7 Epiphany—Year A
February 23, 2014
When I was 5 years old I used to run around my neighborhood in Knoxville, wearing a Zorro costume: black hat, black mask, black velvet cape, and a plastic sword with a piece of chalk on the end so I could write a “Z” on walls. I ran faster and jumped higher when I was Zorro.
Who did you pretend to be when you were a child?
Now, even though most of you are well into your adulthood, I’d like you to do a thought experiment with me:
Imagine right now that you really are a child of God–birthed by God, the spitting image of your heavenly Father, your heavenly Mother. That’s you.
Got it? I’m not asking you to believe this I’m only asking you to pretend this is who you are.
Okay——-now you are walking along a hot dusty road in first century Palestine and a Roman soldier orders you to carry his equipment for a mile. Something the occupying soldiers would often command.
You are God’s child—so you straighten up and put his equipment over your shoulder and start walking. When you come to the end of the mile, you just keep walking another mile carrying his load. Then you set it down gently and say good-bye.
Another soldier is offended by how you acted as if you are a person of dignity and inner strength, so he back hands you across your right cheek to teach you a lesson in humility.
What do you do, Child of God?
You look him square in the eye with love, and offer him your left cheek–You are not a victim; you are a force of love to be reckoned with.
Jesus models this for us on the night of his arrest–Maundy Thursday.
They can kill his body, but they can’t harm his soul, damage his identity as God’s son.
They cannot take away his freedom to act in love on his own terms.
He belongs to God—He is not a victim, he is not even a survivor, he is a thrive-er.
Our Gospel reading has Jesus saying: “Do not resist an evildoer.”
N. T. Wright and other scholars say it is much better translated: “Don’t use violence to resist evil.”
In this passage Jesus is not offering a new thing to do, so much as a new way to be—a new way to think of yourself.
A new way to be that comes not from what others say, but from what God says.
God says to us today through St Paul:
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you…. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple….”
You are not a victim, even if you live in an occupied country, even if you have a spouse that hits you or a classmate that bullies you. You are son of God, you are daughter of God—whether you’re 9 or 90, male or female, slave or free.
You say to your attacker, “As my actions reveal my identity as child of God, your actions reveal that you don’t know that you too are a child of God who has no need to hate or hit or harm anyone. My actions come from who I am in God. God is a lover of both good and bad and so am I–a chip off the old block! Your attacks can hurt my body, but they don’t change me into who you think I am.”
One historical account says:
On March 7, 1965, an estimated 600 civil rights marchers headed east out of Selma on U.S. Highway 80. The march was led by John Lewis of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee and the Reverend Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference…. The protest went according to plan until the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they found a wall of state troopers waiting for them on the other side.
Sheriff Jim Clark had issued an order for all white males in Dallas County over the age of twenty-one to report to the courthouse that morning to be deputized. Commanding officer John Cloud told the demonstrators to disband at once and go home….Seconds later, the troopers began shoving the demonstrators. Many were knocked to the ground and beaten with nightsticks. Another detachment of troopers fired tear gas, and mounted troopers charged the crowd on horseback.
….Overall, seventeen marchers were hospitalized, and the day was nicknamed “Bloody Sunday”.
Immediately after “Bloody Sunday,” Martin Luther King and others began organizing a second march to be held on Tuesday, March 9. They issued a call for clergy and citizens from across the country to join them. …Hundreds of people responded….
…SCLC attempted to gain a court order that would prohibit the police from interfering. Instead of issuing the court order, Federal District Court Judge Frank Minis Johnson issued a restraining order, preventing the march from taking place until he could hold additional hearings later in the week.
….On March 9, a day that would become known as “Turnaround Tuesday”, Dr. King led about 2,500 marchers out to the Edmund Pettus Bridge and held a short prayer session before turning the marchers back around, thereby obeying the court order preventing them from marching all the way to Montgomery….
That evening, three white ministers who had come for the march were attacked by four members of the Ku Klux Klan and beaten with clubs. The worst injured was James Reeb, a white Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston. Selma’s public hospital refused to treat Rev. Reeb, [so he was taken] to Birmingham Hospital…two hours away. He died on Thursday, March 11 with his wife by his side.
….The marches shifted public opinion about the Civil Rights movement….The visuals of such brutality being carried out by the state of Alabama helped shift the image of the segregationist movement from one of a movement trying to preserve the social order of the South to a system of state-endorsed terrorism against non-whites.
A week after Reeb’s death, on Wednesday March 17, Judge Johnson ruled in favor of the protestors….
On Sunday, March 21, close to 8,000 people assembled at Brown Chapel to commence the trek to Montgomery. Wikipedia
Imagine what would have happened if Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, instead of following the teachings of Jesus, had followed the “Stand Your Ground Law” that allows you to respond to perceived threats with lethal violence.
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not use violence to resist an evildoer.”
The non-violence of Jesus, Gandhi, and King doesn’t always produce happy results in our violent world. All three men were murdered: Jesus at 33, King at 39, Gandhi at 78.
But following Jesus does always train us in being who we are in God.
Jesus says, “Be just like your heavenly Father”…let your love be “perfect” like the Father’s love is perfect.
The Greek word for “perfect” here means “whole” or “complete”. He is saying to us, “Make it your goal to imitate God’s love that you see in me.”
He is saying: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
Okay, you can stop imagining you are a child of God and go back to pretending to be who you normally think you are.
But I guarantee you that the ordinary way you think of yourself won’t serve you nearly as well as imagining you, and everyone you know, are God’s son, God’s daughter.
And the ordinary way also won’t be as true.