May 23, 2013
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We Are Our Sister and Brother's KeeperPreached by Chester O’Gorman, member of Lyndale UCC, March 25, 2007
“We Are Our Sister and Brother’s Keeper”
Micah 6:6-8; John 3:14-17; Hebrews 9:11-14, 24-28
I have a little story to offer ya’ll this morning that I hope will help us digest this scripture. Carlos is a 7 year-old boy who lives in a rural mountain community of Guatemala. He and his family work a small plot of land. They live in poverty, but grow enough to feed themselves and sell a little. Of the 80,000 acres of arable land only 5,000 is farmed by the community. 75,000 acres belongs to 1 of the 20 families in Guatemala who own nearly 70% of the farmable land. They use 40,000 acres to grow cash crops: bananas, coffee, and sugar – which are sold in foreign markets. The other 35,000 acres is unused – so as to control market prices.
When Carlos turned 12, things worsened. Free trade agreements opened up the economy, which promoted more big business and the addition of new cash crops. Furthermore, gold was found in the mountains. The remaining 35,000 acres was mined by its owner, in conjunction with foreign mining corporations. Less than 1% of the profits got funneled back into Carlos’s community. With added pollution, more noise, and an increase in mudslides, life got harder for Carlos and his people. Now at 17 Carlos, having no opportunity for formal education, joined a semi-militant leftist group that advocates land seizures; the group is growing increasingly popular, and hostile. His hate for capitalism is eclipsed only by his hate for its greatest advocate, the US.
Carlos is aware of the US’s systematic takeover and exploitation of South American economies. He’s also well-aware of its military’s direct involvement in political coups, as well as its indirect involvement through organizations like the School of the Americas – all for the purpose of securing its economic interest.
Sadly, Carlos’s situation is common around the world. An aggressive form of liberalized capitalism has impoverished and continues to impoverish billions. It is promoted and sustained by us to our benefit – and most of those who suffer, rightly look at us in anger.
We mostly ignore this problem, anesthetizing ourselves with entertainment and drugs – and our government, under some guise, fights it for us whenever its ugliness threatens us. It seems few people seriously considered the message Bin Laden was communicating on 9/11. We’ve completely demonized him: He and his movement are evil; they hate our liberties and our freedom; they are nothing but zealot religious fanatics. Really?
I’m not condoning his actions; he was wrong. But is he really the monster we’ve made him? Some ancient cultures would ritually turn those they sacrificed into monsters with ceremony and masks before killing them. Is Bin Laden evil incarnate? Does he really hate all notions of liberty and human flourishing? Is he really the embodiment of evil in our world? When he was fighting communism with us, he was surely a freedom fighter.
Bin Laden hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. What do these represent? The center of our world’s capitalism and the strongest military machine ever known – which does the bidding of our economic system. From the perspective of people like Carlos can these symbols be anything but idols of evil? Furthermore, what of our popular culture that has spread along with our economic and military might? Most of it kinda of disgusts me. If democracy and freedom means endless greed, the sexual exploitation of women, a proliferation of crude and mindless entertainment that endorses oppression of all sorts, and the eroding of morality in favor of relativism – I would oppose it, too. Obviously, the face of pop culture distorts American culture, but it is what many people see, and many do indeed suffer from its effects.
If our economic and military machines are fundamentally responsible for creating so many disasters, which shapes those we call “enemy”, how can we blame them? When we demonize those who harm us, we literally create a demon. We project all the evil on them, and thereby root all causes for their behavior in themselves, diverting attention from us. Scapegoating conceals our role, our responsibility for their actions.
In other words, we’re saying: We are not at all to blame, so we need not change anything. Our social and economic system is just fine; our greedy, racist and complacent lifestyle is okay; we are guiltless, and we need not suffer any hardship in changing our unjust ways. Bin Laden and Carlos are evil; they’re to blame. They should be punished.
Let me offer another story. This one we know. It’s the tale of Jesus of Nazareth. He came and told the corrupt leadership in Jerusalem and the Romans – the main perpetrators – that the exploitation and suffering of the poor was wrong, that it opposed God’s will. He pointed out their destructive hypocrisy, and indicated that change was necessary. Though Jesus suffered for His faith that God showed favor to the poor and oppressed, He persisted. When His movement garnered enough support to potentially cause an effect, the Roman leaders squashed His movement. As we see in the gospels, Jesus is offered up under false pretenses. He’s called a blasphemer and demonized. He’s put to death for His rage against an unjust and heartless system.
