As you may already know, Anamesa means that space between. In this space we are to practice our faith faithfully by getting rid of those nets and divisions that have been put in our way. One way we can do this is by changing the “you’re either with us or against us” mentality that has caused all sorts of problems, most notably in our modern political systems.
Here in America, we have two main parties that are pretty much evenly divided. As we’ve seen in recent elections, victories are often won with razor thin margins. Because it only takes one vote to declare a winner, politicians work hard to secure every endorsement they can from civic and social groups, businesses, and of course religious institutions.
This is where it gets tricky for those who choose to faithfully follow the way of Jesus, for us who (in keeping with the analogy) have been called to use “sportsmanlike conduct” to do the will of God who loves both sides.
Before we look at how we got to where we are today, both politically and religiously, we need to go back to where we started. On a mountainside, with a young rabbi from Nazareth giving his inaugural speech.
In what’s often called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out God’s vision and teaches us what the kingdom of heaven is all about. Beginning with a series of blessings, Jesus goes on to describes a world that seems completely upside down from our reality.
For many it sounded crazy. But to those who needed a blessing or a sign of hope, this was the good news. Click here is just a glimpse of what Jesus says God’s kingdom looks like. Read Matthew 5:38-48
When this passage was read at a White House prayer breakfast, then President Trump famously said, “I don't know if I agree with that.” Although many Christians tried to demonize him for that statement, the truth is most of Christian history has not agreed with Jesus’ teachings here.
I mean, let’s be real. Jesus doesn’t really mean we ought to literally turn the other cheek, does he? And what kind of person would give a someone who is suing them more than what’s asks for? That’s crazy talk.
The question I think we need to take seriously is how did we create a religion that doesn't take its primary teachings seriously? If you look at where the Christian Church is these days compared to where it came from, it’s hard to see any similarities.
As Richard Rohr preached in his sermon on this passage,“In the first two centuries, the church was identified by and large with the underclass, the poor and enslaved members of the Roman Empire.” Living under violent oppression, “they had no trouble believing Jesus, hearing what he had to say as good news.” (Rohr, 2020)
But in the year 313, Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The line between church and state got thinner and thinner as Christians “moved literally from the bottom of society to the top.” We went from being powerless to holding all the power.
Before Constantine, “no Christian would fight in the Roman legions because they believe what Jesus said.” By the year 400, “the whole army is Christian and we're the ones killing the pagans.” In basically one generation, Christianity became the antithesis of Christ.
Sadly, I don’t think we can escape the history of our past until we actually take Jesus at his word; breaking the vicious cycles we’ve embraced.
Until then, according to Rohr, "we’ll continue to disregard teachings like this one…where Jesus basically tells us that everything hangs on the way we love each other like God's loves us." It’s that simple.
Jesus said, God loves the good and the bad, if God makes the sun rise on everyone, or causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.If this is true then that means all of creation belongs to God's care.
"If you only love those who love you, what good is that?" Jesus asks, "Can’t anyone do the same?" Jesus calls his followers to live by a higher, heavenly standard. "You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." This is a kind of perfection that can be hard to hear, muchless live.
But if Jesus meant what he said, that means if God refuses to put up a wall to divide us, we must refuse putting up walls that divide us - be it physical walls, emotional walls, or spiritual walls. If Jesus meant what he said and God invites everyone to be blessed, then we must go and do the same - offering mercy, grace, and love to anyone who wants it.
This is what the kingdom of heaven is all about. Charity, compassion, hospitality. It’s about building relationships, uniting not dividing. The way we do this is to follow Jesus' ethic of love. For God’s kingdom is not democrat or republican; capitalist or socialist. It’s love. Plain and simple.
I'm afraid, however, we make Jesus’ words difficult to believe because we don’t trust him enough at his word.
I agree with Rohr who argues, “We’d do better to approach life with the humility of Christ, instead of with arguments that demand we’re the only ones God loves, we're the only ones going to heaven.”
To achieve this we have to go back to living the way of Christ who said,“We must be perfect like God is perfect.” A perfection that is defined by the holy “BUT” of Christ.
By that I mean, ...“You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye,’ BUT, I say turn the other cheek.” Jesus’ perfect BUT covers many broad topics like anger, adultery, oath making, and retaliation (Mt. 5:21-48).
Each BUT acts as a bridge between the letter of the law and the spirit by which it was written. So, whenever we see Jesus' BUT we know he is inviting us to take a deeper look at that space between our actions and reactions, and is teaching us to take a different approach to relying on anger or revenge.
To be perfect as God is perfect might seem like an impossible ideal. Maybe it is because we're see it through human eyes instead of divine eyes. If we look at it through God's eyes or Jesus' BUT then I think Jesus is simply telling us to, “Just go and do what God does, and heaven and earth will be one again."
Throughout the gospels Jesus constantly directs our attention between these two worlds, and calls us to break the vicious cycles that keep us separated from God and each other. BUT unfortunately this has been hard for us, especially as a church that has spent the last 1,000 years dividing itself up.
This became really apparent when the there became two empires – the Roman or Latin Empire in the West. And the Greek or Byzantine Empire in the East. In 1054, the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) excommunicated the patriarch of Constantinople. In retaliation, the patriarch Constantinople excommunicated the Bishop of Rome. Since then Christians lived in two separate worlds. To make matters worse, in 1517, Martin Luther led the Protestant Reformation, which basically has led to the last 500 years of religious fighting. Why? Because none of us seem to believe what Jesus said. (Rohr, 2020)
We seem to spend more time nitpicking over who is right and who isn’t than we do giving our grace, time, and resources as liberally as Jesus did. Instead of judging who’s right and who’s wrong, we are called to love all people, no matter what.
As Fr. Rohr so profoundly states,“There's no hope for the world if religion remains infantile and incapable of love.” Everything hangs on the way we love each other like God's loves us. It’s that simple.
But it’s not always easy; especially when we want a God who chooses sides because it’s in our nature to be the ones who come out on top by any means necessary. Given the church’s history, like I noted above, this has almost always led to violence. The crusade’s, the inquisition, the witch trials, the expansion of empires, slavery, war. We just kill, kill, kill in God’s name because we have to be right.
Jesus makes it perfectly clear that God is non-dualistic. And that violence is not the answer. BUT unconditional love is.
We love unconditionally not with violence BUT non-violence.
We love unconditionally not by retaliation BUT by reconciliation.
We love unconditionally not with hatred BUT with compassion.
We love unconditionally not with force BUT through compromise.
So, here’s the thing: If you don't want to believe what Jesus said, if you don’t want to follow his way, and be his light, his truth, then there’s no point in coming to church. “Because it doesn't mean anything anymore.”
BUT if you do believe in what Jesus says, then you must take your butt out in the world to be the change that needs to happen.
Go and give to those who beg to you.
Go be the hope for the hopeless.
Go be the comfort for the inflicted.
Go be the light so those who are still in the dark can see God’s glory.
Go be the blessing that God has given to you.
Take your butt out there faithfully and be the way, the truth, and the life of Christ incarnate so the next generation of believers can see Jesus in the flesh through our word and deeds.
In other words, go and “be perfect, therefore as your God is perfect.”
Rohr, Richard. The Non-Violent Manifesto of Jesus. February 23, 2020 (accessed on Nov. 4, 2022). You can listen to his wonderful and inspiring podcast by clicking the link.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”