Once again this Sunday; we get a glimpse of the early Christian community in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. We see that not all was bliss—that attempting to live in peace was not always a peaceful endeavor—kind of like today. We hear in the Gospel, Jesus’ loving words before leaving this earth, that his gift to his first followers and to us by extension—is peace. And the second reading is a vision of the heavenly kin-dom where there will be no need of sun or moon because the glory of God will light the day and the Lamb, Jesus our brother will light the night. We realize of course that the entire book of Revelation is a vision and we can only marvel at the dream and the promise.
Visions are intended to speak about mysteries that words can’t really express. We can only see dimly now, as Paul says elsewhere. We can only see as we are given sight. We all know what it is like to see by the light of the sun and the moon. But Revelation tells us that when we experience God’s kin-dom; there will be no need for the sun or the moon—heaven will be lit by the love of our God. So this lets us know that heaven isn’t so much a place as a condition—a way of being!
Jesus’ gift to us now—the way we will know his presence in our lives is that of peace, and we are told, it will not be an easy peace. Many times the word, “peace” conjures up thoughts of calm-ness, no trouble, bliss; but I don’t think this is what Jesus meant. Jesus was also known for having said, “I don’t come to bring peace, but the sword.” So, we have to ask what he meant by these apparent contradictions.
A careful read of the Scriptures shows us that Jesus was not “wishy-washy,” but one who often spoke a double message and the meaning of his words was always multi-layered. True peace, it would seem, comes from doing works of justice—caring for all the people—everyone included, no matter what; being a compassionate presence in our world, living a life of courageous integrity—speaking truth to power—in a phrase, living as Jesus lived.
At present, there are several issues within our Church that are demanding that truth be told. We spoke last week of the issue of child sexual abuse by the clergy and its ultimate cover-up by those called to shepherd the lambs. It would appear that the diocese of Winona along with many others have only experienced the tip of the iceberg where allocations of abuse are concerned. This is an issue that will shake our Church to its base until the truth is told and changes are made. Our Church is based on clericalism, a system that says those who serve are better than those purported to be served and until that system is dismantled; there is always the danger of more abuse, no matter what is promised. Just this week Pope Francis took another significant step in dismantling clericalism by stating that the Spirit speaks and works through the laity too. We all know this, but now our so-called leaders need to embrace the concept.
I believe when Jesus said that he came, not to bring peace, but the sword; he was aware that his words and deeds would not fall gently on all hearers. Those whose lives were subject to much injustice—the poor, the sick, the lonely—women and children—those with no power over their lives; they no doubt rejoiced; but those who held the power—well, that was another story! To them, Jesus’ words were no doubt, “fighting” words. How dare he; a no-body from that backwater town of Nazareth!
And friends, those speaking out today, both in the Church and in society are often met with some kind of derision, of not being taken seriously—women asking for justice in our Church, asking to be treated equally as created by our God, those abused by priests as children and whose crimes were covered up, our black sisters and brothers in this country, asking to be seen as individuals with stories, with families, with worth—asking to be equal.
The peace that Jesus speaks of will be a hard won peace. The peace that this world gives or what we might conjure up in our minds—no stress, no bother, no challenge, might appear on the surface to be peace, but at the end of the day leaves us quite empty. The kind of “peace” that comes from non-involvement is a lonely peace, because it is a selfish peace.
Jesus calls each of us as his followers to a life of service—to a reaching out to others in their need—to doing what we can to make a difference in our world. This life of service that we are called to will be about being good listeners, it will be about growing and changing our way of thinking as more of the truth is opened up to us. It will call us to be people of deep prayer, asking the Spirit to show us the way when we are confronted with a new way of doing something—a new way of thinking about something.
Our world is continually changing—we are discovering more about the make-up of the human person and what goes into living a full life with each age. Our age, thank God, is coming more and more to the point of acceptance of our gay and lesbian, transgendered and bi-sexual sisters and brothers as is evidenced by the highest court’s ruling on the rightness of all marriages, gay or straight. And even in that; there is push-back with the whole “bathroom issue.” Why are we not as a people simply willing to listen to each other, affording each person what is needed to live a full and productive and meaningful life? The ignorance and arrogance of Church officials who will not listen, nor open their hearts to the truth of people as they struggle to live their lives, will have to in time, and hopefully soon, change, if the Church of Jesus Christ hopes to remain relevant in our world.
As more and more is learned about our beautiful earth and the whole cosmos in which we live, one realizes more profoundly that the old ideas of tiers—God out there, us here and a nether world below us are just not adequate anymore. God is all around us—within us—in each person and it can no longer be them and us, good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable, chosen—esteemed versus unchosen and unworthy. Life is all of a piece in its many and diverse ways and it all reflects our good God. And given that, it is time, IT IS TIME for us to include all! Or as Joan Chittister said recently:
“The face of God is all around us in everyone and everything. There are no opposites, no other—there is only the presence of God in life, in us, in all. So then why do we insist on the divisions that reduce the full face of God to only our own? Sad. That is such a small God indeed.”
Or writer, Anne Lamott, said it this way:
“I didn’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity. I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees.”
We see in the reading from Acts today that some of the believers had a very small vision of what being a follower of Jesus was all about. For some, it was about following external rules and regulations whether they served a purpose or not and let’s be clear, the purpose was and is, always, about love. It was clear that love didn’t come into the equation in Acts or there would not have been roadblocks set up for allowing Gentiles into the Church. We must always check our actions in church or society at the door of love—if love is missing, then we can be sure this action is not of God.
It seems in our present day Church, there is still too much emphasis on following rules and regulations—seeing others, especially those who don’t walk in line, through the lens of those man-made rules—rules that are never adjusted for love. In light of Francis, who is advocating for mercy even though he has changed no laws that effectively bar mercy; he may be trying to get at this in a gentle, yet profound way—lifting up mercy calls those geared into the law to see that ultimately the “way” is not through the law, but through love, and once that happens, the law will be put in its place.
A close look at Jesus’ life shows that he was constantly making the corrections for love. His society gave no status to women, the poor, to children—Jesus called the love question whenever he saw the violations. In our Church today, so much good is not happening for the role of women, for the care of the LGBT community, for our over-worked clergy, because we have not placed these issues at the door of love.
We, as Church, are called to something more, something new and we can’t take our lead from the status quo—we can’t take the easy way out because what our Church and greater world need calls for so much more.
Next week is Mothers’ Day. I once shared this story with you, but it bears repeating: It is said that a woman once stated, that when we are sad, discouraged, in pain—at odds over a life situation, perhaps this could be labor—perhaps, [our great mothering] God is bringing something new to bear for our world through the pain we are experiencing at this moment. Those of you who have physically given birth, or lived vicariously through this experience with a loved one, know the joy of new life, after the struggle. Many, if not physically given birth to another, have given birth in other ways to new life after the struggle. My friends, our Church is in this labor now, to give birth to new life.
Clearly the peace that Jesus brings is unlike the shallow peace that the world gives. Jesus’ peace comes from loving radically, with justice toward all, toward the most despised—even when we aren’t sure that we can love. Love is always the right response to any situation—even when it might bring derision. The second reading from Revelation that gives us a vision of heaven indicates through the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of the Lamb that everyone has access to the glorious kin-dom. None of us can imagine the bounteous love of our God to follow us—walk with us, and bring each one of us home.
We must not let our hearts be troubled Jesus says—but simply live lives of love, characterized by justice, kindness, gentleness and mercy—then the peace which the world cannot give will be ours!