2014-11-16 by George Kaplan
Preacher: Geoff Thorington-Hassell
16th November 2014
Readings: Isaiah 2:4-5, Matthew 22:36-40, Matthew 5:43-48, John 13:34-35
(referenced/quoted later in sermon)
On Wednesday some of us were at Union Chapel Islington to hear and participate (for the lucky few who had their questions read out) in a debate between Nigel Biggar, a moral philosopher with an Anglican background as a respected authority on the just war tradition(or traditions) debating with Tom Neufeld who I think was here the other week. The provocative title was “who would Jesus shoot?“ I suppose as a church in the Anabaptist tradition the answer would be no-one , but where the question could also be read that there was a presupposition that Jesus might at least shoot someone and we needed to think carefully who.
The problem marked the division in the debate it seemed to me. The evening was good-natured and challenging in the sense that neither person sought to be antagonistic nor devoted to undermining each other’s position but rather attempted to feel the force of each other’s critique.
So thought instead of a detailed sermon today that we would have an opportunity to share about the things we have already learned and experienced given the accumulated wisdom in this room. Circumstances are such that we can be left when all the good and easy decisions are no longer available to us and only bad and difficult decisions are left. What, at those times, then informs the choices we make? There was reference to Dietrich Bonhoeffer who struggled with just how you resist monstrous overwhelming evil. Perhaps it went to the point of joining the plot to assassinate Hitler in July 1944 but we cannot be sure. He was nonetheless arrested for that and hung.
Not mentioned was another story that will be familiar to those of us who have worked our way through Noel Moules book ‘Finger Prints of Fire Footprints of Grace’ as to a manifesto for living as a Shalom activist (Stuart Murray Williams suggests that the word covers so many aspects of meaning it is untranslatable and goes far beyond the traditional rendering of “ peace” much as in the New Testament using the multi-faceted phrase ‘the Kingdom of God’) where he relates the story of Sophie Scholl. When I was in Munich earlier this year, her presence and story was still an important and celebrated part of how the Germans see the peace – and the consequences of war.
“There is a path to freedom. Its milestones are: obedience, honesty, cleanliness, sobriety, hard work, discipline, sacrifice, truthfulness and love of the Fatherland.” This is the inscription from the roof of the first concentration camp the Nazis built at Dachau outside Munich. In 1942 at the pinnacle of Hitler’s military success, Sophie Scholl was a 21 year old student in the University of Munich. She joined a secret group called the ‘White Rose’ made up of eight students and a lecturer carrying out non-violent resistance which consisted of distributing anti-Third Reich leaflets and painting anti-Nazi slogans on walls. It caused a major stir within the whole country.
In 1943 she and her brother Hans and their friend Christopher were betrayed to the Gestapo. At their trial, her personal faith (she was a Lutheran Christian and therefore from a State church) was clear as they challenged the government. They were beheaded within an hour of sentencing. Sophie, as she walked to the guillotine declared, ”How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give themselves up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day and I have to go but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
Today Dachau is a major tourist attraction. It takes 21 minutes from the Hauptbahnhof of central Munich on the S2 to get there from where you take a 726 bus to get to the camp. You can pick up an audio guide by the bookshop and the café for 3.50 Euros.
As Christians is such sacrifice a pointless waste in the necessary business of getting on with life, earning a living and bringing up a family? What about what we believe would distinguish us from the vast majority around us, indistinguishable in our hopes and expectations?
I thought for a few minutes we might reflect on the church’s story here while reminding ourselves from the words of the covenant “where God is calling us to be God’s people in this place… together as a fellowship we seek to do God’s will as – and then there are nine points. I won’t ask if anyone can recite them but I believe they were an attempt to help ask the question “ what would Jesus do..” asked at the beginning – and not just about who to shoot.
The eighth statement of intent is: “God shows us how to work for peace and justice in our rebellious world, following the non-violent example of God’s Son. Jesus.“ Before we reflect on this for a few moments, I would like us to do some model making.
Each has a square of silver foil of paper. Please use it now to make a model of a weapon. It can be as far back as a rock, or if your imagination allows as modern as you like. Now take that same model and remake and turn it into a kitchen implement.
