Do Good. Don’t do Evil.

Sermon Summary, Proper 10, Year C

11 August 2017

The Rev. Daniel P. Richards

Christ Church of the Ascension 

Paradise Valley

9 a.m.

Don’t do evil. Do good things. Don’t do evil things. Do good. 

These are prophetic things to say in days like this. But sometimes we need the reminder. Don’t be evil. Be good. 

It is ridiculous that we are at this point as a people, but here we are. The readings today all point to this basic reminder and through it to something deeper that gives it more context, but the message is embarrassingly simple. 

Remember that, and it will get you through the rest of this.  

This morning I am going to explain why I don’t talk about politics from the pulpit very much, but I am also going to explain why we have to talk about politics sometimes.  

First off, I do not tell people how to vote because I have sat in that sermon, gotten that email, and read that post; and I was not persuaded. But even more, my job is not to get you to be Democrats or Republicans or even good citizens. My job is coach, teach, pastor you to be people of the Gospel, Christ followers, Christians who live in this world which is not yet fully redeemed. My vocation is to be your priest and not your political or community organizer. 

And to be honest my own record politically is not all that great. I have voted for people I later regretted and causes that I came to see differently over time. I don’t want you to vote like me. I want you to follow Christ as you vowed to do at your baptism and represent him as ambassadors of his kingdom.

Being your pastor means that I worry about how you conduct yourself in the world because you do not represent yourself only, but you represent God in the world. I have been teaching about this lately, and you have heard me say that as human beings we bear the image of God, are to be as God would be in the world, vessels of grace, carriers of the Gospel. We are to live as God’s sons and daughters, and that is lived in our prayers, private lives, and our politics.

In the book of Isaiah we get a basic picture of what happens when we fail to understand that God cares about our politics as much as our worship. “I do not delight in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats . . . Cease to do evil! Learn to do good!” The people’s worship was meaningless and did not honor God because it was not congruent with their lives, personal or political.

The people of Israel were supposed to represent what God is like in the world in their worship but even more for the prophets in their ethical treatment of each other, the poor, and the stranger in the land. That language is not political speech from today’s headlines, but rather it is the language of the Torah, the Law, and the Prophets. It is God’s language. 

If you are a person who seeks to represent God, the God of Israel, the Bible and Jesus of Nazareth, you cannot neglect other people, especially the poor and the immigrant. It is not an option for you. If you choose to do so, you are in essence saying, “I choose not to represent the God of Israel, the God of the Bible, and his Son Jesus.” And though the promises given are free, you may not accept the promises of citizenship in his kingdom and may endanger your very soul. 

That is harsh. But, that is the Bible’s word from Genesis to Revelation. 

So you see how I have to talk about politics a little to be a faithful pastor? It is unavoidable. 

On the other hand, there are a lot of faithful ways that you can care for the poor, the widow, and the orphan. But before I give your some room, let’s make this slightly more uncomfortable.

Immigration is one of the largest and most complex issues in American politics today. This administration has made it central to its mission. Now, let’s be honest about the issue: a nation has to control its borders and manage the flow of people, but we can do so humanely.

In our country we offer social help, mild democratic socialism, in the form of food and medical assistance, housing, and economic aid, not to mention welfare services, social services, psychological and even transportation assistance. We voted for it and supported it numerous times over the last hundred years. These forms of assistance pervade our government and our lives as citizens.

What I saw as a pastor and priest down in the southern part of our state was that unregulated illegal immigration created a hardship for the poor seeking those services. When we offer the same services to those here but not registered, those resources get lost to those here legally, by birth or migration. 

And before you write off the people coming across the border, most of them are Christians: Roman Catholics, protestants, pentecostals, and even Anglicans. All of them are human beings, and most are simply seeking the opportunities our forbears sought.

So we have competing values.

Those competing values have several immediately obvious answers and more complex and deeper ones that may not be so obvious. The work to figure out a real answer to migration issues will involve compromises of deeply held values. That is the work of good politics. And I believe in that work, though like others I am often disappointed in the compromises. We could argue for years about how to handle this issue.

But you cannot neglect your neighbors in any case. You should not do evil in your politics or your speech. You gave up that option at your baptism.

We live in a time of politics as divisive as ever. But there is much to be thankful for. We live in one of the wealthiest times in one of the wealthiest nations ever. Especially as common people. 

I had this friend and mentor who was a Lutheran minister I served with in Michigan. He had two small Lutheran and Episcopal churches, and we often rode downstate to meetings together. Some of my fondest memories of Tom are being bundled up in his car driving in a blizzard with the windows cracked while he smoked a pipe and sang the Lutheran settings of the liturgy from their Book of Worship. 

