June 21, 2020

“What Do You Bring?”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Romans 6.1b-11

Matthew 10.24-39

June 21, 2020

Typically when one is invited to a party you ask the host what you can bring – dessert, wine, side dish, your terrible jokes. These days, if there are gatherings at all, it is BYOE – Bring Your Own Everything. You are to provide masks, hand sanitizer, lawn chairs to an outdoor gathering, and your own food. Even at church when we have communion Sundays you are encouraged to bring your own bread and juice.

We always bring something, whether it is physical or not – we bring those important physical items with us – keys, wallet, identification – and we bring those that are not always seen – burdens, joys, concerns, gifts, history, experience. What are you bringing with you today? I must say that around Easter when I envisioned our first Sunday back, I saw it as more of a celebration. Not that today isn’t a celebration, but we’re still very aware of the precautions we need to take because the pandemic isn’t over. We still are aware that many of our friends are not with us physically in church. We’re aware that our world is not in a celebratory place. So, while this is a small party and victory, we have a long way to go. Nevertheless, what is it you bring with you today?

The week after the shooting of George Floyd I saw a church sign in Ohio that said: “Jesus Came to Bring Peace.” Had it been any other time, had there not been looting and protests going on, had it been phrased any other way, I might have ignored it, agreed with it, confirming that God wants peace. Yet, when I saw it, I thought of the passage we read today, which is part of our lectionary reading, so I didn’t choose it at random, and I said out loud to the sign: “I thought Jesus said he came to bring a sword?” This isn’t to say that violence is the way – far from it – but I also think that we have to recognize that peace is more than just a word on a sign – it’s more than just a fuzzy feeling of dancing around to protest music – all good things – but that the kind of peace Jesus is talking about won’t be easy – it isn’t just being nice – it’s also about justice and repentance.

This passage can be confusing because we use peace in many ways as Christians. God isn’t anti-peace, and we can’t imagine if we were to reframe the words of peace in our practices. We can’t have a time of passing the sword instead of passing the peace. I can’t sign my emails “Swords and such” instead of “peace.” What does it mean when we are claiming peace? What does that look like?

This group of sayings by Jesus was meant for disciples going out to do mission work. Jesus begins by telling the disciples that the truth cannot be hidden. In a time when false info abounds, when confusion ensues, and when we aren’t sure who to trust or what to believe, we can rest assured that God’s truth will ring out loud. There are many conspiracy theories out there right now – probably more than we know of collectively. Sometimes I find it funny to think of conspiracy theories – like maybe the pandemic was created by dogs to keep humans at home all day for their selfish reasons. Obviously not true, but lightens the tone a bit. Most conspiracy theories look to blame someone. Yet, the word “conspiracy” actually means “breathing together.” What does that look like in a time after Pentecost? What does that mean in the midst of a pandemic where people cannot breathe? What does it mean when people are killed by police on their back, saying, “I can’t breathe”?

In a recent Christian Century article it was described that “John Courtney Murray liked to use the term to describe the beautiful collaboration among people who are filled with the spirit of God.”[1] What if our conspiracy was being filled with the Spirit of God? What if we conspired together to work for the greater good of peace for everyone?

Now, before I jump too far ahead, conspiring together sounds easier than it is in reality. We jump back to Jesus’ message of a sword instead of peace. We know Jesus was always challenging the status quo, powers and principalities, and that which threatened humanity. Yet, we too often look for the message that is most comforting. Sometimes we need to be comforted. Sometimes we need to comfort others. Author Robin Meyers wrote in Saving Jesus From the Church: “Christianity has become primarily a strategy for ‘victory,’ but it is an individual victory over debt, obesity, or low self-esteem, not a collective victory over injustice, poverty, war, or environmental degradation. Faith has become essentially an individual transaction and the image of God is that of a personal trainer.”[2] There is that conspiring together again. We must look at faith as a collaborative effort to unite together and fight against injustice, racism, xenophobia, and more. If that sounds like a sheath of peace, I think we’re in for a big surprise.

Jesus is bringing a sword to the peace party – if you want to call it a party. It is a sword that sharpens how we see the world, how we see ourselves, and sharpens our relationships with God and one another. We think of swords and war as bringing divisions, and Jesus ends this passage with the division of family. Yet, it isn’t that Jesus is dividing the families – but that the divisions are already in place. Yale Divinity School professor, William Gottler writes: “Individuals and family and society will survive when the gospel’s good news is heard and embraced.”[3] Jesus does not separate us – sin does – and our refusal to walk in the light of truth.

So, how do we fight for these things to open our arms to peace and to one another? First, I think we have to recognize the problems in the world aren’t going away, and that often we contribute to them. Our systems are set up in ways that make the poor poorer, and the rich richer, and those who are in the margins are being pushed our further and further. The only way to break the systems is to conspire together with the Spirit, to create new ways of being and living and sharing – not just being nice to one another, but walking with one another, and realizing that it will not always be easy. To take this conspiratorial jump means to be vulnerable, to put ourselves out in search of the truth that has been hidden, and to put all of it out into the light. Sometimes that truth hurts, and sometimes it feels like a sword – but it is freeing and can begin healing.

That healing comes from God. In Romans we hear about God’s grace – abundant grace that covers our sins more than we will ever know. God’s grace that spreads over us and helps us to keep breathing in the Spirit. That grace is so abundant that it overflows, and we are given enough that we are covered, and we can offer some grace to one another, because we all need it.

Yes, Jesus is bringing that sword, but he’s also bringing grace, because when we finally see the divisions among us, when we finally see the truth, we will need all the grace we can find, and God will still be there, waiting for us.

So, as we enter the church for the first time since March, as we reenter the world, as we begin to rethink how we are the church in the world, what do you bring? What lessons did you learn on your quarantine journey? How can we be the church and unite and speak truth to power in a world that is so divided? This is just a space – a space where we gather, a space where we can find some peace – but when we leave here, we are called to bring the church out into the world. We are called to take that truth into a places of darkness. We are called to recognize the truth in others when we are in the darkness. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] Peter Marty, “The Spirit’s True Conspiracy” in Christian Century, https://www.christiancentury.org/article/editorpublisher/pentecost-truest-conspiracy

[2] Robin Meyer, Saving Jesus From the Church (New York: Harper One, 2009), 20.

[3] William Gottler, “Matthew 10.24-39” in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 3, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 166.