The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany by The Rev. Martin Elfert

Feb. 16, 2020


Deuteronomy 30:15-20
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37
Psalm 119:1-8

It is very near the end of the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness, very near the end of the forty years that the twelve tribes have spent wandering and searching, now lost and now found, always somehow guided by God. And the aged Moses, 120 years old and near death but, the story tells us, his vigour unabated, gathers the tribes together. Within sight of the promised land, the land that they have longed for all of these years, Moses speaks to them on behalf of God.

I have set before you today life and death. Blessings and curses.

And then, maybe because the Israelites hesitate, pausing in uncertainty like a contestant on a game show invited to choose between two doors, Moses goes on:

Choose life.

This scene is beautiful and awe inspiring. But is it also just a little absurd? Is there an element of ridiculousness to it? Because surely the old man’s question, Would you prefer life or would you prefer death? is not one that the Israelites or anyone else should need to think about for very long.

Would you prefer an envelope full of cash or would you prefer to be pushed off the roof of a building?

Would you prefer a new pair of shoes, comfortable and fashionable in equal measure, or would you prefer botulism?

Would you prefer curried rice with asparagus, squash, and a garden salad on the side or would you prefer mayonnaise-flavoured ice cream?

Would you prefer life or death?

Of course you are going to choose life.

But maybe the absurdity, the stark obviousness of the choice that Moses offers God’s people is precisely what makes this story powerful. Maybe it is precisely how it tells us the truth.

Because life is the obvious choice.

And we don’t always choose it.

We all know people – maybe some of us here this morning have been people – who chose booze or pot or gambling or sex or whatever over their marriages, over their jobs, over their children, over God, over everything else. There is a dark joke that goes something like this:

There is no such thing as addiction. There are only things that we like doing more than being alive.

In a similar vein, we all know people – and here I will remove the maybe and say that we all, 100% of us, have been people – who have chosen selfishness over life.

When I take an inventory my life so far, one of the things that I have done or left undone that I might be most ashamed of, that I kind of don’t want to tell you about, came sometime late in my adolescence or early in my adulthood. It was Hallowe’en. And my folks were away. I don’t remember where or why but I do know that I was, like an aged Macaulay Culkin, home alone. But because my Mom was and is a meticulous planner, she had laid in bags and bags of miniature candy bars.

As the joke goes, I had one job. It was my job to open the door and praise the children in their costumes and drop candy bars into their bags.

But did I do my job?

I did not.

What I did was to turn off all of the lights in the house, go down to the basement, and watch Star Wars on VHS.

While eating all of the candy myself.

When I think of the word pathetic, I remember that moment in the basement.

Now, maybe what I’ve just shared with you is a moral triviality. Nobody got hurt, the few children who came and knocked on the door of our dark house and shouted Trick or Treat may have felt some fleeting disappointment. But I imagine that they then went on with their night and filled up their bags and everything was fine. It is likely that I am the only one who remembers that, on Hallowe’en circa 1990, the lights were turned off at 3824 West 1st Avenue.

But I remember. And maybe I feel as ashamed as I do by that memory because what I did that night feels like a parable, a parable for choosing something other than community, other than life.

When you and I live in a city in which, notwithstanding our manifest wealth, we tolerate human beings having nowhere but the pavement on which to sleep, we are doing something like eating candy in the basement with the lights off. When you and I tolerate a scenario in which refugees on our southern border fleeing the worst kind of violence are met in the Land of the Free with cruelty, we are doing something like eating candy in the basement with the lights off. When I and you tolerate more and more extreme weather and console ourselves that the stock market is booming, we are doing something like eating candy in the basement with the lights off.

In these moments, we are choosing that which is not life. The choice between life and death may be obvious, comically so. But that doesn’t mean that we choose life. Because curses and death are familiar and predictable, addiction and selfishness are familiar and predictable. We know how they work, we know the rewards that they hold. We don’t know anything about the new land that waits across the Jordan. We know nothing. Except that God has told us that it is full of life.

And we’re not sure that we trust God’s word.

We are closing in on Lent. Ash Wednesday is in one and a half weeks. And it is that time of year when talk about giving stuff up and when we talk about sin.

Both of these things – giving stuff up and sin – are pretty significant and pretty regular sources of shame.

