September 30, 2018

19th Sunday after Pentecost Year B

Today I want to talk about the sin of “them” and how Jesus wants to re-train us to be salty peacemakers.

Remember in our Gospel from last week, the disciples were arguing among themselves about who was the greatest, trying to figure out who would sit at the places of honor and power on Jesus’ right and left after Jesus had conquered the Romans and taken back Israel from foreign rule. And this happened right after Peter, James, and John had come down from the Mount of Transfiguration where they had seen Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah and heard the voice from the cloud say, “This is my son, the beloved , listen to him.”

Jesus has been trying to explain to his disciples that he must suffer and die and then on the third day be raised to new life. Jesus was trying to get his friends to understand that he was not the conquering military hero Messiah everyone was expecting, but the suffering servant Messiah that Isaiah had prophesied about. But Jesus’ teaching was apparently falling on deaf ears. It seemed the disciples had a predisposition of seeing life in binary terms, us versus them. We are the good guys and everyone else is not. If you’re not one of us, then we’re against you or at least we assume you’re against us.

This is born out in John’s tattling to Jesus about someone seemingly doing what Jesus and his disciples had been doing. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” The sin of “them.” He was not following us. She hadn’t asked our permission. He wasn’t part of our group. “But Jesus said, ‘Whoever is not against us is for us.” Don’t stop those who are doing good things in my name even though they may not be officially certified by us. If they are doing the things we’re doing, then we’re all on the same team and besides, if they are doing these good things in my name, they aren’t going to be saying bad things about me.

One of the most telling evidences of the biblical notion of sin is the way our human family so easily divides itself into us and them. If you aren’t for us, then you’re against us. But Jesus is trying to get his disciples to understand that this is a false dichotomy. There is so much more that unites us than divides us if we can just move past our labels and begin to see each other the way God sees us. Yes, we all have shortcomings and blind spots, and none of us has it all together, but that’s exactly why we need to lay down our divisions and realize that ultimately we are playing on the same team, the human family.

There is no where this is more true than in our religious landscape where we divide ourselves based on denominational differences, worship style, and whom we consider in and whom we consider out. Every Sunday you hear me say something like, “wherever you are on your journey with God, you are welcome here.” And I mean it. I say that not just as something I believe and affirm, but because this is who we aspire to be at Grace Church and it is who we aspire to be as the larger Episcopal Church. And most importantly I believe it is who God is as revealed in Jesus.

We recognize that if God has a cosmic spiritual chart where God tracks every persons journey towards wholeness and connection with God, each other and the universe – if there is such a graph where all of us show up – no two of us would be in the exact same place and every one of us would be moving at a different rate. And that is perfectly OK with God. So it should be OK with us as well. All of us have differing capacities and interests in our journeys. Each of us is broken and hurt in numerous ways, some similar and some different. But all of us need the universal salve of love and forgiveness, the best and the worst among us. And so it is with every child of God.

On the inside of our bulletin you will find these words:

Our church is not a community of like-minded people. We do not exist for ourselves alone. Instead, we are a people set apart to be the personal presence and witness of God to the world. We struggle with many issues and we disagree with one another, but we still gather each week to hear the story of God’s love for us, to ask forgiveness from one another and God, and to offer our lives up to God.

In our teaching, we learn the grace to live with questions that cannot be answered with certainty. In our worship we are nourished for life’s journey. In our faith we trust that God is working through every one of us, and that one day God’s very self will be evident in all creation. This is the good news that we proclaim, and we believe that it is the good news that leads us to lives of peace, self control, and hope for the future. We invite everyone to join us in that journey.

We are all fellow travellers on that journey and we need each other’s love and support. We come together on Sundays and other times not to decide who among us is the greatest or to tear down others who are doing good in Jesus’ name, but may not identify with our group. We come together to be reminded of who we are called to be, to gain strength for the journey at whatever point we are on, and maybe to lend someone else a helping hand, a word of encouragement, or a cup of water to drink. We come, not just for ourselves but for the sake of others.

We affirm in our baptismal covenant that we will seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbor as ourselves and that we will strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. That includes people we like and those with whom we disagree, those who are like us and those who are different from us.

Today at coffee hour, please say hello to your friends, but look also for that person who is sitting or standing by themselves. Introduce yourself to someone you may not know, take a risk, because love is always risky.

The sin of “them” infects all of us at one time or another, but Jesus calls us to follow him and be the salt that brings peace to our world.

Amen.