WORSHIP at GLORIA DEI: Murder! Mayhem!  Manipulation!  Sunday, July 14, we worship on the Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time.  We’ll hear the disturbing story of John the Baptist’s death and consider its implications for today’s world.  How does Jesus show up in the midst of evil machinations?  Join us at 10:00 in our physical sanctuary at 300 Shunpike Road or in our digital sanctuary for worship: https://www.youtube.com/live/9sCLUE0t7Cg?si=hQUABxk4nVPcZaBT

WORSHIP at GLORIA DEI: Sunday, July 21, we will hear about Jesus’ compassion for people who are hurried and harried and in need of healing.  Perhaps you are feeling one or more of those ways lately.  Know that Jesus is with us and offers peace in the midst of the chaos.  Join us at 10:00 in our physical sanctuary at 300 Shunpike Road or in our digital sanctuary for worship: https://www.youtube.com/live/0dluoY7pwKE?si=wieGprQGsTvctYT8

June 25, 2023

There’s nothing like coming back from vacation, feeling refreshed and ready to dive back into preaching, only to realize what the assigned readings for the day have served up.

In the Hebrew scriptures we hear the prophet Jeremiah bemoan his plight.  God has called him into the holy work of proclaiming God’s word to the people, and Jeremiah is not getting the response he had hoped for.  He says: “I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me…All my close friends are watching for me to stumble.”

It’s hard enough to be the focus of everyone’s mockery, but when your closest friends are waiting for you to fail?  That hurts.

The psalmist seems to be in a similar predicament, writing: “I have become a stranger to my own kindred, an alien to my mother’s children…Those who sit at the gate murmur against me, and the drunkards make songs about me.”  Whoever wrote this psalm was feeling estranged from family and taunted by the town drunks.  That doesn’t feel good either.

And then there’s Jesus, who says that conflict will abound among family members: mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law.  Jesus says: “One’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”

I’m officiating a wedding tomorrow down in Wildwood Crest, and oddly enough, the bride and groom did not choose this gospel to read during their marriage service.

It’s a grim theme that runs through these texts.  When we answer God’s call, when we are sent out into the world to do God’s work, we will not be met with unicorns and rainbows at every turn.  I don’t think Jesus is suggesting that we go looking for fights.  Simply that we shouldn’t be surprised when they happen.

Last week’s gospel focused on Jesus sending his disciples out to teach and to heal and to carry his message of love and hope to many of their own kindred. Pastor Gladys reminded us that this message of love and hope is equally urgent in our own time, and that when Jesus sends us out, he gives us what we need.

We certainly need that provision.  In the part of Matthew’s gospel between last week’s reading and this morning’s, the part of Chapter 10 that we skipped over, Jesus works hard to prepare the disciples for the rejection that they will inevitably face.  He says, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town” (Matthew 10:14).  Jesus goes on to say that he is sending them out like sheep into the midst of wolves.  “Beware,” he adds, “for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me…you will be hated by all because of my name” (verses 17-18, 22).  It’s really a miracle that the disciples didn’t just pack their bags and head in the opposite direction.  Who in the world would want to sign on for that mission after hearing what the risks would be?

And then we hear a word in the middle of today’s gospel that stops us in our tracks: “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

How is it that Jesus, who elsewhere in scripture is known as the Prince of Peace, says that he doesn’t come to bring peace?  When the angels fill the sky on the night of his birth, they specifically say that Jesus brings peace.  So why all this talk of a sword now?

Scholars generally believe that this passage reflects the realities that were taking place within the community of Matthew’s gospel.  There were conflicts between those who followed Jesus and those who didn’t, and families were being torn apart by these differences in how people were choosing to live their faith.

But this reality is true in our own time as well.  We’ve talked about it before.  When we commit to living our faith – when we truly seek to include the marginalized and advocate for justice – there will be resistance.  Maybe from family, maybe from friends, maybe from neighbors or coworkers or complete strangers – but there will be times when other folks push back and want us to abandon those efforts.  When we challenge the powers of this world, those powers always fight back.

I suspect that when Jesus says he doesn’t come to bring peace, he means in part that he doesn’t come to bring a saccharine notion of peace.  We can toss around words like “peace” and “unity,” but what those words sometimes mean is that we want people who are oppressed simply to stay quiet so that no one else has to be bothered to do anything about it.  That version of unity comes at too great a cost when it means that some people are not treated as full members of the human family, with all the rights and dignity thereof.

Last week Pastor Gladys mentioned the observance of Juneteenth.  We celebrate Juneteenth as a reminder that just because a war is over, just because an Emancipation Proclamation has been issued, doesn’t mean that slaves are actually made free.  It took the Union Army showing up in Texas with a federal order to enforce that freedom. 

When we walk the paths of justice to which God has called us, we will face conflict and resistance and struggle.  Jesus’ version of peace requires disruption: new ways of understanding, new ways of living.  That kind of peace asks us to risk something.

That version of peace isn’t a limited resource.  We tend to think in terms of winners and losers, so that when some people get peace or healing or love, others miss out.  But in God’s family everybody can have peace and healing and love. 

That sword that Jesus talks about?  The sword of Jesus cuts through our divisions among each other and our judgments of each other.  The sword of Jesus demolishes all of our isms and our phobias – racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia.  The sword of Jesus carves out new paths of hope that we can walk together toward a better, more inclusive world.

I was recently introduced to the work of a young comedian named Elyse Myers.[i]  She does most of her comedy on Instagram in a series of short videos.  She is bracingly honest about her own struggles – with pregnancy, with postpartum depression, with all kinds of things.  She said something in an interview that I found beautiful.  When she is putting together her comedy, she uses three criteria as the filter for what to include or leave out.  She wants her comedy to do these three things: to make people feel known, to make people feel loved, and to make people feel like they belong.

It occurs to me that those are pretty good criteria for the church.  As we share the love of Jesus, as we work to make the world reflect the boundary-breaking love of God, this can be our commitment: to make people feel known, to make people feel loved, to make people feel like they belong.

So when people are feeling estranged from the family of God and attacked by those around them, we can be the answer to their prayer, a prayer that often sounds like the one from our psalm today: “In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help. Save me from the mire; do not let me sink; let me be rescued from those who hate me and out of the deep waters.”  Amen.

S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ


[i] Listen to the episode of Mike Birbiglia’s “Working it Out” podcast in which he and Elyse talk about her work: https://www.birbigs.com/

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Join the fun this summer as we experience the ride of a lifetime with God!

Rafters will explore how to serve God and God’s mission for their lives. Rolling River Rampage VBS is for children who will be 4 years old by October 1, 2018 with the oldest completing Grade 5 in June.

Monday through Thursday, July 16-19, 9:30 am – 12:15 pm

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