31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
October 15, 2017
Ephesians 2:11-22, 6:10-17
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Massive wildfires in California, on the heels of four hurricanes.
A third White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA last weekend.
Fifty eight dead in Las Vegas, which according to the New York Times was the 521st mass shooting in 477 days *
Peace. There is no doubt we could really use more peace in our lives. How do we achieve it though? How do we find peace in the midst of the craziness of the world, peace in the wake of terrible events?
A few days after Las Vegas, I heard Alfonso Ribeiro talking about hosting the new season of “America’s Funniest Videos”. Alfonso’s response to the Vegas tragedy was to suggest people tune into his show for some laughter, some joy, some lightness.
The morning show hosts all agreed. Many people would. We could all use more laughter, more joy, more lightness in our lives, however escaping into television, returning to life as usual, ignoring that which is causing us distress, is not the way to peace, the way to true peace.
Because as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
All too often though, we settle for the absence of tension. All too often, in our families, in our churches, we learn that we should not fight; we should not challenge an unjust, unfair situation; we should not openly address difficult situations or difficult behavior.
Because Christians are nice. Christians are kind and loving. Christians do not challenge bullies or the status quo. Christians do not attend rallies or speak out against gun violence, pollution, neglect of the poor, or prejudice and discrimination in all of its forms.
All too often, this is the message we are taught in our families, in our churches.
And it begs the question – who are we following? Have we ever met Jesus? Have we ever heard how time and time again, Jesus drew attention to the plight of the poor and the discriminated against? How time and time again, Jesus included the outcast? How time and time again, Jesus spoke up to power and challenged the status quo? To such a degree, that in the end, it cost him his life.
Christians are called to be kind and loving, gentle and patient, and we are also called to “stand against the wiles of the devil.” To struggle against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:11, 12)
Talk of the devil and “cosmic powers of darkness” is not our typical language in the progressive Christian church, however you cannot escape the fact that there is evil in our world. The tragic, horrific acts of the past 477 days, these past five years, these past decades and centuries, cannot be described in any other way than evil.
So what is a Christian to do?
Certainly not join in the evil, which is what we do whenever we ignore it, whenever we deny conflict’s existence, whenever we try to go back to “normal” after we witness bad behavior on a small personal scale or a large national scale.
When we remain quiet in the face of injustice, we are supporting injustice.
When we listen “considerately” as someone bad mouths someone else or an entire race or culture of people, we are participating in the evil, perpetuating the injustice.
When we throw up our hands and say, “What can I do? I’m just one person in the face of these big corporations, this unfair law, this communal culture. I can’t change it.”, we are participating in the evil, perpetuating the injustice.
When we say, “That’s not my problem. I’m not being discriminated against. I’m not being harmed.”, we are participating in the evil, perpetuating the injustice.
Remember that we have been called to be one body, joined together as a holy temple in the Lord, and do not use that as an excuse to tolerate either bullying behavior or systemic injustice.
We are called to proclaim the gospel, the good news of peace, and sometimes that means we need to be ready to fight. We need to be ready to put on the whole armor of God. We need to be ready to fasten the belt of truth around our waists, to put on the breastplate of righteousness, to get whatever shoes will make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace, take with us the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation, and most of all carry with us the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet, sword – you can imagine Paul picturing a Roman solider as he wrote those words. Paul wanted the Ephesians to be prepared for battle with evil. Notice though that all of those items, except the sword, were for defense. Only the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, is a weapon.
We have been called to be new creations in Christ, who is our peace and who through his flesh has made us one, breaking down the dividing wall that is the hostility between us. And in order to bring about that unity and true peace, we have been called to put on the whole armor of God and stand. Stand against evil and injustice. Stand and fight for equality and care of the earth and all of its people.
Many Christians are uncomfortable with the idea of fighting. It isn’t conflict and fighting that are necessarily bad though. Conflict and fighting are a natural part of being human, of being made uniquely, with different points of view, different needs, different wants. In a relationship, in a community, in a society, where people are free to be authentically themselves, there will be differences of opinion and conflict.
It isn’t conflict and fighting that are bad. It’s how we approach conflict and fighting that is either good or bad. As Christians, we need to stand up to injustice and fight for equality, however we need to always fight fairly, fight lovingly, fight peacefully.
Which means refusing to label someone as the other or the enemy, refusing to participate in name-calling, because these things never lead to resolution, only division and hostility.
Physically harming someone else is definitely not fair fighting either nor is emotionally or mentally berating and bullying them until they are threatened into submission. Peace through control and intimidation is not truly peace.
So how do we, as Christians, stand for justice and proclaim the gospel of peace? How do we fight fair, in a way that builds up the body and the community, even as we challenge unhealthy behavior and injustice?
Sometimes, we do it by simply opening our mouths, communicating directly, and saying, “I do not share your beliefs. I do not agree with you.” or even going a step farther to say, “My feelings are hurt – or I felt hurt on behalf of another person.”
Standing for peace and justice might mean writing a statement challenging hate and discrimination, advocating for unity, tolerance, and love, as the religious leaders of Greater Hartford, myself included, tried to have published in the Hartford Courant, before the Courant changed their mind and decided to call the statement a “special interest” ad, which raised their rate from $3,100 to $28,000. By the way, the Courant had seen the statement when they originally quoted the lower price.
Standing for peace and justice might mean taking a knee at a football game to bring awareness to racial discrimination and violence; and standing for peace and justice might also mean getting on both knees and praying in the Spirit at all times, in every situation.
And sometimes, we stand for peace and justice by literally standing. Standing at a peace rally; standing at the state capital; standing in solidarity with the hurting, the oppressed, the discriminated against.
Christians are called to proclaim the good news of true peace. We are called to work for the presence of justice in all lives, in all communities, and sometimes that requires us to fight, to bring awareness to injustice, to walk in the midst of uncomfortable conflict without trying to cover it up or deny its existence.
As Christians, we are called to work for the presence of justice in all lives, in all communities, so stand up, take a knee, get on both knees, just do not give up and lay down. Do whatever will make you ready to proclaim the good news of peace for all and then go out and do it.