Peace is the way, by Pastor Noel

August 18, 2019    Proper 15C

 

      This Gospel reading makes me want to go hide under my bed until next week.

      These are harsh, scary, and prophetic words from Jesus.

      He is not predicting what is going to happen. He is reporting on what is already taking place.

      “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

      Jesus is the one we call The Prince of Peace, the one who lived God’s shalom.

      He is the one who healed and taught about God’s love and compassion and mercy.

      How can he be bringing division, enmity?

      He said that God’s kingdom includes everyone—the outcast, the sick, the poor, the ones called “sinners.”

      Maybe I just answered my own question.

      I can’t hear this gospel without thinking of Mary and her song—the Magnificat. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

      Mary sings that God has lifted up the lowly and put the mighty from their thrones. God has fed the hungry and sent the well fed away without supper.

      This shows God’s compassion for the poor and lowly, the ones Robert Capon calls “the least, the littlest, the last.”

      We hear that in the psalm today, “God takes his stand in the council of heaven; He gives judgment in the midst of the gods: (God says) How long will you judge unjustly, and show favor to the wicked? Save the weak and needy, defend the orphan and widow.”

      But those with wealth and power favor others with wealth and power.

      Jesus, like the prophets before him, said that this is wrong.

      But the system, the culture of the world, didn’t listen to Jesus, except to get angry at him, and kill him.

      Last week’s Gospel had my favorite line, “Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

      The division Jesus mentions comes from this.

      Some folks believe that the kingdom is a gift. God’s mercy and forgiveness and love and peace and joy—all that—are ours when we say thank you and live into the kingdom.

      God’s gifts are infinite and endless. And, the more we share, the more we have! God will never run out of them, no matter how much we share them.

      The other side of the division are folks who don’t believe that the kingdom is a gift. They do everything they can to prove how worthy they are. And they do this at the expense of others. These are folks who live by the values of the culture.

      The culture says we should grab and not let go. Who knows if there might not be more.

      So, perhaps from Creation, there has been this division between God’s kingdom and the world.

      These divisions are alive and well, aren’t they? I’m not going to name them—there isn’t time!

      But we all read the papers and see the news and know about the injustices that are happening today.

      This division Jesus talks about has also been part of religion for generations. No surprise.

      He had already witnessed the division between factions in Judaism, and division between Judaism and the paganism and emperor worship of Rome.

      By the time this gospel was actually written, Roman soldiers had destroyed the Temple and set Jew and Christian against each other.

      More division.

      The earliest follows of Christ had gathered for worship in the Temple with their Jewish families, then would meet again on Sunday to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

      Suddenly, this was no longer possible. Instead of blaming the true culprit, Rome, Jews and Christians blamed each other.

      Jews blamed Christians for inciting Roman anger against the Temple; Christians blamed Jews for Jesus’ death.

      And so it goes even til today — nastier and nastier.

      And the division is within ourselves. As Paul writes, “I do what I don’t want to do and I do not do what I want to do.”

      Or, as we used to pray in the Confession, “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;there is no health in us.”

      There IS health in us. We are filled with the breath of God and God’s Holy Spirit. We are in God’s kingdom when we recognize God’s presence in our lives and live with kingdom values.

      The kingdom values I try to live by are in our Baptismal Covenant. We promise, “with God’s help,” to be active in worship and prayer. We promise to resist evil and turn to God who is always waiting for us. We promise to live by kingdom values. We promise to love our neighbor.

       And the hardest one, we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

      That’s God’s kingdom in a nutshell, God’s presence in our lives and in the world.

      And, with God’s help, we can live that way.

      And, with God’s help, we can see the injustices in the world and find ways to make things better.

      Many of the divisions in the world are economic. The haves keep and the have nots lose.

      We can work to make sure that everyone has enough. Enough clean water. Enough clean air. Enough food. Enough opportunity. Enough safety. Enough peace. Enough love.

      Jesus says that we can understand signs that tell us about the weather. He calls us to see the signs that show us the divisions of our time.

      May we, with God’s help, work to heal the divisions. May we follow Jesus and live and share the values of God’s kingdom, God’s presence. 

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details