Unlike many others, Jesus didn’t run, nor take up arms. He willingly confronted the liars, thereby depriving them of any obvious reason to kill Him. He fully embodied the Spirit of God and maintained love for His enemies. In Luke’s account, He even forgave them. He let everyone see the tapestry of lies they had to spin in order to condemn Him to death. And He was, indeed, remembered as innocent – completely blameless in the God’s eyes.
So why did Jesus die? Yes, I can affirm He died for the forgiveness of sins, but this is revelation, and insight after the fact. He died first because a privileged few wanted to maintain a corrupt social system primarily out of fear of change – marked, of course, by greed. He became a scapegoat, the posterboy for everything that was wrong in Rome.
If Christ crucified is totally blameless, if His words and actions are true, who’s at fault? Who can we blame so we can remove them, and thereby solve our problems? Would killing all Romans have worked? Will killing Bin Laden solve our problems?
The revelation of God in Christ crucified is a terrifying image of what happens when our reaction to fear and violence is to blame others – and perceive ourselves as righteous. The broken body and blood of our savior calls us to look with eyes of innocence, love and forgiveness when we see people – not blame. The broken body and blood reflects the brokenness of relationships in our world and demands that we look upon ourselves and our systems, which shatter relationships. The revelation of God in Christ crucified reveals to us that sin and evil are not yours or mine, his or hers: They’re ours.
We all own a part of sin and evil – and in fact, the more we try to control evil and justify sinful means, the more evil owns us. The broken body and blood point to only one remedy that can lead to wholeness. Ironically, the message was proclaimed from the beginning: Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand!
In social systems founded on violence that rely upon blaming others to justify themselves – the innocent victim is Christ, undeniable true revelation. If Jesus is to be our sacrifice, He must be our last sacrifice. His innocent self-giving reveals that systems and people that must scapegoat, oppress, and kill merely for their flourishing are liars. They don’t even try to meet the standards they espouse; and according to Micah, they certainly fall short of God’s. When we take in His body and blood, we’re taking in this revelation and vowing to make it a part of ourselves – with a vision towards communal wholeness in which scapegoating is obsolete. It‘s a failure that Christians confess Christ, yet still so often need an innocent body, broken and bloody, before we’re moved to compassion and repentance for our hypocrisy and sins. It seems we require innocent victims, over and over again, to atone for our sins, not God. And even then, some hearts only grow harder.
To take away the sins of the world for the sake of atonement or reconciliation is no supernatural act: It’s living by the truth that we’re all interconnected. To shirk off our responsibility for the sins of our brothers and sisters is to live a lie, to play blame games; and in reality, the option to ignore this responsibility is only open to a privileged few. The person of color simply doesn’t have a choice to live in a society free of racism. When we ask Jesus to take away the sins of the world and have mercy on us, we’re praying to God to be imbued with the same Spirit that filled His being. It’s a request for His loving courage of spirit to manifest itself in us and in the world around us – because we recognize that gentleness of Spirit as the way, the truth and the life.
Love NEVER accepts abuse. The call of Christ to stand firmly in love in the face of evil is not a call simply to endure suffering. That’s truly sacrificing oneself FOR evil: That permits it. Again, Christ is the last sacrifice; he has turned the system that needs sacrifices on its head – saying, “No more to my brothers and sisters!” We’re called to endure evil and take the sins of others upon ourselves under one condition: We only ever do so for the sake of realizing God’s justice and reconciliation as much as possible – now, and more fully in the future. We’re not masochists, but we’re charged to love our enemies; and even if tragic action is absolutely necessary, we must nevertheless condemn our own evil ways and beg God’s forgiveness. Christ tragically reveals that the price for living God’s love and justice in a world full of evil…can never cheap.
Our oppressed brothers and sisters pay too much already everyday when, in the name of Christ, they toil in low-wage jobs and sweatshops so we can have cheap goods, live without healthcare so we may turn a profit, tolerate our racism so we can continue to have the best jobs and schools. They endure this unjust situation mostly without violent revolt, even though it seems they have every reason to revolt. They look forward to a day when their Christian love finally moves us to honor them as brothers and sisters of God. I say let’s prove Jesus right and let their love transform us. But this change to live more fully in God’s love is costly – most especially for we privileged few, those who have. To make our world holy, what of yourself will you surrender for the glory of God?