Sermons

Death Had A Good Week: A Sermon for Proper 22.

Death had a good week this week.

10 killed and dozens injured in Oregon. An execution in Virginia and in Georgia, with another stayed at the last minute in Oklahoma.

Hundreds more unnamed, many in our own city have fallen victim to violence. Have fallen victim to a despair and to a spirit of darkness that runs through so much of the world that surrounds us. Death is common place.

Like our president said. Our response has become routine. Our debates have become scripted. Our positions have become more entrenched.

And just like the Pharisees in our Gospel today, we test each other. We ask the biting questions. The leading questions. The questions that affirm our own positions, that write our own points, that make perfectly clear, to any who are around us, exactly which side we are on.

The Pharisees asked Jesus is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? Knowing full well what the Torah said. They set him up. They laid the trap.

Jesus knows the answer that they’re looking for. He knows he’s being played. He comes back with another question. “What did Moses teach you?”

They said, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce his wife. Moses allowed a man to write a certificate that, in the time of Jesus, would leave a woman stranded without support. That would put a women in the social position of a widow without the same structures and provisions that provided relief to widows. The law of Moses allowed a man to put a woman in a position where she was fighting for her life. Where she was cast out and cut off from the family that she relied on for her sustenance.

Is it lawful? Yes.

We hear a lot about that question these days. About what the boundaries of the law allows. About what our Rights are. About the right to bear arms. The right of the State to take vengeance upon itself on our behalf.

It is because of our hardness of heart. Because of our hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for us. It is because of our of your inability to see the depths of God’s creative love. It is because we are broken.

We became hard like Pharoah who could not hear the cries of the slaves. Who would not let go. Who cannot see the justice of God.

So frequently in the Gospel the Pharisees ask Jesus about what is lawful. And so frequently in the Gospel Jesus is not concerned with what is lawful.

Jesus is concerned with what is right.

The laws are a product of our brokenness, and Jesus is here to call us to more.

Christ gives us a gracious place to make our stand. Recognizing that some relationships are indeed too strained to be saved. That it is better for some to be apart, but it is never, never, our place to dismiss one another out of hand. To cast one another aside and out of love.

Christ pushes the boundaries of what the people surrounding him knew. And following in Jesus’ example begs us to ask the question, as we navigate a time where positions are so entrenched as to be immovable; What is it that Christ is calling us to?

If we don’t see it clearly now, we can give ourselves Grace. The disciples didn’t always get it either.

As Children are being brought to Jesus, as he takes them in his arms and blesses them, the disciples shoo them away. Knowing that the teacher who has already had so many demands placed on his time doesn’t need the distraction of those who are not able to care for themselves. Who don’t have resources. Who don’t have social capital. Who don’t have a voice.

Where the disciples see distraction, Jesus sees the opportunity to share love.

We live in a society that so often tells us, and others, that “You are not worth my time.” Jesus makes a stand and says, No, it is these to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belongs. Be. Like. Them.

We have to become very clear. Right now. About what we believe.

Kelly Gissendaner, a model of the power of God’s redeeming love, was killed by the State of Georgia on Tuesday. When she entered the execution chamber, she apologized for her role in the murder of her former husband and began to weep. As she was strapped to the gurney where she would be injected with pentobarbital until she died, she sang Amazing Grace until she couldn’t any longer.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

Amazing Grace, the hymn written by a Slave Ship captain, who after a slow, painstaking process of conversion, stopped working the Southwest passage, and became an Anglican Priest.

Amazing Grace, I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.

We sing it all the time. There isn’t a one of us who hasn’t heard it before and my question is now. For all of us. Do we believe it?

Do we believe that Christ’s redemptive work means that no one is beyond the bounds of our community. Even those who we would level a gun against. Even those who would level a gun against us.

Do we believe that the message of the risen Lord has anything to say to a City that has had one hundred gun-related homicides this Calendar year?

Do we believe that the Gospel has anything to offer to a country that has had 994 mass shootings since Sandy Hook?

Do we believe that the word of life can move in a country united by a Pope’s visit, who, the second he returns to Rome, schedules 6 executions?

Do we believe that Christ is calling us to care for Children in our midst in a country with the highest rate of Child poverty in the developed world.

The question the Church must ask itself now is… do we believe that Grace is Amazing?

That it has the power to reach into our relationships and mend them. No matter how broken they may seem?

Do we believe that Grace is Amazing?

Can it tell our children that they are more than what they lack, that they are more than happy little consumers. That they are loved. That they are cared for. So that maybe when they grow up they will never reach for a Gun in anger.

Do we believe that Grace is Amazing?

Will we let our hearts be softened enough to take those who hurt us, those who test us, those who would put us to death into our arms and bless them.

Do we believe that Grace is Amazing?

The world needs the Church, the world needs us, to say yes. Unabashedly. Unashamedly. Yes.

Grace is Amazing. Grace can change us. Grace is stronger than death. Grace is here.

Image Credit: Matthew Alderman. St. Cecilia with SS. Tiburtius and Valerian. Ink on Vellum, 2010, private collection, Washington, DC.

Note: I don’t intend to make a regular habit of posting my Sermons. There are other, better venues for that. I just needed to get this one out here.

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