Proper 16B Sermon Notes (2018)

SERMON NOTES — August 26, 2018

Summary of the first three weeks of calling attention to a New Reformation:

  • (August 5) Salvation is much bigger than ‘going to heaven when we die.’ On Easter God launched a massive project of New Creation — the Jewish hope of God’s coming age of renewing everything.
  • (July 22) For human beings that means the healing of tribalism — creating one new human family out of our splintered tribes.
  • (July 29) This includes challenging Scarcity thinking — that there’s only enough for our tribe — in favor of Abundance thinking — that there is enough for the whole human family.

Last week: the power behind tribalism is sacrificial thinking and practices. Sacrificial thinking goes something like this: the goodness of our tribe must be maintained by regularly casting out what is identified as evil — casting out “the sinners.” Sacrificial practices began in human history as ritual blood sacrifice. But this gradually transitioned into societies based on the rule of law, backed up by armed forces. We also named sacrificial thinking and practices as sacred violence, the good, sanctioned violence we use to ward off bad, unwanted violence.

Today: we look more closely at the “powers” of sacred violence behind tribalism and how we might battle them — nonviolently! — for these “powers” are not flesh and blood.

Key verse — Ephesians 6:12: For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Question: how are these “powers” and “forces” at the same time ‘not flesh and blood’ but also “rulers” and “authorities”? Aren’t rulers and authorities generally flesh and blood?

Answer: flesh and blood persons who are rulers hold an “office” that is invested with power. It is the power of the office that we are fighting against. Historical examples: Stalin to Putin, etc.

Question: But what is that power of office that rules human communities? And how is it invested with power? Or who invested it?

Mark 3:22-26 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.”

Jesus is naming the sacrificial logic of sacred violence: namely, “Satan casting out Satan.” Sacrificial thinking is precisely thinking that human beings can identify the evil and cast it out. We think that we have a clear line of communication from god about who is evil. The Pharisees, who are “authorities” in Jesus’ time, think that they are doing God’s work by naming Jesus as satanic, from “Beelzebul.” But Jesus’ riddle helps us to see that it is Satan’s work, not God’s work. Using sacred violence to cast out violence is still violence, and so we are never rid of the violence. We remain a house divided. Tribalism.

So we can answer the two questions we asked before pondering Mark 3: What is that power of office that rules human communities? The sacrificial thinking that leads to sacred violence. And who invested this power in authorities? Humanity has always answered “God” for their own communities. Shockingly, Jesus is naming this who as Satan not God. (Recall one of the temptations in the wilderness where Satan claims rulership of all human societies.) But is “Satan” another being like God? Or, as Pogo says, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!” In other words, the power of Satan is simply the power of our own sacrificial thinking in which we put our faith. We have to find a different faith! Namely: To trust and follow Jesus’ way of peace that fights sacred violence with . . . love-based nonviolence!

Scene from the movie Gandhi (1983), a rally in South Africa (ca. 1910) to protest unjust laws against non-whites:
Outcries from the crowd promising violent resistance, ending with: “For that cause I would be willing to die!” To which Gandhi responds:

I praise such courage. I need such courage, because in this cause I, too, am prepared to die. But, my friend, there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill.

Whatever they do to us, we will attack no one, kill no one. But we will not give our fingerprints, not one of us. They will imprison us, they will fine us, they will seize our possessions. But they cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them.

One from the crowd interjects: “Have you ever been to prison? They beat us and torture us….” Gandhi continues:

I am asking you to fight. To fight against their anger, not to provoke it. We will not strike a blow. But we will receive them. And through our pain we will make them see their injustice. And it will hurt, as all fighting hurts.

But we cannot lose. We cannot. They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me. Then, they have my dead body. Not my obedience.

We are Hindu and Muslim, children of God, each one of us. Let us take a solemn oath in His Name that, come what may, we will not submit to this law.

And following Gandhi’s interpretation of Jesus:

It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence…. I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “We ain’t goin’ study war no more.” — Martin Luther King, Jr., March 31, 1968.

Put on the whole nonviolent armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes to proclaim the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray!

Paul Nuechterlein
Lutheran Church of the Savior
Kalamazoo, MI

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