Sermons That Work

Any Means Necessary, Proper 9 (C) – 1998

July 05, 1998

Do you remember the Black Panther Party?

That’s right – Eldridge Cleaver and company. Well, they’re back.

In response to the White Militia Groups, now, black militia groups are springing up and some of them are calling themselves the Black Panthers.

I heard a member of one of these groups interviewed this week and he used a phrase I hadn’t heard in a long time. Calling himself a revolutionary, He said he was prepared to use “Any means necessary to achieve our ends.”

Any means necessary . . .

I wonder if as a society we have become a people fixated on our own desires, as if the only language we speak is I WANT. And so we are solely focused on the ends and could careless about the means.

I want. I want. I want. Faster and faster, more and more violent. That’s so much of our world today.

Any means necessary.

What a different world the readings today present. Today Paul is teaching the Galatians how to act toward one another: Remember how this passage begins? “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.”

GENTLENESS. Not “any means necessary.” Not isolation or manipulation or brute force, But gentleness.

We are to bear one another’s burdens. We are to see our brothers and sisters as part of the Body.

In the Gospel, Jesus is sending 70 others to prepare the way for His arrival in new places. Jesus isn’t deluded about the world. He knows it is filled with wolves, but he sends the seventy out like lambs and He instructs them that they are simply to announce “Peace” to a household. They are to cure the sick and proclaim, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

I am suggesting that we see ourselves as one of these 70. Jesus is sending us out into the world to find the places that need healing and, then, to announce that the Kingdom of God is to be found there. We are to prepare the way for the coming of our Lord into the broken places so people who are in despair can now have hope, so our society will know there is a way of relating to one another that is different from manipulation or neglect. And that way is the way of love.

Our mission as Christians is to love our world into becoming receptive to Jesus Christ. Wherever there is brokenness or sickness, Jesus sends us to proclaim that the people in those places are invited into the kingdom.

Too often our stance as Christians has been aloof and self-righteous.

We lament about those drug dealers or those murderers or those fanatics, Never seeing ourselves connected to them. And when we do feel connected, they become the problem and we have the solution.

Jesus says, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.” Our tendency is to give people something, Food, a book, a pious explanation for their troubles. There is nothing wrong with that. We are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, But, most of all, we are called to invite our brothers and sisters to the Communion Table. We first have to see them as brothers and sisters. Jesus’ command is, therefore, simple: He says, just go and encounter and love.

How foreign that is to our society? Not manipulation. Not neglect. Gentleness. Love.

In the reading today, Isaiah hears God speaking these words, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”

That’s our model.

It’s hard for us even to see this. Hard for us even to imagine it and almost impossible for us to see it in practice.

Whom do we comfort to stop the epidemic violence? Whom do we comfort to stop anxiety and fear? So many of our problems are too complex to find any one clear target And, so, our response is simply to protect ourselves.

There is a solution.

In his letter today Paul says, “You reap what you sow.” The way to promote the love of Christ is by loving. As Marshall McCluan said, “The Medium is the Message.” If we want to bring in the kingdom, we must act as if it is in our midst. To the world this may seem foolish because it’s hard to establish “Measurable Objectives.” But we are called to be fools for Christ.

We are called to show that love is the only redemptive power in the world. We are called to begin where we are to discover the kingdom and to resist the culture of manipulation, violence and neglect.

I believe that we can spend all day in a Washington think-tank and come up with some amazing solutions to the world’s problems. We will not have changed anyone and we might coerce people into behaving as we wish, but we will never experience the presence of Christ in our midst.

One person at a time, simply by focusing on the face in front of us and looking for the face of Jesus Christ.

That’s the test. Can you love the person in front of you at the bank or McDonalds or in the mall or on the street?

Can you approach the people you most fear in gentleness? Can you imagine comforting one another as a mother comforts her child?

A friend of mine moved to Nashville to live in the country. One night, while he was sitting on his deck, through the woods he saw flames from his neighbors’ house. He ran over there and the roof was on fire. No one was home, so he ran to his house, called the fire department and then returned next door. His neighbor drove up, got out of her car and just stood there. Now, they barely knew each other and, as he related the story to me, h walked over to her to give her some platitude, but she grabbed him and hugged him for dear life. Like a mantra he started saying, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

Brothers and sisters, the world is always on fire. Let us open our eyes and truly focus on where the fires are. Let us go there and embrace those who stand alone and say more than, “It’s okay.”

Let us say, “Peace. The Kingdom of God is among you. Peace.”

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Christopher Sikkema


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