Giving stuff up is a source of shame because it swerves so easily out of spiritual practice and into that suspicious category that we call self-help. It is common, for instance, to give up some kind of treat during Lent. And maybe that practice would be okay, maybe it would be edifying. Except that a whole lot of us have baggage around food. And so this Lenten practice turns pretty easily into a diet, with all of the sad baggage that diets entail. As a friend of mine said in one of those jokes that tells the truth:

I’m so glad that Lent comes before swimsuit season. Maybe I can lose a few pounds.

Sin is often a source of shame because we regularly understand sin – or, and I want to insist on this, we regularly misunderstand sin – as being about self-loathing, often locating that self-loathing around our bodies and our sexuality. For the record, if anyone here this morning needs to hear it, masturbation and other healthy and loving expressions of sexuality are not and never were sins. Being gay is not and never was a sin. Being trans is not and never was a sin. Having a body that will not get you onto the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue or Men’s Health – having a body that, in other words, is normal – is not and never was a sin. We could keep on going.

But what if we don’t need to define either of those practices – either giving stuff up or sin – in such a screwed-up way? What if they both could have good and life-giving meanings?

What if giving stuff up – or in the language of the Bible, fasting – is just what we heard God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, said it was just last week:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

What if that is what a fast looks like? What if that is what giving stuff up looks like?

And what if sin is just an ancient word that means selfishness?

What if therefore, when we speak of repenting from sin and when we speak of giving stuff up what we mean is that we are repenting of and we are giving up alienation, giving up indifference, giving up apathy, giving up selfishness, giving up sitting by ourselves in a dark basement eating candy? In doing so we are choosing community, we are choosing service, we are choosing love, we are choosing God. We are choosing life.

Now here’s the gospel, the amazing news: coming out of the basement isn’t just good for the people knocking on our door. It’s good for us. On that night thirty years ago, coming out of the basement not only would have given some costumed children a little more delight, but it would have given me so much more delight. I would have had a way, way better night if I had encountered those children’s happiness and wonder. And if I wouldn’t have had the sad tummy that came of eating all of that candy by myself. Repenting of sin, giving stuff up: what if the secret is that these things aren’t shame-filled sacrifices but, rather, they are joys?

Here we are. Here we are, gathered with Moses, looking across the Jordan and into new land, a land of uncertainty and possibility. I set before you life and death, the old man who is speaking on God’s behalf says. And then, because this never was a test, because this never was a trick question, because God never wanted us to fail, Moses opens up the teacher’s edition. He shows us the page with the answers written on it.

Choose life.

Moses and God whisper together,

Choose life.

Choose life.

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany by The Rev. Martin Elfert

Feb. 17, 2019


Jeremiah 17:5-10

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Luke 6:17-26

Psalm 1


When I sit in the pews or, in our online world, when I plug in my headphones and electronically join a congregation elsewhere, I don’t mind disagreeing with the preacher. I am not among those who see critiquing sermons as a form of impiety. To the contrary, I am fully on board with my philosopher friend, John, who says that when you disagree with him, that is a sign of respect and engagement. Some of the most important sermons that I have heard over the years were ones in which I listened and said to myself, Wow, the preacher has really gotten this wrong. I appreciated those sermons because they made me think, they obligated me to challenge and to clarify my own theology.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to a sermon that she’d heard preached at her parish. I listened to it online. And it was very much in the, Wow, this guy is getting things wrong category. I had a frequently furrowed brow as I listened.

But it took me a while to figure out what was bugging me so much.

The sermon was an effort to be prophetic. (Prophetic not in the popular sense of predicting the future, but in the Biblical sense of speaking truthfully and forcefully and faithfully to the ways in which the world has become distorted, in which it has strayed from the path to the Kingdom.) It spoke to three of the great moral issues of our day, that of climate change; of income and wealth inequality; and of the dehumanisation of immigrants, people of colour, GLBTQ folks, and so on.

And on its face, I didn’t disagree with the preacher’s thesis. Climate change really is an emergency that calls for immediate action: we will deny that or ignore that at our peril. Income and wealth inequality really is a major justice issue: I have no dispute with those who argue that an individual holding a billion dollars when there are children in this country regularly missing meals in an obscenity. The violence that we do to folks who aren’t white and male and straight is appalling: I went to a workshop earlier this week in which one of my fellow participants talked about how, as a black woman in America, she felt simply exhausted.

