Our country is in a debate that, growing up in the 80s and 90s like I did, I thought was a debate that was relegated to the history books. It is a debate that seemed confined to black and white news reels rather than the High Definition, social media infused 24-hour news cycle. But alas, here we are, in 2017, and the debate has re-entered the mainstream mind.
In light of this, I need to share with you the statement made by our archbishop, The Most Rev. Dr. Foley Beach, earlier this week:
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend were terrible and tragic. Racism is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and has no place in the Church. In the midst of the violence and divisions in our countries, our congregations have the opportunity to be sanctuaries of peace, and to work for reconciliation in our communities. In the days ahead, I hope that you will take these opportunities in your local context, and share the transforming love of Jesus, which is the only thing that can truly heal us.
In his statement he included reference to a proclamation from our church’s Anglican Multiethnic Network that needs to be contemplated as well:
The Anglican Multiethnic Network exists to help local churches embody the diversity that manifests God’s reconciling of the world to himself through his Son. We believe that to do this work effectively churches must be willing to speak plainly about the racism and injustice that continues to plague North America. We witnessed this racism again on display [this past] weekend in Charlottesville when a young woman was murdered and many others were injured during a protest of a white supremacy rally. Our prayers are with her family and all the victims of violence and hatred.
We want to make it abundantly clear that as Anglicans we believe that all people are created in God’s image and, as image bearers, all are worthy of equal dignity and respect. God does not value one ethnicity above another. His Son shed his blood for us all. We find our meaning and value in his death, resurrection, and ascension for us, which both humbles and exalts people of all ethnicities. Christ is the source of our reconciliation with God and each other. White supremacy, therefore, is an affront to the gospel because it speaks against the Anglican (and wider Christian) doctrines of creation, salvation, and ecclesiology (the one people of God called from all the ethnicities of the earth). Racism and white supremacy have no place in Anglicanism.
We confess that as Anglicans we ourselves have a long way to go in reflecting in our churches God’s vision for his multicolored Kingdom and addressing the concerns of communities of color, but we are committed for the long haul to seek the fullness of God’s purposes in all these things. We ask you to pray for Charlottesville and North America-that racism would be overcome and that we might live together in harmony. We also ask that you pray for the Church-that God might grant us the wisdom to be salt and light during these challenging times.
Now you may wondering why I’m bringing this up in my homily today, perhaps thinking this to be a political issue rather than a matter of the Gospel. Maybe over this past week’s roller coaster of political statements and retractions and news coverage you’ve become oversaturated to this issue. I understand that sentiment; I do. And to be frank, I wasn’t going to bring this up specifically in this way in my sermon today. That all changed yesterday, though, as we were driving back from Wegman’s.
We were on our way back home from picking up the cake we’re going to be having during our fellowship hour later and I find myself with a vehicle in front of me with a red and black bumper sticker. My first thought is, “surely not,” and so my curiosity gets the best of me and I get a bit closer. Now here I am, in 2017, in western New York, in the United States of America, staring at a bumper sticker that has obviously been newly affixed to this vehicle; given the lack of grime on the sticker compared to the rest of the vehicle, possibly having been affixed within the last week. What was on it? Two swastikas and the word, “Heil.”
As the statement from Archbishop Foley Beach referenced, “that God might grant us the wisdom to be salt and light during these challenging times.” We live in challenging times where what may have been hidden threads of racism, discrimination, racial superiority, and hatred are bubbling to the surface. If we are going to be salt and light in these times we need to seek the courage to speak out openly against hatred whenever and wherever we see it or, in our silence, risk being seen as those who have given tacit approval; we need to be bolstered by the truth of the Gospel as it relates to these issues rather than be tossed about by political currents that would seek to capitalize on the raw emotions that have been exposed in many people in our society.
To that end, today’s lessons are quite fitting, and let me say this, I don’t pick the lessons, they are designated in the lectionary, which was compiled many decades before today. But God, in His infinite wisdom and foresight, has seen fit to provide us His revelation through Holy Scripture in a way that is consistently relevant to the contemporary situations we each face on a daily basis.
The Gospel lesson today gives us a foil against which we compare the community of Christ’s disciples while the Epistle lesson describes for us one of the ways in which we accomplish the calling we have as this community of Christ’s disciples. In particular, we are shown in the Gospel lesson Jesus’ response to those selling in the temple and are able to compare that through the Epistle lesson with St. Paul’s declaration of the way in which the Holy Spirit works in and through the church. It is hard to overstate the importance of the spiritual reality that is presented through these passages in light of these challenging times in which we are to be salt and light.
