The Why and How of Jesus’ Revolution of Values
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
June 21, 2020 Third Sunday after Pentecost
[You can watch a video recording of this sermon at the end of this text and you can see the entire On Line Service by clicking here.]
A young, erudite preacher came to town fresh out of seminary. He was the son of a prominent pastor in a nearby major city and he had all the ingredients to follow in his father’s footsteps. He could look forward to a life of comfort, stability and respect.
The last thing he was looking for was to be swept up in a revolution, let alone to be named its leader. That was exactly the opposite of his chosen path, so when the other pastors requested that he be the spokesman for the Montgomery bus boycott, the Rev. Dr. King was not happy. Like Moses, he asked God, “Why me?” And, “How could I possibly do this?”
That scenario was played out in thousands of variations in the Civil Rights Movement.
“I’m an uneducated house cleaner for a white family that could fire me, I have two little children, why do I have to fight for my people’s rights and how can I do it?”
“I’m a school teacher on the south side of Chicago, why do I have to go to Mississippi and risk my life registering my people to vote, and how can I do it?”
“I’m a white Unitarian minister from Boston, why do I have to go to Selma, and how can I help?”
We can imagine that Jesus’ disciples felt the same way.
“I’m just a woman who came to him to be healed.”
“I’m just a fisherman who followed to hear him talk. Why do I have to go out and risk my life, and how can a fisherman catch hearts and minds?”
Jesus said, “Beware…, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings…. and you will be hated by all… I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…. and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
Why is Jesus asking us to come into conflict with our society? Why is he asking us to risk our lives, to use all our resources, to stretch ourselves beyond our comfort, to challenge ourselves beyond our former abilities?
Here is why: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
The heart and mind of Christ in us looks with compassion at the millions suffering from social, economic and environmental injustice, we look at the crowds of species going extinct, we hear the crowds in the streets calling for an end to racism and inequity and we hear millions of children begging us to save their future from climate catastrophe.
Compassion is our why. Love is our why. The need of the Holy Spirit to have someone to work through is our why. We were born to do this, is why. We thought maybe that we were born to be respectable preachers or house cleaners or school teachers or fisher-folk, we thought maybe that the why of life was to be comfortable and prosperous, but we were born to serve the Spirit of love that brought the earth and all creatures into being, we were born to evolve our consciousness and help life on earth evolve to become the realm of God.
We are called by compassion and love and the Spirit of Christ to respond to this time that is one of the turning points in all human history and the history of the earth.
J.R.R. Tolkien lived through two world wars and the economic and environmental deterioration of the rural England he loved. He wrote the epic Lord of the Rings out of that context about a simple, quiet country person who ends up on a heroic quest to defeat the evil that is destroying the world. The young man, Frodo, says to Gandalf, the old, wise leader of his movement, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
And Gandalf replies, “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
If we decide that we will use the time given to us to serve the cause of compassion and love, how can we do it, we who are old and tired, we who have young children, we who are shy, we who have never done anything like this before?
Jesus answers some of the how questions in today’s scripture passage.
The first and most essential way to do our work is, of course, to pray. Prayer opens us to the Spirit that Jesus says will speak through us, so action for the realm of God needs to be grounded in some form of contemplative prayer, even simply crying out to the Spirit for help and waiting for it to come. It will show us how.
Another part of the how is to go where people or the earth are hurting and help them heal and find new life. We will each do that differently depending on our gifts and callings and the extent of our reach.
Another part of the how is to proclaim the good news. We are called to help more people see the vision of a better way that we can live, inspiring them to change our society to be the realm of God’s love, compassion and justice on earth.
Another crucial how that Jesus shares is that we should not expect complete success. We will meet with opposition even among those in our home and community.
He tells us not to expend energy on those who are not ready to hear what we have to say. Instead we can work with those who are receptive and together create a model of loving community and a movement to save our society and life on earth.
Jesus ends today’s passage promising that this work will be rewarding—even acts as small as offering a cup of cold water to a child in need. We are called to be part of the movement in whatever way we can, and our reward will be that we will dwell in God’s realm as we build it.
We know the what and why and how of the revolution of values we need, and it is growing and we are so close! We can establish it now if we give our all and work together.
So let us go and touch the hearts and minds around us with whatever words or actions the Spirit gives us in this time of greatest need.
Let us pray…
There I am with Frodo. Why did I have to live so long to see the chaos as we move toward change I tried to encourage when I could still see, hear, and move about. Nevertheless, I am glad to see that the necessary change is on its way, which I can at least cheer others to help bring about.
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