One of the more dramatic moments during the 2016 Republican National Convention was the speech given by the former candidate for the Presidency, Senator Ted Cruz from Texas. After an extremely contentious primary battle, pundits speculated endlessly prior to his speech as to whether he would formally endorse the Presidential candidate of his party, Donald Trump. Seated in front of him as he spoke from the dais were the delegates from Mr. Trump’s home state of New York. Articulate and persuasive speaker that he is, Senator Cruz mesmerized his audience as he outlined many of the fundamental principles of the conservative wing of his party. But, one could sense that the audience was becoming progressively more or more restive. You could hear the crowd beginning to chant ‘Endorse Trump’ but Cruz was being extremely carefully as he was weaving toward the final crescendo of his long anticipated speech. The delegates from New York were yelling, “Endorse,” “Endorse,” but Cruz refused and finally ended his speech by urging the delegates and all listening through the media to ‘vote their conscience!’ Political pundits endlessly commented on the speech, some predicted that this would forever taint Cruz’s chances for a future run for the Presidency, others maintained that he was cautiously posturing himself for a future run. Time will only tell. However, the Senator’s appeal to ‘conscience’ was no thoughtless maneuver to avoid commitment. Rather, it was an appeal to that human faculty by which you and I hopefully discern what is right and wrong, good or bad, virtuous or sinful, in living out lives of integrity before the Lord.
Our first reading this morning is taken from the Prophet Jeremiah. The prophets of Israel held the unenviable role of functioning as the ‘conscience’ of Israel. As has been often said of prophets in every age, their primary function is not to tell folks what they ‘want’ to hear but rather, what they ‘need’ to hear. The prophets of Israel and Jeremiah was no exception, invariably were the goad to the consciences of their people when they had forgotten their first and foremost commitments in life. For a faithful Jew, that commitment was to love the Lord with all their heart and to be faithful to the relationship that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had forged with them. Unfaithfulness was the great temptation of the people of Israel. It was, quite frankly, their greatest sin. In their foolishness, time and time again, they thought they could ‘get a better deal’ somewhere other than with the Lord. And time and time again, the prophets would call them to conversion and a recommitment to God and to living with a right conscience.
However, living and walking with a ‘right conscience’ has never been easy. To be a person of integrity – doing good and avoiding evil – is the life work for all of us who strive to be faithful to our baptismal covenant – our fundamental relationship as a Christian. Our Gospel today, taken from St. Luke, presents one of the more enigmatic passages in the entire New Testament. How can embracing the way of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, possibly create conflict and division in the world and in one’s relationships? How can this be?
My friends, to follow the Lord with conviction, to be open to letting our consciences be formed by the values of the Gospel at times cannot but invite conflict and division – perhaps even in one’s own family. Only those for whom the Christian message is a convenient armchair philosophy, a ‘cheap grace’ – asking very little by way of practically changing our lives and our hearts – will experience Christianity without the Cross.
Yet for those who are willing to shape their own lives, values and convictions by the one who was willing to ‘speak the truth in love’ and experience the darkness of death for daring to confront the evil that exists in our world – the cross of conflict and division will inevitably come our way.
The fundamental question that the Gospel challenges all of us with today is quite simply: Am I a Christian of ‘convenience’ or am I a Christian of conviction? May our conscience be our guide in answering that question.