2/9/2014 sermon: “A political sermon”

Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

A political sermon

I wonder how many of you saw a photograph in the newspapers two weeks ago of some Ukrainian monks in Kiev standing between policemen and demonstrators? Did you see this photo? There were three monks. One was holding a cross, and another an icon of Christ. And they were standing in the middle of a rock-strewn street, all alone with Christ with a whole lot of angry people on one side, and lots and lots of policemen holding shields on the other.

This was a remarkable event, a remarkable photo. I hope that you saw this picture and marveled, as I did, at God’s people courageously being who they are, the salt of the earth, and doing what they exist to do, being the light of the world.

There is something deeply authentic about this scene, isn’t there? We are all too used to people claiming the light of Christ for one side or the other in a political controversy. Usually in these cases both sides misappropriate Jesus, and holy gridlock ensues. In fact, we are so politically polarized in this country that people get nervous when a preacher even broaches the subject of politics in church. Well, stand by. I’ve entitled this “A political sermon.”

See, I’ve given a lot of thought to WHY this photograph is so authentically Christ-like. First, look who the monks are standing with: they are standing with BOTH sides of the protest. From where they are standing, in the middle of the fracas, they can authentically call people on both sides to be “blessed peacemakers.” From their position in the middle, the monks can authentically say to both sides, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely…” In this way, the Cross calls the whole world into the no-man’s land in the middle of the two warring sides, claiming that space as Christ’s own.

There’s another reason why this photograph is so authentically Christ-like. Look at WHERE the monks were standing, not only NOT claiming one side or the other for Christ, but in the middle of the action rather than abdicating their place in the public arena. All too often we wash our hands of the whole rock-throwing mess and stay home, hunkered down in our churches with our hands over our eyes and ears, chanting the Lord’s Prayer over and over, refusing as a community to get involved (except in individual ways).

I was marveling about and admiring these monks when I began to pray about our gospel lesson for today. In today’s lesson Jesus urges us to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” Jesus isn’t asking us to BECOME salt or light, but to BE what we are: salt, light.

As people of God, we are salt, and we should always act like salt, flavoring the whole world. Jesus says that if we stop being salt, what good are we, except as garbage to be discarded and forgotten?. To put this in today’s terms, using an extreme example, if we grab a gun and start shooting people, we have stopped being who we are as people of God. Maybe we don’t have to shoot anyone to stop being salty. Maybe we just have to act like something other than God’s people, by price-gouging, or bullying, or becoming indifferent to the poor around us, or—worse yet—simply blaming God for the ills that befall us. When Jesus calls us the “salt of the earth,” he is telling us that we who are the people of God have to act like God’s people. Salty.

But Jesus doesn’t just call us salt, he calls us light, and he points out that light cannot be hidden. What Jesus is saying is that opting out of the world’s turmoil is not an option. As light, we naturally must shine, not just shine inside our church building but out in the world for all the world to see. Just doing the right things is insufficient, if we never tell anyone WHY we do what we do.

In Jesus’ day the great political controversy—I am told—is whether the Jews should become Zealots and fight the Romans who were occupying their country, or whether they should simply become ultra pious, like the Pharisees. Our gospel lesson today is the middle part of Jesus’ sermon about which action to choose. Jesus’ answer? Everyone is blessed, on both sides. Jews AND Romans. Winners and losers. God’s Kingdom is for everyone. For Republicans. For Democrats. For Tea Party members. For Independents. For everyone. And, oh by the way (Jesus said), be salt—be God’s people—or else what good are we as God’s people? Be light and shine in the world for God; why else are we light?

Jesus calls us out beyond our walls to shine as the light of God that we are.

Next Sunday’s gospel is the last part of Jesus’ political sermon. Today Jesus upholds the law, every bit of the law. Next Sunday Jesus redefines the law, calling anger as a kind of murder, lust as a kind of adultery, and cursing as a kind of false vow against God. The bottom line, in Jesus’ view of politics, is that we can’t hide out, we have to participate, but on God’s terms rather than in narrow human ones. All of which is a tall order; if we follow Jesus’ sermon completely, we might just find ourselves between rock-throwing protestors and police intent on squelching them.

Or, harder yet, we might just find ourselves in the Beauregard Corridor standing with our neighbors AND with those who would move them.

I wonder; how are WE—not just as individuals, but as Church of the Resurrection—to be salt and light for Christ Jesus in our own time and in this place?


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