First we need to consider Jesus’ response to the ones who sold in the temple. What was it that made Jesus upset? Who were these marketeers? After all, we’ve seen Jesus interact with prostitutes, harlots, thieves, political zealots, and even religious hypocrites, but in none of the other interactions does He seem to make a movement towards physically confronting those whose actions run contrary to His character and the Kingdom He is establishing. So what is it about these people in this place, these profiteers in the temple, that moves Him to act in this way?
To understand this we need to understand what these businessmen were doing, and once we understand that we can begin to see the far-reaching danger of their transgression. Essentially, these people would sit in the outer court of the temple and sell people items to be given as sacrifices and offerings in the temple. When a pilgrim would travel from a distance to worship at the Holy Mountain, at the temple, they would likely not have the means of bringing an animal sacrifice with them. This was especially true for the most vulnerable and downtrodden within the community.
This was an entrepreneurial dream, for here you had a captive portion of the population who were highly motivated to buy. You could set unreasonable prices without any fear of losing business. In essence, the ability of these travelers to worship in the prescribed manner was in the hands of these businessmen. From a divine perspective, though, the accumulation of wealth on the backs of the poor and needy is one of the most egregious transgressions His people can commit. A reading of the Old Testament prophets, in particular prophets such as Amos, shows the divine perspective of those who would take advantage of the vulnerable in society.
So here, as Christ is preparing to establish His kingdom, the focal point of the worship of God the Father had been overrun by those who were doing the very thing that God told ancient Israel He despised. They were preying off of the moral and religious sensibilities of the poor and oppressed in the society for their own financial gain. The account of this event in St. Luke’s gospel is concise. Jesus simply says, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
As I said earlier, this event provides a foil whereby we can reflect on our own lives and ask the question of whether we are assisting those whose souls are hungry and yearn to commune with the Father or are we taking advantage of them for our own political, economic, or social gains? You see, in God’s eyes people are not tools to accomplish ulterior motives, rather, they are divine image bearers who are of infinite and unspeakable worth and value. As a result, those who claim solidarity with Christ cannot condone the misuse, abuse, marginalization, or exploitation of anybody; we can broker no alliance with hatred nor play games with denouncing this evil when we see it. It is simply not in the DNA of Christ and therefore cannot be in the DNA of His followers.
Rather, we need to embrace the mysterious reality that came into existence when Christ inaugurated His church. The reality that He has fashioned the disparate people of all races, genders, and nationalities into one unified entity, the church, the bride of Christ, which is further described as the very body of Christ himself, the body of the 2nd person of the Trinity. All people have been invited into this mystic reunion both with God himself and with each other as brothers and sisters. This is a unity without exception or qualification, not just for one class or category, but is made possible by the supreme sacrifice of Christ himself.
It is for this reason that St. Paul, in our epistle lesson today, details the diversity within the church, a diversity that is empowered by the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that indwells me, indwells you, and indwells all who call upon the name of the Lord, confessing Him as their sovereign, and have been initiated into His Kingdom through baptism.
This is one of the mysteries we celebrate when we gather for the sacrament of the Eucharist, that we are unified both with God through Christ, and with each other through Christ. It is a reality that is foreign to a world that constantly and continually is confronted with the specter of segregation, sectarianism, and hatred. If we are going to proclaim the Gospel of God’s Kingdom in this world, we need to despise that which God despises and love that which God loves.
Therefore we despise hatred but embrace people, we speak out against acts of violence and supremacy while also genuinely loving those who have fallen into the trap of hate and pleading with them to repent and come to the light of the compassion and grace of the Father.
I fear we will see an increasing display of hatred and violence in our society. We, as representatives of Jesus Christ himself need to be careful how we respond. We do not repay hatred with hate, nor violence with violence. Rather, we seek to defend the defenseless, protect the vulnerable, be a voice for the voiceless, sow love and compassion where hatred has taken root, and do so boldly without consideration for how it may hinder our economic, political, or social goals.
For in the end, this will all pass away, and when we meet our Judge He will not care about political loyalty, economic prowess, or how popular we were on Twitter or Facebook, rather He will ask us how well we loved, how well we forgave, and how well we demonstrated His compassionate character so that people could look at our own lives and be drawn to His divine life. Amen.