Message By Rev. William W. Chu
Dec 7, 2014
Dick Gregory tells the story of a black man who, back in the 60s, walked into a restaurant in Mississippi. He sat down, studied the menu and ordered the fried chicken. A couple of local good-ole-boys started giving him a hard time. The first redneck yelled across the room, Hey, boy, we don’t serve Black People here. The man smiled politely and said, That’s all right, I don’t eat Black People anywhere. When the waitress finally brought the chicken, the second redneck sauntered over and, in a menacing manner, said, I’m warning you, boy; whatever you do to that chicken, we’re gonna do to you. The black man paused, thought it over for a second and put down his knife and fork. Y’all line up, he said. Then he kissed the chicken.
That’s where Gregory ends the story. My prayer is that the man’s righteous and clever gesture is just disarming enough that the good-ole-boys laugh and peace breaks out. Then the words of the psalmist will be true.
Psa. 85:10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
The psalmist vision is beautiful, yet my experience tells me that righteousness and peace rarely coexist let alone kiss each other. It's usually more of a zero sum game.
In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Essay on Compensation”. Emerson states that life always seeks balance in all things, and that it is impossible for us to be cheated in life. Whenever the scales are tipped in one direction, then Natural Law requires that the scales be returned to equilibrium. Emerson says: “Men suffer all their life long under the foolish superstition that they can be cheated. But it is as impossible for a man to be cheated by anyone but himself as for a thing to be and not to be at the same time.”
This is to say that we cheat ourselves when we zealously seek self-righteousness.
Emerson invites us to a righteousness that is more passive, let go and let God rather than take matters of righteousness into our own hands.
It seems when we seek after our own self-righteousness rather than the righteousness of God we blow that perfect kissing opportunity (and not in a good way).
The Gospel of Mark, our gateway book of the month tells of a kiss that is about as far from the vision of the psalmist that one can imagine.
Mark 14:43 - 46
Mark 14:44 Now the betrayer [Judas] had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45 So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 Then they laid hands on him and arrested him.
Judas pursued a self-righteousness that justified his indignation over the incident at Simon the leper’s home in bethany. Mark 14 beings with the story of unnamed woman who broke open as alabaster jar of costly nard and anointed Jesus with compassion and kisses.
Tradition tells us that Judas led the charge that this was a lavish waste and that costly ointment ought to have been sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor.
Jesus ruled that no trouble should be brought to this woman for her compassion, remembered the good news. Jesus reminded us all that even sharing money as charity ought to be empowered by kindness rather than a sense of duty to self-righteousness.
Mark’s unnamed woman’s compassion demonstrates a new beginning life of good news that Pastor Jennie's message last week invited us to contemplate. As we embrace this new life we become a new hope for the world.
The peace that the Messiah brings to us overcomes the zero sum calculation of righteousness or peace. The calculus of God edits "or" into "and". The zero sum is overcome righteousness and peace can coexist. In fact they can even kiss and be united as lovers. This unimaginable "and" beings with God's gesture of welcome to each of us.
Our reading from Romans today speaks of harmony and welcoming others as Christ has welcomed us.
Rom. 15:1 We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. 3 For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
Paul again points out that we are not seeking self-righteousness but the righteousness of God. We do this by seeking to please our neighbor over ourselves.
When we welcome ourselves to ourselves to Do It Yourself Justice, we become vigilantes who reject the justice of God.
18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is the season of Advent. The time when we prepare for the coming of the Prince of Peace. As a baby born in Bethlehem and as a new life in our hearts today. The peace of Christ is a peace and a harmony that passes human understanding. Its human tendency to seek self-righteousness especially when we have been wronged, however this rarely results in a peace that we can enjoy.
Peacemakers are those who see that the world and its people are broken but also hold a dream, a vision, that God can and does reach out to heal our world. And God does it through the acts of those who live by the values of this new kingdom where God’s will is being done.