January 22 – Called to a Different Way – Rev. Jo-Ann Murphy

Categories: Sermons

Recently I have been reading about nonviolent communication.  Nonviolent communication, I have learned, begins with the assumption that all people are compassionate by nature, and that violent strategies – verbal or physical – are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture.”  NVC invites its practitioners first to consider another’s humanity when communicating with them.  It challenges us not to be guarded against others when entering into disagreements with them, and reminds us that the person in front of us is just that: a person, a whole person with fears, hopes, and anxieties of his or her own who may be communicating out of those fears and anxieties.  Instead of responding out of our own fears and anxieties, NVC teaches proponents to hold the other person in his or her own heart as a brother or sister human being deserving of compassion. It’s not unlike what the Quakers call “holding another in the light.

The prevailing culture teaches us to use ‘enemy images’ when we encounter those who have perspectives, practices, and beliefs that are different from our own. We think that there is something wrong with the people whose actions and values we don’t agree with.  Whether they are antagonistic toward us or not, we decide that their world view is a threat.  Their practices are threatening, they mean us no good, and they are undoing the work we’re trying to do.  The gun owner is antagonistic to the antigun community activist.  The Muslim refugee is a danger to the evangelical citizen.  The Democrat is an anathema to the Republican.  Because they are different, there is something wrong with them.

Yes, real enemies do exist, but it is too easy to label others as enemies. The other person becomes an enemy without ever uttering a word or raising a fist.  All they need to do is present an opposing view or an alternate way of life.

Jesus shows us another way.  After his cousin John is arrested and awaits his execution, Jesus starts to show urgency in his ministry.  He leaves to go to Galilee, then to Capernaum.  He proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Repent.  Turn around.  Change directions.  It’s more than a command; it’s an invitation.  Repent.  Turn from a course of action and choose a new and better path.  Jesus implies that no one is beyond the reach of redemption, and that we all – all – can choose a different path. If we were once the enemy, we need not remain the enemy.[1]

I want to stop and acknowledge that most of the ideas I’ve preached so far this morning are taken from a sermon preached by a Unity Presbyterian pastor, Denise Anderson, who serves in Temple Hills, Maryland, and I am grateful to the Reverend Anderson because she has given me a platform, a resting place.  If you’re anything like me this has been a difficult, conflicted weekend, and watching the political events that have been taking place in our nation’s capital and all around the world, have left me with a swirling mix of emotions: hope and fear, disappointment and anger, discouragement and bewilderment.  What to do now?  How to go on?  Where to put my energy?

Jesus began his ministry by calling two pairs of brothers, Simon who is named Peter, and James and John, to share his vision of God’s reign on earth and to make that vision a reality.  During his ministry he continued to gather men and women to be part of that new vision, and he ended his ministry by promising to be with them forever.

When Jesus meets Simon and Andrew, two career fishermen, he calls then to be fishers of men (or people).  It’s important to remember that that’s how Christianity began: people are the goal.  It is always people whom God prizes.  It is people whom God pursues.  Though we humans may write them off as enemies because of their behavior, their opinions, or their practices, God sees them as redeemable.

Being a Christian today, following Jesus, is as challenging now as it was for those first disciples who had to leave behind their homes and families, their livelihoods and all that was familiar and dear to them.  But now as then it is imperative for the Christian to stand against evil in all of its manifestations: bigotry, oppression, and greed.  And we hold in tension our simultaneous charge to speak and act against all who practice these things and Jesus’ call to repent.  We can not seek God’s kingdom without seeking all people to participate in it.

Scripture promises that “there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish.”  Our goal should be to separate the antagonist.  We seek repentance and redemption for the bigoted sinner, the ignorant sinner, and the privileged sinner.

One of my favorite prayers is “Please be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.”  God is not finished with any of us yet.  Please, let’s be patient and approach each other with nonviolent communication.  Let us stand ready to embrace all who respond to a call to repent.  Remember, God has promised to be with us forever.   Amen.

[1] From Living by the Word in The Christian Century, January 4, 2017, p.20.