7th Sunday after Epiphany, Year C
February 19, 2022
A few years ago, the Guardian, a British Newspaper,
ran a story titled, the “10 best revolutionaries.”
Perhaps the paper intended to highlight those in recent history—
as the persons who made the list were mostly
from the 19th and 20th centuries—
listed were Mother Jones, “Che” Guevarra, Rosa Luxemburg, Mahatma Gandhi.
Though a couple of guys from the 1700’s made the list:
Toussaint L’Ouverture, otherwise known as the Haitian Spartacus,
and his contemporary, Maximilien Robespierre,
known as father of the French republic.
The writers of this article didn’t qualify what it took
in their opinion to make the top ten list,
only that it was a list of
“Our favorite boat-rockers, agitators, and subverters of the status quo.”
Top ten lists have to cut off somewhere, I suppose.
but I wonder how they skipped over
Voltaire (1700)—Great Christian and Political thinker Freedom of speech, etc. Martin Luther (1500),-changed course of Christian church
Socrates 400-300BCE, Confucius 551BCE.
We Americans often hear revolutionary and think about
American revolutionary War heroes.
We might name our favorites—George Washington, Paul Reverre, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison.
But this list too leaves out many important heroes
Like African American Revolutionary
runaway enslaved man of African and native American descent,
Attacks worked as a sailor and a rope maker in Boston.
Of the five colonists killed, he was said to be the first to fall in the Boston massacre—making him the first martyr to the American cause.
He was taken down by two musket balls to the chest.
Enslaved African American man who purchased his freedom
(somewhere around $2000 in today’s money)
after which 14 of his fellow white soldiers formally recognized his excellent battle skills with a petition to the General Court of Massachusetts.
In it, they called him out as a “brave and gallant soldier.”
Phillis Wheatley who was Captured as a child in West Africa,
She was taken to North America and sold to Boston family.
As a slave she learned to read and write,
and this is how she waged her war for revolutionary freedom—
with her words and her knowledge of the Greek classics and Biblical theology. Wheatley became the first African American
and third woman in this country to publish a book of poetry.
We could go on about how many are left off the Guardian’s revolutionary list—
But since this is a sermon, I’m sure you have guessed where this is going.
There is one obvious favorite left off this list.
Jesus, too, was a revolutionary.
He followed another revolutionary, John, called the Baptist.
When the government threatens you, locks you up, and kills you,
that is a clue to your revolutionary status.
Jesus was a revolutionary. He threatened the powers that be.
Jesus, by his words and deeds amassed a following
threatening those in power.
The local authorities survived by appeasing Rome,
keeping down any revolutionaries lest soldiers come rolling in
to do away with Jerusalem once and for all.
Jesus was that revolutionary.
His great following shows us how the people yearned for truth,
for relief from their oppressors.
Jesus’ teaching stirred the pot, particularly his Sermon on the Plain:
Last week we heard the beginning of this sermon…
Blessed are you who are poor. Blessed are you who weep.
Woe to you who are rich. Woe to you who are full, for you will be hungry.
Make no mistake, this is stuff of revolution!
But just as the people are rallied, just as they are ready for action,
this radical Jesus turns the tables on them.
Jesus says, I say to all you now, “Love your enemies,
Do Good to those who hate you, Bless those who curse you,
Pray for those who mistreat you.”
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;
and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Luke doesn’t tell us how the people reacted.
Matthew tells us after these very teachings from the Sermon on the Mount—
“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed,
he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
Jesus’ teaching is unexpected.
These people wondered what kind of revolutionary
teaches that LOVE and non-violence
are the way towards truth and freedom?
Jesus not only upset the status quo—
he upsets the way you upset the status quo.
In the last half of the sermon on the plain we heard today,
Jesus goes on a roll, listing how to live a grace filled life.
In it, he gives what we now call the Golden Rule.
“Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods,
do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
We are good as boiling down teachings to one pithy saying—easier to remember.
But we cannot do this to all Jesus offer his followers.
Miss so much. Even get it wrong.
Some even boil down the GR to Be fair.
“Actually” as my three year old granddaughter is fond of saying.
“Actually, Gigi, it goes dis way.”
Actually, Jesus GR is NOT saying “be fair.”
The love Jesus has in mind is anything but “fair.”
Jesus makes a point to criticize this kind of reciprocity (even sinners do that!). Jesus says that true love goes above-and-beyond a fair trade.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?
We translate the Greek as credit,
but the word Jesus says is grace, Charis
three times he asks, “what GRACE is there in that for you?”
“For even sinners love those who love them.
If you do good to those who do good to you, where is the grace in that?
For even sinners do the same.
If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, where is the grace in that? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But I say, love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.
The question Jesus asks his followers, rings in my head
What grace is there in that for you?
This question revolutionizes our thinking—
we come closer to understanding our God
who gives and gives and gives because of Love.…he goes on to say
”For God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked,”
so “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
As a teen, my youth Group in EYC once discussed a question that to this day
I still remember: would you wish God to be fair or merciful?
I hate to admit it, but in my self-conceit,
I was leaning in the direction of fairness.
Then a kid next to me said duh, merciful—all the good biblical heroes are. Joseph—could have pummeled his brothers who betrayed him.
Ruth—could have left her widowed mother-in-law, but instead traveled with her to foreign land.
Even when they’re not quite up to God’s merciful standard, like David—
they are confronted with a friend who helps them repent and cry out for God’s mercy—and God gives it to them.
That kid was right—
His ideas led us to sing even more loudly
“I’ve been redeemed.” filled with the holy ghost I am.
You can talk about me. I’ll talk about you down on my knees.
I don’t know how I’d compile a top ten list of revolutionaries
but I know what they’d have in common
their hearts would rise up out of love for others…
God’s love is far, far more than fair, it is freeing.
This is the message of the revolutionary named Jesus,
calling us to put grace into action in our everyday lives—
calling us to work on behalf of the liberation of the poor,
the hungry, the oppressed, those without homes, those who hate you,
those in trouble…
God’s love frees us from judgement, frees us to love through the mercy of God.
Thanks be to God.