St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver,  B.C.

Sermon

February 19th 2017  Epiphany 7                                                      John Marsh

or Random Thoughts Concerning the 3rd Way of Jesus                                                                      

                                

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Psalm 119:33-40; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

 

 

 

 

Experientially, many encounter, continue to encounter that which we name as god, some professing a love for god. We must, however, confess that we do not know, not in any final way, what god means. We must ask, with St Augustine, ‘What do I love when I say that I love god?’ Which is to say, we must be ever discerning, ever conversing, without being seduced by certainty, without selling ourselves to any final, absolute expression. In other words, we must learn to speak of god without permitting ‘the name of god’ to function as a rhetorical trump card that alleviates thought of all paradox and mystery, remembering that we hear ‘god’ but distantly; we see but dimly. We this in mind, let us continue, hoping against hope, to hear invitations stirring within…

~

The lections begin with the following:

“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2)

And then holiness is explicated…

Perhaps surprisingly, it seems that holiness is defined by the extent to which the practicalities of our life and the manner of our living is shaped and determined by the claims and needs of the other – the poor, the sojourner, your neighbour, your employee, you kinsmen – you get the picture (it is, at least, my hope, my prayer that you do so) …

The lections end with:

“Be perfect, therefore, as the Holy One is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)

Perhaps surprisingly, it seems that perfection is not some abstract, pure, pristine, ultimately static state…

As its rhythms unfold, it appears that ‘perfection’ is living tactically, ever flexible, responsive to the spirit’s presence; perfection is being lured by the spirit, always open to allowing, nourishing those ‘God- like qualities which are latent in each of us’…¹

It is living responsive to the realization that, as Paul intuited, we ‘are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in [us]’…  (See 1 Corinthians 3:16)

Of course, despite real temptations, god’s spirit dwelling within is not a reason to lord it over another (consider Matthew 20:24-28) for at the heart of our life as a disciple is the Christ – Jesus of Nazareth – who:

though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

7but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself        

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

 

So, perhaps…

Be holy…

Be perfect…

Be lured by the spirit…

Honouring the presence of the spirit within, developing ‘god-like’ qualities, building on the example of the Christ who, ‘though he was in the form of god…humbled himself’²

However, please remember that ‘going the extra mile’ or, ‘turning the other cheek’ are not abstract principles expressing an absolute moral imperative. To treat these statements in this manner is to create conditions which allow for stupidity to masquerade as honourable (e.g. the lunacy of counselling an abused woman to submit to an abusive partner because of the ‘necessity’ to turn the other cheek!)

Rather, ‘going the extra mile’, ‘turning the other cheek’ are examples of that tactical flexibility which is ever responsive to changing context; they are the courageous expressions of building upon the example of the Christ.³

So, to deepen our understanding of the 3rd Way of Jesus, let’s consider the following tactical stories:

In the time of the Roman occupation, legionnaires could press locals into carrying their heavy pack for a mile; to allow the pack to be carried further was to risk the wrath of the centurion in command. While the practice was hated by locals, to physically resist was lunacy while submission risked internalizing humiliation. To carry the pack one mile and then to go the extra mile was to turn the tables, refusing humiliation while making the legionnaire increasingly nervous and anxious about the possibility of punishment to come. (Oh, the exquisite subversion!) 

Once, in a black squatter community in South Africa, the authorities refused to deal with a serious infestation of lice.  The leadership committee of the community gathered together bags full of lice infested blankets and took them to the administrator’s office and left them on his floor. The lice problem was quickly dealt with. (Oh, the communal ingenuity!)

Before Jackie Robinson broke into the majors thereby integrating professional baseball, Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers pressed the intensely competitive Robinson to agree that for three years he would accept whatever abuse was heaped on him without a word. Robinson said, “Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a negro who is afraid to fight back? Rickey replied, “I am looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.” (Oh, the sublime courage!)

Once, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was walking by a construction site on a temporary sidewalk the width of one person; at the other end a white man who recognized Tutu said, “I don’t give way to gorillas.” At which Tutu stepped aside and with a grand sweeping gesture said, “Ah yes, but I do!” (Oh, the delightful humour!)

