The Cross As Freedom

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

Luke 18.31-34; Galatians 6.14-16

Who loves a good action movie? You can admit it in here, it’s okay. I love a good action movie. I tell you, when Russell Crowe in Gladiator picks up that dirt and gets ready to do his thing out in the arena? That’s a good movie. I can get into the suspense and the excitement. And I confess, that sometimes there’s something very satisfying about the bad guys getting it.

I can get into a good action movie, but in the action movie, there is a hidden truth. Perhaps it’s not so hidden, perhaps it’s painfully obvious, this truth of the world. It is a truth that has its roots deep within human experience. It is true that the action hero is often a lame caricature of this truth, but this truth is pervasive. It is a truth that holds all of us captive in one form or another. And that is the truth that violence, as the ultimate means of exerting power, violence works.

Think about your garden variety action hero: a loving father, a husband perhaps, often desiring to live a quiet life in peace, by nature a calm, quiet man. But then terrorists attack or criminals are released from prison, or something from his (and it usually is a he) tortured past catches up with him and he is forced to once again to get his guns out, get his knives out and re-arm himself with the things that really have power. The only things that will ultimately allow him or his loved ones survive. Cold steel. Things that go boom. Things that take life.

So what if you have only a few minutes as we see in 24 almost every week, if you only have a few minutes to find that nuclear bomb and there’s somebody in front of you who knows where it is, what are you going to do? Ask nicely? Of course, the hero is a person of peace, but when push comes to shove, you have to rely on what really works.

Think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Each side employs the language of peace, oh the rhetoric is powerful. But when push comes to shove, what do they rely on ? The cycle of violence continues back and forth, tit for tat, stronger and stronger , up and down it goes. Back and forth, it seems none are able to break it.

Think of the war on terror. Violence works, or so the world says. When we think there is no other way, we come up with “just” war theories and legal justifications for torture. We throw out human rights as something for better days, easier times. Because in the real world, that is the only way to stay safe. Violence as a method of last resort is the only answer, there is no other way.
You know it’s easy to be theologically and intellectually and philosophically and morally against this truth. It’s easy to speak words of peace and non-violence, but when push comes to shove, when someone has a gun to our heads, when the threat lies at our doorstop, words of peace, at first blush, seem particularly empty of power. And if there’s anything we don’t want, it is to be empty of power. We want power. We want control, because we think that with control we will have safety. Or protection. Or well-being. When push comes to shove, when we are threatened, violence seems to be the last answer, but the LAST answer. There is no other way.

To illustrate the tension, the mystery, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a famous theologian that I know many of you are familiar with. He lived in Germany in the time leading up to the second world war and he wrote eloquent words of peace. He was a pacifist. But when he saw what the Nazis were doing to the Jews in Germany, when he saw what was happening to his people, he wrestled with what to do. Ultimately, he was arrested for his part in a plot to assassinate Hitler. There are no easy outs when push comes to shove.

Even in the bible, even in the bible, violence makes it mark. Even at the cross, this focused symbol of our faith, violence seems to be the way God gets things done. That’s what the bible says, isn’t it? That God sent Jesus to die on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. That the only way for us to bridge the gap between the human and the divine is an act of violence, an execution. Even for God there seems to be no other way.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

    There is a beautiful piece of seasonal writing attributed to the theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman that you may have encountered in Christmases past. It’s entitled, “Now the Work of Christmas Begins.” Take in these words from the author:

    When the song of the angels is stilled,

    when the star in the sky is gone,

    when the kings and princes are home,

    when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

    the work of Christmas begins:

    to find the lost,

    to heal the broken,

    to feed the hungry,

    to release the prisoner,

    to rebuild the nations,

    to bring peace among the people,

    to make music in the heart.

    Indeed, this is the real work of Christmas. This is the work we discover in faith when we follow the light of Christ, which the darkness has not and will not overcome. In last Sunday’s Scripture passage, Luke records that Mary and Joseph were amazed at what was said about Jesus when they encountered Simeon in the temple in Jerusalem. On account of the angel Gabriel’s visit, Mary knew in the beginning that the child she would bear would be holy, but I wonder if she knew that this would be the character of His holy work? What a proud mother she must have been. What a nervous mother she must have been, watching her Son challenge the status quo as He lived in obedient faith to God, gently shepherding God’s people! Yes, this holy child will lead us – the Church – in finding, healing, feeding, releasing, rebuilding, and bringing peace. His story is ours to discover anew in the pages of the Gospel, the pages we will turn together in worship in the months to come. 

    Although the real work of Christmas is ours to offer another, let us also take to heart that it is also ours to receive as blessing and gift. At times we are lost, feeling broken, or living and praying for peace of mind or spirit. At times we sense that our lives are in need of rebuilding. As the great Henri Nouwen has observed, our own wounds may serve as a source of strength and healing in our own work of serving.

    My heart is full this holiday season. As may be true for you, I am holding joy and sorrow in the same chamber. I rejoice in what I hold dear, in the embrace of my loved ones in the home, and in the privilege of worshiping with you through a variety of experiences this December. I grieve with families who lost loved ones to Covid or other causes in 2020, and most recently, Pastor Derek’s family. I find joy in new traditions and customs that this holiday season has inspired. I long for loved ones who are no longer with us and who I remember especially at Christmas. My faith is wide enough to embrace these differing realities, to hold joy and sorrow in tandem. I pray yours is, too. 

    In faith, we will find, heal, feed, and rebuild, because Christ has first found us and embraced us with His healing presence. He feeds us with His Word and at table, in our hunger for bread that nourishes and lasts. In the grateful words of Martin Luther, “to you Christ is born. For this purpose Christ willed to be born, that through him we might be born anew. Christ must above all things become our own and we become his. See to it that you make this birth your own and that Christ be born in you.”

    Dear friends, Christ is born in us, and His love will guide and equip our ministry together in 2021. Pastor Derek and I look forward with anticipation to a new year of ministry with you. Let us follow the light of Christ together!  With joy, Pastor Meg

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