March 16, 2008
Edwards (Knox) United Church
Sixth Sunday of Lent
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The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
How we enter a room or a place tells us much about the event. If we wander in, or there is no grand entrance, we know it is a more casual event. If we stop and greet before we find our seats, then know we are some kind of community event. If we come in and bow in prayer, we know there is a preparation for a religious experience. If there is a great procession we know that it is formal and we expect something to happen.
Entrances have clues built in - an orchestra has an intro - a lighting of the Christ candle focuses the people to experience of God. The clues focus us to pay attention to the meaning of the shared time.
On March 2, Beverly, Suzanne and I shared an experience. There was a waiting in expectation, conversations, finding a place to sit and then we waited as were surrounded by the sound of drums and singing. Then the dancers came, and those who were to speak followed in procession. It was a beginning of an historic event - the truth and reconciliation process was beginning for the healing our nation.
This Sunday we celebrate a entrance - an entrance to reconciliation. A rehearsal of the activity of God who seeks reconciliation and healing. There are clues in this entrance that suggest the radical nature of this entrance.
Parades of important people have pomp and ceremony - bands and marchers leading the leaders and important people. Yet this entrance is reversal of such expectations. No riding in on a white horse, like the one a Caesar or a King would ride in on. No it was a lowly donkey - the steed of the peasant. A different type of king.
Matthew tries to pump up the situation with words like enormous crowds with the palm branches. This is Matthew using the templates of his tradition to tell a story of a different kind of king from what would have been a conquering Caesar. This is the peasant on a donkey. It is a reversal of all symbols of power, for we know this rider was riding to death. In not too many days those who greeted retreated - the crowds disappeared and the palm branches abandoned.
This is the entrance to reconciliation. Matthew understands that we need salvation - forgiveness and reconciliation must come to a people who have done unspeakable things to one another.
Brad Morse, along with Stan McKay, have reflections in the book from Truth to Reconciliation from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. The point is made that what is being asked of us is first to move from collective amnesia to collective reconciliation. It begins in asking truth questions so what has happened will not happen again. But truth questions are not enough we must seek reconciliation for as Fred Kelly puts it:
Because I came to hate .... I committed a sin. (When) I blamed God ... I sinned against him. (page 25)
So until all parties are healed, there is no healing. All of us become what we hate, so we must move to right relationships for the healing of our earth. Reconciliation at its most simple meaning is to restore friendly relations between individuals or groups. This means:
Developing a shared vision of an interdependent society that acknowledges its past and deals with its horrors frankly and as positively as it can to avoid any reoccurrence.” (page 249)
This is built on the model of God whose aim is for reconciliation that will be a “changed relationship for the better between persons or groups who formerly were at enmity with each other.” (page 105)
This parade into Jerusalem is what Walter Wink calls Jesus third way in dealing with violence. (Jesus and Nonviolence) Reconciliation asks of us to look into our hearts first. We are asked to root out the violence in our souls.
Violence and scapegoating have gone together since the beginning of time. Scapegoating is the community finding a victim to sacrifice so they can heal themselves. To be efficacious the victim has to be the cause or guilty of the breach in the common good. They are the enemy. We seek this happening in the war on Terror. The community seeks vengeance and lynching happens.
We are in the season where we celebrate God’s reconciling work. Yet we can read it out of our impulse to demonize the other - to project onto the other so we feel good. We become what we resist. In seeking the end of the other what we are doing is reaching into our depths our inner brokenness. When we are stabbed in the back we can respond in kind out of our inner darkness. When we call this person or this system evil this evokes the evil within.
So here is this parade into death - a death that rejects all theories of scapegoating. For we have an innocence victim - one who as Scripture puts without sin. What does this mean?
It first means to examine our own theologies and world view to see how they stand in the way of reconciliation. It is to let go of all justifications of our position and to hear the other in their pain. It means rethinking the meaning of the cross.
Jesus death is not substitutionary atonement. This is not a sacrifice to set things right. Jesus death was never meant that Jesus had to die to appease God, to atone to reconcile humans with God. This is the way humans have acted to eliminate violence. It is humans who demand appeasement. This scapegoating gives the illusion that violence has been done away with, as in the case of capital punishment. However, this is magical thinking and is short lived.
Jesus' death wasn't a sacrificial atonement, but God revealing once and for all the fallacy of the scapegoating and revealing to us the roots of human violence and the ultimate failure of all of our methods to appease, specifically the scapegoating to eradicate that violence. This is an affront to God and only perpetuates violence, since the peace that is established can only be short-lived--the scapegoating process embeds violence into the very structure of the society that uses it. (René Girard) The cross is a rejection of human desires to demand vengeance and scapegoating. The cross is God declaring that scapegoating, the whole system of worldly wisdom of vengeance never made sense. It is not how flourishing happens. What God offers is forgiveness, a new relationship. This is the move to reconciliation.
This is to be freed of the power of breaking the world into those who are good and those who are bad -- of us and them. It is to break the power of the way we have organized the world in our interests. There seems to be something in us where we do not want the other to be healed and reconciliation begins there -- healing us within. It is the desire for right relationships and a societal order that reflects the common good. We must continually offer up the other to God for their healing, in prayer and action.
This was brought home in a moment of tension in Selma when a young black minister said we need to sing and then asked “do you love Martin King,” and the crowd responded in song “Certainly Lord.” And as is the custom, the call and answer went on and on until the call was, “Do you love your (Jim Clark) enemy?” Silence and then, “Certainty Lord.” And the song went on.
Then Rev. James Bevel said, “We cannot win by hating our oppressors. We have to love them into changing.” Jim Clark changed. (Wink p 66) The cross allows us to see the oppressor also a victim of the principalities and powers -- the ethos of our way of life.
It is good that we have begun an entrance into our need of truth and reconciliation. It is the sign that God is at work reconciling the world. In this entrance we experience redemption -- the resurrection that breaks into our broken relationships.
It is in this world that God makes a home -- gives the Grace of Love -- calling us into new relationships. Thanks be to God for God’s entrance into our reality.