“Peace in the Sword” Sermon for Sunday, March 3, 2024

In her book, Freeing Jesus, what she calls a Memoir Theology, Diana Butler Bass, now in her 6th decade of life, shares how she has rediscovered Jesus through six images: Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, The Way, and Presence.[1] Traveling between the institutional church and the inner spiritual journey, Bass shares vulnerably about the trappings of religion and her quest for freedom.

Many of us here have had similar journeys to Diana Butler Bass, starting at one place on our faith journey only to wind up at another. Some unchurched, some de-churched, and then re-churched; others of us come to faith through non-traditional avenues outside the church altogether— but all of us are somehow drawn to the mystery of divine relationship with God.

The first question one might ask when picking up the book Freeing Jesus is, “From what?” From what is Bass attempting to free Jesus? My first thought was, From those God-awful 1990s WWJD bracelets that dawned on all my friends’ wrists: pink, blue, tie-dye, I had them all. Sorry, Jesus. Or does Bass mean to free Jesus from the weight of the world’s suffering, the cross where some still see and envision Jesus today? Or something more mysterious and esoteric? Freeing Jesus from our perpetual scrawny theologies, muddy interpretations, and pitiful attempts to Christianize the Jewishness of Jesus? Or something less obvious, like freeing Jesus from our awkward relationship with his religion and his would-be followers. Perhaps even freeing Jesus from ourselves?

In the book, Bass shares a time when, in her husband’s words, “Jesus asked her to free him from the slammer.”[2] I.E. the cathedral where she was praying.

She writes, “My knees hurt. The cushion at the marble altar almost did not matter. I could feel the cold in my legs, the ache of unanswered prayers. “Where are you, God?” I asked.


I looked up at Jesus in full triptych glory, surrounded by angels, robed in cobalt blue against a gilt background, shimmering sanctity. The small chapel in the great cathedral was one of my favorite places to pray, mostly because of this Jesus. Today, however, I was restless as I gazed intently at the massive icon of Christ. Usually, the image drew me deeper toward God, and the railing where I knelt was a place of awakening and wisdom. “Where are you, God, I asked again.


God? A quiet plea, really, the most incomplete of prayers.

“Get me out of here,” a voice replied…”

Was someone speaking to me? I looked behind, around.

“Get me out of here, the voice said again.

“I stared up at the icon, Jesus? Is that you?”

“Get me out of here.” I heard again, more insistent now.

…But Lord…

The chapel fell silent, but I know I heard a divine demand for freedom.

I did not know what to think, but I also did not want to tell the priest who was wandering up the aisle. I doubted the Washing National Cathedral would take kindly to the son of God looking for an exit. Smuggling an altarpiece out of the building was not going to happen.”[3]

It is a fair question for anyone interested in a confessional theology, for understanding the gospels and our text from Matthew this morning, where Jesus himself asks it of Peter directly: Who do you say that I am?

In Diana’s cathedral encounter with Jesus, this question turned upside down. When she heard “get me out here,” the question “Who do you say that I am?” was personal. For Bass, Jesus had been so many things and, until that point, had been safe in the spaces where she had encountered God. But something shifted, probably the landscape of the Christian Church’s response to the location of our faith. Not only the pandemic but other situational crises such as war and suffering, economic devastation, and the rise of secularism in this country have given us room to reimagine where and how we encounter the holy. With the recent rise of the unaffiliated religious, called the nones, we are living in a society with more people becoming less affiliated with religion than are seeking religion in America.[4]

Many of us were introduced to Religion and Jesus in such cringe-worthy or hollow fashion that we are skittish about the subject altogether. We don’t want to be identified as that kind of Christian, and some of us don’t call ourselves Christian at all—or maybe only under our breath when our mothers come to town. I get it.

Half the global church is beating people over the head with the BIBLE- and those are the heavy, cheap ones that hurt— calling them sinners, hoping that the bait-and-switch model of belief now, over lost-for-eternity will be the lesser of two evils.

