Third Sunday in Pentecost, 6.21.20

Good morning! Happy Father’s Day to all biological fathers, adoptive, foster, step and anyone who has ever stepped into the fathering role. Have a happy day!

Today’s gospel is challenging. Today, Jesus doesn’t give us an easy message. Instead, he lays out the gospel that’s divisive, like a sword. The GOOD NEWS is not universally embraced. It’s so disturbing families may be at each other’s throats. The gospel may provoke DEATH, because freedom is so threatening to a lot of people.

Last week, I asked the question, ‘What is a Christian’ and the truth is that the answer is always changing. As we pick up our crosses, Christ reveals more of himself to us, and gestures for us to follow him. As we follow him, WE change, and our understanding of what it is to be a Christian, changes too.

Today’s question is, do you know Jesus? That also appears to be a simple question with a simple answer. Yet, can any of us with all of our limitations, flaws, and sins KNOW Jesus in all of his completeness? The answer of course is no. In 1Cor. St. Paul says, “No one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God” 1 Cor. 2:11

I’ll propose that there a LOT of different Jesus’s and today’s gospel shows us a Jesus who makes us very uncomfortable. Today, he’s a disturber of the peace, and he wants it that way. There is the Jesus of the Last Supper, giving us his body and blood. There is the Jesus who washes his apostles’ feet. There is the Jesus the healer, of the blind, the deaf, those with demons. There is the Jesus who stands up to the religious authorities, and tosses tables and chairs to make his point. There is the Jesus who says ‘let the little children come to him. There is the Jesus with the baffling parables. There is the Jesus who gets away from the crowds to be alone in prayer with his Father. There is the Jesus of the Beatitudes and the Good Shepherd.

Which is the Jesus YOU know and prefer?

There are a lot of different Jesus’s.

One favorite we may especially like is where we think he is tamed and domesticated – children climb all over him, and he promotes peace as the Prince of Peace. Everyone likes this Jesus. But like any beloved person in our life, there is always MORE to them. If you are married or have ever been married, that spouse of yours can really surprise you. Like any human, there are always aspects to Jesus that surprise us.

Today I will propose, looking at today’s gospel, that we don’t know Jesus, not if we have in our heads, the peaceful Jesus, the Jesus of the little children. The Jesus who is only there to comfort us. This is who I call, “Easy-Jesus.” No challenges, just comfort.

I want Easy Jesus. YOU want Easy Jesus, we all want him. Truly, there are times we NEED “Easy-Jesus,” but in today’s gospel he wants us to know there is more to him and the gospel than that one persona.

If you come to church for comfort from the difficulties of the world, or truly you may be having a hard time, or in a state of grief for many valid reasons, today’s gospel may be a hard one for you. If you look for sameness in church as your source because of what’s going on in your workplace, or your family life, I’m sorry, but Jesus is not passing out comfort today.

Today he says, “Don’t think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

We’ve got a different Jesus, today. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;  36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” Mothers against daughters, mothers-in-law against daughters-in-law! That’s WAR! We may wonder what could put such enmity to close family members.?

But we know for a fact, the POWER of Christ’s WORD, to upend the world, our world. When the WORD hits, it doesn’t necessarily comfort, the WORD changes, and convicts, through repentance, and transformation, leaving families off balance. Jesus Words are disruptive because they disturb the status quo. Jesus’ Words stir things up; truth gets revealed, light shines in the darkness, secrets are told, and attention has to be paid.  

Can you think of a time when you saw someone sacrifice family for following Christ?

What did you see? Did it scare you? Inspire you?

Jesus is a disturber of the peace, but what he disturbs is a fake ‘peace.’ He disturbs in order to set things right, and we know how much we fight against that. If things are in our favor, we maybe don’t mind living with a fake peace. That’s SIN. We, his disciples are here to disturb the status quo, too, and must fight living with a fake peace.

Right now, the biggest issue before us, disturbing the status quo, disturbing the fake peace, is the issue of whiteness, and how we’ve all benefited from a hierarchy that rewards whiteness and demonizes dark skin. Demonizes isn’t too strong a word. The devil, evil, is in this.

It’s more than individual people. The POWERS of evil are at work. This is the time to remember that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

Even the nicest white person has benefited in ways we may not be aware. ALL of us here are the nicest people on earth, and yet we have benefited from this hierarchy of skin colors where white is ALWAYS on top. It’s time to take ourselves off the hierarchy and repudiate the hierarchy.

As white people, we can defeat evil by disowning it. We can do this action by joining hands in friendship with people of color in an authentic way.

The words of affirmation of baptism are appropriate to this time while we are examining our relationship with the hierarchy of skin color. So, let’s do them.

“Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?” “I renounce them.”

“Do you renounce the powers that rebel against God?” “I renounce them.”

“Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?” “I renounce them.”

We’ve all been infected by the hierarchy of whiteness. It’s in our bones. We’re marinated in it. We were all raised in it, unthinkingly.

Have any of you been having discussions about whiteness with friends or family members?

It is no longer possible to see it as an option anymore. Look at the protests in the streets. It’s not going to blow over, and neither should it. The lives of our brothers and sisters of color matter.

I’ve been listening to pastors and bishops declaring that the ELCA could end in 50 years if we don’t make serious, heartfelt changes. They talk about diversity as deeply necessary to the denominations’ survival. Survival! From the webinar of June 4th: “The New York State National Council of Churches offer their support to the people who have taken to the streets.”[1] Bishop John Macholz, of the Upstate New York Synod, “I believe our future as a Christian church is rooted and grounded in our ecumenical relationships [with more diverse congregations]. If we fail to follow through in this, then we are going to fail as the church.” (1:41:49)[2]

Jesus declares the necessity of wrestling wholeheartedly with our faith, which requires carrying the cross. When we take Jesus’ words to heart, something larger can breathe and be birthed. Christ’s words are meant to crack open something inside us. This is why he came, not to appease the authorities, but to set things right.

So what do Jesus’ words have to do with US today, NOW?

What shall we sacrifice on the altar of whiteness? This IS idolatry. Christ calls us to radical faith in him, where our identity comes from HIM. What part of whiteness shall we wrestle with? What will alienate people? How will our actions together prove we’re a church?

In Galatians, St. Paul said, “There’s neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, we are all one in Christ Jesus.” That was a HUGE statement for the time, when everyone was divided up into their tribes. Perhaps we can add, there is no hierarchy of color, all skin colors are one in Christ Jesus. I’m not erasing skin color. We’re not saying we’re color blind. We are saying skin color matters, and whiteness has mattered too much, for TOO long.

The 1960s were a time of racial unrest, too. A report was commissioned in 1968 – the Kerner Report. Its conclusion? “Chief Blame for Riots Put on White racism” This report became a best seller, bigger than the novel, Valley of the Dolls.  “Civil rights activists . . . were stunned. It’s the first time whites have said, ‘We’re racists’.”[3]

Let’s sacrifice whiteness so more people of color can breathe.

Let’s try and see our own blind spots where things are slanted in our favor. We’ve ALL been infected with the sin of putting whiteness at the top of a pyramid of privilege. Today, let’s repent for the good of our country.

Loving Lord, help us today, to reach out a hand of friendship in a meaningful way to people of color, putting aside our place in the hierarchy of skin colors. We thank you for the bright light that is shining on our country today. Lord, help us to bring YOUR kingdom to our world. Let “your will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.

[1] (1:16:55). 


[3] Jill Lepore. “The Riot Report”. The New Yorker. June 22, 2020.