Upon Further Reflection
Last Sunday’s sermon traveled a good amount of terrain: daily life stories about vacation, an unexpected pilgrim walk at Grace Cathedral, a confrontation with the moral corruption of past and present America, and the healing balm of Jesus’ never-failing rescue of the vulnerable. It was a big preaching day, made all the more difficult by a laryngitis challenged voice. Unable to practice my sermon ahead of time, the emotions of my words were too much for me; they closed my throat, and I was saved by my trusted Music Director, Julie Hobart. You will hear that silence of transition.
There was much said. There was so much more to say.
I address the painful encounter between nations here in the West historically and now. And I address children, how we have failed to center their dignity in our collective morality. (Yes, I use the word morality – morality is not just a debate about marriage and reproduction.) We are feeling the pain of children most acutely at the border right now, but their pain and the disruption of the family fabric is part of our American history as revealed in slavery, Native American genocide, immigrant expulsions from other decades, and internments. I did not address the racial dimensions of our moral failing, but it most assuredly is there. And there are many social realms where this plays out, not just on the front line of immigration.
These are hard words to hear. You may feel judged. But they are said in love, they are said in hope, and they are said to remind us all that human beings are involved in the issues of day. These are not just remote news stories; these are not just policies; these are not just institutions. Our hearts have grown hard. I spoke these words hoping to reach into our more tender places. Soft hearts. We need softer hearts.
As I speak to fellow Christians about these issues and hear the more famous ones in the media, I find myself so deeply disturbed at the hardness of heart. We have forgotten the language of Jesus. We have forgotten whom it is we follow. Worse, we have claimed him for our own ends. We have forgotten the Holy One speaks with one Word, the Word of Mercy. We have forgotten the God works through relationship. I hear Christians debate this or that, I hear the political talk, I hear the partisan entrenchment, and all the while I am wondering: How are they forgetting to speak of Jesus? Have they forgotten the Kingdom of God, what it looks like, who is there? Shouldn’t we, as people of faith, be talking a little less about who is in or out in our own country and a little more about who is in or out in the reign of God?
I listened to a talk recently with the Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign. And he gives this piece of guidance: when it comes to a person defending their position with the Bible, here’s a simple test to know if it is sound interpretation. Listen to see if they mention Jesus. Because if they only offer up quotes from remoter books, then you know they have gone astray. So here is a reminder what Christian morality looks like, a reminder to soften our hearts. Jesus own words. May that Word grow in us all a tender shoot. And one day, may the shoot grow into the tree of life, sprawling across the river of life flowing through our hearts, and blooming leaves to heal the nations:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.