The image of the American President lifting up the bible, upside down, outside a church within walking distance of the White House, with those assisting outside the church in Lafayette Park having been dispersed by the National Guard with pepper spray, has gone viral around the world. The President’s words of division and threat have polarised the nation and the world. He has brought into sharp contrast the words of many of the Christian pastors and religious leaders.
Today is Trinity Sunday, when we reflect on our faith in the Triune God and what this means for us in these troubled times. Today we heard about Moses speaking with a God of mercy and graciousness, slow to anger, steadfast in love and faithfulness, forgiving and loving. We heard Paul speaking to the Corinthian Christians about working together, living in peace as God’s message breaks open our hearts with love, peace, and grace; and finally, the last five verses of Matthew’s Gospel. So today I want to reflect with you on authority, power and love. I John 4:7
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Consequently, this image of the American President demonstrates the very worst of human authority and power. Commentators describe him inciting violence and division. He is a political arsonist. He wields power and authority corruptly, without justice or compassion. The President deals deliberately in hatred, division and death as he prepares for the next election and his determination to win at any cost. Lining up beside him are religious leaders supporting and endorsing him.
In contrast, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, Mariann Budde wrote:
I was outraged by President Trump’s use of the Bible and the backdrop of St John’s Church for his political purposes. I was horrified to learn while he was threatening to use military force across America, peaceful protesters were being forcibly removed from Lafayette Park so he might pose before the church for a photograph.
Bishop Budde went on to reassure readers she would have loved the President to come into the Church he has never previously attended, he would have been welcomed and invited to address the nation from the Church, to speak about the collective grief, anger and frustration…..and for justice, using his voice for calm and to stop the looting and destruction.
However, Bishop Budde reminds us all, outrage is not sufficient. She reminds everyone the bible calls on us to love God and our neighbour, to seek God in the face of strangers and even to love our enemies and she warns against hypocrisy.
There are expectations for us as Christians to live to the highest standards of love; by doing justice, loving tenderly and walking humbly (Micah 6:8). Scripture is clear, God is not impressed with prayers unaccompanied by sustained efforts to create a more loving world. “Let justice roll down like waters” says God through Amos 5:24, “and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
So why have I reflected on this aspect of the reading from Matthew 28:18?
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
It is because we can see with the problems with worldly authority and recognise those who have abused it in the name of Christ.
In going to the cross, Jesus refused to exercise such coercive authority. Instead, on the mountain top with his disciples as the risen Lord, he offers an alternative vision of power; an authority seeking ‘all nations,’ calling all people to a new way of living with love.
Jesus identifies his own power with the one he calls Father, our Creator and Lord. The risen Jesus is one with God, as the Lord of all creation. God’s authority is not a dominating lordship. Nor is it the kind of authority demonstrated by the Roman state when it crucified Jesus; nor by current world leaders who continue to crucify the innocent when confronted with resistance, love and peace.
God gives authority to Jesus as God’s Son, the Word made flesh out of love for the world. It is the authority of selfless giving, of forgiving love, an antithesis of what we are seeing today.
Jesus reminds them of the invitation to do everything he has told them (v20): be reconciled to one another, love your enemies, do not retaliate evil with evil, pray, fast, give alms, free the prisoner, heal, resist oppression, seek justice, love God and love your neighbour. That is God’s invitation.
There is a joyful recognition this power and authority is life giving not life taking. As Jesus sends us to make disciples of all nations and to teach them his commandments through words and practice, in love:
As we reflect on the Trinity, we affirm the Holy Spirit binding us in love to God. in Jesus and in us, and we in God as our Creator. So, we have a perfect answer to what we see being offered instead in hatred, division and wickedness by those who claim worldly authority rather than God’s love. In this gathering as sisters and brothers in God’s kingdom, the message is clear.
Love is not a passive, inactive experience. We turn to others to share and practice God’s loving message, knowing words of love without its active expression is a noisy waste of time.
1 Corinthians 13: 1-13 details this. “If I do not have love, I am nothing.” Love is more than a word. We experience it and in joy, share it with others.
Love is triune as we know God loves us as the lover, we are the beloved and love itself shared through the Holy Spirit. We do not live autonomously without regard or accountability to others or to God. As we look at what is happening in the US, in Australia and around the world, if love is not expressed practically and if others do not experience it as witnessing our love of God, our faith is as nothing.
This last two weeks we have been praying as a worldwide church for reconciliation. I have been praying about our brokenness and our lack of interest and unwillingness to be reconciled, our complicity in structural injustice and acceptance of what works for us and our refusal to change.
We, being convinced of our righteousness, hold our brokenness, refusing to see our racist behaviour and collusion in maintaining injustice and discrimination in our relationships with the First Peoples of Australia and with people of other races. We are unwilling to accept and welcome people of different sexualities; in our gender discrimination; and often with the poor and dispossessed who make us so uncomfortable, challenging our certainties and requiring us to see Jesus in them and respond accordingly.
Paul said: “Listen to my appeal. Put things in order.”
Scripture is clear: The need and expectation of justice is society’s expression of love, and this matters to God. The demand for justice is what is most important to those exercising their right to peaceful protest.
As someone who has been arrested for such an action, my love for all God’s people, reminds me once again it is long past time to put right the appalling abuses of racist behaviour and see the injustices borne by those having to make extraordinary sacrifices in this time of Covid-19 to keep others safe while we turn a blind eye and accept their offering without questions.
While it might feel safer to do nothing, or say nothing for fear of offending others, the words of God are clear. As we stand in faithful witness to what is happening, we don’t need pepper sprays or the military to remind us why we are working in God’s kingdom. Now is the time and place to speak of love, to show it in our words and actions.
As we reflect on God, Creator, Word and Spirit, we reflect on God’s love for us and God’s invitation to us, to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength and likewise to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Not just a white neighbour or a white God and not with pre-conditions, but in following Jesus’ footsteps, knowing Jesus will be with us always; and rejoicing in the risen Lord, we can be safe in following Jesus to death.
The Lord be with you.