*You can watch a preached version of this sermon on YouTube.
March 28, 2021
One of my friends is pastor of Atlanta Mennonite Fellowship. Atlanta. Where, on March 16, a man shot and killed eight people at three different businesses. Six of the eight victims were Asian-American.
I am also friends with the pastor of Boulder Mennonite. Boulder. Where, on March 22, a man shot and killed ten people at a grocery store—a store just across the intersection from the Mennonite church
It is, indeed, a time to weep over our cities. Because we do not know the things that make for peace.
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem—because they, also, do not know the things that make for peace.
I wonder if Jesus’ weeping was connected to the encounter he had just had with the Pharisees—and their particular inability to understand the things that make for peace.
The Pharisees seem to think peace will come through cooperating with Rome; through laying low, staying out of the way, trying not to cause problems for the people in power. As the crowd is shouting “Blessed is the king” and making a big scene with their coats—but no branches here in Luke—the Pharisees get worried about what the Roman authorities will think. They worry that such a big scene—a scene that involves people declaring someone who is not Caesar king!—could cause the Romans to react violently. And they’re not wrong. The Roman authorities ultimately do respond with violence toward Jesus.
But Jesus’ version of peace does not seem to involve staying quiet and going unnoticed. As Mennonites we like to talk about how Jesus was calm and silent—peaceful—during his trial and crucifixion. That’s true; and his refusal to respond with violence is notable. But if Jesus had been calm and silent throughout his ministry—if he had followed the Pharisee’s advice to make his followers be quiet, if he had not come into Jerusalem and started turning over tables in the Temple—there would likely have been no crucifixion to start with.
This procession toward Jerusalem is anything but calm and silent. It’s loud. People are singing and dancing and throwing their coats on the road. My friend Carol Wise said it reminds her of a Pride parade—fun and campy and definitely not under the radar.
The Pharisees tell Jesus to make his followers be quiet and Jesus responds: “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.” . . . So that would be a “no.”
Silence, at least in this situation, is not a faithful response to the presence of God in our midst. Silence is not a thing that makes for peace. Not true peace.
I’ve been thinking about these Pharisees a lot this week as I process the resistance among Mennonite church leaders to two justice-oriented resolutions that were presented at a recent Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) meeting. The CLC is a group made up of conference ministers, moderators, and other representatives from across the country. And they were asked to evaluate four different proposed resolutions.
They recommended that two of them—a resolution for churches to provide better accessibility for people with disabilities and a resolution proposed by the Executive Board to retire the denomination’s membership guidelines—be taken to the delegate body for a vote. The other two—For Repentance and Transformation and For Justice in the US Criminal Legal System—were not recommended.
It is interesting to note that the For Repentance and the Executive Board resolutions both have the same practical outcome: doing away with the Membership Guidelines that discriminate against lgbtq people in the church. The Executive Board resolution lays out the structural, practical reasons that we should do away with the guidelines—primarily that plenty of churches already don’t follow them which makes their existence confusing and unhelpful. The Repentance resolution, on the other hand (which I co-wrote and Peace signed onto) lays out theological reasons for getting rid of the guidelines—primarily that they are harmful to lgbtq people and the church.
In looking at the report from the meeting, I also noted that for the Justice resolution, there was strong agreement by all CLC participants that this resolution meets all the criteria for an acceptable resolution—it allows us to join God’s activity in the world; it promotes healing and hope. And yet it was not recommended to go before delegates.
Ultimately, it seems that these two resolutions were deemed too controversial. Many people in leadership do not want them to go to the delegates because they know that some delegates will disagree with them. Even be upset by them. How dare the church suggest that our church teaching about sexuality has hurt people! How dare the church suggest that police do harm in our communities and that we—who have such good intentions—are actually complicit in racism and racist structures!
The two resolutions that did not get recommended were too noisy. Too demanding. Too upsetting.
I hear the prophet Jeremiah’s words echoing across the years:
They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
These words echo through the time of Jesus, when the Pax Romana—the Roman peace—was sought at the expense of the many who were oppressed and, like Jesus, brutalized for the sake of “keeping the peace.”
These words echo in our country today when missiles are called “peace keepers” and peaceful demonstrators face police violence in the name of keeping the peace.
And they echo in our church when we want to keep the peace—and unity—at the expense of lgbtq people.
I realize some of you may think this sermon is too political, too critical, too controversial. I imagine that’s what the Pharisees thought about the crowd shouting “blessed is the King” to Jesus just outside of Jerusalem during peak tourist season. “Why can’t they just sing a nice song that doesn’t involve claiming a king who’s not Caesar?”
I’ll admit, I almost scrapped everything in this sermon about the CLC meeting in favor of quoting Martin Luther King’s “Letter to a Birmingham Jail” and talking about white moderates during the civil rights movement. That example would make the same points—just not about us.
I almost took that part out because it’s not comfortable to criticize people and institutions we love; it’s not comfortable to bring up difficult topics like sexuality and racism in polite company.
But the life and teachings of Jesus surely show us that making people comfortable is not the thing that makes for peace. Being quiet. Going along to get along. Trying not to draw the attention of those in power. Jesus weeps because these are not the things that make for peace.
So what does make for peace?
It’s worth noting that Luke’s gospel mentions peace twice as much as any other gospel—for Luke, peace is central to Jesus’ ministry. Luke also focuses a lot on money. So maybe there’s a connection here? A connection between economic justice and peace?
We’ve seen this connection in the scriptures we’ve explored during our Narrative Lectionary journey through Luke: from Mary’s song of justice to the incarnation itself—God’s presence in a baby; from John’s teaching to share what we have and not cheat people out of money to Jesus’ sermon of bringing good news to the poor; from Jesus’ parable about the torment of a rich man who refuses to share his wealth to his declaration of salvation for Zacchaeus who gives half of his possessions to the poor. Peace and economic justice are connected.
Luke’s Gospel also highlights female characters in a way the other Gospels don’t. My namesake, Joanna, who followed Jesus and financially supported his ministry is only mentioned in Luke. Other women make a unique appearance here as well: the widow whose son is raised; the scene in Mary and Martha’s home; the bent over woman who is healed, the woman who found her coin, the persistent widow. In including these women, Luke suggests that Jesus is committed to social as well as economic justice.
So what are the things that make for peace?
I think—I hope—there are a lot of things that make for peace. One very important thing, at least according to Luke, is justice. Economic justice. Social justice. Justice in our criminal legal system. Justice for lgbtq people in our denomination and our churches.
As we enter into Holy Week, maybe it’s a good time to observe our cities, to look at our churches, to weep over the violence and injustice that we see there, and to contemplate the hard and holy things that just might make for peace.