Thursday in the Third Week of Easter
March 18, 2013
Church Divinity School of the Pacific
1 Samuel 15:16-23
I had a different sermon planned for tonight.
One about community and living in relationship.
I had meant to focus on the failed leadership of Saul, the corrupt spiritual ways of Simon Magus, and the dependence on Jesus as the bread of life.
But I scrapped that sermon after Monday afternoon.
Maybe it is because I still think of Boston as my home.
Maybe it is because I have been to many Boston Marathons.
Maybe it is because my wife Jennifer lived and worked on those blocks.
Maybe it is because we were married in a church a block away.
Maybe it is because I have stood exactly where those bombs went off.
What I know is that I am worn down.
Some of you know these places and can identify with my experiences.
Many of you can’t but perhaps have other places that loom large for you, places that you would never want desecrated by violence and bloodshed.
Or you yourself have stood at similar places.
But I think we can all agree that we are weary.
We are tired.
We are worn down by the constant drumbeat of violence in our culture.
I suspect we have all found our breaking point.
For some it was Newtown.
Or the London Tube.
Or shootings on our streets in Chicago or LA or Philadelphia or Oakland.
Or it was JFK.
I find myself grappling with the fact that for my generation, terrorism and violence has been a constant drumbeat.
I was born in 1973.
The decade began with the hostages at the Munich Olympics.
It ended with the assassination of Anwar Sadat after he signed a peace accord between Egypt and Israel.
The 1980s included the assassination of Oscar Romero, the Hezbollah bombings of Marine barracks in Lebanon, the Achilles Lauro hostages, Lockerbie.
That decade brought in the crack wars that devastated the city of Hartford where I grew up and many other cities and towns across this country.
The 1990s was Oklahoma City and the first World Trade Center bombing and attacks on abortion clinics.
And then 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, IEDs.
My best friend was a Marine who was killed in Iraq.
His name was Greg.
Among all these acts of violence we also remember the mass shootings in Stockton, Columbine, Aurora, and Newtown and hundreds of other events.
I can measure the progress of my life according to the violence around me.
I speak only for my context but I think there is something that resonates in my litany with many of you.
America has been afflicted with the sickness and sin of violence.
At the same time, there is something deeply Christian about American culture.
This is the country that John Winthrop declared to be a city on the hill and a light to the nations.
This is the country that appealed to Scripture to end slavery.
This is the country that claimed the deepest truths of Christ to end racial oppression and segregation.
And it is the country that believes in the myth of redemptive violence.
Americans throughout history have believed that violence when justly applied reflects God’s will for America as a divinely elect nation.
We even envision the violent suffering of American heroes as a sign of their righteousness.
As a people, Americans have the tendency to believe that violence redeems whatever cause we hold dear whether as victims or aggressors.
America was formed as a Christian nation and our belief in redemptive violence comes from a particular way of reading the Christian Scriptures.
This belief goes deep into the Scriptures.
We see it in the command of God to the Hebrews to practice a war of annihilation in the land of Canaan.
This is why God is angry with Saul at Gilgal in the reading we heard tonight.
God had commanded conquering Israelites to completely destroy all the spoils of war on the battlefield.
Saul instead chose to keep some of the spoil to sacrifice to God at Gilgal.
The message of this passage seems to be that God prefers the complete obedience of total annihilation over the offering of sacrifices, sacrifices that might convey Saul’s might as a leader as much as God’s glory.
The psalms speak of God and his anointed kings as victorious warriors and proclaims that the enemies of Israel deserve defeat.
The Book of Revelation envisions Christ as a triumphant king sent to overthrow the rulers of the world.
The message seems to be that violence when wielded by God and his agents redeems the people of God.
What do we do with this after Boston?
After Oklahoma City?
The truth is, there can be a hollow feeling of powerlessness.
Yet, we are Christians.
If that name for us means anything, it means fundamentally that we turn to Christ to make sense of this world.
And yet, what Christ do we turn to?
After Boston and after Newtown, and I speak for myself, I shrink away from turning to the crucified Christ.
I shrink away because I refuse to see the violence inflicted on him as redemptive.
Tonight I am with the fearful disciples on Good Friday who thought that there was no meaning to be made of being tortured to death.
The violence inflicted on Jesus was not redemptive.
Yet, I turn to Christ.
I turn to the resurrected Christ.
His suffering death alone was not redemptive.
But his resurrection was.
His death was only meaningful in light of his resurrection.
The author of John makes meaning of Christ’s death in these words of Jesus we heard read:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)
But doesn’t this seem like too easy of an answer?
Is the promise of Jesus as the bread of life enough to bind up our wounds?
How can turning to Christ as the bread of life end the culture of violence that Americans seem completely sealed in?
I admit I do not know.
I am lost.
And yet I trust that if I eat the bread of Jesus Christ I will live forever.
I eat the bread of Christ as the Israelites ate the manna in the desert — completely vulnerable.
I have nothing that can stop the violence that can befall me at any time.
There is nothing that I can do that will protect my family; that can protect my children.
We are all completely vulnerable to the violence in our land.
My only hope is to completely rely on God for my sustenance.
Weapons will not save me.
Violence will not protect me.
There is no meaning in the loss of life.
But as a believer in the Creator God, the one who raised Jesus Christ from the dead, I must believe in the inexorable power of life.
Life, health, thriving, community — these things are grounded in God alone.
The world and its wisdom is outside.
Violence and terror are its ways.
It will never save you.
Relying on God who is Life will.
We gain life by eating — eating the wheat, the rice, the fruit that God has placed here for the life of the world.
In the midst of death, come and take hold of life.
Come and eat this bread — take it, eat it, rely on it.
This bread is the power of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
It is the power of the resurrection, rejecting all that destroys life.
Take this holy food and discover that death has been swallowed up by life.
In the midst of violence, in the midst of striving for power, in the midst of our confusion, God exists as the Life-giver.
Take the true bread that has come down from heaven.
It is the promise of life.