Think about that experience for a moment.
Swords Into Ploughshares – Isaiah 2:4-5
4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
5 They will beat their swords into ploughshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war any more.
Love Your Neighbour – Matthew 22:36-38
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
38 This is the first and greatest commandment. …”
Love Your Enemy – Matthew 5:43-45
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’
44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Love Each Other – John 13:34-35
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
We will spend a few minutes thinking about this and how it might relate to the eighth point in the covenant. From your experience and understanding, and given this church tradition and experience is something that is unfolding for me too, perhaps we can learn something together.
From the Church Covenant:
God is calling us to be God’s people in this place…
Together as a Fellowship we meet to do God’s will as:
8. God shows us how to work for peace and justice in our own rebellious world, following the non-violent, vulnerable example of God’s Son, Jesus.
God shows us how…
How does God show us?
To work for peace and justice in our rebellious world
What does it mean to work for peace?
What does it mean to work for justice?
What undermines this?
Following the non-violent vulnerable example of Gods Son, Jesus
Non-violent. Vulnerable. Why are these strengths?
Lastly, I am going to read a poem from Doug Gay who is known to some of you having worked at the Round Chapel in Stoke Newington and currently based up in Scotland. He wrote this in Glasgow and as you read it I have put some images in from the Glasgow he makes reference to because not all of us have the benefit of Ken’s knowledge of the city. It is a vision of hope from the words of Jesus in Revelation 21:5: “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” – and that includes a new heaven, a new earth and a new city.
The Prophet’s Speech
I saw a vision – It was last Thursday at eleven o’clock in the morning.
I was standing on the Necropolis, looking down over the city
– and the cold blue autumn sky broke open over my head and the Spirit of God breathed on my eyes, and my eyes were opened:
I saw Glasgow, the holy city, coming down out of heaven,
shining like a rare jewel,
sparkling like clear water in the eye of the sun
and all the sickness was gone from the city
and there were no more suburbs and schemes
no difference between Bearsden
I saw the Clyde running with the water of life as bright as crystal,
as clear as glass the children of Glasgow swimming in it.
And the Spirit showed me the tree of life growing on Glasgow Green.
I looked out
and there were no more homeless people
there were no women working the streets
there were no more junkies up the closes
HIV and AIDS were things of the past
there were no more racist attacks
no more attacks on gay people
no more rapists no more stabbings
no more Protestants and Catholics
no more IRA graffiti,
no more Orange marches because there was no more hate
and I saw women walking safe at nights
and the men were full of passion and gentleness
and none of the children were ever abused
because the people’s sex was full of justice and joy.
I saw an old woman throw back her head and laugh like a young girl
and when the sky closed back her laughter rang in my head for days and days and would not go away.
This is what I saw, looking over the Gallowgate, looking up from the city of death
and I knew then that there would be a day of resurrection
and I believe that there will be a day of resurrection.
It is the city I particularly want us to think about as we finish. Where you live. Where you call home – perhaps for a long time, perhaps still trying to make sense of it or come to terms with it – and (if you are anywhere within the M25) it is not likely to be amongst wild nature but amongst the rhythms and built environment of urban life . What does hope look like for you where you are? What is it that helps you to see the world differently and to build on that hope that is not seen yet is by the same token very tangible? Where are the necropolis? Where is the tree of life? What does the hope of the resurrection look like in your locale, in your neighbourhood?
This idea in the poem has been done elsewhere – including edge estates in Southend. It is not escapism but based on the concrete realities of the Gospel of a merciful God who heals, restores and mends – who brings forgiveness and peace and justice through the work of Jesus on the cross. It stops us just concentrating on the wrong and the darkness and the danger of becoming cynical and apathetic but making us hopeful people who travel as strangers and exiles awaiting and living on better promises as did Abraham, “for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.“ (Hebrews 11:10).
So just to end:
Few of us have to face the hard choices faced by Sophie Scholl or Dietrich Bonhoeffer but it’s the mundane everyday difficulties and pleasures of life that can make those challenges ambiguous and appear inconsequential when they are perhaps far more important than you think. What would Jesus do?