The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
Paul, American Culture, and the Gospel~Sermon by the Rev. DWHinkle L2C 3-17-2019
Scripture: Luke 13:31-35
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 32He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’
“17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
4:1Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.“
Sermon: Paul wrote, “18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction;..” What did he mean?
In Luke’s gospel Jesus cries “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. Look your house is abandoned.” (CEB) Are we a nation that refuses to be gathered? Does our house increasingly feel abandoned to our own dysfunction? Many, including myself, think so.
Yesterday, as part of my prep for this sermon, I viewed Michael Moore’s documentary, “Where to Invade Next.” It’s an exploration of some American ideas we could take back from other countries where they have proven successful and bring back to our own country that might give us a new lease on life. It made quite an impression me. In my view, it’s neither left nor right but instead calls us back to what we’ve lost as a nation. Regardless of what you might think of Michael Moore’s work, “Where to Invade Next” is definitely worth watching, and it ends on a very hopeful note.
I want to bring St. Paul and Moore and our American culture together this morning to help us better understand the Gospel message. We start with Paul who said many people live as “enemies of the cross.” Let me explain again how I see the cross. I believe the cross exposes who we humans are and what we humans do. We see what humans do and have always done by watching what the humans of Jesus’ time did to him.
First, this means that the cross did not legitimate the shedding of blood as a necessary sacrifice to God, in order to somehow appease God’s presumed need for justice. No. Instead, the cross exposed the scapegoating mechanism as the heart of the way we humans do things. The cross isn’t about Jesus sacrificing himself to save us from God’s wrath. Jesus didn’t come to change God’s mind about us. That is a total misread of the cross and reduces Jesus’ Abba to a tyrant worse than any in history. Rather, the cross is just the opposite. God has always loved us. God has never needed to be appeased. It’s we humans who need to be appeased. We’re the ones who demand blood revenge. Jesus offered himself on the cross to appease our wrath and to expose it.
To live as an enemy of the cross is to refuse to acknowledge this truth that the cross reveals about us humans. It’s to hide from that truth, cover it up, and even deny it. Here’s an example of not hiding the truth and therefore living as a friend of the cross. In “Where to Invade Next,” Moore includes a segment on Germany where the children in a school class openly acknowledge what Germany did to the Jews. Robert Koehler, reflecting on Moore’s movie writes:
“In Germany, Moore visits an elementary-school classroom in which the students have been asked to bring an item precious to them—something they’d take with them if they were being forced to leave their homes forever. Each child places his or her keepsake in a suitcase, which symbolizes the suitcase of a Holocaust victim. The teacher closes the suitcase.
The expressions on the children’s faces show the audience the depth and seriousness with which they take this. Later, in another vignette, a teenager of Middle Eastern descent who is now a citizen of Germany publicly owns German history as part of his history and commits to not letting it happen again. This amounts to a national confession of sin.”
Contrast this with our history of racism and with the genocide of our Native American population. This is what the cross is meant to expose. It shows us that what the people of Jesus’ day did to Jesus we did and do to African Americans and Native Americans in our country. But we don’t confess it. We don’t acknowledge it. We hide it instead, and argue about it.
If we deny what the cross wants us to see, we become enemies of the cross, and that sets us up for destruction, not from God, but from internal division and strife. We can’t heal until we face our sin. We become rigid as a nation, lose touch with the better angels of our nature, and forget how all humans are alike, and this hardens into these violent struggles that destroy us in body and spirit. Just imagine what it would be like to have to leave your home where you’ve lived all of your life, because there are no jobs and the gangs have made it too dangerous for you and your children to live there in peace. The authorities aren’t on your side. The police won’t protect you. They’re left over from colonial days when their job was to protect the colonists and the corporations who exploited you and your homeland. So you’re forced to pack up a few of your belongings and walk hundreds of miles with your sweet, little children in tow to seek asylum and perhaps a new life in Canada. But when you get there, first, they take your children away, and then, they throw you in jail.
So to deny what is happening to innocent asylum seekers is to live as an enemy of the cross. To deny what we did to the American Indians is to live as an enemy of the cross. To deny that our nation became wealthy by exploiting the work of enslaved humans from Africa - it was not just the slave owners from the south but the slave ship owners from the north, too, who benefited from slavery - is to live as an enemy of the cross. To deny how we have systematically continued to subdue black men through the new Jim Crow practice of disproportionally making them felons, and even taking their basic right to vote away, is to deny the cross.
I was deeply moved as images of prison guard brutality and the humiliation of black men, and other scenes from our history too horrible to talk about here, flashed across Moore’s documentary. I saw the truth, the truth of the cross. St. Paul says “with deep sadness, many people live as enemies of the cross.”
Again, the cross is not about Jesus sacrificing himself in order to save us from God’s wrath and punishment. To believe that also makes us enemies of the cross. There is another way and it’s what we’ve been talking about with growing clarity here for the last ten months.
Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem...How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. Look, your house is abandoned.” (CEB) You got what you want. I wanted to gather you so that you would be safe, but you weren’t willing. I wanted to save you from your alienating, divisive and violent ways, but you wouldn’t allow it. And Jerusalem fell and the Temple was utterly destroyed. Could we be heading towards this end, too?
The old way of gathering is the sacrificial way. It attempts to create social unity by expelling those we think are bad or lesser, like black men, or Native American women, or even the rest of us when we’re sick and in need. But Jesus, God’s very Son, breaks the power of this old way by himself becoming the excluded one. So, if we follow Jesus then we gather around those who are excluded because that’s where Jesus is. Jesus is a black man. Jesus is a Native American woman. Jesus speaks Spanish. Jesus is a sick neighbor without healthcare. He occupies the place of the excluded with his own body as a way of showing us what we do and where he is. He is the victim. And then,...
he forgives us. Jesus is the forgiving victim. His forgiveness opens a new way. He’s the new glue for community centered in inclusion, forgiveness, and mercy.
We gather now, here, to confess our sin, receive his grace, and go out to live in forgiveness, all the while serving those who are being excluded. I wonder if it’s Germany’s confession of her own sin that has allowed her to take in so many Muslim refugees from Syria who are desperate for help and sheltering.
All along Jesus has been in charge and charging forward toward Jerusalem. That old fox Herod has been outfoxed. When Jesus is told that he should leave Galilee because Herod wants to kill him, he replies “Go, tell that fox, ‘Look, I’m throwing out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work.” I think “the third day” points to his resurrection.
Lent is a time of moving toward that third day completion. It won’t happen in Galilee. It will happen in Jerusalem. The time and the place have already been established. Jesus chooses to die in order to get through to us. It’s an act of love for us all. In this sense, he does sacrifice himself, he “offered himself” on the cross as our Prayer Book says (p. 362), but it’s not to God to appease God’s wrath or God’s need for justice. It’s to us and to our violence. It’s his revelation of both our sin and of God’s love.
Jesus’ last words in today’s Gospel reading are these: “I tell you, you won’t see me until the time comes when you say, Blessings on the one who comes in the Lord’s name.” (CEB) We’ll see Jesus when we get so tired of scattering and the threat of scattering, of contention and strife, of self-promotion and lies, that we finally say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” He will give us relief. In turning away from the old ways, we see him and find true peace.
Thomas L. Truby 2-21-2016
CEB = Common English Bible