There are many reasons why I go to Church on Sunday, and one of them is the opportunity to pause and consider what is really important in life and what is just fluff. The Gospel reading this week in the Episcopal Church (and thanks to the “Common Lectionary,” in most liturgical churches nationwide) was the second half of the Sermon on the Mount. Father David Thompson led the Church of the Ridge to pause and to consider what that, one of the most familiar of all passages, means to Christians and to all of us of all faiths, in the year 2017.
The Gospel according to St. Matthew was written about A.D. 85, fifty years after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel writer knew all too well that the Temple and Jerusalem itself were both destroyed by Rome, the greatest power of the day, only a few years after Jesus left this world. Armed with that knowledge, he has Jesus telling his disciples and hundreds of followers – and by extension, all of humanity – this: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” This, said Fr. David, is both a blessing and a burden. The blessing is obvious; the burden less so but every bit as important. It is always to do the right thing, to do “good works,” and to do so in a way that offers an example to all who may see. If you observe what is right, then praise it; but if you observe what is wrong, then do all you possibly can to make it right.
This year, indeed this month, America has observed what our new federal government is doing, what the new administration apparently stands for. Many (polling data suggests most) Americans have seen the absence of “good works,” and many among them have decided to stand up and be counted among those who protest, among those who give their light to all in the house. That the vast majority of the thousands upon thousands of protesters in city after city have done so non-violently is a testament to their sincerity, to their living the values of the Sermon on the Mount – whether consciously or not.
It is always easy to say that political engagement, being an active advocate for civil rights especially of people from someplace else, people very different from oneself, is too hard. It’s not my job, it’s somebody else’s job. The Sermon on the Mount tells us otherwise. All of us, of all faiths or none at all, can do no better than to read through the fifth chapter of St. Matthew, to think about the meaning that the Gospel writer passes on to us all and to allow it to sink in. Do you read that it’s not my job to act when I see wrongdoing, when I see others seeking refuge in my country harmed in my name, harmed in the name of the most powerful country in the world? To the contrary, it is my job. It is all of our job.
Let us continue to do that job together, until the job is completed.