Year A - September 6, 2014

Homilist: Randal Wisbey

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

There is a certain and puzzling brutality present in the Bible.  We see it in our Psalm today.  The Psalm begins with a beautiful doxology of praise for God with dancing and music and victory.   It then descends into vengeance and binding with fetters and shackles.  This is in character with much of the Bible, but seems out of character with our contemporary ideas in Christianity of love, acceptance and forgiveness.  Is there a place for brutality in the actions of God’s faithful?  Are we tools of God’s justice?

These two questions must be answered separately.  Yes, we are tools of God’s justice.  No, there is not a place for brutality in God’s faithful. There is no place for brutality for several reasons.  

The first reason is that in our judgments, as humans we make mistakes.  On Wednesday of this week, Leon Brown was released from prison in North Carolina after spending thirty years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit.  He wasn’t released because of prosecutorial misconduct.  He wasn’t released due to an obscure point of law overturning his conviction.  He was exonerated.  We make mistakes.

The second reason is that there is enough brutality in the world already.  There is no need to add to it.  The consequences of sinful actions have enough brutality of their own.   While we can and should as God’s faithful do our best to prevent injustice, the idea of revenge or giving people what they deserve is a human idea not a theological concept.  We often slide into competitive thinking, identifying winners and losers when we think of justice.  Today there is a tentative ceasefire in Ukraine.  In my carnal heart I hope Ukraine wins in this conflict with Russia.  But requiring winners and losers we obscure the tragedy of the fact that families are losing loved ones in a conflict over something as trivial as “who owns what”.

The third reason is that God’s justice is never a solo act.  To use restaurant language, although it may be the entrée – it always comes as a combination plate!  God’s justice is always mixed with mercy.  God’s first response is always redemptive and God’s justice is always tempered by God’s love.  Simply put, God loves people.  God has a response to the brutality of sin.  Save the sinner.  Even if it costs the life of God’s son.

Our reading in Romans has two thoughts.  The first thought is descriptive, the second thought provides context.  

First, the context.  The context of our actions is that salvation is near.  So our response must be serious.

The descriptive portion points out that God’s commands are summed up by calling us to acts of love.  The text goes on to point out that love does not “harm”.   There is no brutality in love.  

In a world where there is constant brutality in human interaction, Christians ought to seek a course of forgiveness, redemption and “oh yeah” love.