Jesus' Mission: A Personal Confession

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."

- Luke 4:18-19 (NIV)

Jesus had a mission: to proclaim freedom to the prisoners, recover sight for the bling, release the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. Wow, what a huge mission! Jesus could do this. I mean, Jesus was divine, right? He could do anything.

Somehow, the Church of the Brethren instilled in me that we are to follow Jesus, to be his hands an feet, to continue his work - simply, peacefully, together. Wait a minute... do I actually have a responsibility here? To continue the work of Jesus? What did Jesus actually do while he was alive? What IS my faithful responsibility? Let's look at that. What comes to your mind?

The first thing that came to me was that he brought wholeness to people - healing them both physically and mentally. Even miraculously! I can help with that. He really looked at people and saw their need, loving them like God loves us. I can help with that. I visit friends when they are sick, I send cards to those who have lost loved ones, I have been on workcamps, I have sent money to support missions.

What else did Jesus do?

He was committed to doing God's will. I like that. I pray for God's will to be done. Well, if I am truthful I have to admit that I don't like the end result of the submission to God's will being death on a cross. Violence doesn't sit well with me.

Jesus also got angry. This is the part I struggle with. Is my own anger ever justified? John reports in his gospel (John 2:13-16 NIV):

"When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market.”

So Jesus got angry and upset and took some serious action. Why was Jesus so angry? This prophet of peace. This radiance of God's love. Isn't love gentle, kind, caring?

The way I understand this is that what Jesus saw happening in the temple, the house of God, was so disgusting, so wrong, such an affront to him and to God, that he responded vehemently. He did not just tell them it was wrong. He did not just bring his disciples and march with signs to get the message across.

Jesus grabbed some cords, wrapped them around to create a whip, and violently drove all the people and animals out of the temple. Tables were overturned and money was scattered. Jesus was furious about God's house of prayer being turned into a marketplace of money-changing and prophet-making.

I have come to accept that this act of violence on the part of Jesus does not undermine his message of God’s unconditional love - it underscores this message and makes it stronger. I believe Jesus was so in tune with the spirit, with the divine, that he knew instinctively when the way for people to access that spirit within the temple itself was being averted, interrupted, being used for exploitation. When such holiness is being diminished and corrupted, for me, it is an act of love to right the wrong, correct our vision, and connect again to the divine.

I have come, in my 72 years, to a place of better clarity about the beautiful kingdom available to us if we can maintain our focus on the divine as it emanates from each individual person. How I came to a place of feeling somewhat like Jesus did in the temple. I would like to tell you about this morning.

So please indulge me here, as I relate to you some of my personal spiritual evolution. We each have a story of our own personal development related to issues of violence and peace. As I share, please think about moments in your own development when your understanding of God’s love grew, and you discovered new perspectives on how we are called to live it out.

I was baked in the oven Brethren, wore a prayer covering to my first communion in the Manchester Church where my parents were youth counselors. I knew by the time I was at Manchester College that I was a pacifist. While in college the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War were filling our streets with courageous expressions of outrage at injustices. But I attended no marches, nor did I demonstrate against the war. The closest I personally came to those who were calling for change was when I was riding in a car with black friends in Chicago and mobs surrounded the cars. My friends told me not to worry, that they would take care of me. They did.

I had declared myself a pacifist but did not add my voice to any public action. Instead, I decided to fulfill a promise made at the 1964 Church of the Brethren National Youth Conference to give two years of service to promote peace. Before celebrating our first year of marriage, my husband and I joined the Peace Corps and served in the Philippines as teachers. We came home pregnant. Parenting and getting hubby through med school took all my attention. I continued to be interested in what was happening in the world - and yet I viewed it all from a distance. From a place of privilege, a place of comfort, not feeling compelled to be involved.

After we launched our three sons, some 25 years later, we once again set off for service - this time in BVS in Hiroshima at the World Friendship Center. While there we learned so much more about the world we had been born into and how our beautiful country was affecting the rest of it. I was sad to see the reality of how our economy was undergirded by the sale of arms to those who wanted to fight, and then when the fighting was done, we once again gained financially from contracts to reconstruct what had been destroyed using our weapons. Our “goodness,” our “love,” our “caring” for others was not focused on the divine, but on selfish gain.

We returned to the U.S. to settle in again, enjoying our family, helping with newborn grandchildren. We did our part, presenting about the horror of nuclear weapons dropped in Japan in WWII, and the horror of depleted uranium that our troops were exposed to in Iraq. But again, we were like observers, watching the world from a distance and feeling comfortable in our lives blessed with loving families.

Three things happened in the last three years that have awakened my spirit to more deeply intentional loving acts. The first was my election to the board of On Earth Peace. To be a board member, I was required to take anti-racism training in Chicago. Here I was made aware of another way our capitalistic country has persisted in exploitation. Historically and systemically, we have denigrated immigrants to toil in jobs unacceptable for most citizens and to live in substandard housing. When it came to those who looked different - African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, and others - they were used for our benefits and yet despised. We white folks were born with an internalized racial superiority that has permeated our lives to the point that we cannot even see it. We continue to think we are loving and caring, and can be loving and caring within our circles, and yet we remain complicit in a system that needs to change.

This continues to be a hard learning for me. In my community, it is the Hispanic population that is experiencing this type of treatment. I have deeply appreciated the work of On Earth Peace in modeling anti-racism as an organization and working within the Church of the Brethren to assist us in learning about how to challenge oppression.

