Saturday, March 23, 2013

Our Best Work

Mark 15b-23

You start to get a sense, by the fifth week of this story of the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life, that humans aren’t all that strong. Time after time after time, when humans are confronted with the choice of what they know or the unknown love of God, they choose what they know. Call it fear, call it peer pressure, call it whatever, we3 do not hold to our principles.

Think of Peter. He was So strong, so insistent in saying to Jesus “I will never deny you!” Jesus looks at him and tells him “not only will you deny me, Jack, you’ll do it three time by dawn tomorrow.”

So the soldiers come for Jesus, and it could be considered a failure that Peter whips out his sword and cuts off the ear of that servant. This is NOT what Jesus had told them to do! And yet Peter let his impulsiveness control his actions.

Then Jesus is led away, and throughout the night, he is spit on my people who really should know better, people of decorum and status in the daylight. In the dark, away from prying eyes, they become animals, just like the people they consider themselves above.

The first line of today’s scripture was “and Jesus was flogged”. Mark skips right over that, in order to get to the crucifixion. But it’s worth noting that the penal code of that time required a flogging. Another example of man’s inhumanity to man, and man’s inhumanity to the messenger of God’s love.

When we talk about flogging, most folks will remember the flogging scene from Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” The movie overall was definitely problematic, but the flogging scene was probably accurate. Hamilton talks about the whip used having pieces of glass or metal in the tips to strip pieces of flesh from the victim. And then the victim is required to carry the crossbar of his own cross, which Hamilton says is about 100 lbs, at least the one he is carrying in the video, probably a third of a mile to Golgotha.

How do we do these things? We may think that we can’t do this to each other; we have evolved, we have progressed. We are Christian, or English, or Irish, or German, or Japanese, or Chinese, we are Hutu, or Tutsi, or Zulu. We are Christian. We can’t do this anymore.

How many people stood by, of many nations, including Americans, as 6 million Jews were exterminated?

Hamilton writes about an experiment at Stanford in the 70’s in which students were either chosen to be guards or prisoners, and put into an improvised prison setting in the basement of the psychology building. The experiment was scheduled for 14 days, but it has be cancelled after six, because of the level of abuse and oppression that the “guards” had begun to inflict on the “prisoners”.

Another experiment that Hamilton writes about happened at Yale, where people were picked randomly off the sidewalk and told they would be paid four dollars for one hours’ work (in 1963, I guess this was a lot!). the work was to sit in a room without windows and which had a console of dials and gauges. Each time someone in another room answered a question wrong, they were to push a button which they were told administered an electric shock to the person who answered incorrectly. Upon command by a person off authority, they were to increase the voltage the subject. No one was being shocked, no one was answering questions. Before the experiment started, according to Hamilton, the estimate was that about 1 percent would be capable of administering a lethal dose of electricity, about 450 volts.

They found that 65% were not only capable, but did so, even with piped in screams of pain in their ears.

It’s troubling to think that, when we are given the permission, the tools and the power to oppress each other, we will. There was nothing mentioned in either experiment about what percentage of guards or prisoners or button pushers were Christian. It doesn’t say whether they filtered Christians out, or paid no attention to it at all, but what I do know is that, if we are truly followers of Christ, in the way that Christ is described in the Bible; if our discipleship in this world is to imitate Christ, there is no other choice for us, than to be the other 35%.

Scripture is crystal clear; all of the justifications that people have used throughout history to justify slavery, or the secondary status of women, or any of a number of other statements, where people point to passages in the Bible to justify their opinions, this is called proof texting. It’s taking the line you like, and saying that the Bible says it. And we all know that’s wrong. The bible’s whole atmosphere, it’s whole direction, it’s whole point, is to point us toward peace. Toward showing us, and us showing to others, the love of God.
And what it also shows is, is that, in these last 24 hours of Jesus’ life, how far short people can fall. Yes, there are a million individual reasons. Anger, fear, the need to earn a living, the need to not get killed yourself, the need to go along to get along, each show the truth that when put under these pressures, we will more often than not, conform.

But that is not the Christian way. Our way is peace. Our way is grace. Our way is trust, and truth, and passion, and forgiveness.

So let’s exert our own peer pressure. Let us say to each other; “I know you will act with Christ’s best interests in mind; I know you will act with Christ’s Conscience; I know that you will forgive family members for the pain they have caused; I know you will forgive the person who stole your 401K" (like Abramoff).

Yes, sometimes it takes something out of us to forgive. Sometimes it takes a lot out of us. But it is what we are called to do. For us, there is no place for revenge. There is every opportunity for repentance, there is every opportunity for forgiveness.

I don’t me4an cheap forgiveness, like “oh, it’s ok, I didn’t need that $500,000, anyway”. Revenge is not ours to take, and we do not get to set the terms of punishment. Yes they did us wrong. Yes, they owe us the money back. But punitive measures outside of the legal system are not ours to take. When families are having trouble, the pain can go back decades. They have to be forgiven. Not forgotten, that is impossible. But it is a conscious work of ours to say “you are my family, I am still family with you. I trust that you will cease from this behavior, because I have told you how much it has hurt. And yes, they might do it again, and yes, you might need to separate yourself for self-preservations’ sake, but forgiveness can happen in that place, too.

Forgiveness is our call. Compassion is our call. Grace and Love are our call.

My wish is for you all is that you continue to progress toward forgiveness of your hurts. That you overcome the prejudices you were raised with, that in a marriage, 1 Corinthians 13 is your guiding star, not “an eye for an eye.”

Yes, both are Scripture, but one gives life, and ultimately, giving life in Christ’s image is our call.

Preached at Throop United Methodist Church, 3/17/13.

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