(Originally preached at Alger First UMC on 2/21/2016)
3rd Sunday of Lent, Year C
This season of Lent, we are preparing for Easter on March 27. We are journeying toward the death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday and the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. On that day, we’re going to celebrate Christ’s resurrection by remembering and renewing our baptisms. So each week during Lent, we’re going to look at a different part of the vows we take at our baptism and whenever we remember and renew our baptism, so that we can be reminded of who we are as Christians and what this life as a baptized believer in Christ should ideally look like.
If you were baptized as an infant and can’t remember it, that’s fine-so was I. That’s why we periodically remember our baptisms, so that we can renew our life as a baptized believer in Christ. If you have not been baptized, this is all still for you, we’re not leaving you out, you’ll still get a lot out of this. But I encourage you to come talk to me if you haven’t been baptized, I would love to talk to you about it, whether or not you want to be baptized.
So this week, we’re going to focus on the second part of the vows. [For those of you reading this, we all read together the second section of the United Methodist baptismal vows. It goes like this: “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?]
So we’re talking about resistance this week. This can be a difficult topic. Can someone tell me what it means to resist something? [For those of you reading this, the congregation offered up their answers to this question].
The dictionary definition of “resistance” is the refusal to accept or comply with something, or the attempt to prevent something by action or argument.
Now whatever the definition is, I think we all have certain images that come to our minds when we hear the word “resistance.” To me, the word implies some kind of monumental effort to bring about radical change. Lots of hard, difficult, unrewarding work to bring about a huge structural change. That’s what I think of. And that sounds like a lot of work.
I’ll be honest, I struggled with this part of the vows as I was preparing this sermon this past week because I feel like I don’t do this work of resisting evil, injustice, and oppression that this vow talks about. I know that there are things to be resisted, both within me and outside of myself in the world. But I don’t actually do much of this. I tend to let a lot of stuff slide by that I shouldn’t, both in myself and in the world around me.
Now, some of us may not like talking about resistance. We might have visions of marches, protesters with bull horns and angry signs, protests and rallies turning violent. But this is in our baptismal vows. I didn’t just make up those words. These are the vows approved by the whole United Methodist denomination that we take before our baptism. Even more than that, they follow the same form that baptismal vows have taken since the early church. So for hundreds and hundreds of years, when Christians have been baptized, they’ve taken vows very similar to these. So I think that means we have to talk about this.
God gives us freedom and power-we like to think about that. But this vow says that God gives us this freedom and power for the purpose of resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
Throughout our Scriptures, we have a lot of great examples of resistance flowing the freedom and power given by God. We especially see that in the Gospels, the stories of Jesus. One of those stories is in the Gospel reading assigned for today. Could you all turn with me Luke 13:31-35?
31 At that time, some Pharisees approached Jesus and said, “Go! Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.”
32 Jesus said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Look, I’m throwing out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work. 33 However, it’s necessary for me to travel today, tomorrow, and the next day because it’s impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’
34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. 35 Look, your house is abandoned. I tell you, you won’t see me until the time comes when you say, Blessings on the one who comes in the Lord’s name.” (Luke 13:31-35, CEB)
Now I think this is a really cryptic and confusing passage. But there’s also a great truth here. It’s all about Jesus accepting the freedom and power God has given him to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. Let me give you some background
Jesus has been teaching the crowds when the Pharisees run up to him and to run away because Herod, the ruler of that area, wanted to kill him. Now this guy Herod is probably a familiar name to some of us because he shows up in other places in the Gospels, none of them good.
This King Herod was related to another King Herod, the one who heard about Jesus being born in Bethlehem, got so worried about this supposed new king that he ordered all the baby boys 2 years old and under to be killed. The Herod in our story today was same Herod who had killed John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, because of a dare at a dinner party.
He was a real piece of work all the way around. He executed one of his ten wives, two of his sons, and several political opponents. He was a powerful and paranoid ruler who wanted to keep everything in order and wanted to keep himself on the throne. He didn’t want any voices from the people to be raised too loud, he didn’t want anyone else to be too powerful, but he also wanted to keep the people appeased enough so that they wouldn’t rise up and overthrow him. He walked a really fine line.
But here’s Jesus, a new threat to Herod’s rule. He was preaching a different kingdom than Herod’s kingdom-the kingdom of God. And he was healing and bringing prosperity and power to people who Herod wanted to keep under his thumb.
Jesus says this great line to the Pharisees, “Go tell that fox [meaning Herod], Look, I’m throwing out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work.”
Anyone want to guess what Jesus was hinting at when he said, “on the third day?” Right, his death and resurrection. Jesus was resisting the evil, injustice, and oppression that came from Herod by bringing the kingdom of God to the oppressed people of Judea. He was doing this with the freedom and power God had given him to resist all of this. He knew that Herod couldn’t do anything to get in the way of his mission before it was completed at the cross. So Jesus went right on his way, resisting all of this evil, injustice, and oppression, and throwing it all up in the face of the powers that be.
Now we have stories beyond this. As members of God’s 2,000-year-old holy church, we are blessed with stories of resistance and saints who did this same kind of work throughout Christian history. One of these people is a man named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Anyone ever heard of him? He wrote several amazing books, I highly suggest reading his stuff.
Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian born in 1906 and was alive and working in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power and World War II. Bonhoeffer and several other German pastors and theologians watched and listened with dismay as Adolf Hitler grew more and more powerful and his anti-Semitic speech and actions got worse and worse, as World War II approached. Hitler also kept drawing the German national church closer and closer in league with the Nazi party.
There came a point when Bonhoeffer and other pastors and theologians couldn’t stand to be a part of it anymore, so they decided to form the Confessing Church which stood against the Nazi party and their ally, the German national church. Obviously, the Nazis didn’t like this very much, so they outlawed the church, but Bonhoeffer and his friends kept with it and opened an underground seminary at a place called Finkenwalde. This was eventually discovered by the Nazis and closed down
Bonhoeffer eventually decided that Hitler was so evil that he had to go against his pacifist nature. Bonhoeffer joined the German underground resistance and became part of a plot to overthrow and assassinate Hitler. He also worked to rescue Jews and get them out of the country, so they could escape the Holocaust.
His work in helping the Jews was what drew the Nazi’s attention to him. They found him, imprisoned him for two years, then transported him to one of their extermination camps. Bonhoeffer was then executed, only 1 month before Germany surrendered and the Allied forces took over.
Bonhoeffer’s identity as a baptized child of God gave him the freedom and power to resist the evil, injustice, and oppression of Hitler and the Nazi party. It was through his God-given identity as a baptized child of God that he was able to resist, that he was able to do all of that work.This forces the question: “What do evil, injustice, and oppression look like today?” We can see it rather easily in hindsight, looking back on our broken and scarred history as a human race, in groups like the Nazis, people like Hitler. But where are evil, injustice, and oppression in the world today?
Now I think that hearing stories like this forces the question: “What do evil, injustice, and oppression look like today?” We can see it rather easily in hindsight, looking back on our broken and scarred history as a human race, in groups like the Nazis, people like Hitler. But where are evil, injustice, and oppression in the world today?
They can still be found in the huge, monumental, earth-encompassing powers that shape life for the human race. Maybe we can understand evil, injustice, and oppression as the powers that have broken the world and keep it broken, the powers that separate us all from each other.
Can we name these powers, besides the simple markers of evil, injustice, and oppression?
Racism, sexism, discrimination, alienation.
Fear of people who look different from us.
Fear of people who behave differently from us.
Fear and hatred of people who dare to believe something different from our own personal narrow form of Christianity.
It is evil that keeps so many individuals and families in Hardin County trapped in addiction to heroin and all the consequences that come from that.
It is injustice that keeps a higher number of our black and brown brothers and sisters living in poverty than our white brothers and sisters in this country.
It is oppression that makes the super-rich leaders of the world keep getting richer while the poor keep getting poorer.
But maybe these powers are also internal, inside of us. Perhaps the powers of evil, injustice, and oppression can be found in us. Perhaps they are the dark parts of ourselves we try to keep hidden from everyone, the parts that plague us with doubts about our worth and love and belonging, the parts of us that cause us to hate our brothers and sisters. Maybe that’s also where evil, injustice, and oppression can be found.
In the Middle Ages, there was a drive in the church for truly committed followers of Christ to separate themselves from the world and live in small communities, separated from the outside world. We call these people monks and nuns. One of the reasons this caught on was that the monks and nuns saw the evil, injustice, and oppression in their world and some believed that the only way you could really resist it was by working on the only part of the world you could control-yourself.
So they separated themselves from the evil, injustice, and oppression of the world so that they could root out the evil, injustice, and oppression within themselves.
This is the truth of our human condition. We are all warped by sin. There is something broken in each of us, a force inside of all of us that keeps us from doing the good that we know we should do. We keep hurting and alienating the people we love, we keep hurting ourselves, we keep saying those things we shouldn’t say, doing those things we shouldn’t do, following those paths we shouldn’t follow.
All of the evil, injustice, and oppression out in the world has its beginning inside of human beings.
By our baptism, we receive freedom and power from God so that we can resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. These three forces are everywhere in the world today. And a lot of Christians are doing good work in resisting the evils and injustices and oppressions of racism and sexism, human trafficking, drug abuse and addiction, religious persecution, oppressive governments, poverty, homelessness. God gives us the freedom and power to do that. And through our baptism, God calls us to that kind of work.
But in addition to all of that, we also look inside of ourselves, to find how evil, injustice, and oppression have infected each one of us. Thanks be to God that this is not the end of our story, dying in captivity to evil, injustice, and oppression. Every year at Easter, we remember that we are baptized again and again into Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ died and rose again to forgive you of your sins and to give you a new life. But Christ also died and rose again so that you may have the freedom and power to resist all the evil, injustice and oppression that is inside of you and outside of you.
So this week, I want you to do more self-reflective work. Look inside yourself, and pray to God that you may find the evil, injustice, and oppression that lives inside of you.
Ask yourself questions like:
“Where is the evil inside of me?”
“What actions of mine perpetuate injustice?”
“Who is being oppressed as a result of my actions or way of living?”
This reflective work is what Lent is all about. This season, we are preparing to remember and renew our baptism on Easter Sunday. In your baptism, God claims you as a child of God and doesn’t let go. But this claiming requires a continuous response from us. This work is one way we can respond to this gracious gift of God.
Know that Christ has already died and risen again to forgive our sins. New life is already available to us. Freedom and power is already offered out to us. But Christ also calls us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. So let us be about that work.