We celebrated Pentecost and Trinity Sundays in Antigua in small, but very welcoming Episcopal communities. These two Sundays, one a biblical, the other a doctrinal feast, bring the liturgical year we started back on the first Sunday of Advent, to a kind of crescendo: what more can we say about God's revelation and plan in sending his Son Jesus to redeem us and teach us to usher in the Kingdom of God?
Now we enter upon the "Ordinary" time of the church year or the "green" season. God incarnate in Jesus, who lived among us, was scapegoated for the world's sins and put to death, and raised to life again, sending the Holy Spirit to now be our advocate and helper. During this "green" season of about 26 weeks our task now becomes how to live in such a way that the life and teaching of Jesus means something. When we realize this, there can be no business as usual for us.
It's not as though we haven't been thinking about how to live as baptized followers of Christ as we went through Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost. For the last several months I've shared with you from the scriptures a fundamental call to eschew all violence and the instruments of violence as Jesus did and embrace the effort to forgive and live in reconciliation with everyone, especially those who harm us. In other words, war is never the way to peace; being peace is the way to peace. This is Christ's way of helping us bring about, slowly, yes, but surely, the Kingdom of God.
While in Antigua, I read on the internet the tragic story of the young priest that was killed in Phoenix. I could relate to the story because I lived in a rectory with another priest, my pastor, when I was a young priest. I was on the second floor and he was on the third. We could hear each others movements and any commotion. So the story of a guy with a criminal and prison record making noise on church property and one of us coming out to see what was going on was pretty normal. The door of the rectory open, the bad guy beats the priest pastor who, with his hand hurt, runs into the rectory, and is able to retrieve his very powerful gun, a 357 Magnum. The experienced criminal disarms the priest (probably easily) and when the young 29 year old associate pastor rushes to the aid of his pastor, he gets shot and the bad guy flees, and the pastor comes to and gives Absolution and Last Rites to his young associate- now a martyr.
What is learned from this? Is it, go get your gun and shoot the bad guy, or, confront the bad guy and see what he wants or needs? He's probably needs money, food, or a place to stay. Especially when they let you of of prison you have next to nothing. Interjecting an instrument of violence (most police carry a lesser weapon than a 357 Magnum), brings about unneccesary and tragic death. Priest, and all followers of Jesus, are better at dialogue than shooting. Even if the priest would never have pulled the trigger and just wanted the bad guy to back off and leave, it's probably not the way to go.
So at the beginning of this "not so ordinary" season where the goal is learning how to live as Christ would have us, maybe the first teaching about eschewing all violence and instruments of violence is a place to begin. To not use violence ourselves, in word or action, or support others to do so on any level. Violence can never achieve a good end. It just doesn't, will not, work!
The main reason Central American parents are paying good money to have their children guided across our borders in huge numbers is because of violence and kidnapping in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. They'll pay any price to get their children out of there and into our governments hands and eventually to families of relatives already living in the United States.
But, with these thoughts in mind, isn't it ironic that in today's Gospel, Jesus says, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." Not Peace, but a sword? This is probably one of the most misunderstood sayings of Jesus ever! Jesus isn't talking about taking up the sword against our enemies. The sword Jesus is talking about in this gospel (full of difficult sayings) is the sword which draws a line in the sand and you have to decide how you are going to live your life: will you choose Jesus' way or not. And, sorry, if you choose Jesus' way you will cause division. Your decision will not be popular. People, your family, the closest ones to you, will disagree and line up against you, but God has your back, God has a count of the hairs on your head. Because of your decision there will be a little less violence in the world because you are not going to support it or add to it.
Someone recently asked: Does God have a plan "B"? Isaac is the son of Sarah, the Promise, plan "A". Ishmael, the son of Hagar the slave is not (interesting, Ishmael is looked upon by Islam as their connection to Abraham). The story ends with God consoling Hagar and the story saying that "God was with the boy." I'm telling you that I grew up and was mostly trained as a plan "A" guy, or maybe an "only one Plan" guy. But I'm discovering that God does have a plan "B" after all. God leaves no one behind. Grace is greater than all sin as St. Paul talks about in Romans. Each of us, baptized in Christ, must (not should) consider ourselves dead to sin (all violence and use of violence) and alive to God in Christ Jesus!
As we take a moment of quiet after the sermon this morning let us ask ourselves the question: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? . . . so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. Christ has brought a sword. The line is drawn in the sand. Will we follow Christ or not?