The second occurrence was the election of Donald Trump. When I first heard him say, “make America great again,” my spirit responded with “YES!” I wanted our country to be great, like I viewed greatness - a model of human rights, generous in foreign aid, providing food for the world, collaborating with other nations to keep the peace through alliances and the United Nations, equalizing the annual income at home, providing health care for all. We each have our own view of greatness, obviously.

By the time of the election I understood more fully what Donald Trump’s greatness meant - almost the opposite of my view. My view of greatness was very out of sync with the President and with much of the rest of the country it appeared, and continues to be, I think. I woke up with the image of taking up residence on the sidewalk in front of the White House with my sign that said, “stand up for compassionate America.” I finally marched with the other 700,000+ women in Washington, D.C. In all this time, this was the first action I took to voice my concerns publicly.

The third, this time horrific, event was the Parkland shooting. I had long been opposed to guns used for anything other than for hunting - and even for hunting I admire those that use bows. The Sandy Hook Elementary shooting of young children had broken my heart. The Columbine shooting seemed like perhaps bullying and mental illness could be better addressed. But the Parkland shooting, was finally too much for me. It was a culminating event that resulted in a feeling of an affront to the divine and it was difficult to just sit and observe or think that anything was going to happen. I researched and learned much about parents working with their senator in Connecticut. I found Mom’s Demand Action for Common Sense Gun Laws. I joined and made phone calls.

It was the knowledge that some Church of the Brethren pastors were carrying handguns that really turned my response into one that felt similar to Jesus in the temple. I felt outraged. And I once again received an image, this time of a cross with the words written on it: “your guns kill me.” How did that connect, I wondered. Clearly that was Jesus on the cross. OUR guns kill Jesus? What is that all about?

I feel pretty sure now that this image connected for me because I truly believe that all of life is sacred. I believe that there is a bit of the divine in all of us, in everyone. We love from that perspective. Jesus taught us that. To kill another human being, even as a soldier in a war, is an act against God, a defaming of the temple. A sin, if that word is still useful for us.

Another image feels even more important to me. It came through my four-year-old grandson. The morning after the last presidential election, I received a short video from his mother. She said to my grandson, “who is our president now?” He said Donald Trump. And what do we need to do now? He stretched his hands out wide and proclaimed, “LOVE BIGGER.” So that has become my mantra. Love bigger.

One of the perspectives we study at On Earth Peace is Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolence, which teaches that individual people are never the root of the problem. In this case, I know it’s not President Trump personally who is the root of the problem. Voting him out of office wouldn’t “take care of it all.” The deeper problems are rooted in toxic patriotism, discrimination, and racial and religious animosity. These are being given space to breathe and are too often becoming policy as part of the current administration. These problems are our work and will be the work of a generation to challenge.

Facing these realities, I see Jesus teaching us in all of his words and actions, especially with his action in the temple, to correct the attention toward the divine and away from our own self-interests. To love like Jesus, what would that mean for us? How would we see things differently? To Love Bigger, what would that mean for you, for me? What could I do differently from this day forward?

In 2016 I attended my first On Earth Peace Board meeting. The strongest impression I had at the board meeting was how deeply grounded the members were in their faith and commitment to the work of Jesus in the world. I came home to tell our pastor, “these are my people.”

So, I was not surprised, but inspired that the scripture we were focusing on at our most recent board meeting was the Mission of Jesus. Our task was to create our own mission and vision statements. From focusing on this scripture, the On Earth Peace Staff and Board agreed upon mission and vision statements that are printed on the insert in your bulletin. You will also find there our core organization values.

I’d like to dwell with those values for a moment because they ground our work and give you a window into what we are all about.

Jesus-Centered SpiritualityWe follow Jesus into the work of justice and peace. We share in spiritual practices and develop faith resources to help undergird our programs.

Without Jesus, we wouldn’t be doing this work. Jesus guides, shapes, inspires, leads, teaches us. On Earth Peace believes in a peace grounded in the living expression of God’s love.

Positive PeaceWe learn, teach, and practice dynamic forms of peacemaking which see conflict as an important tool to meet needs, address injustice, correct imbalances of power, and seek healing and reconciliation.

So often in our historic peace church tradition, peace seems to be about being quiet, sweeping conflict under the rug, and sidelining anyone who has a different opinion. Along with Jesus and Martin Luther King, we believe that faithfulness requires active involvement – that the peace we seek to build will require our active engagement and risk, informed by our commitment to nonviolence – not just passively hanging back from the fray.

Anti-Racism/Anti-OppressionWe commit to name and undo barriers to participation in our programs based on identity, and to work for full inclusion and equity for all who wish to join in our work. We commit to the long-term transformation of On Earth Peace, the church, and society.

So many messes around us right now have to do with how communities treat those who are “different," those who aren’t the mainstream, those who haven’t historically had power. We believe that it is an act of faith to start asking questions to help dismantle those patterns and to work to build just and equitable relationships.

Intergenerational LeadershipWe nurture peacemakers and leaders, and honor the wisdom, skill, and experience of all generations. Peace and violence are not just youth issues, and not just adult concerns. We need everyone’s experience, creativity, and skill to be able to solve the problems facing us today.

Beloved CommunityWe commit to raising the levels of relationships until justice and peace prevail, and all people attain their full human potential.

“Raising the level of relationships” means that we always work to take things to a higher level. The tendency often is to shrink back from conflict and from real interaction – how do we take things to a place that is more real, more honest, and more powerful in terms of unconditional love? How do we love both the perpetrators of injustice and the victims of injustice?

How do we love bigger?

Thank you for your attention. May God bless us all as we love bigger together!

- Sermon preached by Bev Eikenberry at Middleburg (IN) Church of the Brethren

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