Not Peace, but a Sword

Sermon: June 30, 2002 – Christ Episcopal Church – Ridgewood, NJ

By Patrick A. Hunt pathunt01@msn.com

 

Good Morning:

 

In this morning’s Gospel, (Matthew 10:34-42) Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  He has come to set us against one another. We are admonished to love Christ more than family, to take up the cross and even to lose our lives for Christ. Powerful words that shake us in our complacency.

 

This message of Christ’s Love is set on edge - a very sharp edge. Our usual image of that Peaceable Kingdom is challenged.  Good.  We need to be challenged. Far too many of us take the “Love your neighbor as yourself” as a remnant from a 60’s concert.

 

Christ’s love for us is clear and constant. Our love for Christ is not. It is not always easy to follow his teachings; to love those who are different. To turn the other cheek when you are derided or wronged. It is not easy to love those who bomb you into oblivion. Christ recognized that his message of Love would not be met with acceptance. People would die because of it - millions upon millions of people. Our world, our society and our culture all compete for influence and prominence. The messages we receive throughout our lives overwhelm us with the material, the physical and the fleeting. Christ’s wake up call is a challenge. Above all else. More than anything else, He is the One and his message is the Way.

 

Some groups have taken this Gospel and have used it to reinforce their own quest for power and influence. This message is not about power or intimidation. This is about shaking us up to realize that Love is not easy. That following Christ will not always go smoothly. It is not easy but it is worth everything. It is the only answer.

 

When I escaped from the World Trade Center on September 11th, three thoughts stayed with me; that I was, for the first time in my life truly scared, that I was not ready to die and that I was not alone. What amazed me the most was the instant and far reaching community that came together to offer help. From the professionals; police, fire and emergency services, to the people in stores and along the streets handing out glasses of water to passers by – the overwhelming and immediate response was of compassion. Completely spontaneous, these gifts of love wound through the dazed and injured crowds. God was certainly with us. We were not alone. I told people that after this, the “little things” wouldn’t bother me anymore. There are more important issues to be concerned about. Issues that are more meaningful. It sometimes takes a life-changing event to bring to focus what is important.

 

That is why I am here; to challenge you. To remember that Jesus’ call to love one another is not uncomplicated, but it is a call that must be answered. Today is the culmination of Gay Pride Week. A series of events and celebrations punctuated with thoughtful shows on public television. As I prepared for today, there really had been little mention of this in the papers. Have we become so main stream that we are no longer news? Look around, we are in committed relationships, raising children, living the suburban dream, paying taxes and going about our lives as uncontroversial as anyone else! The President has signed legislation allowing for limited benefits to be paid to the domestic partners of police and fire fighters. New Jersey is considering equal rights for domestic partners. New York is about to recognize civil unions from other states. It seems that progress is being made. As long as we “fit” into the socio-economic status of our community, then we are tacitly accepted.

 

So what’s the problem? The problem is that many in the media, conservative political and religious groups and members of our own communities will jump all over these legislative initiatives as another example of the moral breakdown of our society.  Let us not be naïve, free speech is a hallmark of our freedom, but the line between free speech and unjust discrimination can be soft.  “Loving your neighbor” is not limited to those “just like us”.

 

In our own Peaceable Kingdom of Bergen County, there is a lot of apparent tolerance. We don’t see many signs of discontent – or do we? From issues about the Boy Scouts to the Catholic Church, gays are frequently targeted as the offenders. It’s not true and it’s wrong. The mayor of Waldwick wrote a letter to the Suburban News earlier this year that was offensive to gays and lesbians, yet there was no hue and cry. The undercurrents of discrimination do exist and may be more pervasive than you think.

 

This brings up a question that has been bothering me for a while. Is there some evolutionary genetic artifact in the essence of being “human” that requires an opponent or enemy? The fight for survival from prehistoric times mandated the conquering of enemies. Mankind has not changed and I do not see the world changing anytime soon. If so, how does the inclusiveness of Christ’s vision fit in with this? How can we have opponents and still love our neighbor? That is one of the challenges we face.

 

So we come here, to the Episcopal Church, the most welcoming institution in our area. How good it is to walk through these doors and experience the Word of God on Earth. Your actions, love and support are strong examples of this message. God’s kingdom is a healing and sharing realm of radical inclusivity. So it should be on earth.

 

But wait. Perhaps here at Christ Church, Ridgewood we have a glimmer of how life should be, but how about elsewhere in the Anglican Communion? The following is an excerpt from a sermon by Canon Jay Wegman of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. “On July 7th the Most Reverend Peter Akinola from Nigeria, will be welcomed at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.  He was a controversial participant at Lambeth and has stated that women should be subservient to men and he actively opposes the ordination of women. He has also referred to Gay and Lesbian clergy as an abomination and while visiting the Diocese of New Jersey a couple of years ago, he suggested that gay and lesbian people should have millstones tied around their necks. His stated reason for visiting the Cathedral is to support the Presiding Bishop in bringing the Episcopal Church to “righteousness”.  Bishop Akinola seems to have forgotten that Anglicanism was founded by a murderous adulterer, that a woman guided its ethos for its initial 45 years and that its primary text was translated under the close guidance of a celebrated bisexual. It is disheartening to have such a person honored at the Cathedral when such worthy people such as Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa or Bishop Penny Jamieson of New Zealand have not been recognized.”

 

 

 

 

There are many examples where Jesus’ messages are interpreted to meet the objectives of those delivering their version of the Word of God. We need keep it simple. In Matthew 22, Christ gave us the two most important Commandments; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first Commandment. And a second is like it; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two Commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” When you add the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” there is a framework for understanding. There is a call for action. For today’s Gospel calls us to action. Not to be casual participants when it suits us or is convenient or popular, but recognizing that not only the message of Love, but the active manifestation of Love in our lives and among all peoples on earth must occur if we are to receive our reward. Nothing less will suffice. Nothing less is acceptable.

 

The rainbow flag that flies outside our Church symbolizes Gay Pride. It also is a symbol of diversity, representing the radical inclusivity that we know to be in Jesus’ teachings. We are called upon to welcome all. What do we do about those who do not welcome all?  While we can have righteous indignation, it’s not enough. Do not be comfortable that it’s someone else’s responsibility. Jesus didn’t say save yourself and to hell with everyone else. The vicious cycle of ignorance, discrimination and violence must end. Be vocal. Be active. Teach your children. If it’s not you today that’s targeted, it may be you tomorrow. Those of us who remember the McCarthy hearings do not take it for granted that such actions couldn’t be repeated.

 

Let us commit to go forth from this place, not complacent in the Love of God, but dedicated to the challenges of manifesting his Love for us into our love for all. It is, after all, why we are here.

 

 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

 

Thank you,

 

Patrick A. Hunt pathunt01@msn.com 


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