Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I Bring a Sword

Well, the Lenten sermon series was not named the Tough Sayings of Jesus because it was simple. This is probably one that I struggle the most with because of my more pacifist nature. I wouldn't say I am exactly conflict avoidance oriented, but I think that often there are peaceful ways to co-exist with those with whom we have major disagreements. I follow a Christ who said to turn the other check. I have heard the lesson to turn swords into plowshares. What about worshipping the Prince of Peace? How can the Matthew 10:34 text be so contrary to everything I have come to believe about Jesus and God?

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

I am adamantly opposed to the idea of some Old Testament God who was different until Jesus came along and tamed things. And, wait this is Jesus talking!! Perhaps this text is challenging in the very face of the idea that our God is not tame, predictable, or always peaceful. Christianity does bring peace and comfort to those who need solace, but I think for many of us who are too comfortable - what it brings is the opposite. I have preached many a sermon where I have looked at congregants afterward and said, "If you are comfortable as you leave the sanctuary today, I haven't done my job - or you just weren't listening.

And, I don't exclude myself from that message. I think that the best example for me is the bullies in our schools, offices and larger communities today. How often do they railroad those who are weaker, make people feel stupid or create a sense that someone is not worthy? How often do we overlook bully tactics and not stand up to them in order to not 'rock the boat'?

Society is so polarized today that we don't sit and truly listen to one another. We don't take the time to disagree in a civil fashion. We resort to 'us and them' with one side obviously evil and wrong. And, in doing so we lose so much. Yet, who is the voice for the marginalized, for the one being bullied? Too often it is easier to not get involved. When is it my Christian responsibility to stand up and be the champion  - to pull out my sword?

The sword does not have to be a literal physical weapon or a remote fluffy metaphor. In some cases the written or spoken word is the most powerful sword. Our society today could use some pruning work with these swords. Jesus is calling us to just that - calling each of us to weld our swords. No, I am not creating a special topiary for elite. I am talking about beginning to hold people accountable to how they treat others. This bully-type behavior crosses demographics and starts innocently. Unfortunately rich and poor alike as well as everyone in the middle are susceptible to such behavior. It begins with just one little instance that seems minor enough that we can tolerate it. One little thing that doesn't seem to do too much harm. That doesn't impact me or my family directly. We can tolerate that. Until it grows, until it spreads. Until, we can't. Perhaps we have turned a blind eye for too long on the tiny instances to the point where abuses have mounted up out of control.

I have read many books on the Holocaust that from my perspective read years after the event make me wonder how the people couldn't have seen what was going on, how one little freedom or right or privilege at a time was taken away. How could THEY have stood by and watched while the atrocities mounted? One bit at a time until it was a steamroller with too much power to stop. But who is this THEY who allow this to happen?

We, we are THEY. WE are in this together putting Christ above family, called to a higher relationship. We are called to action to write, speak and act for the integrity and respect for all peoples. This is not easy - I guarantee that few of us are completely non-biased to a group that we have a blind eye regarding. As we go about our lives through this season of Lent, take a look at the people you come into contact within your routine, in your commute or neighborhoods, even those we see on news. Whose voice is being suppressed? How am I called to not keep the peace but rock the boat? Respect and love of neighbor demands that we not always lead with peace. When are we as Christians obligated to draw our swords?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Get Behind Me Satan

Matthew 16:21-28

At Preston Hollow PC, this Lent, we are studying together some of the tough sayings of Jesus. We began with the saying "Get Behind Me Satan". This blog includes my thoughts on this passage as seen in Matthew's gospel. This statement was addressed from Jesus to Peter and the disciples immediately after the first passion prediction. I found particular insight and value in these challenging words on two fronts. I struggle with how I envision Satan, and how can Peter go so quickly from being the rock of the church, the very foundation, to a stumbling block in the way of Jesus?

I personally don't believe in a Satan that is personified. I can't because that would place a secondary god-like figure in opposition to God. To me the entity of Satan is those who stand in Jesus' way. It takes the Greek satana interpreted as adversary. But perhaps this is where the text gets 'tough' for me. Are we all in the role of satana alongside Peter? I tend to think maybe, or even likely, we are. When we are the best intentioned we use the scripture to justify conclusions we have already reached in our lives. When we think we have it all figured out, we stand the most between the least of these and the Word.

But if Satan is perceived as evil embodied, isn't this too strong a description for us or for Peter when we are in the way? I think I am in the way far too often and cringe to think that I am satanic rather than a true disciple of Christ. So I turn to Peter.

How often are we off charging down a path we have determined and not following Christ and what Jesus would have us do in the world today? How often is my way easier or less embarrassing? I truly think that Peter spoke out of care for Jesus. But maybe he also spoke out of fear - what do you mean you have to suffer? I chose to follow you; this isn't where I thought the messiah would lead me!

Our challenge is to follow Jesus and not put ourselves out front. How can I work in this Lenten season to step aside from the driver seat long enough to see who I am following? How can we follow Jesus more authentically without our own agendas?

God is capable of things beyond our wildest imaginings - even working in spite of us, in spite of all our good intentions and things we have 'figured out'. Our God is an amazing God - one who doesn't excuse us but will continue to work alongside us and will continue to rebuke and challenge us when we sell Christianity short or try to make it about us. As we journey in Lent we must remember who it is we follow. Amen.