Proper 10, Yr B - Christ Church Cathedral
Most of you are aware that we’ve just finished our once-every-three-years General Convention in Indianapolis. It’s a gathering of thousands of Episcopalians, as well as Anglican, ecumenical, and interfaith guests, and an amazing assortment of “merchants in the Temple.” Many people just come to watch for a few hours or days (and many more watch online), as nearly 200 bishops, almost 900 lay and clergy deputies from each of the 112 dioceses and regions of the church, and an official youth presence, try to make sense of what God is calling this Church to be and do in the coming years. The whole thing receives hospitality from the local diocese and herds of volunteers.
We did some unusual things this time, but you won’t hear about most of them on the news. The media are more interested in hot button issues. Few reporters will have seen the most remarkable aspects of this gathering. We saw a glimpse of what’s imaged in today’s psalm:
Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
If you look carefully at that psalm, you’ll see that God continues to challenge his people with peace, and those who turn their hearts toward God do begin to find it. God’s peace looks like mercy, truth, right relationship – and that kind of peace is what that word salvation most truly means.
That search for godly peace in the lives of human beings is the story Amos is telling – and sticking to – and it’s what the gospel we heard is about as well. That search is what keeps most of us coming back to communities like this one, week in and week out. The world around us is filled with hunger and yearning for that peace – and many people don’t know where to find it.
Amos is challenging Jeroboam for setting up a competing religious establishment, under his own control, and for dividing the peoples of the Promised Land in the process. The plumb line image is meant to tell the king that he’s building a crooked house – and it will only end in violence and death.
That familiar story of the execution of John the Baptist looks to most of us like vengeance and gratuitous violence. Herod has married his brother’s widow, and been criticized for it by John. It’s an interesting issue, because there are some biblical passages which indicate that brothers were supposed to marry their dead brother’s widow and produce children to carry on their brother’s name. Jesus acknowledges that reality when he’s asked about which brother can claim the passed-on wife after they’re all dead. That practice still goes on today in some parts of the world, and at Lambeth in 2008, some of the bishops’ wives from Kenya told us about their church’s experience with it. We’re not the only ones who have to deal with competing and contradictory understandings of the Bible!
Jesus’ followers and those of John the Baptist had a vigorous struggle in the years after the crucifixion about who was going to lead this reforming movement. Yet the way the story is told shows evidence of peace made. John wasn’t raised from the dead; Jesus was. Yet John is also clearly seen as the one who prepared the way for Jesus, who taught and baptized him into this renewal movement. They are both understood as prophets; there is a mutuality in the way they are remembered. Like Jacob and Esau, John and Jesus have contended, but their followers have made peace. Mercy and truth have met together.
The news isn’t quite so hopeful for Jeroboam. After the glory days under David and Solomon, his leadership was responsible for cutting the kingdom in two – Israel and 10 tribes in the north and two tribes in the southern kingdom of Judah. It will be a very long time before there is any substantive peace in that land. Amos tells the truth in order to promote some righteousness and peace. It raises the conflict level, but there won’t be any peace without truth and right relationship.
This convention just past was an exercise in truth-telling – acknowledging changing realities across TEC, shrinking numbers in Anglo congregations and the growth among US immigrants and overseas dioceses, and the hunger among new generations for some of what this church offers. We have also begun to speak some prophetic truth about the eternal desire of many people to keep things just the way they are.
The peace produced in Indianapolis emerged from the willingness of many to find new ways, far less characterized by division and opposition. Committees were often confronted by two solutions at the beginning of their work, solutions coming from different ends of our famously diverse spectrum of opinion and practice about all sorts of things. More often than not, those groups found another way, one that brought a fresh and creative way forward, but also the support of a broad group of people representing most parts of the spectrum. That is actually the best of “politics.” The convention did creative work like that around the same-sex blessing rites, around positions on peace in the Holy Land, around the budget and structural reform, and about the Anglican Covenant. The body gathered listened to the movement of the Spirit, and partnered to produce a creative possibility that will end in serving the greater good.
What does it require to let righteousness and peace kiss each other? The righteousness fanatics have to develop a love for peace, and the peaceniks have to get a sense that righteousness has something important to offer as well. It’s pretty hard to do either if you’re slinging arrows at each other.
This nation is embroiled in a political storm right now that’s filled with divine thunderbolts. You know how they go: “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” The other end of the spectrum uses labels like homophobe or fundamentalist or cretin. [Cretin is actually a remarkable example – it comes from the French word for “Christian.” It is a reminder, buried in the midst of what is meant to be a curse, that we all bear the image of God.] Both poles forget that their own families wouldn’t tolerate that kind of talk, and that those very families will only find peace if we have social policies that support families and the children within them, even if a particular family doesn’t look like your own. We have a larger goal that’s about our common good as a society, a goal that needs us to move beyond narrow and hardened positions at any place on the spectrum. Finding a creative opening to let righteousness and peace kiss each other requires a certain willingness to be vulnerable – to see the image of God in our political opponent, and to affirm the possibility that God’s creative spirit might be doing something positive in the person we want to call “enemy.”
That kind of humility is in short supply in political circles these days, but it is essential to a healed and holy community – that image that we claim as the kingdom of God, the one we pray for every time we say, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” We can change the conversation and the verbal violence around us – it starts with us and the words we speak and incarnate in bodies like this one.
We say that Jesus is the Word made flesh, and as we eat that Word at this table, it begins to transform us. Our words can reflect that divine transformation. With God’s help we can be truth springing up from the earth. We can be righteous peacemakers, bringers of mercy and truth, lovers of humankind and all God’s creation. Then indeed, as the psalmist says, God’s glory will dwell in this land.
 Matthew 22:24; Mark 12:19; Luke 20:28