The other half of the Christian church is standing up, swayng their bodies, in cathedral-like concert halls in TX sweating with passion, singing “Jesus is my boyfriend songs” following the path of narrow, exclusivist, and extreme theology— which in the end gets us radical socio-political agendas: gerrymandered maps, anti-trans legislation, privatized education, and a full-blown attack on women’s reproductive rights— not to mention an extremist regime of young soldiers training in the ranks…either behind the screens of AI-generated memes or in the barracks with AR15s as young adult teens.

Right under their noses, the church of the state is in a deep state of confessional crisis, leading many of us, especially progressive Christians, to this question like Bass of “How to free Jesus?”

This question is caught up in another one, the one Jesus posed to his followers: “Who do you say that I am?”

When Peter, James, and John encounter Jesus on the outskirts of town, he is plain-spoken. Though Matthew’s goal here is to depict Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus is not hung up on a theological analysis of Peter’s or the other disciples’ responses. Peter says, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus responds, “A+, great job, star student, now let’s get to work… building the church…

Throughout these first three weeks in Lent, We have been following the life and witness of Peter the disciple, not known for blind faith but rather for opinionated questioning. We see in Peter’s life that following Jesus means asking hard questions, being willing to let go of our fears, and taking up new ways of living in the world, acting on Jesus’ call to follow.

Following Jesus does NOT mean checking your brain at the door. In the United Church of Christ, we say that our faith is over 2000 years old, but our thinking is not. Following Jesus does NOT mean believing in one creedal statement over another; it does NOT necessitate confessing a particular Christology or accepting a defined religious dogma that tells the world you are this specific version of a Christian. Following Jesus might be as simple as dropping your only coin into the can of compassion, like the widow, offering all that you are to the God you know can turn your nothing into everything and so much more.

Following Jesus can also look like becoming a revolutionary for justice. Taking up your cross can resemble marching, protesting, lifting your voice on behalf of the voiceless, turning the tables, and walking the Damascus Road.

Following Jesus can also be a civil conversation between respectful adults, citizens, and legislators, voters to political leaders, parishioners to pastors, friends to friends, and family to family.

Church, The point is that following Jesus looks like “something,” and that “something” is what Peter responded to as they stood together on the outskirts of town that day.

Who do you say that I am? Peter witnessed Jesus’ actions and saw him love, serve, and seek to save. Thus, Peter responded: I see you. You are the Messiah, the son of the living God, who can turn the world upside down and back again.

For those unsure of our response to this question, take heart in the UCC (and mainline Protestantism); we are all over the map because it’s not simply words that matter, but our actions that transform the world. From benevolent atheists to conservative believers, Jewish and Christian, Muslim, secular humanists and gnostics, we all walk alongside each other here, all caught up in a web of those who seek peace and use the language of love. Thus, when our world is short on those things, our partners in faith are experiencing far too little love, peace & justice. We become squeamish and uncomfortable and need more language to adequately address our faith’s complexities, doubts, and beliefs.

Genocide is as wrong as the first bullet that leaves any man’s weapon. Crimes against humanity are anti-Christian, anti-Muslim, and anti-Jewish. Under the Mosaic code of our shared inheritance and religious identities, we are all caught up in the human catastrophe of ego, power, and privilege. No one can win in this war.

In the fight for civil rights, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,

“The price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro and other minority groups is the price of its destruction.”[5]

Church, Lest we forget, our religious identity is also caught up in our human frailty. More wars have been fought in the name of God than liberation celebrated at the hands of God.

As Christians, co-laborers in the work for justice, co-creators of the church of Christ, universal, and co-demonstrators of peace on this Earth, we are asked, like Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”

As Christians, biblical scholar Dr. James Willie Jennings of Yale Divinity Schools reminds us, “We who follow Jesus are working in wounds, working with wounds, and working through wounds.”[6]

Jesus’ road toward peace was paved with pain, and the church is still struggling with past and present wounds and how to create healing while suffering lingers.

