Sunday, December 31, 2017

Spirituality as Resistance: Sacrifice

The Sunday after Christmas
December 31, 2017
Sacrifice as Resistance

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the church calendar the days after Christmas are not filled with peace and joy. First, on the 26th was St. Stephen’s Day. He was the first martyr as told in Acts, chapter 7. He was quizzed, tried, and killed for preaching and believing. Then, two days later on the 28th was Holy Innocents, the remembrance of Herod ordering the slaughter of all male children under two in order to stop this new King of the Jews. (Matthew 2: 13-18). Maybe that’s why the days after Christmas find so few people in church? Maybe they don’t want to lose the pink cloud joy and warm fuzzies of the season. But this is what happens when you follow the church calendar- you are reminded of the world into which this Prince of Peace was born. The light in the darkness that we celebrated on Monday did not suddenly and miraculously turn things around.

Two thousand years later we continue to struggle with that as well. There are innocents being killed today. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas are just new names and places added to the seemingly never ending list while many even refuse to debate ways to deal with it. Racism and poverty prevent many from discovering their hopes and dreams. Terrorists of all kinds aim at non-combatants since that is the way to undermine the will of those they oppose. In many places around the world those who speak out for change or justice are shouted down, demeaned, and from time to time, killed. While in many ways we are living in a better world than could have been dreamed of 2000 years ago, much of it is still in need of progress and hope.

But after Christmas we are no longer just a people of hope, who have been loved, found peace, and are filled with joy. We now become the light in the darkness. That is what it means to be a follower of the ways of God. We are not to just sit and let the blessings flow onto us. We have received the light; now we live the light. We would like to think that all we have to do is wait and pray and it will happen. We would like to believe that if we do the right (or wrong!) things that God will intervene and make it happen. The illogic of that can show up in more ways than we can catalog. A paraplegic is told they don’t have enough faith or God would have given them back the ability to walk. A woman in an abusive relationship is told she has to stay with her husband/partner since that is how God would witness to the other. We can push tensions in the Middle East so that the Second Coming will happen faster.

That is not how progress and justice happen. It happens, as Dr. King’s quote says, through sacrifice, suffering, and struggle. These are the ways of Christmas- the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals- God’s people.

The prophet Amos (5:23-24) challenged God’s people to live, not just sing, to practice justice not just pay lip service:
Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Another prophet, Micah, (6:8) echoes it so poetically that the depth and challenge can be missed:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice,
to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Isn’t that what we have been discovering throughout these past weeks of Advent?
reaching out with unconditional love,
fills us and others with joy
so that peace is found within and around.
Then, in humility we respond to become part of this call of God, and
we become bearers of light pushing back the darkness.
Because of that we sacrifice and stand up for justice.
As I have said a number of different ways this past month, resistance is not passive; non-violence is not a call to be a doormat. It is a way of life that puts the inner life together with our outer life. It melds us into a unity of purpose and hope. Then we live it. Again, and again, and again I say- we live it. It will do far more than bring some physical light and warmth to the darkness of winter, it will be our way of affirming the ways of God- however we may each understand God- allowing us to find the deaths of grace.

How better to end the year and the Christmas season of posts than the amazing words of poet, author, theologian, teacher, and mystic Howard Thurman:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

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