Project Description

20C Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10 / Hebrews 12:1-4 / Luke 12:49-53
It was on the evening of April 4th, 1968—
in Indianapolis.

The times were turbulent:

Assassination of President John F. Kennedy—
The Vietnam War—
Kent State—
The civil rights movement—
The sexual revolution.

And Robert Kennedy was giving a speech.

He was campaigning for president
and Dr. Martin Luther King had been
assassinated earlier that day.

Now at this precarious moment
Robert Kennedy could have
said a lot of things in his campaign speech—
many African Americans present.

He could have riled up the
people more than they already were.

He could have been self-serving—
saying things to get more votes.

But he didn’t.

Here is—
in part—
what Robert Kennedy spoke in
this crucial moment:

I have bad news for you . . .
and [for] people who love peace all over the world,
and that is that Martin Luther King was
shot and killed tonight. . . .

In this difficult day,
in this difficult time for the United States,
it is perhaps well to ask what
kind of a nation we are and
what direction we want to move in.

For those of you who are black—
considering the evidence . . .
that there were
white people who were responsible—

you can be filled with bitterness,
with hatred,
and a desire for revenge.

We can move in that direction as a country,
in great polarization . . .
filled with hatred toward one another.

Or we can make an effort,
as Martin Luther King did,
to understand
and to comprehend,
and to replace
that violence,
that stain of bloodshed
that has spread across our land,
with an effort to understand
with compassion and love. . . .

What we need in the United States is not division;
what we need in the United States is not hatred;
what we need in the United States is
not violence or lawlessness;

but love
and wisdom,
and compassion toward one another,

and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer
within our country. . .

So I shall ask you tonight to return home,
to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King,
that’s true,

but more importantly to say a prayer for
our own country,
which all of us love—
a prayer for understanding and
that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country.
We will have difficult times . . . .

But the vast majority of . . . people. . .
in this country want to live together,
want to improve the quality of our life,
and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the
Greeks wrote so many years ago:
to tame the savageness of man and
make gentle the life of this world.

Let us dedicate ourselves to that,
and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

What a great response in such a critical time.

I got a call from an acquaintance after
the recent mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso.

It can so easily slip from our consciousness—
can’t it

He said,
“Steve, what do you say to a congregation
after something like this?”

I was honest in my reply.

“I don’t know what to say any more.”

“I feel so helpless and overwhelmed.”

“There’s so much violence and turmoil
and hatred and division and woundedness.”

“I just want to go to some cave and be a hermit.”

Well, later in the day,
my friend sent me this speech
from Robert Kennedy.
And immediately—
immediately I recognized that Kennedy’s
speech was the product of grace.

It was God’s grace trying to breakthrough
a fallen human nature.

It was God’s grace trying to break through all the
violence and hatred and division and woundedness.

God is always trying to do that—
always—
trying to break through with grace.

And I thought of today’s Gospel:

Jesus says:
“Do you think I have come to
establish peace on earth?”

“No, I tell you, but rather division.”

How right Jesus was.

Of course, Jesus will be a cause of division.

In a Darwinian world—
In an eye for eye and
a tooth for a tooth world. . .

When Jesus preaches non-violence—
to love our enemies—
and not destroy them.

When Jesus preaches that every human
being has infinite dignity—
and that we—
his followers—
are to be less concerned about ourselves—
to be self-sacrificial for others—

and help make sure that dignity is realized—
to feed the hungry—
and help free the oppressed.

When Jesus preaches to take what we
have earned and accumulated and
give to the less fortunate.

When Jesus preaches these things in
an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth world—

there’s going to be even more division—
because that’s not how a fallen human nature
generally thinks or acts.

It will cause division within ourselves—
and those around us—
who want to respond in other ways.

I can still remember one of my friends saying:

“You can believe that love your enemies
and turn the other cheek stuff.”

Jesus—
through grace—
is always trying to breakthrough
a fallen human nature.

The key—the key—
is from a line from today’s
second reading from Hebrews.

“Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.”

“Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

So, I’m not helpless. . . .
We’re not helpless.

Overwhelmed, maybe—but not helpless.

We keep our fixed on Jesus in our response—
and let the grace breakthrough—
so we can then be an instrument of grace ourselves.
So here’s what I’m going to do.

I’m going to pray and I’m going to fast.

Yes, we have to do more than just
pray about the violence and hatred and
woundedness in our society.

But Jesus says that some issues just won’t
be resolved without prayer and fasting!!!

Pick a day of the week to fast—

And pray that grace will breakthrough to
just one person who is wounded and
has hatred and violence in their heart.

Two, let our Christian voices of non-violence be heard.

Fully participate in the political process.

But keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as we do.

We’re not out to destroy our enemy.

Because in the end—
an eye for eye attitude just won’t do it —
it’ll make it worse.

Have a tough mind—
but a tender heart!!!

And three—
and this was a hard one for me to admit.

Disavow any form of violence in myself.

One of my favorite Catholic authors
is Fr. Michael Casey a Trappist from Australia.

When preaching about violence—
he asks us to examine if violence may
be a part of our lives.

And it usually isn’t physical violence.
It’s the things we do to get our own way.

It’s the mental or emotional blackmail.

It our passive aggressive behavior—
It’s that tone in our voice—
Or that look—
Or that shunning—
Or the slamming of the door—
Or the withdrawal of support.
Or verbal assault on someone behind their back.

Violence, Casey reminds us—
has many forms—
and we can be violent without ever throwing a punch—
or pulling a trigger.

So we are not helpless.

Keep our eyes focused on Christ
And let grace break through nature.

Pray and fast.

Let our non-violent Christian voices be heard—
participate in the political process

And disavow any form of violence in our own lives.

Because:

What we need in the United States is not division;
what we need in the United States is not hatred;
what we need in the United States is
not violence or lawlessness;

but love and wisdom,
and compassion toward one another,
and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer
within our country,

Holy Spirit 08/17-18/2019