Psalm 8, Matthew 5:1–12, Matthew 28:16-20 and Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
Good morning and greetings on Trinity Sunday! Maybe you didn’t know it was something special, but we are making everything that we can special so thank you for showing up from wherever you are, in whatever state you are in.
As we are listening to a movement grounded in the hope for everyone to be able to breathe, and as we continue to hear the cries of those who can’t breathe, let us never forget that the oldest name for God is Ruah, a Hebrew word for Spirit, Breath, Wind. Our breath is precious and a reminder of the holy that is ever present within us here and beyond. Now I invite you to notice and give thanks for your breath and to take a few deep breaths- breathing in peace, breathing out stress, breathing in hope, breathing out worry. We begin this time by turning our hearts and minds toward the message meant for each of us today, as we pray this prayer from Psalm 19:14. God, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, wherever they are, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
We are living in a moment that history will not soon forget. We had talked about the year 2020 as one of clear vision, perfect sight and indeed it has been this and more- absolute clarity about who we really are and where we really are and how far we really have to go. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them” and this pandemic along with our ability to advertise the truth on social media has made it so revelations upon revelations are occurring and views are being abandoned right and left. Truth coming so quickly can hurt. But in our tradition, the truth also sets us free.
And as we said last week, our call as people of faith and conscience right now is to listen and learn and grow and act because we have seen the truth. Of course we are all in different places so the course we choose to take will vary, but it seems as if whatever name we have for God, it is begging us to not wait any longer. There’s no turning back once the truth has gone viral.
We can’t wait- We can’t wait for any of us to feel comfortable. We can’t wait for “other people” to fix this, we can’t wait for anyone in government to “get it.” Because as we saw this week at the federal level, instead of seeking to understand, instead of consoling or caring, our leaders cleared protestors from the backdrop of a church that was not their spiritual home, wielding a sacred symbol of the Bible that was not their own. It felt like the Empire using our book and our sacred spaces to harm the truth and try and hide the truth.
Our country is as divided as ever but from where I stand, I wonder if a movement has emerged, if a window has opened where more of joining the struggle now will turn the tide. Because while we were stuck with stay at home orders during a pandemic, reminded of the failures of our healthcare and the cruelty of our economic system, we saw the truth- we are seeing the truth and it isn’t going anywhere.
But in response to the truth out marching and moving toward another way, some Christians are reducing the most important teachings about a radical and expansive love, to mean that following Jesus is being nice and being right.
But it turns out that Jesus was actually quite provocative. He didn’t shame, but he spoke and lived the truth, he called out the sins, the suffering, the separation and sadness of his day with his words, his prayers and his actions.
Like many people for much of life I thought that being a good Christian, meant being anything but provocative. I thought that being a Christian was being a good person and that meant following the rules, being agreeable, staying in line, getting it right. Now that Christianity is being used by the Empire, the teachings are used more as crowd control than as a path to liberation.
But we know that Jesus called out those who believed in a hierarchy of human worth. He called out those who thought justice and mercy were in short supply. He called out both systems and leaders that robbed freedom. The most dramatic example that we have recorded is when Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who had turned it into a sight of commerce. He overturned the tables and threw everyone out. He was furious at the idea that property or profits would ever be put before people, especially inside or in front of a sacred space. This story appears in all four of the Gospels, so we know it is a core teaching.
If you have watched the webinar hosted by the UCC called the Cross and the Lynching Tree: An ode to Ahmed Arbery, you already heard the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III say, “We have removed all of the radicalism from our faith. We have been hypnotized by an Americanized form of capitalism that masquerades as Christianity.” He goes on, “Our faith carries the scars of Calvary, our faith walk is not about avoiding pain and self-help, but being transformed and becoming the hands and feet of Christ. The cross was a lynching event…” “We know that Jesus was a disinherited, outsider. And his culture, ethnicity and dark Palestinian Jewish skin was weaponized by Roman culture.”
He continues, “We have developed a faith that can bless while we are bleeding…we will be saved by tender hearts and tough souls…”
Yesterday I marched with thousands of others in Boulder. After speeches and kneeling in silence, we walked together, chanting loudly- hands up, don’t shoot, black lives matter, say their names and this one: no justice, no peace, know justice, know peace.
Amid calls for civility, and annoyance about closed streets, we might remember that the path to peace sometimes requires provocation because if peace needs justice, sometimes justice needs provocateurs.
You might already know that in June of 1969 the Stonewall riots, also called the Stonewall uprising or the Stonewall rebellion occurred after a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. It was a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations led by LGBTQ people who were harmed, killed and discriminated legally and here’s the surprising thing: the riots are widely considered to constitute one of the most important events leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBTQ rights in the United States. The provocations were not the end, rather they forced a conversation and then later change.
As much as it challenges me, maybe sometimes the path to peace requires provocation?
The word used for overturn in those Gospel stories of provocation is, anatropí in Greek and more specifically it means, to undo. Perhaps being a disciple is more about undoing than doing, provoking ourselves and the world to “be ready to abandon our views”. Peace is not just the absence of physical violence, it is not just the absence of broken lives and broken businesses, it is also the presence of enough people willing to see the truth and to push that it be heard.
You heard another famous text from the Gospel of Matthew today, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
And while many have made this about convincing people to believe like them, I wonder if making disciples isn’t about teaching others to obey the rules of the Empire, but becoming prophets of a resistance grounded in the truth and moving toward peace. What if being a disciple is obeying the teachings of a disinherited radical Palestinian Jew who said,
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.
Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are you who “have developed a faith that can bless while we are bleeding” Blessed are you who are open to being saved by tender hearts and tough souls…”
Go therefore and make disciples, be a disciple, unknow, undo, if the Universe calls, be a thoughtful provocateur, be a peacemaker. May it be so. Amen.