By The Rev. Meredith Hunt
Proper 22 Pentecost 17 Grace Church 10.5.14
How many of you have ever seen a stone archway? Try to picture it with large stones piled on top of each other on each side and then coming closer together near the top, and then finally, the Keystone, which is inserted in the middle at the top and holds the Arch up.
I was born in the Keystone State: (Anyone know which state?) Pennsylvania. It was the middle colony of the original thirteen colonies and maybe it even thought of itself as the state which held the colonies together. Maybe lots of keystones also come from quarries in Pennsylvania.
OK, hopefully, you can picture a keystone. This is the word that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel to describe himself. Cornerstone is actually a mistranslation. Jesus is the keystone, which holds the archway together. When the keystone falls, everything falls.
And now picture a door through the Archway. Picture a door, which opens to the Kingdom of God, a place and a time under God’s reign and rule. It is something we all yearn for – a place of love and innocence, a place of life and wholeness. It is something which Jesus has given and gives and will continue to give to us.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells the crowd a story about the Kingdom of God. Picture the scene. He is in Jerusalem in the temple where everyone is preparing for the Feast of the Passover. The day before, he confronted the religious leaders by turning over the money changer tables, and now the religious leaders have just challenged his authority.
Jesus begins by describing a Land Owner who had a vineyard and Tenants who worked the land. Everyone listening to Jesus knew whom he meant – They knew the Landowner was a Roman, maybe even the Emperor, and they also knew that the Romans had stolen the Land from the Hebrew people. They knew that Jews were the Tenants on their own land. It outraged them.
Then Jesus describes how the Tenants resisted the Land Owner. This would have been exciting. Those listening were probably silently cheering at this point. They all knew of the resistance movements – the Zealots and others who dreamed of a true King, who would one day come and drive out the hated Romans. Maybe Jesus was even that King?
Then Jesus describes how the Tenants struck a decisive blow at the Land Owner by killing the heir, so they the Tenants could inherit the land. The people listening would have loved this part of the story, because they knew the Jewish people were the true heirs. They probably wondered, “How are we going to do this?” “Is he going to lead us?”
But wait, then Jesus doesn’t tell the story right. It ends wrong: the Land Owner kills all the Tenants, and replaces them with others. The people listening to Jesus were not expecting that ending. They didn’t want that ending. They didn’t like that ending.
Yet that is exactly what Jesus wanted them (and us) to hear: the violence used by the Tenants to resist the Land Owner will simply come back on the Tenants. The point that the Jesus was trying to make is this: violence, even righteous violence, only results in more violence. It does not bring freedom or new life. It only brings destruction. Violence against the Romans will only bring destruction and about 37 years later, that is exactly what happened when the Romans burned and destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem.
This teaching of nonviolence and unconditional love is a hard teaching; it is a stumbling block for almost everyone, and yet it is also the Keystone to the Kingdom, it is the arch stone that holds up the archway into the Kingdom of God. Jesus, the sacrificial lamb went willingly to his death forgiving his executioners; the Way of the Cross is the way of nonviolence and unconditional love.
Now if Jesus’s teaching of non-violence and unconditional love of our enemies is a Keystone in the Archway to the Kingdom, perhaps we might think of the Ten Commandments as Ten Keys to unlock the Door.
The Ten Commandments are probably held over every Christian child’s head at least once in their lifetime, when they are sternly reminded to “Honor your father and your mother.” I suspect that most people imagine God sternly telling us that we need to keep the Ten Commandments in order to honor God. Most people probably think the Commandments are Ten Laws that we must not break, and if we do, we will be in bad, bad trouble.
But another way of thinking about the Ten Commandments is that they are keys, keys to open the door to the Kingdom of God, and I would suggest that Unconditional Love is not only the Keystone but also the grease, which allows the hinges to move. Jesus said as much when he said that the summary of the Law is to Love God with all your heart and mind and strength and to Love your neighbor as yourself. The door to the Kingdom doesn’t open without love. Keys won’t work without Love.
Followers of Jesus are people who want to live as Jesus calls us to live – we might call it “Kingdom Living”. Jesus said it very clearly in today’s Gospel passage: The Kingdom of God comes to people who produce the fruits of the Kingdom.
So who are these people and what are the fruits of the Kingdom? They are people who not only do not murder but also are people who seek to bring life to others without counting the cost. They are people who not only do not lie or covet, but also are people who seek peace and reconciliation and give thanks for what they have. They are not only people who honor their mother and father, but also are people who see the world through a child’s eyes and heart. They are ordinary people who seek to produce the fruits of the Kingdom, which brings in the Kingdom for this world. There is no other way.