In a culture, which reserved the left hand for ‘unclean activities’ (think personal ablutions), to strike someone on the right cheek meant to give someone the back of your right hand. Even today this retains echoes of humiliation, of putting someone in their place. To offer the other cheek to be struck was to demand that one be treated as an equal refusing to accept the power imbalance. (Oh, the self-worth!)

Here is how a boy dealt with a bully on school bus. Too slight to fight this obnoxious classmate, the boy turned a weakness into a strength. Suffering from chronic sinusitis and exasperated by the bully’s antics, the boy loudly blew his nose filling his right hand with snot and reaching out his hand said, “Let me shake the hand of real bully”. Staring wide eyed at the snot filled hand, the bully retreated to his seat never to bother the student again. (Oh, the personal ingenuity!)

The 3rd way of Jesus is not for the passive, the cowardly, the doormats of the world. It is for those who are self-aware enough, for those who know enough of the depths of their own anger, fear, rage and humiliation, for those willing enough to lay it on the line but to do so without responding in kind. It is for those spiritually mature enough to break the cycle of violence and open the way for shalom. 

The wisdom of the way lures us away from dehumanizing the enemy (the inevitable implication of ‘us and them’) as well as the diminishment and/or humiliation of the other (beware the lure of scapegoating)

For the spirit within hauntingly calls us to resist becoming what we hate, calls us to learn the ‘art’ of compassion and non-judgement…

Calls us to learn the ‘work’ of reconciliation and anger management...

Calls us to learn the ‘art’ of embodied prayer and transformative worship…

Calls us to learn the ‘work’ of justice making and non-violent resistance…

Calls us to learn the ‘art’ of confession and the profession (work) of shalom…

And please remember, shalom is not the absence of conflict, it is the ‘work’ and ‘art’ of transformative conflict – think about it…

And this brings us home:

I am not interested in us being nice, biting our tongues or in the subtle demonizing of ‘us and them’. In fact, I have always expected conflict but I expect conflict done right - conflict which is open, accountable, respectful and responsible; conflict which is building a stronger faithful community not an embattled divisive one.

I am interested in the process of our becoming as ‘holy’ as the Lord your God or as ‘perfect’ as the Holy One – a holiness and a perfection which is both the work and art of the spirit…

So, I leave you with something to think about:

Jesus’ 3rd Way

· Seize the moral initiative

· Find a creative alternative to violence

· Assert your own humanity and dignity as a person

· Meet force with ridicule or humour

· Break the cycle of humiliation

· Refuse to submit to or accept the inferior position

· Expose the injustice of the system

· Take control of the power dynamic

· Shame the oppressor into repentance

· Stand your ground

· Make the powers make decisions for which they are not prepared

· Recognize your own power

· Be willing to suffer rather than retaliate

· Force the other to see you in a new light

· Deprive the other of a situation where a show of force is effective

· Be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking unjust laws

· Die to fear of the old order and its rules

· Seek the other’s transformation

So, paraphrasing Matthew 5:39b-42

“Do not react violently to evil; do not counter evil in kind; do not let evil dictate the terms of your opposition; do not let violence draw you into mimetic rivalry”

And then, in the words of Bonnie Raitt:

Let’s give ‘em something to talk about!

 

¹ The full quote is “As we understand it, the purpose of life is: to realize all of our potential as human beings and develop those God-like qualities which are latent in each of us.” Harold S. Kushner from When Children Ask about God.

² Please remember, re-read if necessary, the introduction.

³ Tactics are different than strategies: strategies are about outcomes, tactics are about ‘how’ you achieve them.

You may have these stories before but they bear repeating given the cultural and religious stubbornness of misreads of the gospel narratives.

Non-judgement does not require having no opinion nor the refusal of analysis; it is to allow that our analysis or our opinion never defines the other. Surprise, the unexpected is always possible even if we do not consider it probable.

This list comes from Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination by Walter Wink (Fortress Press, 1992) p. 186

Ibid p.186