July 9, 2017

Recognition and Response

preached by Rev. Matt Braddock

The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things … After they had crossed the lake, they landed at Gennesaret. They brought the boat to shore and climbed out. The people recognized Jesus at once, and they ran throughout the whole area, carrying sick people on mats to wherever they heard he was. Wherever he went—in villages, cities, or the countryside—they brought the sick out to the marketplaces. They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed. Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In Alexandria, Va., the GOP Majority House Whip and others are shot by a gunman during practice for a congressional game.

A reporter is body slammed by a candidate for Congress — simply because he asked a question about 23 million more Americans who will lose health insurance under proposed new legislation.

Two Muslim women are attacked by a knife-wielding hate monger on a train, and two of the three men who tried to protect them from harm are killed. In another story closer on home, 17-year-old Muslim teen is killed in Sterling, VA, walking home from her Mosque at night after attending a Ramadan Iftar.

On Thursday, we learned the Texas Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision that same sex couples should have the same benefits as heterosexual couples. In another legal decision in June, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that LGBT activists don’t have standing to challenge a controversial Mississippi law that allows businesses to deny marriage-related services to same-sex couples.

These mean-spirited and inhumane civic and political events are just the latest frightening examples that have erupted in our land … even in our backyards!

All of us who find ourselves at odds with the mean-spirited behavior, proposals, and philosophy of this age must rally to unite in favor of a powerful, unifying vision that renounces the idea of an exclusionary America. We must take part in a shared story that rallies us to live our vision of an inclusive, forward-leaning nation.

I’ve been thinking about how we live in time of oppression – a period of growing taxation on the middle class in the name of health and tax reform, repressive laws that punish dissent, and a spreading breach between the haves and have-nots – a time when those in power use fear and force to dominate in the name of peace. I can’t help but to think of the intersection of today’s issues and the Roman regime of Jesus’s day. Grinding poverty. Immoderate taxes. Oppressive laws. A widening gap between the haves and have-nots — a time when those in power use excessive fear and force to dominate, all in the name of peace. Imagine hungry crowds of people with nothing. Imagine Jesus, who orchestrates a miraculous mass feeding of thousands of hungry people. The story that we call “The Feeding of the 5000” is the context of the scriptures we just heard. By feeding hungry crowds of people, Jesus criticizes a political economy that becomes rich on the suffering of others. He shows compassion on his people. And they run to him. With their needs, with their hopes for the future, with their thirst for justice, they run to him.

If that was you, to what lengths would you go to be with Jesus? I really love the closing lines of today’s reading: Wherever he went—in villages, cities, or the countryside—they brought the sick out to the marketplaces. They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed. The Greek word translated as “touch” can also mean “to fasten.” The idea is not that people casually touch Jesus as he passes by. They fasten themselves to him.

Let’s ask a question: “What did you do once you knew? What did you do once your soul was opened to the cruelty around us?”

Some people, in a flash of insight, will see the troubles of the world, will see systems of oppression and injustice, and choose to change the structures that create injustice.

For some people, the answer will be, “Nothing. I didn’t do anything.” I had a conversation recently with a young community member who recently found out I was a minister. As I described our church’s inclusive vision and our thirst for compassionate action, he had confused look on his face. When I asked him what he was thinking, he said, “I didn’t even know these problems were out there. I have no interest in any of that stuff.” Then I had a confused look on my face. I thought, “What?! How could you NOT know?” People who benefit from normalcy, people who are successful under current conditions, have no reason to believe that God desires a different social order.

Some people will look at the current order and want to take us back to the Golden Age when everything was better for certain classes of people. It’s a form of retreat, really. It a way of saying, “Let’s go back to how things used to be. We were happier then.” But, not everyone was happy in our Golden Ages, right? Only certain people benefitted. Retreat denies the progress made by those who sacrificed so much for equality.

If we choose to either ignore problems or retreat from them, we are being passive. Jesus never taught passivity in the face of evil.

“What did you do once your soul was opened to the cruelty around us?” I want to propose another way. It’s a way that’s been taught and practiced by many others – the way of non-violent love. It means running to Jesus and fastening ourselves to the love he shows us. It means we live in peaceable protest against a violent world. Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan puts it this way: “If enough people … lived in nonviolent protest against systemic evil, against the normalcies of this world’s discrimination, exploitation and oppression – the result would be a new world we could hardly imagine.”

The idea that human beings can create such a just, peaceful world by fastening ourselves to non-violent love is almost unbelievable. We need to be careful here. The critique of non-violence is that white people have a distorted conception of the meaning of violence itself. We like to think of violence as breaking the laws of society or creating disorder or disharmony. That is a very narrow understanding of reality. There is a much deadlier form of violence, and it is camouflaged in such slogans as “law and order,” “freedom and democracy,” and “the American way of life.” Our society has whole a social structure that appears to be ordered and respectable, but is poisoned by racism and hatred. Violence is embedded in American law, and it is blessed by the keepers of moral sanctity.

What can we do? What did we do when our souls were opened to the cruelty around us? I’d like to say we ran. We ran away from our fears of inadequacy and ran to Jesus. We fastened ourselves to non-violent love. We fastened ourselves to a love that confronts violence and injustice wherever we find it. We fastened ourselves to a love that challenges prejudicial jokes or remarks. We fastened ourselves to a love that provokes the purveyors of violence. We fastened ourselves to a love that that steps up against gun violence. We fastened ourselves to a love that explores new frontiers of equality, whether it be transgender rights, food security for those who are hungry, immigration reform on our borders, or Black Lives Matter in our own backyards. We fastened ourselves to a love that puts into practice the words and example of Dr. King: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late…Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘too late.’… Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful —struggle for a new world.”


James H. Cone’s Critique of Nonviolence

Why is it Illegal to Feed the Homeless?
https://www.philanthropy.com/article/Opinion-Resist-How-to-Fight/240341 http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/5th_circuit_tosses_challenge_to_mississippis_controversial_religious_freedo

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