Monday, September 22, 2014

Sermon: Blame It On God

Blame it on God
A Sermon for Sunday, August 31st, 2014
By Father John R. Smith

Lesson: Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm: Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b
Epistle: Romans 12:9-21
The Holy Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28

Last week in the Gospel Peter got the Gold Star from Jesus, his teacher.  How? In Caesarea Philippi, a royal city in Galilee named after Emperor Caesar and Philip the Tetrarch, Jesus asked Peter “Who do you say that I am?”  And in this city, where, if you asked anyone on the street, “Who is the Son of God?” they would reply, “Why, Caesar is, of course.”  That was one of Caesar’s first and greatest titles:  Caesar was the Son of God.  Peter got the Gold Star because he with full faith in the middle of a society that had a completely different opinion of who was God, he says “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

But Gold Stars can lose their stickiness and fall off pretty easily.  Following directly last week’s Gospel, after Peter’s faith-filled confession, Jesus begins to tell his disciples that he must go up to Jerusalem, be tried at the hands of men, and be put to death.  When Peter objects and protests that this cannot be allowed to happen to his Lord, after all, Jesus is supposed to be doing the punishing of the evildoers, not the other way around.  So, Jesus, in the strongest possible words, calls “Gold Star” Peter, Satan:  “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

(I would like to think that James Foley, as he was kneeling there, about to be beheaded, was setting his mind on divine things, on Jesus, in whom he always believed, who gave his life and was raised from the dead.)

We have to know the purposes of God in whom we believe.

It is not divine violence or wrath that Jesus wants for us who sin, but release from the human violence of this world.  And the only way to be released from that violence is to believe in Him and follow his teaching.

Satan was behind Jesus’ eventual death, so much more so than the fearful leaders at the time.  Peter senses this.  Peter is against Satan’s plan.  You can’t blame him for objecting to Jesus’ desire to face the Cross in Jerusalem.  Peter still doesn’t understand what Jesus is about.  He doesn’t want Jesus, The Messiah, to be identified as a victim or scapegoat. This is all too close for Peter, if anyone is going to be a victim, let them be at a distance from us.  Peter wants Jesus to be a victorious God to crush the enemies of Israel, using violence if necessary.

Peter stands in the long tradition of belief which says that God will punish all evildoers (and, unfortunately, we add:  I’ll help you punish them Lord!) that even persists to this day, helped along by even the best translators of the bible.  People do bad things (We think:  I’m a sinner too, but I don’t do anything “that” bad) and God is the Punisher.  For example, in today’s reading from the Letter to the Romans where it states  “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Love Thy Neighbor. I meant that.What strikes me about the translation “wrath of God” (and I mentioned this before) is that no place in the Greek text is there “of God” (tou Theou).  It’s not there, nor is it implied in any way.  In other words “wrath” is what human beings do to other human beings, not brought about by God at all.  The weight behind this translation probably stems from reading the Hebrew Bible where “vengeance” from God was called down upon Israel’s enemies.  Sometimes we blame the violence in the world on God as necessary to bring protection and peace.  We feel better when we think in terms of “Sacred Violence,” violence that God sanctions against those we judge as evil, but God is not for anything that disregards the sacredness of life.  If we are going to continue with our notion of Sacred Violence, hurting others in God’s Name, thinking we’re doing God’s will, God lets us, and the “wrath” that ensues is wrath that we humans bring upon ourselves is our own doing.

Why is this, the case?  We should pick it up loud and clear in the question of Moses to the Lord at the burning Bush:  Who shall I tell the people you are?  And God said to Moses, tell them,  “I AM WHO I AM.” God is the verb “to be,” essence, life itself.  God is all about this life, learning to live with others, listening to their needs even if we disagree or have another take on the issue, trying to meet their legitimate needs as we are able.  Giving human beings, who receive their life from God alone, real respect and resist calling them names, refusing to hear them, and cutting off any dialogue that can lead to peace and away from the sin of violence. And, as the Eucharistic Prayer says: When we became subject to evil and death, God, in his mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.  God is Father of all, not just some.

So the Good News is, if we accept it, is that God is one hundred percent into LIFE and, when death enters the picture of our human existence, God had a plan to bring life out of death manifest in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord.  May we dedicate ourselves to this LIFE and, when we die, be raised up with Jesus.