He and his wife had this small place way up north on a peninsula where in the winter the wind blew straight from one part of Lake Michigan to another blowing the snow so hard it often didn’t even land in his yard. It was a cold harsh place in my mind in winter, but they would sit on their porch in the evening and say, with indoor plumbing and central heating, they “lived better than the kings and queens of England.” 

We forget that we have it so good. We are the blessed. But we have much work to do, even today. And I have many political opinions, but I rarely stand up here and tell you how to respond politically. But I will say again, Do good and do not do evil. Be good and do not be be evil. 

Jesus tells us, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” 

What do you have to be afraid of, you children of the living God, who made the heavens and the earth, spun the Horsehead Nebula and molded the salamander? God has made all things for you, why let someone talk you into fear? Be bold. Be generous. Be good.

You have a kingdom, why will you not share your bounty? 

You have eternal life? Why are you afraid of anyone? 

Be bold.  Our current and previous bishops both belong to Bishops Against Gun Violence, which is just ridiculous. This, of course, replaced the previous Bishops For Gun Violence Working Group, which was proceeded by Bishops for Stabbings. We are in such a state that we have bishops who have to proclaim that they are against violence. 

There are lots of complex issues in the world, but there are some that are so basic that we all should be able to see good and evil, but we are persuaded that morality is political, and that our responses are set by the parties we belong to, but that is a lie. Satan is real, and he has lobbyists. Don’t be one. Do not support evil. Support good things. 

Step back from your allegiances to party and politics and spend some time with Christ to whom you owe your life. Get your allegiances right. We are for Christ, and so we are for the good.

Many of you have wondered about my time with the fire department, and it amounts to less time than some people put into their hobbies. I guess you could say my hobby is holding up the good men and women of the city, but that work puts me out there in some places I would not ever go, and I can tell you there is real evil in the world. There is real evil in our city.

This is not the “I had wait ten minutes in construction”evil, but life destroying, child sacrificing, violence and abuse and degradation evil. And there are men and women who stay awake so that we can sleep at night. They are doing the good in ways that most of us never see. Give thanks for them. Pray for them and their families.

That is part of our politics too. We are for those who do the good, and we are against those who do evil, recognizing as Paul says, Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers . . . “ We are not against people but against the spiritual forces they come to represent. Those who work for the good deserve our prayers, our support, and our honesty. 

In our work for God, we must not mistake that our enemies are less than we are. They are human beings who represent something else, something greater than themselves. We battle evil, not people. And it takes a discerning eye to know if a person is good or evil. Do you have it? 

We must think carefully about how we are to live, who we are to support, and be clear-eyed about the compromises that we make. But we must also not relent in our belonging to Christ. 

Get your heart right. Jesus gives us a way to aim our heart and correct our allegiances. Use your money to aim your heart. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I have always heard this as a statement of being, ontological truth. But what if it is a strategy? 

Jesus tells us to in the same passage, like Isaiah, to give alms. Now that is, to be clear, money to the poor. Your political contributions nor your pledges count. Alms are moneys given to those in need. 

Amy and I have supported a girl through LoveJustice for well over a decade now. She had adopted her just before we started dating, and we have sent along a little money every month to support her care and education. But the amazing thing is not that, but it is how that little amount has pulled our heart halfway around the world. Our children have grown up with a girl they have never met face to face, and we have remained aware of those doing the good work in places we have never been.

What will be that for you? How will you check your allegiances? How can you be an ambassador for Christ? A child of God? 

Do good, and not evil.

Made in the Image of God: Gilroy as Sacrament

Prologue. I wrote this piece for the Bishop’s ePistle as a guest author last week before three more mass shootings wracked our nation. It seems more relevant and more difficult as I reread it for this week. But it is no less true. 

We are called to live as Christ’s emissaries, fellow children of our Father, in a world that is not yet redeemed from death and violence. We cannot do this alone. We cannot do it by following the world’s ways. We must be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit, and we must work together to embody love and work for peace. 

Amid the screams, flying bullets and bloodshed that erupted on a warm summer evening at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on Sunday, someone shouted a pivotal question at the gunman: “Why are you doing this?” “Because I’m really angry,” the gunman replied, according to Jack Van Breen, who spoke with reporters after performing at the festival with his band, TinMan. 

-from Los Angeles Times article “Disturbing Portrait Emerges of Gilroy Festival Shooter,” July 30, 2019, By MATTHEW ORMSETH, HANNAH FRY, LAURA J. NELSON, COLLEEN SHALBY, RICHARD WINTON, ALENE TCHEKMEDYIAN

In the middle of our last summer in seminary, several classmates drove down from Berkeley to the Gilroy Garlic Festival to take a break from hospital chaplaincy and try garlic ice cream. We also got in a Scottish Games Festival on that trip.