All of the preacher’s critiques, in other words, were real and urgent. What troubled me in the sermon was the language that the preacher reached for when he spoke of those whom he reckoned were responsible for these moral crises.

He referred to the folks as the Priests of Moloch.

Moloch, as you perhaps know, is an ancient Canaanite God associated with child sacrifice. Whether or not Moloch’s followers actually engaged in child sacrifice is an open question. Some scholars reckon the accusation that the Canaanites were feeding their children to their God was an ancient exercise in propaganda or character assassination, that it was a story made up by people who didn’t like them, including the folks who wrote the books of Leviticus and Jeremiah. Regardless, Moloch and his priests are, in our popular imagination, Capital “E” evil. In Paradise Lost and in lots of books, movies, and TV shows before and since, Moloch has stood in for worst and most selfish and most terrifyingly destructive side of humanity.

And this is the language that the preacher was using to describe his fellow human beings.

Do you know the concept of the scapegoat? Today, we have the expression “scapegoating” – that’s when something goes wrong and we identify an individual or a group of people to whom we can assign all the blame. When I was first out of theatre school, I worked for a couple of productions at a semi-professional company. And the show went off the rails – it was a disaster.

The director of the company made it pretty clear that the show’s problems were my fault. I was the reason that it had gone so wrong.

I was pretty devastated about this. I was an earnest young man, I wanted to do a good job. And I was gutted to think that I had broken things so badly.

Seeing how much I was hurting, an actor who had been with that company for a while took me aside and let me in on a secret: The shows at the company always went off the rails. And someone was always blamed for that happening. “There should be a plaque on the wall,” he said, “that commemorates who was blamed for each show going wrong.” For that particular production, I was the scapegoat.

We engage in scapegoating in our families. (You’re the reason that we never have fun on vacations! You’re the reason that Dad left! You ruin everything!) We engage in it in church. We engage in it our country.

Scapegoating gets its name because, way back when, a village would take a literal goat – maybe sometimes another animal – and they would ritually assign their sins to it. They would gather around and, with the help of the priest, and they would say: This thing I did or left undone? That belongs to this goat now.

That time you manipulated your spouse to get what you wanted? Give it to the goat.

That place where you hide the booze so nobody notices just how fast the bottle is emptying? Give it to the goat.

The shared reality that we live in a city in which people sleep on the streets, human beings whom we walk around on our way to get a latte? Give it to the goat.

And then the sins transferred to this poor animal, the people would drive it out into the wilderness or stone it. Our sins have become the goat’s problem, we’ve gotten rid of the goat, and so our sins are gone. We’re absolved.

The problem is that people have never been all that hot at limiting our scapegoating to goats. We scapegoat our fellow human beings early and often.

Rene Girard, the great historian, literary critic, and philosopher, writes extensively about scapegoating. And he argues that we see the scapegoating mechanism in the cross. When we gather in the crowd and we shout crucify him, we are blaming Jesus for everything that is going wrong in our lives as individuals and as a community.

And what Girard says is that, by going to his death utterly innocent, Jesus reveals how screwed up scapegoating is. As we stand at the foot of the cross, we see our own violence reflected back at us.

I realised, after some reflection, that this is what was bugging me about the sermon from my friend’s parish. When the preacher spoke of blaming the marginalised, even though he didn’t use the language, he was talking about scapegoating. The notion that immigrants are, somehow, responsible for our country’s problems is a classic scapegoat mechanism, it is absurd and offensive.

But then, having done so, he advocated for creating a new set of scapegoats. If we stop blaming our problems on immigrants or people of colour or gay folks or whoever and, instead, start blaming our problems on the 1% or conservatives or Donald Trump, if we make these folks into the Priests of Moloch, the very embodiment of evil, have we improved things? Or have we just moved the violence around? Are we still stuck in the same busted system that got us where we are?

As long as we keep participating in scapegoating, no matter who the scapegoat may be, no matter how much it may sound like they deserve it, we are the abused child who becomes an abuser themselves, we are the exploited people who become oppressors ourselves, we are simply transmitting the violence that we have received.

Jesus on the cross says stop it. He says: Look at me. Look at my broken, dying body. Look at what the violence of scapegoating does to another human being, look at what it does to God. He doesn’t say, You need a better scapegoat, someone who is really responsible for your problems. He says: You need to burn this entire rotten system of shame and blame  down.

