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Proper 7: 06/25/2017

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Sermon, Proper 7A                                                                       Jeffrey B. MacKnight
25 June 2017                                                                              St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda


Jesus said, I have come, not to bring peace, but a sword. 

When was the last time you hesitated to raise a subject because you knew it could cause conflict?  The other night I was out in the yard, chatting with neighbors, when a young mom expressed her negative views about having her young son vaccinated.  I don’t agree, but I didn’t speak up, because I didn’t think it was my business, and I’m not that well informed.  My kids are way past that! 

But on other issues, I feel I must speak up and speak out.  One of these is health care for all people.  I like to point out that Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan is the first recorded instance of health insurance.  The Samaritan agreed to pay what was needed, for a perfect stranger.  Why?  Because human dignity requires it. 

I know that not everybody agrees with me on this, but at this critical moment in our nation’s political battles over healthcare, I feel compelled to speak.  I believe this is a Gospel imperative, and the U.S. is cruel in the way we allocate healthcare.  For years, St. Dunstan’s has paid copays for medicine people need to live – insulin and syringes, HIV medications. I’m tired of this.  It is beneath dignity for human beings to have to beg for these necessities.  Ours is the only wealthy nation I know that requires human beings to grovel for basic care, for medicine.  Children’s care is on the line in Congress right now too.  How is it that some children – like our well-insured kids – should get great care, and others get little or none?  Where is the justice in that?  This is not a partisan political issue for me.  It is an issue of humanity, of compassion, of justice.  It’s very much a religious issue, because Jesus said so. 

Jesus said, I have come, not to bring peace, but a sword.

Now, I don’t speak lightly of what Jesus said we must do, and I don’t like it when others take liberties in that way.  Jesus preached a unified vision of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. So, we should ask:  what exactly are these Kingdom values that Jesus would not compromise?  Notably, although many religious folks focus on it almost exclusively, sexual morality was not high on Jesus’ list of moral issues.  He spoke little about that, only to affirm that we should keep our marriage vows.  And I’m all for that. 

Jesus was a compassionate person – he reached out when people were suffering.  And he knew that compassion translated into common life, into the Kingdom, is justice.  The more I study the Gospel texts, the more I see that Jesus’ primary concern was justice, particularly for the weakest in society.  Everybody deserved a decent life, a decent share of the earth’s resources.  If sick people didn’t get care, there was no justice.  If the poor were in misery, there was no justice.  If children and orphans and widows were destitute, there was no justice.  If peasants were buried in debt and defrauded of their land through foreclosure (which they were), there was no justice.  If the rich were getting richer, and the poor were getting poorer, there was no justice.  Economic justice is a religious issue…very much so. 

In Jesus’ time, the Roman occupiers took a huge portion of the production of the land and people through taxation – to support the Roman elite, infrastructure, and military.  Maybe Jesus didn’t expect any better from them.  But the Jewish leaders in occupied Palestine were answerable to Yahweh, the God of Israel.  These priests of the Temple claimed devotion to a God who cared for poor people, sick people, weak people – their own people – Jewish people!  Yet they collaborated with the Roman government to ensure their own comfortable lives. 

I’m reading a history of the USSR from Krushchev in the 1950’s up to Putin’s new Russian dictatorship.  One theme that comes through is how the middle and upper management – the “elite” – were rewarded by the system.  There were perks such as cars and chauffeurs, deluxe apartments, dachas in the country, which were provided by the Kremlin – as long as these bureaucrats toed the party line and didn’t question the exploitation of masses.  From first century Palestine to twentieth century Moscow – it seems there is nothing new under the sun. 

No wonder Jesus symbolically upset the Temple courtyard, where a brisk business of buying and selling sacrificial animals was taking place.  (We’ll look at that sacrificial system in more detail next week – watch for Trail Notes in Thursday’s Trailblazer.)  The Temple had become a machine to extract money from the poor and create a very comfortable lifestyle for the priests and bureaucrats.  Surely this was not what God wanted. 

A few weeks ago, I visited England to spend time with a friend Ray. I had a cut on my finger that became infected, so Ray took me to the local NHS walk-in clinic.  I signed in – a foreigner! – and waited about 30 minutes until I was called.  The nurse quickly dealt with my need and sent me on my way, without charging a cent.  Ray is receiving excellent care for his cancer as well, all without worrying about catastrophic medical expenses and possible bankruptcy, on top of the stress of having a serious illness.  How I wish the U.S. had a system like that.  I know it’s not perfect…nothing is.  But it is fair and generous.  It is compassionate.  It is just. 

Jesus said, I have come, not to bring peace, but a sword.  Sometimes, when it’s important, we have to speak up for what we believe is right.  AMEN.  


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