Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
“Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5)
Francis was a man of his age. He was the son of a successful merchant, and established himself as a gallant warrior. He was well educated and sophisticated. He lived in the most cultured part of Europe.
Except that, he came to realize, that if he was to be a follower of Jesus, it meant turning away from all that, and living his life instead according to a different set of values. In place of wealth, a life of poverty. In place of being the warrior, a commitment to peace. Instead of worldly sophistication, a struggle for spiritual simplicity. He decided, in other words, that to live as a Christian is to live according to Jesus’ Beatitudes that we heard in today’s gospel: as a man of peace, integrity and honesty.
Over the last several months, I have in these sermons taken up a number of subjects over which we, also as followers of Jesus, have distinctly different values from those at play in our society. We have talked about the value of truth, and the corrosive effects of lying. We have talked about the brutality of bullying, and the importance of compassion and mercy. We have talked about defending human dignity, and the universality of God’s image planted in all of us in our creation. We have talked about a false sense of entitlement, and of how it short circuits our common responsibility and accountability to one another by making us live at the expense of, rather than on behalf of, other people. We have talked about the cynicism of exclusion, and remembered that it was Jesus who said that in welcoming the stranger, we welcome him.
Taken together, these values add up to nothing less than an alternative vision of what it means to be part of the human community from that which is espoused in the secular realm. We are, in short, in a time not unlike that of Francis, when to be a follower of Jesus means to commit ourselves to living a way of life that is clearly and unambiguously distinct from the mainstream. The issues we face are not the same as Francis, and so the response we make to them will likewise be unique to our own circumstances. But as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us, speaking from yet another time when the Christian church had to become a confessing, or dissenting, community, discipleship is costly. It means discerning and then holding onto one’s core values as given in Jesus Christ, and living according to what they demand.
It is ironic, that in our day the radicalness of what Francis stood for and how he lived tends to get so whitewashed as to be almost unrecognizable. Where in his life Francis identified so intensely with the person of Jesus, and his sacrifice on the cross, as to have received Jesus’ wounds into his own flesh, nowadays we make of Francis nothing much more than a sentimental nature lover—with a particular soft spot for animals. Yet he set out to create through his own example of self-denial and sacrifice a community of brothers and sisters who would live a life so focused on Jesus, so committed to the poor and neglected, so willing to go the extra mile for anyone in need, that the world would have to take notice.
As a parish community, we also have long felt an obligation to live our life together in such a way as to offer an alternative vision of what might be called God’s peaceable kingdom. And even more importantly, we have over time grown in the realization that it takes us all working together to do that. We can’t just individually hold certain convictions that we then try to live out as best we can. We need one another to discern what those convictions are. We need the support and encouragement of fellow travelers. We need the amplifying effect of working together toward common goals.
I am mindful, for instance, of how the care and shelter we provided for our asylum family over the past year, could never have been done by just one of us, or even just a few of us. It took a team to cover all the bases—to shop, to arrange schooling for the children, to navigate the labyrinthine immigration laws, to provide health care, even to do laundry. And it took every one of us, offering spiritual and financial support, to make it all possible. But in the end, we had through our efforts offered to the world a vision of what God’s peaceable kingdom is, and how it is not like so much else that we see and experience happening around us.
Today we begin a series of short reflective readings to prepare us to make our individual commitments to the work of God in this place, following the way of Jesus. We did something similar last year, and I especially appreciate the fact that these are not some store-bought stewardship materials, but honest reflections written by members of this congregation, offering their personal insights as they have been shaped by our life together. They are, in a word, honest and forthright—and they bear witness to what Francis himself said about the power of our life together as it extends into our community:
Start by doing what's necessary (he said);
then do what's possible;
and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
How true we have found that to be! So I invite you to pick up the green folder in the pew rack in front of you, and to take a few moments to read and reflect upon today’s offering, entitled, “Inside and Out,” and to answer the question on the slip of paper, “What blessings do I receive at St. Michael’s?” May the Lord add a blessing, to the reading of these words. Amen.