There are places women can’t go outside unless they are fully covered, where women can’t be educated girls are forced into marriage and, in this country, women are being told we don’t have the right for autonomy over our own bodies.
There are guns fired, and cars driven into crowds, theatres, malls and schools because people disagree on political and ideological issues, and government is often hogtied because one side won’t bend toward anything the other side of the aisle puts forth.
Our readings today are not the most comfortable we hear throughout the year. Jerimiah was a prophet and as did all the prophets he had no fear of telling people God’s truth. He tells us that those who talk of their dreams are not the true messengers of God as they talk about comfort and undermine God’s word. God sends visionaries, prophets who bring challenges to God’s people. God demands radical obedience; in other words, loving everyone and respecting the dignity of every human being. This is the way to everlasting peace.
We don’t expect to hear such difficult words from Jesus in the Gospel and we need to be reminded that the decision to do the right thing, the good thing, is not always easy and without conflict. Jesus himself did not make easy decisions or avoid conflict. Today Jesus reminds his followers to be prepared for difficulty ahead.
Luke’s Gospel was written for people, mostly gentiles, who were just learning to leave their pagan gods behind to follow Jesus. This would most certainly have caused divisions in families. Luke is clearly establishing Jesus as the Messiah who has authority overall. Jesus, pointing to God as Father, was establishing a world in which people would love all their neighbors and care for all the poor and needy. This was revolutionary and frightening to many.
Today’s gospel reminds us that every day we make a decision to follow Jesus. We will have friends and family not accepting our beliefs. Who here doesn’t have someone in their family on ‘the other side’ of issues from us? My family is split down the middle on most issues. Peace is hard to come by. Jesus tells us we will face opposition as we strive for peace. As Christians we are commanded to stand up and speak truth to power when powerful people and leaders act against what Jesus teaches. We can’t accept a peace for ourselves that takes peace away from someone else. That isn’t God’s peace.
I know I do many things to ‘keep the peace’. It’s in our nature to want peace. And yet if we are truthful with ourselves, we might find times that we were silent when someone is bullied or when we hear negative talk about someone different from ourselves, and when we see people being denied human rights. This is not the peace Jesus speaks too.
Jesus knew of division even in his own family and in his own village. When Jesus began preaching his family wanted to bring him home because they thought he was crazy. His way was not the way chosen by everyone and we know that to be just as true today. We are truly a divided nation even as we say we are “one nation, under God”. Whose God? Just our God? What about the deities’ others believe in who also espouse peace and love?
Who do we follow? Is it the God who tells us to love one another or the false prophets who say we must protect ourselves before all else? Is it the God who tells us to give to the poor or the false prophet, the retail marketing world who says we always need more and to keep everything we have for a rainy day?
In today’s world where would we find Jesus on the political spectrum? VERY far left, I believe. The season of Pentecost is the time in our church year we take a hard look at Jesus’ teachings and reflect on them, remembering Jesus grew up with the Hebrew Scripture. He knew the stories about Pharaoh and Moses. The Exodus was a political revolution. We hear the story and fail to look deeper into the significance. God, through Moses used intimidation and force which brought about violence and bloodshed. Moses wasn’t on earth to bring peace. He was bringing relief to those in captivity.
Jesus’ birth brought terror to Herod. He felt threatened by a baby because he feared the political nature of the birth. He’d heard stories and decided the only way around this was to kill every male child under two. He was not about to lose his power to a child. More violence and bloodshed.
As people who call ourselves Christian, we need to look at these stories and take them to heart. We don’t often look at the political implication of our gospel stories for ourselves. Christmas and Easter have been taken over by a guy in a red suit and a bunny for economic gain rather than the implications they have in our lives. The good news, the gospel, might be bad news for people in power and with privilege. Jesus warned us in last week’s gospel a commitment to faith requires us to change our attitude toward material possessions and to take seriously our moral obligations. When we make these changes, it puts tension into our relationships.
Paul’s writing to the Hebrews is the most uplifting reading today. We are given a litany of ordinary people who accomplished extraordinary things because they put their complete trust in God. Paul calls them the great cloud of witnesses and invites us to ‘run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’. God is working through us and calls us to a deeper level of faith. Going the distance, not giving up or giving in is accomplished little by little as we work toward loving our neighbor and striving for the dignity of every person. We can’t do it alone so we ask for God’s help as we say: ‘I will with God’s help’. Amen