Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sermon: The Self-Binding God

        In light of the recent beheading of 21 Coptic Christians and the rumors of organ harvesting coming out of the region controlled by Daesh, commonly called ISIS here in the states.
         In light of the attacks on cartoonists and Jews now in two different countries, France and Denmark.
         In light of Daesh burning a Jordanian pilot alive.
         In light of the thousands slaughtered in Iraq and Syria.
         In light of the attempted Genocide of the Yazidi.
         In light of the beheading of Journalists and other foreigners.
         In light of the kidnapping of the two Bishops from Aleppo, now nearly 2 years ago.
          In light of all that, it’s worth considering again how these kind of things can be done in the name of God.

         Let us pray.

         When I first was reading the Bible on my own as a young kid, before I was firmly connected with a Church community or tradition, at night when I was supposed to be asleep, I would just randomly open up the Bible and read—this is how I rebelled against my parents as a 8 year old.
         Often times I ran into cool stories, Jesus getting the best of some Religious stick in the mud, or I ran into a cool proverbs that really made me think—it was great fun…
but sometimes I ran into some totally creepy stuff—The Book of Revelation, rules about menstrual blood, descriptions of situations when it is advisable to stone a person to death
—and the one that gave me nightmares for a good long time, was about the practice of Haram, the act of sacred destruction. When you conquer a village, take everything in it, both things and people, and put them to the flame.
Now, I would have read right past it, except it goes on and gives an example of when a soldier took some things and didn’t utterly destroy them. God gets mad at the people until the soldier is punished by joining the objects in the flames.

         And, if we get past the cute children’s story version of events we have about Noah—you know all those children’s arks with cute little Giraffes and Elephants and smiling Noah and family
—if you get past all that, the flood story is another one of those stories that could give a kid nightmares.
         Angels are boinking humans, humans are killing one another left, right, and center, so God flushes the whole experiment down the toilet.

         It must be stated that the first 12 chapters of Genesis are written as pre-history—essentially, “you’ve heard all these explanations of the world from other peoples, here’s a faithful reading of them, in light of the God we know.”
So, for example, “you’ve heard it said the god Marduke created earth by tearing apart a chaos dragon, well I say to you God isn’t a fighting God, God creates simply with his words.”
Likewise, as in today’s reading, “You’ve heard it said in the Epic of Gilgemesh, and elsewhere, that the gods were grumpy because humans are loud, so they tried to drown us all, and it was only because a human seduced a goddess that humans survived, but I say to you, the wickedness of humans brought about a just response, yet God was merciful and started again with a new covenant, a new relationship, with humans and the earth—God doesn’t give up on us.”
         So, when you read vast swaths of scripture it’s worth noting what they’re being written in response to… None the less, it’s gruesome, “all flesh cut off,” the deadly bow of God.

         And as you all know there are plenty of times when the faithful have not put down the bow.
         Because I believe it might be a useful analogy to help us understand what’s currently going on in the Middle East, I would like us to think back for a few moments to the period during, and immediately after, Luther’s Reformation.
         Before Luther, Jan Hus was burnt at the stake for offering his parishioners both bread and wine at communion.
         If Luther hadn’t been taken into hiding after his famous declaration at his trial, “Here, I stand, I can do no other, God help me. Amen,” that would have been his fate as well. Some early Lutherans were in fact killed in just such a fashion.
         John Calvin, the founder of Presbyterianism, burnt Michael Servetus alive for not believing in the Trinity or in child baptism.
         Lutherans carried out the persecution of Mennonites.

         In general, Christians of all sorts took up the Sacred Bow against one another,
The Faithful were used by secular governments to further national ends,
and likewise, the religious used secular governments to further their religious ends.
         From 1555, when the Peace of Augsburg claimed to settle the question of religious persecution, until 1648 at the Peace of Westphalia, almost 100 years—inter-religious war depopulated Germany, and killed, by some estimates, 12 million Europeans.
All in the name of God.
         For that matter, it wasn’t for another 200 years that, at the 1st Vatican Council in 1870, the Pope gave up his claim to secular power.
         Now this is just me talking, but it seems like one of the big questions for “The West” and all those governing authorities in our country, since the Iranian Revolution in ‘79, or perhaps the Lockerbie Bombing ‘88, or maybe the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, is this:
         “How do you navigate, and/or contain, the Islamic equivalent of the European Wars of Religion, in an Era of Globalization, Mass Immigration, the Internet, and Weapons of Mass Destruction.”
         Obviously I do not have a set of answers for you all, it’s way above my pay grade…
This is why we pray for those who govern nations, especially our own; they have an unenviable job.

         All of these acts of violence and destruction in the name of God, ought to be Anathema—denounced, condemned, and cursed.
         Because God puts down the bow. God binds God’s-self with a vow, that never again will God destroy the world, never again will God take up that bow.
Think of that, God limiting God’s self!

         This is the true story of the faith, it is the hope always on the lips of those who preach the Gospel
—that God favors mercy over justice. God limit’s God’s self, for our sake.

         During the season of Lent we’ll see this again and again in the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures. God will say:
“Okay, I renewed all of creation after the flood… and that didn’t work for you all, so I’ll work through Abraham and his family.”
“Okay, you guys screwed that up too… I’ll lay down 10 basic rules for you all.”
“Okay, you’re still complaining in the wilderness… I’ll create a batch of miracles to save you from yourselves.”
“Okay, this still isn’t working… I’ll jam my covenant into your hearts, so you can’t find it to break it.”

And even then, it continues, until God sends Jesus, his son, who continually forgives us.
Even then, we kill him.
And even then, God provides for us, taking the death of Jesus as payment for all of our sins!

         And surely that would be enough, but God continues this trajectory of mercy over justice, as we read in that weird bit in 1st Peter.
         Christ descends to hell, preaching even to the Spirits bound in chains there! Jesus ripping apart hell itself! That’s the power of the Word of God.

         Think of it. If God tries to convert Djinns and Demons in the depths of hell, surely we can pray for the redemption of Daesh.
         In fact, a good place to start, might be to remind them, and us, of Noah’s words, as recorded in the Quran, the 71st chapter: “Ask forgiveness of your LORD. Indeed, He is ever a Perpetual Forgiver.”
         Yes, there is much violence done in the name of God.
Violence committed because God’s mercy is being ignored.
Yet truly, for the faithful, this is an impossible thing they do—to ignore God’s mercy,
Because God’s merciful acts are the linchpin of the entire story of Scripture.
God, merciful to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jeremiah.
God’s mercy shown in total, in Jesus’ righteous actions and words.
Jesus’ death, the ultimate act of self-limiting on God’s part.
Jesus’ descent to the dead to Harrow Hell and pull from the pit a people imprisoned.
And of course, that amazing act of God we prepare for, this Lenten season
—the Resurrection, which is God’s ultimate promise of mercy to us. Amen.