Love Rather Than Violence

A Lenten Sermon

John tells us that some Greeks—some foreign born practicers of Judaism—have made their way to Jerusalem to take part in the upcoming feast of the Passover.  While there, they seem to have heard about Jesus and his teachings and the miracles he has done.  Maybe they saw him when he came into the city riding the donkey amid the shouts of “Hosanna!”  Perhaps they overheard someone at the local coffee shop talking about Jesus raising of Lazarus from the dead, which happened just couple of days before.  Regardless of how they found out about him, these people know they want to meet Jesus in person.  So they seek out Philip, the most Greek sounding name out of the lot, and make their request.  “Sir,” they say, “we wish to see Jesus.”

Photo Credit: Nicholas Erwin Flickr via Compfight cc

Philip finds Andrew, and they in turn go and speak to Jesus. Instead of replying to their request—John doesn’t tell us if those Jewish Greeks met with him—we hear Jesus respond that the hour has come for him to be glorified.  He then uses a metaphor from agriculture to tell us what he means, describing how a grain of wheat—a single seed—gets buried in the earth and dies.  If we stop and think about it, we know this about seeds in general.  Seeds of any kind—be they apple, sunflower, or pumpkin—dry out and are useless, unless, of course, they get planted into the ground.  And once they get planted something miraculous happens.  With moisture and sunlight, a single pumpkin seed can produce a whole vine full of new pumpkins—anywhere from six to twelve per seed.  In turn, each of these pumpkins themselves will produce about 450-500 more seeds. Through the single seed dying, a tremendous amount of new life results.

But what does this mean when it comes to Jesus? And what about those who love life in this world, and this call to hate their life in this world?  We talked about that at our vestry meeting on Monday, and someone at the table said, “I often wonder what side of the ledger I’m on when it comes to this equation.”  These are not easy statements.

A sermon based on John 12.

Theologian Charles Campbell suggests we rethink how we define the word “world” in this passage.  He writes, “‘The world’ (kosmos) here is not synonymous with God’s creation, but is rather the fallen realm that exists in estrangement from God and is organized against God’s purposes. The ‘world’ is a superhuman reality, concretely embodied in structures and institutions, that aggressively shapes human life and seeks to hold human beings captive to its ways.  Kosmos is probably best translated as ‘the System.’  And this System is driven by a spirit or force (‘the ruler of the world’), whose ways are domination, violence, and death.”  That’s quite a difference from the created order which gloriously exhibits the beauty and goodness of God.  A place where life abounds, where the fecundity emerging from a single grain of wheat shows God’s desire for abundance and not scarcity, for life and not death.  If we put these statements in that context, that we should seek to lose our lives dominated by “the System,” by the kosmos in order to truly find our lives, then it makes much more sense.

But to do so means we need to confront the ways of this world.  Professor Campbell suggests we look closely at violence in our culture, and at the myth that there is such a thing as “redemptive violence,” one of the primary myths of the System.  He writes, “According to this myth, the way to bring order out of chaos is through violently defeating ‘the other.’ And the way to deal with threats from enemies is by violently eliminating them—as the System seeks to do to Jesus.”  We learn this myth at a young age—remember the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote?  Or any number of good vs. bad animated films—like one of my favorites, “The Incredibles.”  Never mind the Star Wars franchise, or any other number of video games.  Campbell reminds us that “we see it in the death penalty, in acts of terrorism, and in nations’ responses to terrorism.  Many of us have trouble even imagining alternatives to this myth—a grim signal of our captivity to it.”  And so the response to the problem of gun violence easily becomes that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

But friends, there is another way.

I recently reread Madeline L’Engle’s fabulous book A Wrinkle in Time.  Meg’s father has been away for a number of years, and she travels to find him with her younger brother and her friend, Calvin—along with the aid of some wonderful other-worldly women.  They ultimately encounter him trapped by IT, a thing described as being filled with darkness and the domination of others.  Meg learns that she has the power to combat IT within her—something she has that IT doesn’t have—but she cannot figure it out right away.  She stands there almost overcome by the dark power pulsing out from IT, and then, by accident she stumbles on the answer.  Love.

I don’t want to give anymore a way since the film version is out in the box office and you really should read the book too, but Love is the way that we can stand against the System, against the powers of this world, against all that rebels against God.  We do not need to pick up weapons of any kind, but rather live as Jesus did showing love.

And, friends, that’s what I’ve seen you do already!  I’ve seen how you’ve reached out to those in need.  I’ve watched you work to help create something beautiful by cleaning up a space that’s going to be used to change someone’s life, and in our youngest kids making cards to brighten the day for our shut-ins.  I’ve come in to our parish hall to see women talking and knitting creating small blankets and prayer shawls for those who feel downtrodden.  This week I heard from some of our youth about their desire to find peaceful solutions to the epidemic of gun violence in schools through peaceful demonstrations and writing letters to government officials.

This is not the way of our world. We hear that any legislation on firearms is worthless and not going to change anything.  Students from Parkland have been belittled and worse for standing up and seeking change.  Fear of the other permeates our national dialogue.

And so we must be the ones to embody hope and love as disciples of the one who was lifted up by the powers of this world, by the System.  Jesus’ crucifixion starkly revealed the System’s desire to be the way of death and destruction, and not the way of life.  As Dr. Campbell puts it, “once we have seen the System for what it is, we begin to be set free from its captivating ways.  We are set free to die to a life shaped by the System, in order to live fully and freely in the way of Jesus.”

Jesus lives and desires for us to fully live too.  To not get enchanted by the false teachings of this world declaring the need for violence and fear.  Rather let us show through our lives that loving others does bring about tremendous goodness, hope, and peace.  Let us honor the clarion call of our baptismal covenant  to respect the dignity of every human being—even those we think have been overcome by the System—seeing in each human being the face of Jesus.  Let us put hope and love into their open hands and hearts recognizing God’s desire is for all to be redeemed.

Friends, we do not need to live as those dominated by the System of this world, but rather we are free to follow Jesus who stood against the powers of this world and declared the truth that love shines brighter than hate, that hope surpasses violence.  Our world does indeed cry out, “We wish to see Jesus.”  Let us show him to them through all that we say and do as followers of the one who became love incarnate.  For it is this one, even Jesus Christ our Lord, who can draw all people away from the powers of the System and bring them in to abundant life.  May we live bravely and courageously in these times to full declare the joys of the gospel.  Amen.