This is not a good morning to preach Jesus.
There are about 2.2 million COVID-19
cases in the US,
with about 120,000 death so far.
We’re expecting that to get a lot worse
because June is busting out all over
when it comes to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, in the midst of suffering
through the loneliness of social isolation,
the blinders of our white privilege
were ripped off, pulling our eyelids with them.
For many of us,
we have been hanging out in our homes
doing okay, more or less,
while 40 million people lost their jobs
and the realities of unequal treatment
under the law
brought us face to face
with the reality that apparently
black lives have not mattered.
Not to put too fine a point on our predicament,
the streets filled
with thousands and thousands of people –
millions when counted all together –
who are half our age and younger.
It has become clear
for anyone with eyes to see
that there is a movement afoot
to do away with our white privilege
and generational power,
and so the muscling aside of us Boomers
and what’s left of our older generations,
has begun in earnest.
We can see with our own eyes
a far more multi-racial, multi-ethnic generation
is making its will known
at the same moment we quiver at home
in hiding from the COVID-19 virus
that has put a target on our backs.
That is not an unfair description
of our current moment is it?
At least not for those of us who are white,
older than sixty,
and own our own homes.
So with that as a backdrop,
I am supposed to preach Jesus?
That’s like trying to sell copies
of the Communist Manifesto
on the deck of the Titanic.
I mean here we are
finally blessed with summer weather
we can enjoy,
and the beauty of the natural world
all around us,
and we have Jeremiah and Matthew
hanging off our lips
like a string of pizza cheese
no one wants to bring to our attention.
Preaching Jesus is like that first moment
at the end of a terrific lightening storm
when the air smells clean,
but you’re not sure if it is safe to go outside
to see if everything is still intact.
I am not so sure that now
is the moment to be talking about
daughters tearing their mothers
from limb to limb,
and sons ganging up on their father’s,
and all manner of violence
that Jesus says is coming our way
because of him.
If the people I was preaching to
were mostly 20, 30, and 40 year old
who had been keeping the streets busy,
then this hard-act Jesus
would fit right in
and I could let loose and holler.
If most the people I was preaching to
were black, brown, or “other,”
then Jesus – being a black or brown man
put to death by state power –
could preach all on his own.
But the two prophets talking to us today
are not really the company we want to have
in a pandemic
when social change
is in the forecast.
Don’t get me wrong,
the Jeremiah and Jesus we heard today
are the reason I am a priest.
They speak the truth as I understand it
and they have been rattling my privilege
for as long as I can remember.
But these days,
being older when the world is growing younger,
and being relatively well off
when the economy is in a free-fall,
I am feeling my inner-Nicodemus
and hearing whispers of old
British colonial ancestors
I’ve been stuffing in the closet years.
I look at those readings today
and heave a sigh, a really big sigh.
It is not that I have many sacred cows left
but any that are still in there,
Jesus is riding rodeo on.
The first thing Jesus attacks
is Family Values.
He goes right for the jugular
of first century Judean society
that was organized around
a rigidly stratified family structure:
Men at the top – Grandfather, Father, Son;
Women next – Grandmother, Mother, Daughter;
and Children at the bottom – oldest to youngest.
It was a system that gave stability to life
and provided for economic transition
from one generation to the next,
and kept everything and everyone
in place – whether rich or poor.
But it also enshrined abuses
with godly authority.
Men could harm women with impunity
and adults could abuse children
and authority could not be questioned,
all of which shackled change and transformation
to “the way it has always been done.”
Jesus attacked it,
raised irrelevant questions about it,
and told anyone who would listen
that he had come to crack it open.
That must have been a popular stand,
don’t you think?
Imagine running for office on a platform
of anti-family values?
What Jesus says, basically, is:
“Look, those who love their parents
more than me –
in fact, those who love their children
more than me – have it all wrong.”
Those who find their life will lose it
and those who lose their life will find it.
What he is saying is that
anything short of placing our primary focus
and our core fidelity
in something other than God,
is an act of self-centeredness –
or self-orbit as I prefer to call it.
And self-orbit ultimately lead us away
from a higher, better power.
Considering how much we love our children
and how many other loyalties
we put between ourselves
and that thing we call God,
Jesus’ rhetoric is a bit bruising.
So, I just want to apologize
for this rough stuff
at the very moment we want some TLC.
For us old white people right now,
we might prefer some Mary Oliver, Bach,
and ice cream
to Jesus and Jeremiah.
But that is not what we have
and while people with privilege
have plenty of issues all their own,
it is no time to whine about them.
Let’s listen to Jesus
and lift our eyes to the horizon –
that is, away from our own self-orbit –
and get on with it.
First of all, Jesus was not brandishing a sword.
He happened to be quoting the prophet Micah.
Why the lectionary committee didn’t
pair Micah with Jesus today,
I cannot understand.
Listen to Micah 7:6:
“Put no trust in a friend,
have no confidence in a loved one;
guard the doors of your mouth from her
who lies in your embrace;
for the son treats the father with contempt,
the daughter rises up against her mother,
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
your enemies are members of your own household.
But as for me,
I will look to the Lord,
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
my God will hear me”.
Micah lived seven hundred years before Jesus
and Jesus was clearly referencing him.
In another two chapters
Jesus is going to bring this home
in very personal terms.
When told his brothers and sisters and mother
had arrived to try to take him away –
because they too think he possessed
and a tool of Beelzebub –
Jesus says, “who is my mother and brothers and sisters?”
And then he answers his own question
by saying that his true family
are those committed to the same mission
as he is committed to.
There are any number of ways we can hear
this text from Jesus (and Micah, and frankly,
the whole prophetic tradition
lining up like mile markers over the millennium).
But here is how I hear it right now,
in this moment, our moment, right now.
Jesus is a gauntlet.
To those of us who have been privileged
because of our income,
because of our education and social milieu,
because of our race,
because of our ethnicity,
because of our gender,
because of our sexuality,
and yes, because of our nationality,
we need to be clear about our place
and our commitment
in the mission for a kingdom-on-earth
as it is in heaven.
We need to be steadfast allies –
with those who have been marginalized
while we have been privileged.
That does not mean
we have to give away all that we have
and reject our own community and history,
but it does mean
giving away what keeps us privileged
and others less empowered.
It does mean
recognizing our privilege;
and it does mean
doing some homework to understand
how the various forms of our privilege
have marginalized others.
It does mean
it does mean
getting out of our self-orbit;
it does mean
understanding that the basic loyalty to family
is to the human family.
It does mean
our allegiance to the human family
and our commitment to greater equity
for those who have been disempowered,
may become a source of separation
from our own families of origin.
“Who is my family?” Jesus asks.
It is those who are with him on his mission
to create the kingdom-of-God-on-earth
as it is in heaven.
Is there any imaginable way
that God’s kingdom on earth
has people with as much privilege
as many of us have
while at the same time
having so much brutality and inequality
for so many others?
Is there any way God’s kingdom looks like that?
There is no way, Jesus declares,
to be a partisan of the kingdom of God
and remain ignorant,
or in denial,
or belligerent to the reality of racism
and privilege and marginalization.
That is the gauntlet Jesus laid down.
The entire prophet’s Hall of Fame
across time and history and geography.
It does not matter
that I would rather crawl into bed this morning
and shut out the whole COVID-19,
and Black Lives Matter world.
Jesus has laid the gauntlet down
and as has always been true,
we have to choose whether to run it or not.
Is Jesus my family or someone else?
Is he yours?