Let me tell you now about two ordinary people but committed Christians who give us an example of Kingdom Living.
The first is Jill Crary, the wife of Don Crary, the Region IV Director of the Order of St. Luke the Physician. I first met Jill at an OSL Healing Mission some years ago, and most recently when I was in Chicago, she reminded me of a Kingdom decision and series of events in her life.
In September of 2003, Jill was attending a Healing Course led by her husband. On the first night, she met another student named Monika, who shared with Jill that she had inherited polycystic kidney disease. Monika’s mother had died from the disease while on dialysis, and Monika was terribly afraid of going on dialysis.
Jill didn’t see Monika at the next couple of classes and decided to call her. As they spoke, Jill discovered that they had the same unusual blood type, A positive. It was then that the Holy Spirit prompted Jill to offer Monika a kidney. Monika started to cry, because she could not imagine how someone, an almost stranger, could make such a life changing offer. God then provided the script for the next several months, including the surprising discovery that 3 out of the 6 antigens were a match. On June 30, 2004, Jill Crary became a kidney sister of Monika, who today has a full and healthy life because of Jill’s sacrificial love for her. And Jill gives all the glory to God.
The second person I want to tell you about is Kay Doherty. In January 1972, a New England woman from Hingham, Massachusetts, was reading the Boston Globe newspaper and learned that the North Bolivar County Farm Co-op in Mound Bayou, Mississippi was about to collapse due to federal budget cutbacks. It was a little article but it jumped out at Kay because it was clear from the newspaper article that it would be catastrophic for the folks who lived and worked in the coop if this were to happen.
Kay, a Christian, was convicted in her heart by this information, and so she asked herself: “How can I in some way be a part of the struggle of these people?” After mulling over this question for several days an answer finally came. She would try and organize a Walk to raise money for the Co-op, but it turned out that no one was willing to help her. So what could she do now? She decided she would simply walk the nine miles to church in Hingham on Good Friday, by herself, if necessary. That way she might at least feel at least a little of the kind of pain felt daily by the poor coop farmers. She then decided she would ask some friends to walk with her, and it occurred to her that if she and her friends each donated a little money for every mile they walked, they could send that small amount to Mississippi. Finally, she realized that others who couldn’t walk might want to donate a little money to the cause by pledging a certain amount for each mile that another person walked.
That first year Kay and her few friends raised several hundred dollars and Kay decided to deliver the money to the folks in Mississippi in person. They were astounded. Of course, they were helped by the cash, but they were strengthened a lot more by the fact that a stranger from faraway Massachusetts had cared about their plight.
And Kay was positively transformed by her visit South. She began to go around talking about the Co-op, and about how people could get involved in helping others to build a new life for themselves. The next Good Friday Kay Doherty walked to church again. This time several thousand dollars were raised. By the time David and I got involved in 1975 hundreds of people walked, and tens of thousands of dollars were raised. And to date, this Annual Good Friday Walk for an organization that Kay started, Sharing, Inc., has given away over $3,350,000 to help hungry people. All because one Christian woman sought to live into the Kingdom of God.
David remembers talking to Kay about it. Like Paul said in his Letter to the Philippians which we heard read today, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead,” Kay told David that she too wanted to share in the sufferings of Christ. From that first walk in 1972, Good Friday has become a day on which many Christians in the Hingham area choose to walk as Jesus did, walking in the shared conviction that we must respond with love and justice wherever God’s people cry out.
A week from this Sunday, on October 12, many local Christians will also walk for hunger. The 2014 CROP Walk will take people 4.6 miles through Traverse City in order to raise money to support local, national and international organizations that help hungry people, and at least as many more people will sponsor them and contribute money to their effort. Ann Hackett is the Grace Church point person for the CROP Walk this year. The CROP Walk began in 1969, probably with a similar vision to Kay Doherty’s, a desire of the leaders of Church World Service to respond to people in need.
Here as members of Christ’s Body of Grace Church, we too can use the Keys to Kingdom Living by getting involved with CROP. How many of you will be walking next week? How many of you have made a pledge to contribute? We can sacrifice something of our time and our resources to help others who have less than we do. By feeding the hungry we can produce the Fruits of the Kingdom – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, and faithfulness – because as our Lord Jesus Christ said, “…the kingdom of God will be … given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”
May it be so.