Sermon – April 18, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. …. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him…. John 19:1-2, 16-18
I’ll never forget the day and you probably won’t either. I had a terrible feeling as I left my apartment that day on my way to work. I worked nearby and had an upcoming board meeting. It was the first board meeting with the new board members. It was a 2-day meeting with orientation, dinner, and business. And it was my 4th year of organizing this meeting, so I was an “old pro,” as the saying goes. Yet, I felt so uneasy.
I was absorbed in my work, when a staff member came to tell me a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. We went to the board room and turned on the TV, only to see smoke pouring from a building in Washington DC. We were 3 hours from New York City and 2 hours from DC. I had visited both cities many times. My brother lived in New York and you could see the Towers from his apartment building. My daughter was living on Long Island. My children and I had visited those Towers many times over the years. It was one of our favorite destinations in New York. And that tragedy of that day midst a beautiful, sunny September continued to unfold. Such terrifying violence that dramatically changed our lives.
The days and weeks ahead were filled not only with grief and fear and responding to disaster, but also with how we would respond. Personally, I thought about violence in the world and ways in which I had participated in violence against other people. That’s what Good Friday asks of us…to look deep within our hearts and see where we have inflicted violence on others. Where have I inflicted harm? Where have I been forcibly vehement?
It’s much easier to look at a nation or at others to see how they are violent. It’s much easier to be the victim of violence in some respects. But to look squarely at ourselves and to see where we have crucified Jesus…where we have been part of the mob or even a mob of one…is much harder.
I catch myself rushing through the grocery store, intent on the things I need…acknowledging no other human being, but being only exasperated when they are in my way. Truly, most of us want to be seen…to be acknowledged as human beings…and this rushing to accomplish my agenda, whether it’s in the store, or in an email, does not see the other person, which is a violent act.
I get frustrated with customer service and before I know it, I’m yelling. I do try to remember the people answering the phones did not create the systems or processes that are causing me trouble. I work hard to be firm, yet kind. And sometimes I can no longer do it and I’m saying all sorts of things.
I once saw a demonstration about the violence of words. A woman running a workshop I attended picked the biggest, strongest person out of the group. She had him hold his arms out and tried to push them down. She could not do it. Then she spent 5-10 minutes saying terrible things to him…how he was weak and couldn’t do anything. When he held out his arms again, she easily pushed them down.
Yet in our inherent self-centeredness, whether as individuals or as a community, we obsess about who has treated us wrong and who has treated us unjustly. We plot how to get revenge. Some of this is out of fear that we will be hurt. In truth, in our fear and self-centeredness, we have shut out the voice of God.
And here comes Jesus on this most violent of days…dying in the most violent of ways and he shows us the power of nonviolence. He barely speaks during his trial. He forgives the people who are harming him. He takes care of his mother. He hangs in pain on that cross…enduring an agonizing death. He does not respond with violence. He does not respond with revenge. He does not create a feud that will go on forever. He loves.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a strong advocate of nonviolence. He said many things about it, but here’s one from his book, Stride Toward Freedom,
Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Towards Freedom
At the National Prayer Service on September 14, 2001, then Dean, Now Bishop Nathan Baxter said, Let us pray that as we act, we not become the evil we deplore. Representative Barbara Lee from California heard those words and took her faith seriously. She stood on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and was the only member of Congress to vote against going to war as a response to the tragedy. While others also felt the resolution was flawed, they were too afraid to speak up. Violent revenge was the only response many of us could see. While ultimately war might have needed to occur, both Dean Baxter and Representative Lee were telling us to wait.
In Romans 12:17-21 Paul reminds us of Jesus teaching: 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;* for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ 20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Today is the day we bend the knee of our heart and examine where we have been violent and where we have participated in violence. It is the day to recommit ourselves to the love of God through the witness of the nonviolent Jesus Christ, hanging on that cross.