A sermon preaced at Grace Episcopal Church, San Antonio.
The readings for the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost are here.
So, do you remember where we left off last week? Jesus has been teaching about true greatness, and he held a small child to help illustrate his point that we are all God’s children and says, “whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me and really is welcoming God.”
And immediately, with the child still with them, John interrupts the moment and tries to steer the conversation back to the “who’s the greatest” theme by telling Jesus about some folks who were doing good things in Jesus’ name but weren’t consider by the disciples as “one of us.”
Again, I picture face-palm Jesus. Had they even been listening? They didn’t like the answers Jesus was giving them so they were determined to find a situation in which their answer was the right one. They understood us versus them and one must be the greatest. They could not, or would not, wrap their heart around the idea of a whole new way in which power comes from love and compassion.
They wanted Jesus’ invitation to be exclusive.
They wanted to force fit Jesus into their existing worldview, rather than letting Jesus transform them as Kingdom people.
Let’s take a minute for a reminder about where these men had come from: In their culture, young jewish boys all went to school until around the age of 12 at which point their teacher, their rabbi, would invite the best of the best to continue to study as a disciple, to learn to be just like the rabbi, and the others went to work in the family business or were apprenticed to another craftsman or profession.
Do you know what the 12 men were doing when Jesus called them:
We are told that Peter, James, John, and Andrew were fishermen, Matthew was a tax collector, Simon was a zealot, in other words an unemployed revolutionary fighting against the Roman Empire, and that Judas was a known embezzler. We aren’t told the other’s profession but we can pretty confidently say, they weren’t disciples of some other Jewish Rabbi because rabbi’s didn’t pilfer other rabbi’s students. And we can confidently say they hadn’t been part of any exclusive class in either the Jewish or the Roman culture of first century Palestine. They were average working folks and they had been taught their whole life that class and rank and societal position not only matter but are core to your identity.
So, when a Jewish Rabbi comes along and says, “follow me” it’s no wonder they thought it meant a step up the social ladder for them. I suspect most of us would react in much the same way.
We don’t have to work very hard to imagine what it’s like to spend your whole life being taught that to climb the social or corporate or political ladder, we have to step on others to get to the top because there’s only so much room at the top and if I want to get there I have to stop you from doing the same. It’s just the price of doing business. Greatness is defined by what’s beneath you.
And everything that Jesus does and teaches makes it plain that in God’s Kingdom, there is no ladder, only a level path big enough for everyone to come along on the journey. To be first we must be last and servant of all. To gain this new Kingdom life, we must let go of the life we have crafted for ourselves. We must learn to practice a Kingdom economy in which our relationships – with God and with each other and with our neighbor – are more valuable than anything. These relationships not only matter, they become the core of our identity.
Alright, so back to our story, face-palm Jesus looks up and says, “No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.”
Seeing other people – each and every single human being on this planet, yep, even that person – as a beloved child of God transforms our vision from seeing enemies to seeing allies.
And then Jesus continues with some very harsh words designed to teach us all to let go of our own behaviors that put up barriers to God’s love.
Instead of having a hand clenched in a fist of anger or retaliation, Jesus says, let me heal your hand to one that opens with invitational love and compassion.
Instead of having feet that stomp and trample on others, Jesus says, let me transform your feet into feet that walk in love with those who are struggling.
Instead of having eyes that see enemies instead of neighbors and allies, Jesus say, let me give you eyes that see the image of God in every human being.
Just like the disciples missed the resurrection part of the “I will be killed and rise again” lessons, we tend to miss out on the ‘gaining life’ part of the gospel message.
It’s much easier to point out what everyone else is doing wrong than to evaluate our own behavior and change. Letting go of our own behaviors is as painful as an amputation. But the Great Healer will give us a new way of being, the life we are created to live, life grounded in God’s love.
Denying ourselves is followed by knowing Whose we are as God’s beloved Children.
Losing our life is followed by living as we are created to live in God’s Kingdom on earth as salted people. Not salty like an old fisherman, but saltED.
Jesus says, “have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” Both salt and fire are used to purify. Salt is essential to life and throughout history has been a valuable commodity, even used at times as a currency. Roman soldiers were paid partially with salt which is where we get our word ‘salary’ from. Salt also has antibacterial and antiseptic properties.
In order to bear proper witness to God’s’ healing grace, we ourselves must accept that we need to be healed and restored and reconciled to God. We must be salted by God’s love so that all that we do is flavored with love.
The power of God’s Kingdom is found in the relationships we cultivate as we are healed by God’s grace so that we are at peace with one another.
And this ‘peace’ isn’t simply an absence of conflict. The Romans maintained their so called peace with violent force. And, I know I can avoid conflict simply by ignoring that which disturbs my peace and not be at peace at all, just in denial. If we think of peace as having no conflict then we will never attain it. There will always be conflict in this world, Jesus assures us of that. He even points out that when we give our whole life over to God and walk the Way of Love that we will be in conflict with the ways of this world.
This peace that Jesus speaks of is the peace of God, which is about wholeness, restored relationships, and healing. The Hebrew word is shalom.
In her book The Very Good Gospel, Lisa Sharon Harper says, “[shalom is] what the Kingdom looks like and what Jesus requires of the Kingdom’s citizens. It’s when everyone has enough. … It’s when human dignity, bestowed by the image of God in all humanity, is cultivated, protected, and served…. At its heart, the biblical concept of shalom is about God’s vision for the emphatic goodness of all relationships.”
Jesus is clear that we need to be concerned about how what we do impacts others. If my greediness causes a shortage of something, say for instance, oh, I don’t know, toilet paper or something like that, and you then yell at the store clerk because there is no tp on the shelf because I bought it all, I am responsible for my own behavior and yours! But if I take just the minimum of what I need so that there is some left for you and you take only what you need, then we’ve put others first and have maintained peace for everyone.
Following Jesus isn’t about our individual goodness but about living collectively, in relationship with each other as the Body of Christ, the hands and feet and eyes of the risen Jesus so that the world sees a whole new way of life through our transformation. Be at peace with one another, my friends. Amen.