It was a normal summer afternoon in California at a small town fair, extremely local and low key. It was a day of friendship and quirky local fair.

And, yes, the garlic ice cream was amazing. 

This summer’s memories of the Gilroy Garlic Festival will be marked not by friendship and flavors, but by senseless violence and questions about motives and gun laws. Or maybe we have already moved on. 

For a moment, I want to call us back to this moment and ask to consider our response as Christians. There will be other moments and many closer to home for us to respond to, but this one offers us the opportunity to ask some hard questions at a distance that may later be too close. 

Imago Dei, the image of God. At the Creation in Genesis, God makes humanity to be “in our image,” which we usually put in terms of our worth when we say, “Everyone is made in the image of God.” But the idea in Genesis is that we are made to be as God in the created world, to represent God in our care of the garden of creation, and to be a companion to God, and to each other. 

I shorthand this to, “We are made to be as God’s children on the earth, to love God, care for each other, and take care of the creation itself.” 

We blow it right from the beginning, but the long story is that God restores us in Christ to be what we were made to be in the beginning. This restoration in Christ is at the heart of our understanding of the purpose of the cross as a cosmological redemption and our vocation as Christians. 

Humanity was supposed to be God’s theological statement, showing the world who God was by being like God in our worship, companionship, and care for others and the world. 

When humanity blows it, God focusses that call into the people of the Torah. The Law of Israel is all about revealing God to the world in how the Israelites lived with God, the Creation, and each other, especially the “widow, the orphan, and the stranger in the land.” The Law gets into some places that we are uncomfortable for us today, because we have made religion stay in its box, separated from our politics and personal freedoms, which we want to believe only affect us. 

The Bible has no problem addressing our politics and personal freedoms because we are called to be something more.  So when we make our personal choices, they are supposed to reveal God to the world as Christ revealed God to us.  This is what it means to be made in God’s image, live as God’s children, and to pray and act “in his Name.” 

This is why some moments of community and friendship resonate deeper than folly and become like sacraments of holiness, our vocation as human beings set free from sin and death to live in Christ. That day in Gilroy almost twenty years ago was a theological statement as surely as anything we read in class or uttered in a hospital room as beginner chaplains. It was a sacramental moment.

Now, for many people mostly far away, Gilroy will be a sign of another reality, of anger, of violence, of a fallen world. And part of the fascination have with these events is driven by the need to understand what reality is being expressed in these acts. Was it white supremacy or some other psychosis? 

For us Christians it is worth asking not just what the shooter intended in his act, but what our acts in response represent in the world. Is our response mere passivity in the face of violence or can we act faithfully in a dangerous world not yet whole or wholly saved? What do we do? 

Anger in Our Lives  

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 

Matthew 5:21-22

Jesus calls us into these deeper questions, calling us not to just avoid murder, but to give up anger, insults, and condemnation. As a simple command, this seems unreasonable and implausible especially in a time like we are in. But the reason and logic of the whole Bible is at play. 

We are called to live as children of God, and we do not need to live angry, vile, and condemning lives because we represent a reality where we are cared for, loved, valued, and where we human beings are made to love, value, and care for others. We hold that reality out in our lives as our witness, our theological statement about who God is in the face of a world that does not seem to agree with us. This is why we talk about faith, trusting Christ’s teaching in the world now.

White supremacy is therefore a theological impossibility for a Christian. It is heresy that leads to death. It is not the only heresy on sale these days. It is tempting to make a menu of heresies that I hate for you, but that is the way of the angry man, and it leads to death too.

The letter to the Colossians holds open another way. I implore you to memorize the first seventeen verses of chapter 3; commit them to your heart and let them become your instinct: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. . .” should be our aim as his followers. We are called to live differently than the world around us, and Paul and Timothy’s letter tells us to watch what we think about, turning our attention to those things that are above. 

They did not mean to think about clouds and angels, but rather to see from Christ’s perspective, seeing human beings as children of God, representing their Father in heaven on earth, living in his Kingdom now because we have been set free from anger and death. 

Let us grieve Santino William Legan a young man who made his life and death a sacrament of anger and death, whose hell we hope to never know. He failed as so many of us do, only he took his anger to its full end. 

Let us rather choose to live sacramental lives of love and life, taking every thought captive to Christ, training our hearts and hands to live as human beings, making our days communion and salvation for the sake of the world that God made, loves, and for which Christ laid down his own life rather than others.

Closer to home we will have opportunities to choose the path of life in personal choices, politics, and simple acts of companionship and joy. Let’s go to Gilroy sometime and have ice cream.


*The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 5:21–22). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.