September 2, 2018

Pentecost 14, Proper 16, 2018

The news this week continues to be shocking. It is shocking in so many places and so many ways. One of you came to my office this week and said that you had been glued to the news all day. I am sure you weren’t the only one.

We are in a crisis in this country. A crisis is a time when a decision has to be made. We, in this country, need to make a decision. ”Now therefore revere the Lord.” We say that we are a Christian country. We say that. We call ourselves Christians. We need to walk that walk. “Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve….”

This week, we have, again, Jesus offering the bread of life. We are again faced with the query that Jesus might be pointing us toward cannibalism. I think it is safe to say that Jesus wasn’t pointing us there. “This teaching is difficult.” It is indeed, and all of our readings are difficult today. We are living in difficult times.

We are told to put on the whole armor of God. That does not sound like what we have been doing. Now, we might have been doing some saber rattling. That does sound similar, but it doesn’t sound like God. When Paul told the Ephesians that they should put on the armor of God, it was in the context of living and promoting Christianity in the midst of the Roman Empire. Christianity was outlawed in the Roman Empire when Paul wrote those words; surely Christians did have to put on the armor of God when the armor of the Emperor Domitian was raining down on their tiny Church.

Paul was warning the fledgling Church how to live in a pagan world. That may sound familiar to us as well. How do we Christians live in a world that might call itself a Christian nation, but often doesn’t behave like it? Paul has a lot to say about how to live in a world that is hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Stand therefore and fasten the belt of truth around your waist and put on the breastplate of righteousness.”

Paul didn’t tell us to hate our neighbors or to kill the people with whom we disagree. Continuing on with his metaphor of virtue as clothing, he tells the people of Ephesus to put on whatever shoes will make them able to proclaim the gospel of peace. We need those shoes and that armor to withstand the wiles of the devil. We DO need to struggle, but is it against our neighbors or even those with whom we disagree? No! Paul says. “you are not struggling against those people, but against the rulers, the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness.”

This is a concept that John McCain understood. Now, I can’t abide some of the things that Senator McCain argued for, but he recognized that he worked for his position, he argued for his position. At the end of the day, though, he shook hands with those across the great theoretical divide. At the end of the day, he fastened the belt of truth around his waist. At the end of the day, he reached across the aisle of difference and shook the hand of his adversary and said, “well done, good and faithful servant,” until another day.

We, in this country, are in a crisis, and we need to put on the armor of righteousness and discard the camouflage of dishonesty and deceit. We are in a crisis of conscience, and we see evidence of that crisis every hour on the news. Paul tells us about the mantle that we are to embrace. We could fan the flames of discord and hatred or we could “quench the flaming arrows of the evil one.” We have a choice.

We have a choice to continue to sow the seeds of hatred and malice or to reach across the aisle and say, “well done, good and faithful servant.” We have a choice whether to disagree and go our separate ways with the expectation that we will wrangle again another day or we can fight to the death of the relationship with the expectation that we will not and cannot find peace or camaraderie together. We have a choice.

Well, maybe we have a choice. If we are Christians, do we have the choice to discard the shield of faith or take off the helmet of salvation? Maybe we could turn our backs and turn our hearts toward the “wiles of the devil.” Maybe we could embrace discord or even hatred. Maybe we could, but haven’t we been to the mountaintop? Haven’t we seen the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God?

Maybe we could choose the path of deceit and hatred, but is that a choice we can really make? When Jesus asks us, like He asked Peter, “Do you also wish to go away?”, won’t we know, just like Peter did, that there really is no choice? Won’t we say also, “Lord, to whom can we go?” Won’t we know, as Peter knew, that Jesus is the route to salvation, that Jesus is the Holy One of God? We know that the path to salvation is to put on the armor of righteousness and truth and to reject the false gods of greed and deceit. We know that the path to salvation is the pathway to peace and reconciliation. We know that, for the Christian, there really is no choice. Jesus invites us into that path at this table. Let us ALL join at this table. Amen.