The Hard Work of Peace
The Hard Work of Peace
A sermon by the Rev. H. Paul Canady III
Rector of Christ Church, New Bern, NC, on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
October 4, 2020 Proper 22, Year A
May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be ever pleasing to you O Lord, our Rock, and our redeemer. Amen.
Today’s sermon is briefer than most of mine, partly because I’m no St. Francis and have no desire to offer more words than necessary to our furry friends who have made their way here this morning. I also don’t want the Gospel message today to get lost in a lot of extra imagery and material.
Jesus has a strong message to the religious leaders of his time regarding the prophets and messengers of God who came before him. To be certain, Jesus had some harsh words for them, and to be equally certain, those same words have been used over the past 2,000 years to harm and denigrate Jewish communities around the world. Jesus’ words should never be weaponized in such a way, and it is imperative that as followers of Jesus in 2020 we look for how Jesus’ words are reflected in our own words and actions. That’s how we show people who Jesus is.
There was a common understanding of messengers in the ancient world. The one bearing the message was to be regarded as the one who sent the message. So what Jesus is saying here is that those who rejected the prophets who came before him rejected God.
It’s easy to look at this passage and say, “YEAH! Go get ‘em, Jesus! Put those high-faluten Pharisees in their place!” But doing that would render the Gospel into a historical novel and not a living document for us as followers of Jesus. Because humanity, and even Christians, continue to reject the message of the Gospel on a pretty regular basis. Maybe it’s a sin of omission, something we fail to do because we are distracted by other things. Maybe it’s a sin of commission, something we do intentionally because we can’t be bothered to examine our own way of living and make a change that better glorifies God and helps us love our neighbors as ourselves.
We should be challenged by this scene in Matthew’s Gospel to think about those places where we reject the Good News of God. We should examine those places and times where we do what is convenient and easy instead of what is right and just. We should look hard not only our own life but our whole society and culture and do the work to change those structures that make existing harder for those on the margins, for the poor, the under-educated, anyone who doesn’t look like us or talk like us. If we see another person or group of people as “less than,” we easily become like the tenants in today’s Gospel lesson. It may not always be out-and-out violence but could turn into ghettoizing of whole communities or nationalities or ethnicities or religions. And that, my friends, is not the way of Jesus.
But the way of Jesus is love. And in this passage, set in Jesus’ last week of his earthly ministry, just a few verses removed from his tirade in the Temple, Jesus reminds his hearers then and his hearers now that the Kingdom of God will be given to the people who “produce the fruits of the Kingdom.” That doesn’t mean the people who have all the right answers or who do the most. It’s the people who emulate the love God has for this tired old world, and not tolerating the things that work to cut off that love.
There is a saying I’ve seen on shirts and mugs and bumper stickers that goes, “Lord help me to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.” (There should probably also be one that says, “Lord, remind me that I’m better than my cat thinks I am.”) Dog and God have the same letters, and what both have in common is that they can see the capacity for love and compassion that is it our very core. The change we wish to see in the world will not be established by chance or coincidence. It will come as the people of God and followers of Jesus continue turning toward the mission of God, which is to do the hard work of peace and justice so as individuals and as a culture, we can be reconciled to God.
As St. Francis is credited with saying, Let us preach the Gospel at all times, using words when necessary.