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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

The Cross is not the World's Peace

Our reading from Hebrews this week continues the theme of faithful witness that I spoke of last week: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Last week I said that faith isn’t primarily about salvation - as you might have been taught. Rather faith is about witness. Faith is about whether or not our words and actions are consistent with Jesus’s own words and actions in the world. Our aim, so to speak, is to engage other people as Jesus would have, in spite of the fact that it might not always be clear to us what that looks like, because of course every situation is unique, and often, quite complex. Rarely is ‘acting or speaking like Jesus’ a simple black or white choice of actions. We also have to deal with the fact that the cultures, families, and events that we’ve been shaped by can easily blind us to how Jesus would act in a given situation. It might seem obvious to us that indoctrinating Indigenous people into the Christian faith by stripping their language, customs, and practices and removing them from their communities and families to put them in residential schools to learn the Western way, was wrong. But for 17th-19th century European Christians, they were saving Indigenous people from the torment of an eternal hell. You might think you’d come out against their conversion if you were alive back in the 1600s. I actually doubt you would though. You’d likely have been shaped by your culture’s reading of Scripture in a way that blinded you from seeing what we see now in retrospect: the utter horror of what occurred.

This isn’t a unique problem with our ‘seeing through a glass darkly though.’ I could go on and talk about the horror of the crusades or of the divisions of the church and ensuing religious wars in which millions have died over 500 years; the utterly embarrassing and now laughable idea - sustained for thousands of years - that women didn’t have the mental faculties to think rationally, again, drawn from Scriptural interpretation consistent with broad cultural thinking of the time; or how about the European justification out of the story of Ham, of enslaving Africans. Then of course we have the literally shocking cases of assaulting and torturing gay people who did not conform to heterosexual sexual relationships based on an incredibly questionable interpretation of Scripture (whether Evangelical literalism or Catholic typology/figuralism).

You might think to yourself: oh how I would defend these poor, downtrodden minorities for I know, that “[God] expect[s] justice.” And yet how did you get to church this morning? Did you drive? What is the cost of the oil and gas you used? Think people’s lives, not the dollars and cents you spent. How many people, how many children have died to put oil and gas in your car so you could get here today, or drive to the grocery store? Do you have a cell phone or a computer, is your car computerized? Guess who makes the internal parts of cell phones? Children, ages 7-14, working in mines in the Congo and in Tanzania. Not just that, our computer and cell phone industry has fuelled civil war in the Congo for access rights to the mines.

Here’s God’s response to us: “I expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” What will people say of you and I one hundred years from now, when they look at how we built suburbs for our comfort that required gas for cars to commute to everything from work, to church, to our doctor’s offices? Evil monsters. Destroying the earth, bombing whole countries and meddling in political and military affairs so they could have access to the oil and gas needed to support their comfort. “I expected justice and instead they used each other to support their hedonism.”

I gave you everything you needed to eat, to drink, to have fellowship, God said to Adam and Eve, but you destroyed the land and the water, you have killed off how many species of animals, and you kill one another. I sent you prophets to warn you from every culture, every people, every language, and every time. And yet your tortured, maimed, excluded and killed them. I sent you storms. I sent droughts and heatwaves and snowstorms to warn you, and yet you still kept building. I sent you diseases to make you stop to consider your ways. And yet you became more angry, more polarized, more vitriolic.

I would be in tears of utter despair - when I look at our acts of pure hubris not just in retrospect, but as we continue in the same vein - were it not for the fact that I place no hope in human capacity to overcome our brokenness. Human sin might ebb and flow, but it does not cease or decrease. It goes round and round the precipice of time.

This is why Jesus did not come to bring peace. He came in judgment. Rightful judgment of things that defy his justice. I follow Jesus not because I am good, or right or just or holy. I follow Jesus because the only way to peace - God’s peace - is through enduring the Cross. The Cross of judgment calls out our selfish tendencies, our blindnesses, our failure to see how every one of our decisions and choices affects the lives of others. The Cross of judgment demands we examine who we are and what we do so that we can figure out what it means to lay aside the weight and sin that clings so closely to us that we often do not see it.

Pursuing the truth of the Cross where judgment of humanity happens isn’t going to bring about the world’s peace when that world is soaked in hubris. Rather pursuing Jesus and bearing our own crosses means asking God to reform how we think and so 4 act, that we might taste the righteousness of God, even, as did the Israelites mentioned in our Hebrews reading, if we experience the deprivation of this world’s luxuries and safety. So you have to ask yourself: what sacrifices of the world’s peace are you willing to make if you really want to take the way of the cross into his resurrected life? AMEN

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