I had not planned to speak on this subject today. I planned to begin a sermon series called “The Way of Christ”. But because of the events of this week, I felt compelled to change today’s message. Those reading this include Republicans, Democrats, independents, progressives, and conservatives and everyone in between. I’m not taking sides. I love you all and what I have to say is for everyone.
The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of Jesus' arrest. Jesus had just shared the Last
Supper with his disciples and walked to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Judas Iscariot betrayed
Jesus to the authorities and the led a crowd of his enemies to the garden to arrest him.
51 But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.
52 “Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. 53 Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? 54 But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?”
55 Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day. 56 But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” At that point, all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Peter Cutting Off an Ear
This story about one of Jesus' disciples cutting off a man’s ear is so important that all four Gospel include it—Matthew Mark, Luke and John. The Gospel of John says the mob was a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards. Matthew, Mark, and Luke simply said it was a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. The Gospel of John says it was Peter who cut off the man’s ear. The other Gospel’s don’t tell us who did it. The Gospel of Luke says Jesus healed the man’s ear.
The incident was very chaotic and happened so fast. There wasn’t anyone standing by with a smart phone recording it all. I’m sure it was hard for all the disciples to remember all the details perfectly. It's no wonder their accounts vary a bit. However, there is one thing they all reported. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all remember that Jesus told them not to fight. In John 22:51, Jesus said, “No more of this!” And in Matthew 26:51, he said, “Put away your sword! Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”
Dying by the Sword
Jesus is the most influential figure who ever lived. He changed the world so drastically, we divide history by whether it happened before or after Jesus lived. There have been many people who sought to change the world with the sword (or guns or missiles or bombs), but none has even come close to the influence Jesus had on the world. And he did it all without a sword. In fact, Jesus was able to have so much influence because he didn’t use a sword.
And I believe Jesus message to us today is the same he said to his disciples on that that dark night of his arrest. “Put away your sword!”
We’ve had our swords out for a long time in this country. And it’s gotten exponentially worse over the last decade. I realize none of you are literally walking around with a sword. But figuratively, we carry a sword. The sword of which I speak is not a weapon with a long metal blade. The sword we carry is an attitude that we have to fight each other to make life the way we want it to be.
Jesus said, “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.” What we have been seeing more and more in our country and communities—what we saw vividly splashed across our television sets on January 6th as rioters stormed the Capital building in Washington DC—is what it looks like to die by the sword. It's not necessarily a physical death--though 5 people died. It's a spiritual death. It's a moral death. It can even be the death of ideas or the right to influence public opinion.
What led us to this place—a place where thousands of people would gather at the capital and violently and foolishly rush past barricades and overwhelm law enforcement and illegally occupy the Capital for several hours? What makes people act like this?
We are so divided. It’s not just that we don’t agree on everything. (America is too big and too diverse for us to agree on everything; that’s never gonna happen. We've never in our history agreed on everything.) The problem is we are so angry we want to swing a sword at people with whom we disagree. And maybe, we’ve been cutting off each other’s ears so long now that we don’t have any ears left to listen. We don't use swords, but we cut off ears with words and insults and accusations and mistrust and disrespect.
There are times when it is necessary to draw a sword (or a knife or a gun) to defend yourself, but using a sword is not the way to make the world a better place. It’s not the way to make America great. And right now, we need to hear Christ’s words when he says, “Put away your sword!” This is not the way. Violence is not the way. Fighting is not the way to make America great or the world the way God wants it to be.
The Way of Christ
Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world. The people of Israel thought the Messiah would come to save them from their enemies—that he would fight for them with a sword and liberate them from the Romans. Jesus knew that would never work.
Jesus could have easily beaten the Roman army. He said in Matthew 26:53, “Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” Certainly, God’s angels could defeat the Romans. However, Jesus knew a violent uprising would never work because it’s not how you change people hearts. Only love can change people’s hearts.
Love is how Jesus changed the world. And love is how Jesus wants his followers to make the world a better place. Love is how Jesus wants you to make America a better place.
And this is a message for everyone—Republicans, Democrats, independents, progressives, and conservatives and everyone in between. It’s time to stop pointing fingers at everyone else and saying how evil they are. It’s time to stop calling people names because of what party or philosophy they follow. It’s time to start treating everyone with respect. It’s time to start listening and learning from each other. (You don’t have to agree with someone to respect them, to listen to them, and learn from them.)
It’s time to start living by love or else we will die by the sword.
What does that mean for you? The details may vary from person to person. Some suggestions might be to stop calling people names becasue of their political party or ideology. Maybe you need to change your attitude and understand that people with whom you agree probably believe what they do for good reasons. They are not the enemy. Quite often they share the same values as you, but just prioritize them differently.
Most importantly, if you are a Christian who has committed your life to follow Jesus as your Lord, recognize your role and work as hard as you can to do things the way Jesus would do it. Perhaps the way of Christ is best summarized in the prayer of St Francis of Assisi.
The Prayer of St Francis of Assisi
Lord make me an instrument of Your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness joy.
O Divine master grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it is in dying that we are born
To eternal life.
Will you live this prayer? Peter boasted he would die for Jesus. I'm sure the other Disciples thought the same. But we see in our scripture, they all fled. They were probably willing to die for Jesus on a battlefield, but not on a cross. It’s easy to pledge you will die for Jesus. But will you live for him—even if it means dying on a cross instead of dying in glory on the battlefield? Jesus' way is the way of the cross.