As we still reel from the recent tragedy at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the team here at KAE Writes felt that it was important to share a sermon I had delivered last year, on June 24, 2014 at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Roswell, Georgia. We hope that by sharing these thoughts here, we will help extend the important conversations we’re having as a nation to the forums of the KAE Writes community.
Matthew 10: 24-39
A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
_______________________Photos published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 16, 2014
Addie Mae Collins;
Four portraits created in stained glass windows.
Addie Mae, Cynthia and Carole were 14 years old. Denise was 11 when a bomb planted by white terrorists exploded in Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in September, 1963, killing all four girls.
As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution put it in an article a few days ago, this tragedy “shattered a community and woke up a nation.”
“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Tomorrow, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights opens in Atlanta telling the story of the civil rights movement in this country – from Atlanta’s viewpoint – and more recent human rights activism inspired by the work here in the 1960s and beyond.
A major focus of the museum is the four stained glass windows depicting the four girls who were killed in the explosion of their church.
How strange it is to hear Jesus say that he has come not to bring peace, but a sword. When all through the scriptures, we read and hear about the Prince of Peace, we hear Jesus telling us that he leaves his peace with us, his last gift, and blessed are the peacemakers.
The good news is that we don’t have to worry that Jesus is suddenly calling us to use weapons against each other, to fight physical battles, to lay siege on each other.
We know that we are to love God, to love each other, to love ourselves.
But we also know that our love for God has to come first.
As it has always been:
“ I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before[a] me.”
And we know that our love for God has to come first – before our love for our families, our homes, our work, our schools, our relationships – everything because the love which God commands us to have for each other and ourselves flows from our love for God and from the love God has for us.
So our love for God comes before everything. And that includes before our complacency, our satisfaction with an unhealthy or immoral status quo, our failure to dream beyond what is.
Beloved hymn #661:
“They cast their nets in Galilee just off the hills of brown; such happy, simple fisher folk, before the Lord came down.”
“Such happy, simple fisher folk, before the Lord came down.”
“Before the Lord came down.”
Sometimes we know what it is like, don’t we, to be happy, peaceful, content, before the Lord comes down and troubles the water, stirs the waters, plants restlessness in our souls.
“Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful, and broke them too.”
I was just fine living in my house in Alexandria, VA. My sons and I had lived there for some time, and I was beginning to think about how I could make some changes in it in case I needed my bedroom on the main floor at some point. I saw myself living out my life right where I was.
And then the Lord came down and stirred the waters, and it was as clear as anything has ever been to me that I was to move back to Georgia. My mother had died – my father had died a few years earlier – my children were up and gone – and the family I had left was still in my hometown of Gainesville, GA.
I did pray about it, and I did ask my brother and his family what they thought about the idea of my coming back here, but in the end, the pull to move back was simply irresistible. It was as if I were in labor and nothing could stop it. I’ve long said that if the movers had called the day they were supposed to come and announced that they couldn’t make it until the next day, I would have said, “Fine. Here are the keys. I’ll see you in Marietta.”
Since I have moved to Georgia, God has blessed me with friends, God has blessed the servant-leader center where I work, God has blessed me with one son living in Atlanta and the other one an easy plane ride away in New York. And God has blessed me with you.
God took the waters of my contentment, my peace, my limited ideas about the future and troubled them, stirred them, and then blessed me beyond my imaginings.
And in the case of the civil rights movement in this country, God stirred the waters, troubled the waters, and called greats like Martin Luther King, Jr., and others to disturb the peace, not with violence, but with words and actions. And even though many would agree that we have much to do to ensure that all people’s civil rights are acknowledged, respected and protected, we unarguably have come a long way.
And so we begin to understand that when we become inert, complacent, satisfied, we can depend on God to reach out and stir the waters, trouble the waters, plant restlessness in our souls. We can count on God to spur us to work toward a greater good to help make real God’s vision for how things can be, how things should be, how things must be.
And, even though we might not like having our peace disturbed, even though we might resist it, we can count on God to bring us through the troubled waters to that place brimming with God’s peace. Broader, deeper, stronger, more compelling than any peace we can come to on our own.
“Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, homeless in Patmos died, Peter, who hauled the teeming net, head-down was crucified. The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod, Yet let us pray for but one thing – the marvelous peace of God.”
Other stained glass windows stand in the Union Church, in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. Sleepy Hollow was, of course, where the author Washington Irving lived and wrote. The windows illuminating this small church in Sleepy Hollow were created by the artists Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall.
Chagall’s nine windows depict Jesus, various prophets, cherubim, the Good Samaritan, in broad outlines, bold strokes, dark colors.
Power emanates from the figures, and they shimmer with life. They challenge us to go beyond the meek, the passive, the easy peace and transport us to that place where we will encounter true peace, the marvelous peace of God.
And God is stirring the waters at St. David’s, too – with the healing ministry, spiritual renewal in Cursillo, the capital campaign, baptisms, confirmations.
God shakes us out of our contentment, our complacency, and spurs us on to that place of greater good, greater joy, greater peace.
And as we join hands and allow God to stir our waters, to trouble our waters, the stained glass windows that surround us and all stained glass windows beyond will throb;
They will pulsate;
They will rumble;
With the marvelous peace of God.