A Sunday reflection for the fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
The lectionary readings for today are here.
The title of this piece comes from an old preacher joke about two folks who were excited about a new preacher and encouraging her to preach against all the ills of the world – lying, cheating, stealing, etc., until she got to gossiping and then they got mad and said she’d moved from “preachin’ to meddlin’”. Jesus was all about meddlin’. He modeled and taught spiritual and emotional maturity and health that enables us to live in relationship with God and each other. Jesus did not teach that our role in God’s Kingdom on earth was to point out all that faults of others while ignoring our own. He regularly chastised those who did. So, as a preacher, I am very aware that I preach also to myself and so I gently ask: “can we talk?”
For the record, I’m on vacation today and, yes, I admit I do always try to take one of my allowed Sundays off for the year on or around July 4. Not because of any particular plans to celebrate the national holiday (I’m not a big fan of crowds at any time of the year) but to avoid having to navigate a sermon in the very mixed up waters of our Christian faith and our national pride. Especially in the extremely divisive political atmosphere of the past few? several? many? years. We are much better at speaking about what we dislike about the other side than we are at articulating what we think and why. We’ve confused our belonging to a particular political party with our national pride so we ardently defend our identity as a Republican or Democrat or Independent or Green Party and forget that the multi-party system is part of what makes the Untied States what it is supposed to be. And, then if we are also Christian, we claim that, because we won, God is obviously on our side, forgetting that Jesus said others will know we are his followers by our self-giving love not by our political power.
In the gospel reading for today, Jesus repeats a teaching about not living in an attitude of revenge or retaliation because some still wanted to bring fire down on those who disagreed with them. Jesus explains, again, that when someone doesn’t welcome the Good News message, they (we) are supposed to walk away, not even letting the dust on our feet bother us. We don’t take it personally; we don’t go on the attack; we don’t shame or belittle or name call or spread gossip about them. We simply walk away, because the Good News message is the message of Love. We tell them they are loved (which is the meaning of ‘the kingdom of God is near’) and if they don’t accept it, we’ve done our part. We are not responsible for their response to our message. We are responsible for delivering the message of Love in a kind and compassionate way.
As an example of how our political thinking is conflated with our religious beliefs I often hear folks of my generation and older say that one of the reasons our society seems so chaotic is that we’ve taken prayer out of public schools. To which, I respond, just because there are rules against organized, compulsory prayer in a public school in which all students have the freedom to practice the religion of their upbringing or choice doesn’t mean I can’t pray. If we think a human created rule can keep God out of anywhere, we’ve made god (not a typo) small enough to fit into our bag of complaints. If the only time I pray is when someone has organized a time of prayer for me, I’m not doing a very good job of following Jesus.
Praying in public doesn’t make me a Christian or even prove I’m a Christian. Prayer is being in conversation with God. It is an awareness of God’s presence with us at all times and in all places and circumstances. Sometimes it is scripted and organized; sometimes it is spontaneous. Prayer is praise, petition, lament, gratitude, intercessory, venting, self-examining, reflecting, meditative, authentic, vulnerable, and transformative. If we want our children and grandchildren to not be limited by necessary rules about compulsory prayer in public, we need to teach them what prayer really is and how to live in an attitude of prayer always. And, we need to be the ones who model and teach them how to be in relationship with God and what it looks like to follow Jesus in this world. And then, if you also want your children to be a part of organized Christian prayer at school, put them in a private Christian school.
Throughout the history of God’s people, God instructs us to teach our children and grandchildren who God is and what God has done for us. Jesus says that others will know we follow him by the way we love. We cannot throw our hands up in defeat because of the rules that allow freedom of religion for everyone keep us from passing the responsibility of teaching our children about Jesus to someone else. We best teach our children and grandchildren how to follow Jesus by following Jesus ourselves.
God brings order to the chaos in this world and God has chosen to do so through us, by coming to us in Jesus, to show us in flesh and blood the Way of Love, the way of living on earth as in heaven. Following Jesus isn’t about getting God on our side, it is getting in on what God is doing in this world through the power of Love. Following Jesus is loving God and our neighbor and our enemies (and yep, ever that person).
God’s peace, my friends.