Today, we hear the Sermon on the Plain, the shorter and less famous answer to the Sermon on the Mount. Depending on your understanding of the Bible, this is Luke taking the same oral tradition and telling it in a different way than Matthew or, alternatively, it is evidence that Jesus, like touring lecturers everywhere, reused his material, editing or altering it to meet the needs of a particular audience.

There is a danger, a temptation, to hear the Sermon the Plain and to understand it through the lens of the scapegoat. Unlike the Beatitudes in Matthew, where we hear eight blessings, in Luke there is a quartet of blesseds followed by a quartet of woes. And the temptation is to hear the blesseds as addressed to us and the woes as addressed to those other people, as evidence of what God is going to do to the wicked.

But notice a few things.

First, notice that 100% of the blesseds and 100% of the woes are addressed to the disciples. Luke’s Beatitudes begin:

Then he looked up at his disciples and said.

100% of what Jesus says next is about you. Jesus doesn’t say, Blessed are you who are poor but woe to those people who are rich. He says Blessed are you who are poor but woe to you who are rich.

All of this is about us, not about a scapegoat somewhere else.

Second – and this comes and goes so fast that it is easy to miss it – zoom in on the first blessed, and notice that it is in the present tense. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Is not will be. At least in part, Jesus is talking about reality in this very moment. This is not about putting up with the crushing weight of poverty in the hopes of being rewarded in heaven later – that would be the theology of the occupier or the slaveholder. Somehow this is about the Kingdom right here, right now.

And, confusing as that may be, I think part of us knows that Jesus gets this right. If you have lived any length of life, you have had the extraordinary experience of encountering loss or grief or unfairness and meeting God in that moment, of surprising yourself by saying, That experience was a blessing. And if you have lived any length of life, you have also had the experience of what we might call a real-time woe, a moment when you stray from your values and you realise that you have been diminished immediately by doing so.

And that is part and parcel of the last thing I would like us to notice, and that us that the woes are not something that God is doing. The woes just are. Jesus doesn’t say, Woe to you who are full now, for God will make you hungry. He says, Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

I mentioned a minute ago walking past the man lying on the street to get our lattes. Why do we tend to avert our eyes, to walk fast to get past that person. Are we afraid of them? Possibly. But what if we are also afraid of the woe that we encounter in that moment?

My late friend Douglas Williams – and I’ve shared this with you before, but it made a big impression on me and I’m going to share it again – said that the problem with being a murderer isn’t just that it makes someone dead. It’s that it makes you into a murderer. And in a similar vein – and let’s acknowledge, of course, that this is not a moral scenario as extreme as murder – what if part of the problem of walking past a homeless person while averting our eyes on our way to get a latte is that it makes is into the kind of people who walk past homeless people while averting our eyes on the way to getting a latte?

Listening to the sermon that my friend sent me, I realised that what I was longing for that preacher to say was this:

After he talked about the moral necessity, the Christian duty, of building a newer world for the sake of the least of these, for the sake of immigrants and LGBTQ folks and People of Colour, after we said amen to that, I wanted him to talk about the moral necessity, of the Christian duty, of building a newer world because the 1% need it, because the conservatives need it, because Donald Trump needs it. Because you and I need it.

No more scapegoats. As seductive as it is to get on Facebook or head out to the parking lot and assign our problems to those people, Jesus says no. Stop doing that. Working for justice means naming our own part in injustice. Building the Kingdom means naming the ways that we sabotage the Kingdom’s foundation. Let’s accept that the woes are part of our lives, part of our doing, part of our responsibility. Not instead of offering moral commentary or critique or prophecy, but as part of it. Let us have the courage to stand before and with Jesus and to name our woes. Having done so, we may find that we are freed to receive our blessings.

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany by The Rev. Martin Elfert


Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37



Let’s begin this morning with an exercise. I’d like to invite you to do a mental inventory of those occasions when you have responded to another person in anger. Maybe the anger came in a flash, as it does sometimes when you are driving a car and someone cuts you off. Maybe it took longer to build, gradually growing over months or years. Perhaps the result of your anger came out in words or in actions or just in a stomach twisted into knots.

You probably won’t be able to remember your every instance of anger with another human. But, if you are like me, I bet that you will be able to remember a lot of them.

Now, holding those incidents or altercations in your mind, I’d like to ask you a question.

