Had the world Gone Mad
Mathew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
“Has the world gone mad? “Are words put to many songs as people struggle to come to terms with societal turmoil. My favorite is Beenie Man in his 2008 album, titled Undisputed. My friends, we are witnessing so many ongoing events that challenge our understanding of morality and spirituality. Sadly, as the election season draws nearer, one only expects these events to become worse; more combative and filled with vitriol. Thus, it is important for us to keep our faith strong as we face the upcoming storm. Faith here is not some innate concept but a deeply held belief in the power and presence of God who encourages to journey even when it is dark and oppressive.
Faith is that which propelled Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglas, Dr. MLK King, Jr. through the most oppressive of times. When God seems absent, faith declares, “We are the God bearers”. Without Faith and without God, there is no courage. Understanding and believing in the existence of God is the courage that sustains each Christian in times of adversity, when hate and fear rule.
During my training as a Hospital Chaplain, one of the tragedies we learned many working in the medical field face is called moral injury. Moral injury describes the mental, emotional, and spiritual distress people feel after “perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.” This trauma is described in the book Moral Injury and Burnout in Medicine: A Year of Lessons Learned by WENDY DEAN and SIMON G. TALBOT. Many physicians struggle with doing what is best for the patient versus getting paid to clear their student loans or sustain their lifestyle. Expediency versus healing leads to a moral/spiritual injury is my simplistic understanding of this emotional quagmire.
I wish to take the liberty to extend that to many who are struggling to come to terms with recent events around the Impeachment and Senate acquittal processes of the most corrupt president in the history of the United States. When we witness Christians sitting at a National Prayer Breakfast who are fearing the consequences of not applauding for an anti-Christian message, we all suffer a moral injury. When one witnesses churches repeating anti-racist tropes during Black History Month while perpetuating racist actions all year long, eventually, one is felled by moral injury. We must question those individuals’ faith, their lack of courage, and we must question ourselves as Christians. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” MLK, Jr.
Jesus recognized this scourge of religion which practices hatred while preaching love, and He declared it as sinful.
Mathew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled underfoot”.
To be a follower of Jesus challenges us not just to keep walking to the light in the tunnel, but to become that light in the tunnel. He challenges us to be bold and willing enough to enter humbly and sacrificially into the lives of the hungry, the lost and the lonely and to declare God is with you always. It is about the willingness to live out our baptismal vows which say we are bearers of the Holy Spirit; the same Holy Spirit, which inspired John the Baptist, Blessed Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela, and delivers us from the wrath of moral injury.
Friends, I keep talking about a Jesus Movement. Movement is a physical action; a change from one posture to another. Our Jesus Movement is both physical and spiritual; it is love in action. It is not simply loving; it could be working with those in need of our services. It could be praying for the President to do the right thing, or it could be voting him out. Our movement is understanding, acting, being present and loving. This is complicated; it is hard, but it is what is needed.
One of our members, who is a physician, can testify of the price he paid for not succumbing to the practices that lead to moral injuries. He can testify to the sacrifices and the burdens laid upon him and his household because of his moral courage. He declares his strength exists because of the faith he learned from his parents and his faith continues to nurture and uphold his household and his morality.
So, yes, the world seemingly has gone mad, as climate change wreaks havoc, the wealth gap continues to widen, the poor are oppressed, opioids kill, racial tensions are increasing, and Christianity is being torn asunder like the veil of the Jerusalem Temple. And yet, Jesus declares reconciliation through love. Love for the hungry, love for the poor, love for the oppressed, love for lost, love for the broken spirited. Love even for the oppressor. Love is the only response to moral injury.
Big Brother Matthew
Mathew 5:23 & 24
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
As a child, one of the most horrible memories I have is being in a nursery or PreK class where the threat for any misdemeanor was being placed in a bag and rolled down a steep hill. I had a big uncle who loved that punishment. Although Uncle Jim was the kindest and gentlest of men, in the eyes of a five-year-old child he was a fearsome giant. One time he lifted me high and decided it was my turn to go into the proverbial bag. What a horrible fear and a memory that lasted for a lifetime. In the end, I assisted in the burial of Uncle Jim and listened to all the accolades about him and the wonderful life he led. But he haunted me for a long time.
