Jew. Foreigner. Commie Socialist Scum.
These are some of the kinder words heard coming out of the march in Charlottesville, VA last weekend. Words spoken from some very angry people, aimed at some very angry protestors of different races, colors, and creeds. Worst of all, they were words shouted by some people who dare to call themselves Christian.
What’s wrong with this picture? Don’t these so-called Christians know their leader was a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew, who would have been the first to publicly rebuke their words and deeds.
Words matter. And how we use them matter. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus speaks some pretty harsh words. And does so, not at some radical fringe extremist hate group, but he speaks to the religious leaders who have joined forces with the powers that be.
His rebuke was a wake up call to the blind guides…and for us all. In light of last weekend, and all the fallout since then, I believe a wake up is in order. Which is way I was surprise to discover Matthew’s text was already in place for the lectionary reading this week.
Words matter. These words, Jesus’ words, matter more than ever.
When some of the most prominent business leaders in American flee their post as White House advisors in protest to recent statements appeasing white nationalists, that says something. Their actions made a bold and powerful statement to the world.
Likewise, when the men and women on the president’s Evangelical Advisory Panel stand by their man and say nothing, their silence is deafening. As of today, only one, an African-American mega-church pastor named A. R. Bernard, has left the group. That says something!
My aim today is not to get political. Conservative or Liberal, Black, Brown, or White…our greatest challenge as Christians is to speak to this ugly, inconvenient truth of injustice, bigotry, and hatred. And to do so by picking up our cross and speaking the words of Christ; words of love, words of healing, and words of forgiveness.
Here Jesus is rebuking the officials who were preoccupied with keeping up appearances and holding up the status quo. But his words reverberate throughout history.
Now the Pharisees were simply keeping the “rules and regulations” in place. This was the tradition they had always known. While their purity laws were passed down from God, they were secretly using them to keep the “wrong kind of people” from participating in their worship.
It echoes a sentiment I heard from a white nationalist who explained his stance stating, “We just want to keep our way pure; we don’t want it being defiled by outsiders.”
In his rebuke, Jesus reminds the Pharisees that God is more concerned about what comes out of a person’s mouth; the venomous words that poison and harm the world. To Jesus’ point, yesterday’s lunch is gone forever. It goes in one end, and out the other; the sewer will wash it away.
It’s the careless words, and the malicious intent behind them, that does the real harm. For what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and from out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. God know your heart, whether you’re speaking out or staying silent.
Today, more than ever, we must look at the words in our heart before they come out of our mouth. Do they speak for love and open hospitality to welcome all people? Or do they merely recite rituals and dogma that separate us from others?
As more people are fleeing the pews faster than CEO’s on an advisory board, there’s no time to waste on hand washing and keeping a proper worship diet. It’s time to do more cleansing of our hearts and keeping the love of Christ alive. Our faithfulness to God begins in the heart where our words take shape. For it’s here, within us all, you possess the power to either defile the world and yourself; or to define the world and who you are called to be: a beloved child of God.
Just as Christ defines God’s righteousness and casts a bright light in a dark and violent world, so too are all Christians called to imitate Christ. Our words and deeds matter, because that is how people who do not know God will see God.
All ministers, all Christians have a responsibility to be the light of Christ that exposes our deepest sin, and to help people to understand that racism, sexism, or injustice of any stripe is unacceptable to God, to the Christian faith, and to us all.
You cannot call yourself a Christian and separate yourself from others. Through Christ, we are one body, made up of many nations, many different color skins, many social, ethnic, and sexual identities.
Through Christ, and by Christ, we all eat of one bread, and drink of one cup. Thus we all love from one love, and live because of one life.
In Christ, our many-ness and differences become oneness, because Christ cannot be divided in us. Rather we become unified in him. Any religion or dogma that professes otherwise has no right to claim his name.
Jesus taught us that real love is shown in the actions we take for the benefit of others. And this takes getting to know each other, understanding that our differences are not bad, but can be used to mature and strengthen our faith. Such a process begins not with rules and traditions, but with allowing God’s word to enter your heart so that every word you speak brings glory to God’s name.
And so I will leave you with this. God does not measure our faith by how many perfect attendance badges we earn for Sunday school, or how often we read the Bible from cover to cover, or how much we contribute to the church treasury.
Our faithful hearts are shown, and ultimately judged, by how we live out our life in the radical hospitality and love of Christ Jesus, who as a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew living in a foreign occupied land, created the greatest resistance movement of all time; and did so without ever firing a single shot.
Bartlett, David and Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 3. Westminster John Knox Press. (Louisville, 2011). pp. 356-361.
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.”