Church, despite our great attempts at creating lots of min-theologians and failing (especially in the mainline church- because we want you to know that Jesus loves you, and PEACE is all that matters), Some of us know something more profound than we often care to admit, something more powerful than we know how to grasp. We know something about Jesus that has significant meaning in our shared history. This moment, where truth hangs by a thread, and the threat of violence is always one tweet away.

Jesus, the Rabbi and teacher, the man who suffered and died at the hands of the state, not dissimilar to the political-religious uprising in the Holy Land today, died unnecessarily. Yet, the text paints a picture of his death’s inevitability. Injustice does not hide its face.

This Jesus, of love and light, of forgiveness and grace, of peace, joy, and justice, said it himself in Matthew’s gospel, just a few chapters earlier from this morning’s text in Matthew 10: ”Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the Earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s household.”

We know something about Jesus that Peter also learned, that love leads us to peace—YES, but that peace comes with a cost, and it calls us to commit to the way of peace. Sometimes, commitment can make us squeamish and uncomfortable.

Dr. Caroline Lewis says of this sword-wielding text from Jesus, “If you anticipate a lack of resistance to the truth of which I am asking you to speak, well, I have news for you. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a tranquil or quiet existence free from disturbance and discord. Instead, the Kingdom of Heaven disrupts. The Kingdom of Heaven is unsettling. The Kingdom of Heaven upends, especially the reigns that feign peace. The Kingdom of Heaven comes with the demands on which true peace insists — and never lets go of the kind of peace God has in mind.

“Believing in Jesus — really believing in what Jesus says, what Jesus stands for, and then admitting it — is risky business. Relationships will change. Relationships could very well end. That is, in part, what Jesus is saying. When you stand up for what you believe? Nothing will be the same. Ever again. Anticipate being unfriended. Unfollowed. Tried and trolled.”[7]

When Jesus shows up, there is often conflict because, as he taught us, we cannot serve both man and God simultaneously. Jesus’ presence holds us accountable to a greater truth, a higher consciousness with the sanctity and beauty of ALL life at the center, even above our own.

If what we know about Jesus can help us to somehow free one another from anger and hostility and free our God of LOVE from the cacophony of political jaws spewing out coercive religious & political lies, at this moment, we are called to act in Jesus name.

As demonstrated through Peter, Freeing Jesus means confessing Jesus. If not us, someone else will. Suppose we throw in the towel altogether— for fear of being that kind of Christian. In that case, we will be swallowed hole by the white-washed, Christian nationalist propaganda that is spewing itself all over the country, from Palm Beach to Texas to Nebraska, and now seems to be stretching beyond our shores, infiltrating those who don’t even bear the name Christian at all.

Church Freeing Jesus means freeing ourselves from the FEAR that keeps us from getting in the boat, standing on the shore, and confessing faith in the one whose name we work for peace.

Who do you say that I am?

Remember, it’s not Jesus who needs freeing…

May it be so. Amen.

[1] Freeing jesus: Rediscovering jesus as friend, teacher, savior, … Available at: https://www.amazon.com/Freeing-Jesus-Rediscovering-Teacher-Presence-ebook/dp/B087QH6VTJ (Accessed: 04 March 2024).

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] Nearly 30 percent in U.S. now identify as having no religious … Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2024/01/24/nones-no-religion-study/ (Accessed: 04 March 2024).

[5] Pierre-louis, K. (2018) Dr. King said segregation harms us all. environmental research shows he was right., The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/03/climate/mlk-segregation-pollution.html (Accessed: 04 March 2024).

[6] Willie James Jennings quotes (author of the Christian imagination) (no date) Goodreads. Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/3381339.Willie_James_Jennings (Accessed: 04 March 2024).

[7] Admin, A. (2020) Not peace but a sword, Working Preacher from Luther Seminary. Available at: https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/not-peace-but-a-sword (Accessed: 04 March 2024).