Mathew, somehow, is the Biblical reporter who likes to tell a story with all the gory details; constantly sharing the most extreme of circumstances in order to make a point. Mathew is the guy who wants to get his story across but must do it in a way that seems forceful or embellished. In other words, he is no different than we are. When we want people to support our view or get our point, we often resort to the extreme in providing the true but slightly exaggerated details. Thus, in the gospel teachings for today, not only are we all in peril of breaking all the set rules, we are also at risk of losing out on heaven as well. The Jesus in Mathew seems to lose his tenderness and compassion. Mathew is like Uncle Jim! However, before we turn away like those who found the teachings of Jesus too harsh, (John 6:64-66) we are compelled to look a little deeper; for Mathew may not be the eternal snob, but really the overbearing big brother who is scared for us and really wants us to do well.
My friends, at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus is a challenge for us to become transformed into change agents. For Mathew, the message of Jesus is a bold challenge or even a quiet warning to change our actions “or else”! Jesus, in Mathew’s gospel, is not your mommy giving tender words of love but is your bigger brother who demands you live up to the expectations of the family. Mathew says we can be our own best friend or our own worst enemy; the choice is ours to make.
My friends in Christ, for each of us who has experienced sibling love know behind the stern look and strong voice is a beautiful tenderness and a deep love. The call then is for us to look beyond our own needs for tenderness, affinity and cuddling and to appreciate the depth of responsibility we carry when we claim Jesus as our savior. We are bearers of Christ in the world. We are the very salt of the earth who have a colossal task and tremendous responsibility in God’s work of salvation. In other words, grow up into your faith!
Too many Christians embrace their faith casually and practice their worship without depth of feeling. We need to believe when we come to worship, we are in the very presence of God who heals, sanctifies and redeems. We need to believe we are here to experience the love of God in a unique and transformative way. A transformation which starts inside our souls and works its way out into our everyday actions and lives. It is about the Holy Spirit tangibly at work in us. Through this worship, we become witnesses to God as our actions change. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)
My friends, it is African American History Month, and as we prepare to remember Absalom Jones, the first African American Episcopal priest, we are haunted by his spirit of determination. His ghost still lies in a church that is yet to allow its verbal repentance to seep through to its outward actions. This hidden repentance continues to limit how much success can really occur in our black communities.
Mathew tells us that God is love. Then he proceeds to share that love must lead to reconciliation. We find ourselves in a church that speaks love without reparation as a part of reconciliation “… leave your gift there before the altar…”. Mathew is the big brother who tells the message we sometimes are afraid or too intimidated to voice ourselves.
Yet, let us not get too comfortable by pointing fingers! Change really begins and ends with us. How hungry are you for Jesus? How much do you need a savior? How tired are you of the cycle of hurt and pain? How much do you need some thing to fill the emptiness? Big brother Mathew reminds us of our true calling and real worth. Jesus, for Big brother Mathew, reminds us of our own fragile nature. Jesus, for Big brother Mathew, reminds us “never to get too big for our britches.” Too many Christians believe they have turned the corner and now have moved from hunger to provider and do so with contempt for the hungry. My friends when Jesus says feed the hungry it is not about someone else. It is you who still depend upon Him for bread and substance.
My friends, when the storms of life break upon us, my first response is fear for this church because I think I am the leader. Then Jesus steps in and reminds me “I am Jesus who calms the storms. I am Jesus who will walk on water to save my people. I am Jesus who can make something out of nothing.”
Mathew reminds us all, we are always in need of a savior. We never have enough to stop depending on the Bread of Heaven. We are never well enough not to need His healing. We are never too righteous not to need His forgiveness. We are called to constantly be leaning on His everlasting arms. So, come and eat Holy Food because we need it to sustain our very lives and our sacred souls. My friends, sometimes we don’t realize how hungry we are until Shoan looks us in the eyes and says, “The Body of Christ given for you. The Blood of Christ Shed for you.” Then you realize how hungry you really were. Thanks be to God! Thanks, big brothers and sisters, Thanks Mathew, we love you. Thank you Jesus!