Friday, July 4, 2014

The Rev. William H. Terry: "Not Peace, but a Sword"

Jesus said to the twelve apostles, "A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.

Do not fear those who kill the body but 
cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother
, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

- MATTHEW 10:24-39
That was the Gospel reading for the day on June 22nd. I have taken the liberty of underlining key ideas or passages that support my thoughts and formed the words of my sermon on that Sunday. While contemplating what appears to be a Jesus that is out of step with our 21st century idealization the ironies of this brief encounter tumbled upon me. The Gospel opens by warning of those demonizing a household that preaches truth and the integrity and also for those who follow the master of the household. Even then Jesus brings stark attention to the most profound intimacy that the God, creator, has with his creation – "even the hairs of your head are all counted" so fear not.  Well and good and consistent with whom I think or we think of as Jesus and then the image, like a glass, is shattered! "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." This loud and one-time proclamation can either be ignored and discarded because it does not meet our fantasy of the soft and air-brushed Jesus with the little children or the lamb. Or, it can be dealt with on its terms, not ours.

I would like to suggest that the "sword," a tool of division, destruction, and violence, is in fact the sword of righteousness, truth, and justice. It also is a sword that singularly stands as a symbol for the ensuing divisions that arise out of justice work. Even then the sword of Jesus is at once a sword of profound counter-cultural charity. It can and often does cause pain. The question then may be asked what sort of pain?

The violence of peace making is worked out in ways that sometimes daunt us. By nature, I am sure that most think that if we offer goodness and kindness we should and will receive goodness and kindness in return. Even Jesus admonished his disciples, at one point, to leave towns or homes that did not reciprocate with "peace." Somehow we believe that we are owed a kindly return for our kindness. In that very thought there is a kind of arrogance that permeates works of justice and mercy. It is that sense of immediate gratification of being nice, doing justice, and in so doing all will be well. The reality is this doing justice work is messy, hurtful, and difficult.  

This sword that Jesus speaks of can indeed cause pain and hurt, even suffering. When I have encountered anger and outrage and it is met with softness and kindness one can almost see the ensuing discomfort, and depending on the person, fear. Yes, even fear. When hostility is met with grace it does not know what to do: confusion of the unexpected. There is nothing that abusive language and hostility can do against charity, respect, and dignity, which rob hostility of its very basis of power. What hostility expects is to be met with hostility. That is the way of the world. Have you ever observed a quiet discussion escalate to a hostile argument and perhaps beyond? Why? Precisely because the ego must dominate, we must be right, we must prevail or our own sense of self is somehow damaged. As perverse as this may seem, I believe it to be true. I also believe that the more desperate the circumstances of people the truer this is. Compound that with a lack vocabulary, often the case with persons in poverty, and the argument translates into action when words fail. What is that action? Often that action is worked out as violence.

I once offered kind words to a very hostile and angry woman. I kept up those kind words no matter what she said. I asked her about her. She rebuffed the inquiry. "You don’t give a damn about me!" But I kept on. She did not relent, she kept at it, anger upon anger and it was as if each kind word were heaping burning coals upon her head. In the end she was exhausted and almost broken. She was broken by sword of dignity and justice. Perhaps she will heal and in healing be changed. Meeting anger and hostility with charity and kindness can be daunting for the giver and for the receiver. It is most counter cultural for us all.

The Rev. William H. Terry
I endorse--and am known to endorse--the full inclusion of LGBT community into the life of the Church. As they say, "all of the sacraments for all of the people." I once met a man who was, by many measures, a good man. He tried to be a "good father, churchman, and citizen." He worked hard and made a good living. His daughters went to a good college. 

This man was white, lived in a grand house in a conservative village and attended church regularly.  He too is an Episcopalian. He was my host for sermon invitation in this small north Louisiana town. Over coffee one morning we started to chat. It was the usual polite conversation and pedigrees that passed between us. You could almost see the check list: long hair "X", Navy veteran "√", family man "√", Rector of St. Anna’s Church ("the Gay Church") "X" and so on. But in the end, I guess I passed muster.

My host looked up at me with a degree of resignation and even anger and blurted out that he was sick, just sick of the way the LGBT community "hijacked" his church. "Anyone can do what they want but those people hijacked my church and forced those changes on me." He told me the story of when he first heard of an openly gay man being ordained Bishop who was in a committed relationship. "I wanted to throw up" he said. I took all of this in and I had that moment. You know the moment when everything slows down; you withdraw totally into yourself, and desperately look for a moment of clarity in the midst of the clutter of words and emotions. Fact, my very dearest friend in the entire world is gay. Fact, most of my circles of friends are gay. Fact, about one third or more of my parish is gay. How do I respond? To ignore his tirade and avoid the issue is quite southern and quite pleasant: denial. With that comes guilt usually later on. I can rationalize that by saying I was being a good guest. I just let him vent. He’ll never change.

Alternatively, I can get on my steed of self righteousness and argue about equality and even go into the scripture passages and from whence they came and make a Biblical case. That would back the guy in the corner and ultimately end up repelling him. It would further disenfranchise this man who is hurting and feeling betrayed. So how would the sword of justice fall upon him?

I simply said, "I understand. Your world was set, the rules made, and somewhere along the line the rules all changed. That has to seem like a betrayal. But you know the greater church did vote, so it wasn’t "them" it was us. Yet, I know that the world you depended on has changed." He paused, looked out at the distance and wondered. His anger had no more target, his sense of betrayal was acknowledged. He was validated yet his rant was not affirmed.

Yes, if we follow the mandates of Jesus, if we move to His beat and his story we will encounter divisions. Families will be set against one another: a mother against her son a father against his child, or parents against other relatives. So, often I see in social media proclamations regarding sexuality or poverty. The arguments going back and forth become ever so rancorous! A person working at our church has a daughter who is a lesbian. Distant family members will make posts about praying for her and all like her that they will be "fixed." How to respond, not betraying ones daughter, is a question often asked. You answer with a sword! The division will be what it will be. Meet it with the calmness and charity of righteousness that knows that you are proclaiming the gift of Jesus. Swords like this can hurt the enemy. Swords like this can and should be raised. Jesus was not an air brushed soft eyed savior. Around the hem of his garment was mud and dirt, his shirt filled with sweat, his brow burnt by the sun, his hands likely rough; he carried a sword not to bring peace but division. 

The Rev. William H. Terry is the Rector of St. Anna's Episcopal Church in New Orleans, an Integrity Proud Parish Partner.

1 comment:

Emily Cragg said...


We thought chastity was it, monogamy was it, lifelong faithfulness was it. We thought the Church would stand for "righteousness."

Truly, if the world >is< over-populated, same-sex marriages are a remedy for having too many children, aren't they?

But we thought the model of one Adam and one Eve was it.

Who knew we'd have to stretch our concept of Grace ... this far into uncertainty?

Emily Windsor-Cragg