Looking at all of those incidents put together, roughly what percentage of the time would you say that you were in the right, that your anger was justified and fair, that the actions or words that flowed out of your anger were reasonable? What percentage of the time would a neutral third party – a judge wearing a robe, a scientist wearing a lab coat, maybe even a priest wearing an alb – say:


Your anger is justifiable and good. Yes, you are right.

I will share my own first-blush answer to that question. Looking at the inventory of those times when I acted in anger, maybe even those occasions when I felt and acted in rage – here are childhood encounters with bullies, here are teachers whom I feared and sometimes hated, here is the bureaucrat writing the letter denying my complaint, here is the man shouting out his car window of his intention to run me down – I would say that I was in the right about 90% of the time.

The 10% represents those occasions when I was short-tempered with my kids or my parents or Phoebe or my friends. I’m sorry for my actions in those instances. But they are the minority.

I don’t know if 90% is typical for this crowd. Maybe it’s high. But my guess is that your answer is well over 50%.

Now here is my follow up. Imagine the persons with whom you were angry, perhaps with whom you traded recriminations.

How do you think that those persons would answer the very same question? How often would they say that they were right?

My guess is that their answer would be similar to mine. My guess is that most of us think that our anger is reasonable most of the time. That in a battle in which both parties have lost their temper, the odds are approaching 90% that both of them will say:

I am right.

We are now three Sundays into the Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus’ preaching is as inspiring and as beautiful and as confusing as ever. In this section of the Sermon, we hear a series of six statements – Ken read four of them for us just now, we’ll hear the remain two next Sunday – each built around a thesis followed by a response to that thesis. Each of the six theses begins:

You have heard it said

(or, once)

It was also said

To which Jesus then offers the response:

But I say to you

These six theses are all drawn from the Torah, from the Law, from what we sometimes call the Five Books of Moses. These five books are foundational for Judaism, both in Jesus’ time and in ours. And they are foundational for the Christian tradition as well: leaf past the index, open up your Bible to page one, and you will be looking at the first page of the Torah. Jesus’ words, his “you have heard it saids,” come to us from here, from Deuteronomy, from Numbers, from Leviticus.

Because of the Jewish origin of these theses – and because of the long and shameful history of anti-Semitism within Christendom – there is a huge interpretative danger waiting for us here. The danger is that of reading Jesus “but I say to you” statements as a series of refutations of the Torah.

You have heard it said. But that’s all nonsense.

But that isn’t where Jesus is going at all. Remember what we heard him say last week. Here are the words from the Sermon on the Mount that come immediately before the ones that we hear today:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets;

I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.

These six statements and responses, therefore, are not rejections of Jesus’ Jewish identity and his Jewish piety. They are fulfillments of Jesus’ Jewish identity and his Jewish piety. When Jesus quotes these words and then says, “but,” he means something similar to what a Christian might mean if she were to quote the words from Jesus that we will hear next week, if she were to say, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and then she were to add, “But that is way harder than it sounds.”

What Jesus is talking about in these six stanzas is how incredibly difficult it is – and how incredibly transformative it is – when we take the commandments of God seriously, when we seriously honour and obey them.

Let’s concentrate in particular on the first thesis and its response.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not murder.’ But I say to you, if you are angry with a brother or a sister, if you insult a brother or a sister, if you call a brother or a sister cruel names, you are in trouble.”

What Jesus – the faithful Jew, the Rabbi – is doing here, is drawing out the full implications of God’s command. God prohibits us from engaging in violence. And Jesus is making it clear that God’s prohibition is not limited to physical violence. Yes, it is wrong to harm another person’s body, it is especially wrong to kill. And it is wrong as well to harm another person’s psyche or heart or soul.

A couple years back, I read an article in which the author followed around the comedian, Doug Stanhope. I wasn’t familiar with Stanhope before reading the article. And the author pretty much convinced me that I didn’t want to become familiar with Stanhope. While some of Stanhope’s work is insightful and clever – his observations about addiction, for instance, brilliantly and painfully name the darkness of a pathological relationship with booze or pills or sex or gambling – a lot of his work dark and even cruel. A lot of his humour is reminiscent of the worst and nastiest corners of the schoolyard, the corners in which we delight in the suffering and the weakness of others.

Especially striking for me in the article was the moments in which the author spoke to Doug Stanhope’s fans. As I recall, these fans were predominantly men. And more than one of them lavished the praise on Stanhope:

He says what I am thinking.

