Notes for a More Coherent Sermon—A Universal Call for Justice

NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON
10:00 AM., Sunday, January 25, 2009
St. Andrew’s Old Catholic Church
Small Meeting Room, 138 Pears Ave. (Toronto)

1st Lesson: Romans 12: 16 – 21

Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Gospel: Matthew 8: 1 – 13

When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.”

And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying,” I will; be thou clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

And Jesus saith unto him, “See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.”
And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, and saying, “Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. ”

And Jesus saith unto him, “I will come and heal him.”

The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. ”

When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

And Jesus said unto the centurion, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.”

And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.

SERMON PROPER BEGINS

Scripture assumes that those that read it have many motivations. Those concerned with their ultimate judgement and place in God’s kingdom are likely to find that the call to practical compassion in Matthew 25:31 – 46 speaks loudest, and particularly the promise made to those who do care for one another:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”

Alternatively, one may be motivated to the same acts of practical compassion, of economic justice based on a more pragmatic, materialistic assumption that living out the faith is part of building the kingdom of god in the current moment. One would then likely find Acts 2: 42 -47 a passage that is more readily heeded:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Those who see justice, not as proper individual actions or communal responsibility but as an expression of one’s right relationship with the divine, a form of proper worship, will find the message strongest in Isaiah 58:6 – 11:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

The call for justice, for practical compassion, to care for one another, is woven throughout our scriptures. It seems to be so important than we are given the message in different ways at different times to different groups of people.
It is a universal message but sometimes different ways must be used to get this essential teaching across to everyone.

So it is not surprising to hear in today’s epistle reading Paul telling the
community of believers in Rome to care for the needs of everyone—even their enemies. God’s love is universal so the expression of love by those called to the Christian community also is to be universal. Everyone is to be treated honesty and with respect. All those who are hungry deserve to be fed; all those who mourn to be comforted. God is to be trusted with the long view—our role is to be present for one another in the current moment. Indeed, we are the agents of God. There is evil in the world, but also good. We are told to not add to the evil—not to let people go hungry, to be a peaceful presence in times of conflict. Paul did encourage people to behave in a loving matter towards all by an appeal to God’s will. But he also added a new twist, an appeal to a different possible motivation to do right—that it might cause distress to your enemies if you treat them with respect, an appeal to a rather dark side of human nature. This is combined with the statement that evil can only truly be overcome by good. If one behaves in the same way as one’s oppressors injustice is not overcome, there is only a substitution of who is the oppressor. But if one does what is right, it is a challenge by example to everyone that love is possible, that dignity is possible, that hope is possible—not the pie in the sky version but the heaven on earth version of living in harmony with one another and all of creation. It is a way of retaining power in times when one feels most powerless; sharing when one feels most like hoarding or not replying with angry words when taunted is something that is not necessarily easy, but we are called to to these things.

And whether we are motivated by fear of judgement, by communal interests, by seeking a right form of worship or by wanting to annoy our opponents we are called to same mission—to make the world a better place for all.

The gospel today has Jesus doing just this—healing a member of his own community and a household member of a Roman official. One was healed, and told to follow the traditions of the Jewish community; the second was healed according to the faith of the official. But both were healed—a fellow community member and one of the occupying forces. In very practical ways Jesus showed all those around him that need trumps ideology, class, religious, nationality or other social barriers.

In difficult times we need to remember this—we can easily be lead to make distinctions between deserving and undeserving poor, between those who we claim are alien and those we claim as our neighbours. Scripture points us towards a universal compassion; Christ’s example shows us that
a universal approach is the proper path to follow.

This may lead us to uncomfortable choices, but it will lead us towards being a part of bringing to birth a better world.

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