- The Rev. Frank St. Amour, III
Sermon - 16 Pentecost
CHURCH ON THE BEACH
A woman was walking along the beach when she saw a bottle on the sand. She rubbed it and a genie appeared. "I may grant you a wish.” he said, “but I am an evil genie and your ex-husband will receive double of whatever you request." “So, wait a minute”, she says. “If I ask for a million dollars, he gets two? And if I ask for a fancy house, he gets two?” “That’s right” says the genie. “Okay” she says, “Scare me half to death.” Revenge lies deep within the human spirit. The desire to get back at someone who wrongs us arises from the belief that "an eye for an eye" is the only way to deal out the kind of justice we think they deserve. But, along comes Jesus and what did he say? "If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too." Whoa. That must have raised a few eyebrows back then. It raises more than a few today. I mean, is Jesus saying that there is no need for laws? Is Jesus giving permission for the perpetrators of crime and violence to go on being criminal and violent? Of course not! Jesus is calling everyone involved in any sort of crime or personal retaliation to stop both activities because both those activities are contrary to the Gospel. But, here’s where it’s not so easy. We might agree that crime and revenge are bad things, but defining what constitutes them can be difficult. Prison chaplains tell me that a number of people who commit crimes don’t consider their actions criminal. As in the case of the person who sells drugs but sees himself as just another entrepreneur in a free-market economy. And, we may deprecate, say, road rage, but the people doing it usually feel completely justified. And yet, even among the disciples, Jesus was able to reach people convinced of their own justifications. There was Matthew the tax-collector, who had made a fortune stealing from his own people, and Simon the Zealot, who had killed men like Matthew. Matthew the traitor as opposed to Simon the righteous avenger or Matthew the innocent businessman and Simon the terrorist. It all depends on your viewpoint. But, at the root of it, Simon and Matthew had each lived the way they had because each, in their own ways, were totally focused on the things of this world. As opposite as they were, the fact is that both men had been totally secular. Matthew had been out for whatever he could get for himself while Simon had been committed to violent revolution. And, what Jesus did was introduce them to God for the first time in their lives. He gave them a new set of values to live by, and a new vision in life, a vision which brings peace; peace of body, peace of mind, peace of spirit. It was a vision and peace which made bitter enemies into colleagues. It was a vision and peace which transformed the way they looked at the world and their place in it. And that is a vision and peace we desperately need in our own time. A story to close. There was a Christian Dutch woman named Corrie ten Boom who, during WW2, helped Jews escape from the Nazis. She was caught and sent to a concentration camp. She survived and after the war spoke and wrote about how her Christian faith had been her strength. But, one day, after speaking at a church in Munich, she was approached by a man she recognized as having been an SS soldier. He thanked her for her witness and extended his hand to shake hers. As she tells the story, she realized that despite her preaching of forgiveness, she could not put it into practice, so she silently prayed ‘Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Please forgive me.’ And, at that moment she says she felt God’s love more intensely than she ever had and, with tears in her eyes, she took the man’s hand. May we live by those values and share that vision, and know that peace and grace.