Sunday, November 15, 2015

Year B Proper 28 "In Whose Name?": a sermon

“In Whose Name?”
Year B Proper 28 (33) Nov 15, 2015
St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Richmond, VA

From the Book of Common Prayer, A Prayer for Peace (BCP p. 815)

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn
but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the
strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that
all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of
Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and
glory, now and for ever. Amen.

I did not sleep most of Friday night. I could not. I tried. But in my sleeplessness I would check the news and see the death count rise. And I knew that it would only go up. Friday the 13th had always been a day of dread. Probably too many ghost stories as a kid. For most of my life, Jason in his hockey mask was the boogeyman. This Friday the 13th was far more scary.

I have been to Paris. I remember walking around this astounding city. Beauty everywhere. I had a memory come back to me Friday night from when I was leaving one of the monuments. We were leaving from the tour, and there, in the Arc de Triomphe there were bullet holes. Little nicks and dings that rebellions or an invasion had put in so magnificent a structure. In a city of such beauty I was reminded that violence had taken place even there. It seemed so strange and so foreign on that beautiful May day two dozen years ago. A city the age of Paris, the size of Paris, the scope of Paris, must have its scars, as all world cities do, but it seemed strange on that day that they were not repaired. They were not covered over. Violence may have seemed so far away on Friday evening as well.

Yesterday morning, I had the privilege to be the guest of Dr. Fred Rahal, along with the Youth Group and parents to go to the Virginia Holocaust Museum. On the heels of Friday night, it was even more poignant. In talking with someone about recent events, and all that we were presented with at the museum, it struck me how hate can justify anything. Hate allows us to seem righteous when we could not be more fully away from it. Hate enabled Friday. Hate enabled the Holocaust. Hate can justify anything.

Our readings today show the disciples enamored with the beauty and the grandeur of the Temple, Jerusalem’s central monument of their day. They were in awe, and Jesus responded differently than they expected. He dismissed the glories of the Temple. He responded:

"Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

The scene jumps, from the Temple, to across the steep Kidron Valley where the Garden of Gethsemane sits, back up to the Mount of Olives. There Jesus was with his closest disciples who are still aghast at his prediction, when they approached him.

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?"

So they get caught up in worry, and Jesus reframes to something bigger.

"Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

I am not sure how much of a comfort it was. Things will be bad. There will be wars and disaster, liars and apostates. So much to look forward to, but he was honest. Do not be alarmed. Stay true. Stay the course. Do what I taught you to do.
Another prayer from the BCP,  For Peace Among the Nations (BCP p. 816)

Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the
world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among
them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they
may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

There are those that will come and lead many astray. “Nation will rise against nation…” “Wars and rumors of wars…” So easy to attach to this, especially this weekend. For the hundreds recently killed, for the thousands already killed in these conflicts, and the tens of thousands yet to be killed in the retaliation which has been promised, Jesus reminds his followers and by extension us, that there will be many distractions. There will be many things that will cause us worry. Horrible things have happened. Horrible things will continue to happen. That is the shadow side of living in a world with free will.  

More worrisome for me is his warning about some who come in his name. “I am he.” Remember Jim Jones? Or how about David Koresh? Many a looney or psycho have said they were him. But even those are not the ones I worry most about. Most people can see right through their lies. It is the people who will lead others astray from what he taught. When people take the message of Jesus and tie it to nationalism, patriotism, capitalism, or socialism. Name your -ism and Jesus’ power and authority has been and will continue to be absconded for the sake of power and legitimacy.

To keep ourselves from going down the slippery slope we need to always stay focused on Jesus and his instructions.

And what was it he taught? Think on those simple phrases we teach our children. What does it boil down to? Radical love.

Love God with all you’ve got and your neighbor as yourself.

Love your enemy.

Love till it hurts.

Love till it kills you.

And then keep on loving.  Remember Jesus, even on the cross? “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do?”

His message is as radical then as it is in the wake of Paris. And Syria. And Lebanon. And Charleston. And Kenya. And Calvary. Over and over we hear the horrors. We feel the fear. And when we do, we need to share the love all the more.

Will loving exact a cost? Yes. Ask any martyr in our history.

Will it be easy? No. Ask any saint.

And yet, we are called by Jesus to take his yoke on us, and learn from him. He is not telling us to just go and figure it out. He says, look to me and see what to do. And then go, and do likewise. Without that I would not know what to do in days like these. I would not know where to find my hope.

In fact the only hope this world has is love. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, might be biblical. But it also leaves us blind and hungry.

Jesus even reframed that, and took the conversation to a higher level. He shared this in the Sermon on the Mount.

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…’ Matthew 5:43-45a

At the installation of our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, he spoke about this Jesus Movement through history, and how we are the Episcopal branch of that movement. In the most stirring moment for me he reminded us, “If it is not about love, it is not about God.”

I have shared two prayers from our Prayer Book so far today, and I want to close with a third. We have prayed for peace, from page 815, if you want to look it up later. We have prayed for the nations, from page 816. Today I want to close with another. I close with:

A Prayer For our Enemies (BCP p. 816)

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


  1. Beautifully written, Thank you for sharing this because while reading it I found that peace and love I so need in this chaotic, crumbling, hurting world.

  2. One would think that at 67 I would remember that, in times of great fear, God is as close as the breath I breathe. Thank you for this reminder that we do not have to walk in say this all the time in many ways, Rock.


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Blessings, Rock