I had a kind of dual reaction when I read those words. Because, on the one hand, I totally understand the power, the validation, of an artist or a performer articulating something that is in my head. There is something freeing and affirming when you read a poem or hear a song or see a play in which you see your fears or longings or love are given voice. I adore the moment when I encounter art and I say: that’s me on stage! I have thought or experienced that very thing, but I have never expressed it so well or so beautifully.

On the other hand, the things that Doug Stanhope was saying were just so cruel. And I struggled to see how the world or any individual was enriched by hearing these thoughts spoken out loud on a stage. To the contrary, it seemed to me then – and it seems to me now – that given these thoughts that platform lends them a power and a credence that they don’t deserve.

One of the curious – and I would say largely unexamined – popular psychological notions of our time is the idea that there is just nothing worse than self-restraint, than repressing yourself, than holding things in. The British psychiatrist and author, Theodore Dalrymple, who is particularly interested in mob violence and domestic violence, says that he will interview people who have participated, for instance, in soccer hooliganism and he will say: Why? Why did you do that?

And people will reply: Well, you have to let your hair down.

To which Dalrymple will push back:

Why do you have to let your hair down?

I think you should keep your hair up.

I have selfish thoughts with some regularity. I have cruel and stupid thoughts with some regularity. There are probably things in Doug Stanhope’s act that I would recognise, about which I might say: He says what I am thinking. But I’m not convinced that the world is poorer because I don’t name those thoughts out loud. I actually don’t want hear someone announced those thoughts from a stage. I don’t to give my thoughts that power. Following the advice of the spiritual masters who advise us of what to do when something unwelcome or unpleasant shows up in our heads, I want to quietly acknowledge those thoughts.

And then I want to let them go.

I want to let them go because, as Jesus teaches us in this first of his six theses, letting these thoughts out into the world is corrosive. Letting them out is the beginning of violence. It is harmful to ourselves and it is harmful to our neighbours. Anger and insults and cruel words are themselves a kind of assault. Jesus knows that they set the stage for physical violence, they set the stage for murder.

If you have any doubts that Jesus has this one right, I invite you to engage in conversation with one of our Muslim brothers or sisters. (If possible, have an actual conversation. Articles and videos on YouTube are great, but they are no substitute for direct human connection.) I spoke with a group of Muslim women a couple of weeks back, and it was immediately clear that the casual Islamophobia that has become a hallmark of so many Western countries is not an abstraction to them. These women are watching an upswing in hate crimes with real and understandable fear.

And they understand the direct connection between these crimes and letting certain thoughts out into the world, certain words out into the world, certain ideas out into the world. They understand the direct connection between this violence and the news reports, to give the example of the recent shootings at the mosque in Quebec, that play up racial and religious and national identity of the shooter for so long as we think that he is a Muslim. But that immediately begin using the language of “Lone Wolf” when it turns out that shooter is some white guy.

Imagine what that must be like. Imagine what it must be like for your faith or the colour of your skin or your gender or your sexuality to render you perpetually suspect.

I know that some of you don’t have to imagine. I know that some of you know that experience firsthand.

Jesus pushes us even further. Jesus refuses to be safe. My guess is that there are few or no people here this morning at Grace who find Islamophobia to be anything less than repugnant and immoral and broken. So I’m going to risk making myself uncomfortable and maybe you uncomfortable and note that Jesus’ prohibition on violence – on physical violence and violence of the heart – is universal. We are not to direct our violence at anyone.

That means that you and I can plug the person whom we like and respect least in this world into the equation – maybe that’s someone you know personally, maybe that’s a politician or another public figure – and you and I are still prohibited from sending violence their way. We are still not to send anger or insults or cruel names their direction, we are still not to engage in the psychic answer to murder. We are still not to forget that person’s humanity, that person’s status as a beloved child of God.

If my own answer to the question that I posed a few minutes ago is typical, then most of us believe that our violence is justified. Islamophobia is overwhelmingly framed in the language of freedom and common sense and patriotism, as something reasonable and necessary and good.

We frame our own violence the same way.

Every Sunday, near the beginning of the 8am service, we hear Jesus’ words:

You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it.

The second is the same.

You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Real Christianity, authentic Christianity is really hard. It is the hardest work that there is. But it is also the most freeing work that there is. This is the work that invites us, that calls us, that commands us, to put down violence in its every form, and instead, to pick up love.