A Sermon for the
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Trinity Episcopal Church
in Easton, Pennsylvania
February 20, 2022
“God of compassion, you have reconciled us in Jesus Christ who is our peace: Enable us to live as Jesus lived, breaking down walls of hostility and healing enmity. Give us grace to make peace with those from whom we are divided, that, forgiven and forgiving, we may ever be one in Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns forever, one holy and undivided Trinity. Amen.”
A Beautiful Life (by William Golden)
The only life that will endure,
Is one that’s kind and good and pure;
And so for God I’ll take my stand,
Each day I’ll lend a helping hand.
Life’s evening sun is sinking low,
A few more days and I must go
To meet the deeds that I have done,
Where there will be no setting sun.
I’ll help someone in time of need,
And journey on with rapid speed;
I’ll help the sick and poor and weak,
And words of kindness to them speak.
The Words of Jesus take us by surprise, as always, when we listen to them closely. “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you . . . . Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
We could be tempted to think that we do not have any enemies. Are there really others who hate us, who curse is, who wish us harm, who want to hurt us? If so, this has to be an exceptional case. But that presupposes that we are thinking of those who know us personally—not of those who might choose to “other us,” to exclude us, to marginalize us because they perceive us to be different—and thus a threat to them in some way. It is to acknowledge that their “mind is made up about us,” even before they get to know us, and that there appears to be little which we can do to change their opinion.
This becomes a more pressing issue, even, when there is an imbalance of power, and they are in a position of control, authority, or some kind of dominance over us. This is the reality of all who live in communities which are diverse. It is an honest admission that in such communities, conflict is inevitable. For that very reason, it is essential that we recognize that we all live in such communities.
This is the kind of ordinary world in which, as St. Augustine might say, “we live, and move, and have our being.” For those of us who aspire to be people of faith, and followers of Jesus Christ, though, this is not the final word. We claim that we belong to not just any old community, but to “Beloved Community.” We continue to be reminded of and challenged by those words from the Acts of the Apostles, spoken of that model Church in Antioch in Syria, “These people are different. They are like that Jesus. See how they love each other.”
The great irony here, is that Jesus was speaking to those who were truly poor, truly marginalized, truly, powerless, and weak, to those who had been brutally conquered and oppressed by a hostile and cruel foreign force. Today, we hear these same words from a very different perspective.
The challenge we face then, is to recognize and to acknowledge that something will have to change if the Beloved Community of which we speak and for which we long ever becomes more than just something for which we hope.
It is impossible for us to ever change anyone else. They only person I will ever be capable of changing is me! If I want Beloved Community to be a possibility, I will have to change, I will have to grow, I will have to think and act in ways that are different than those that I have thought and acted until now.
Those are hard words to say. Those are hard words to hear. It is easy to think of ways in which others have hurt me. It is very difficult to acknowledge ways in which I have acted to hurt others.
The good news, is that I am not unique. What is true of me is true of most of us. To some degree, we are all broken, wounded, hurting, and ill. There are times when we act before we think, there are times when we allow anger, fear, hurt, and disappointment to prevent us from making good and wise decisions. They are times when we are self-centered and fail to consider the needs, wants, and desires of others.
When this is pointed out to us—by others, or by our own prayerful self-reflection and examination, this can be very hard to hear and to accept. But, if we are to move forward, that must be the beginning. Those words which we say so often when we gather as a community pierce us to the heart—
“ Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”
The hard truth here is that I am forced to acknowledge and to confess that there are times when rather than acting out of love, I have acted as an enemy, rather than as a fried. In our beloved Episcopal Church this is a reality which we have been called to explore.
In the past century, we have moved towards the inclusion, empowerment, and affirmation of women (our mothers, sisters, and daughters), of our Black sisters and brothers and of other persons of color, and of our LGBT+ Siblings. This has not been easy for us. In each case, we struggled to accept that we had been acting in ways that were exclusionary, hurtful and sinful. Even after we ceased to intentionally exclude and marginalize, we continued to passively prevent true acceptance, inclusion and empowerment.
Thanks to the powerful and prophetic witness of women and men of faith, we made decisions to move towards truly forming loving community. We have made so much progress and growth!. Yet we must not allow ourselves to become complacent and self-congratulatory! We are not there yet. Much work remains undone.
The simplest things are often the hardest. It is perhaps not so much that we are challenged to forgive as it is that we are challenged to accept forgiveness. Anyone who has ever taken the risk of becoming completely vulnerable and of uttering those live-changing words, “I was wrong. I am sorry, please forgive me,” knows the healing power of hearing the words, “I forgive you.” That forgiveness brings a new possibility. While the hurt we have done can never be undone or forgotten, it does not have to be the end. It can be the beginning of a new way of thinking, of acting, of being. And that is as true of us as individuals and as it is for our community.
I chose to begin this reflection with you today by sharing a well-known song from my Southern Baptist childhood, “A Beautiful Life.” It reminds me that each day offers a new opportunity to “turn away from sin and to embrace the Gospel.” It challenges me to not allow this day to end without choosing to act in love. It echoes the words of our Savior Jesus Christ that if I chose to love, to do good, to bless, and to pray, I have the power to make a difference — and to help to make all the communities Beloved Community–places where God may be truly found.