Love Your Enemies

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
February 19, 2017
The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany – Year A

Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18
Psalm 119: 33-44
1 Corinthians 3: 10-11, 16-23
Matthew 5: 38-48

My Friends:

mlkOf the many so-called hard sayings of Jesus, his commands in this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew may well be the hardest of all.  It is challenge enough to love and to forgive your neighbor or your kin; it’s quite another matter to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  Jesus’ clear admonition has perplexed and challenged the individual Christian conscience for millennia, and it has vexed nations and empires since the beginning of the Christian era.  Is it a categorical mandate for pacifism, or just a caution to individuals and nations contemplating the use of violence and war as “an extension of politics by other means,” to use the apt and famous phrase of Karl von Clausewitz? God knows that we have witnessed both aplenty during the blood-soaked twentieth and twenty-first centuries, ranging from Gandhi’s non-violent movement to drive the British Raj from India, followed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s struggle for American civil rights in the 1960s; to World War l, that so-called war to end all wars, and its extension known as World War ll—the “good war” fought by “the greatest generation.”  And what about the horror of the Shoah, and the train of genocides during the second half of the twentieth century in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur in the wake of that “good” war? Should the international community have decisively invoked its “obligation to protect” and have used effective military force to end the carnage in those places?  And what should the United Nations Security Council do right now about the ISIS genocide of Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims in areas under its control, together with the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated every day for nearly six years in Syria, together with the genocide about to break out in South Sudan?  Try as we may, we cannot and, as Christians, we may not duck these difficult moral dilemmas with a quick reference to Jesus’ words in this morning’s Gospel.  Our time and place in human history demand answers and urgent action, not soothing evasions, for in a world awash in nuclear weapons, and in the midst of the greatest migration and refugee crisis since World War ll, even inaction is a moral decision demanding a moral reckoning. Continue reading

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Grounded in Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, November 15, 2015
Twenty Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Preached at Bethany Convent, Arlington

girard04This past week the French sociologist and philosopher Rene Girard died.  Girard was known for  – among other things – his writing about scapegoating; that is, how groups of people torment and sacrifice other groups as a means of establishing unity.

Recent events seem to validate Girard’s theory.  Consider ISIS and the destruction of all groups not Muslim.  Or the terrible war in South Sudan between the Dinka and the Nuer ethnic groups.  Or the continuing strife in India between Muslims and Hindus.   Or in Israel between Jews and Palestinians.  In each place one group blames the “other” and seeks to “sacrifice” them as a means of establishing unity.

We need but look at the world around us – or at our own lives! – to see that scapegoating never makes for peace.  Scapegoating does nothing but escalate violence as each continues to try to sacrifice the other to establish unity. Continue reading

On Palm Sunday and the Passion Gospel

Sermon for Sunday, March 29, 2015
Palm Sunday

In the past year the Islamic State and its affiliates have opened our eyes to our capacity to commit cruelty to other human beings. Or, rather, ISIS has reminded us of our capacity for cruelty. I think we’ve known all along how inhuman we “humans” can be.   The Passion Gospel we have just heard reminds us that human cruelty is nothing new, that we’ve known all along of our ability to do things cruel and brutal.

We might think that the news has desensitized us to the shock of the Passion Gospel.   But I have a hunch that your reaction to it is similar to mine: as much as I have heard the Passion Gospel before, and as much as I read the news, hearing the Passion Gospel just now I’m feeling angry, dismayed, sad, helpless and confused. Continue reading