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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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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