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A Sermon on Fearfulness, Nonviolence, and Standing Your Ground

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Posted by request: a sermon on the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, July 21, 2013, following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Treyvon Martin case, based on Luke 10:38-42.


Steve Charleston, an Episcopal Priest and the former Bishop in Alaska, who was the first director of the Global Mission Institute at Luther Seminary, writes,
“I will not surrender my life to fear, even though I am not courageous as a saint or wise as a sage. I will stand my ground and take the risk of believing, believing that we are all the same beneath the masks and costumes we wear, beneath the roles we act in the long play we call our human story. I will gamble on goodness, opening my spirit to every stranger, offering the hospitality of my compassion, the welcome of my own hopeful soul, searching for the sameness that binds our hearts as one.”
I will not surrender my life, to fear. I will stand my ground and take the risk of believing. These are perhaps the most beautiful and courageous words I’ve read in a very long time.

To stand your ground in the face of fear and open your spirit, your heart, your life to the hospitality of compassion as Charleston says,…this is the Christian faith.
We Lutherans have a long tradition of standing our ground, of standing for certain things even in uncertain times. Martin Luther said, “It is not safe to go against scripture or my own conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other.” Against all the powers of the Church and the Holy Roman Empire, he stood his ground, squarely upon scripture; squarely upon the Gospel of God’s divine love and forgiveness, of openness and hospitality. He stood his ground, for a reading of scripture that declares God’s gospel of grace and forgiveness.
It used to be that when somebody stood their ground, it meant that they were standing up for something noble, some virtue or ideal of human freedom. Yet somehow –just recently –because we are anxious and afraid –we have taken this phrase and twisted it, turning it to mean, “I have a right to kill you, if you make me afraid.” And because we are afraid, of crime, of violence, of those whose skin is a different color, whose language is different from our own,…we have turned this into law. We no longer know how to open our souls to others, offering the hospitality of compassion to those around us.
We stand, not upon ideals and virtues any more, but behind guns, and small-minded, fear-based laws that add not one iota of protection to our lives, but that instead turn us into legal killers, whenever we feel justified by fear.
We live in a fear based culture. We are afraid of difference, afraid of losing control, afraid of giving up power and position and privilege, afraid of losing some imaginary upper hand that we hold over others, if we instead dare to reach out our hand to lift our brothers and sisters up. We are anxious. We are afraid. We are busy with many things, distracted by many things, working to justify ourselves and our positions, our prosperity, and our privilege.
Fear is so much a part of our existence, we do not even notice that it is fear that moves us and shapes our behaviors and routines and the laws of our land…. There are words we need to hear that set us free:. “Stand your ground and know, “Our trust is in the Lord.”” “Stand your ground and know, “You are forgiven and set free.”” “Stand your ground and know, “Death has no dominion over you.”” “You are a baptized, child of God. Stand firm.”
Jesus says to us today,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. But Mary has chosen the better portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
To sit at Jesus’ feet and hear his words, and be unconstrained by this world’s expectations, even if only for a while, is a rare and precious and blessed thing. It is the better portion to be sure.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time to work, and to labor, to reach out and build up, to provide for yourself and the needs of others. We need Martha’s in our midst and we need to be Martha’s ourselves, at least some of the time, but there is something greater here that we need to pay attention to. To sit, to wonder, to ponder, to listen, to pray, and to adore our Lord and Teacher, it is a wonderful thing.
And what is that greater portion then? What are the words we hear as we sit at Jesus’ feet today? What words, what better portion speaks into our lives and world today?
You know these words. “You shall not kill.” “If someone strikes you, turn the other cheek that they might strike that also.” “Peter, put away your sword.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” “Be not afraid.”
Where does Jesus say, to stand your ground, gun in hand, and do violence to another…for any reason?”
We need to sit at Jesus feet and listen to his words, because they are not the words we hear in the culture around us.
I know I’ve said this before. Forgive me if you must, but I have to confess: I am not a pacifist.
In my own faith practice, I line up with those who call themselves “Christian Realists.” These faithful believers in the Gospel are people who think that the use of force –when used to prevent a greater violence– is justifiable. These are people who agree with Edmund Burke who said that, “The only thing that’s needed for evil to triumph is for a few good men to do nothing.” These are people who appreciate that fact that Martin Luther said that a person could be a Christian and a Soldier, because a soldier’s job is to protect life and defend property.
In other places, I have argued that war is always sinful, always evil, but sometimes necessary.
–And what grieves me to the core is to know that the Christian Pacifists, and the peace churches, who sit at Jesus feet and listen to his teachings and stand ready to turn the other cheek regardless the cost…that they are closer to Jesus and his teachings than I am.
I know this in my bones and it troubles me, because I’m not there yet. So pray for me, and if you’re not yet there yourselves –then pray for both of us. Because I think that Jesus is standing somewhere else. We need to listen to the unsettling words of Jesus’ teaching and be unsettled, and then learn to work and speak for peace and non-violence, and put an end to fear. There is a deliverance here.
Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” What an amazing gift that is…if we can hear it, and take it in.
Martha means well. And so do I. But Mary has it right. I think the Peace Churches have it right. I think Steve Charleston has it right. I hope to have it right someday myself as well.
What if the law merely said, “Thou shalt not kill.” What if the law merely said, “The use of lethal force is not allowed…Period.” What would happen if the Christian Churches across this land would suddenly grow enough spine to say, “Enough! Stand your ground where Jesus stands, and not behind the barrel of a gun. Stand your ground where Jesus stands, and see…that your neighbor is sick and hungry, lonely and hurting and alone.”
Feed them, clothe them, shelter them, heal them, sit with them and listen to their story and tell them your own. Stand your ground where Jesus stands, or take your seat at Jesus’ feet and listen and learn, that there is no greater love than this, but to lay down your life for another. That’s where Jesus stands.
We are nervous, anxious and afraid, worried about many things, working to do what is expected of us in many arenas. But it just may be that if we stop and sit and listen to God’s Holy Word, then we will find that we are busy with all the wrong things. We may discover that we are afraid, of things we need not fear. That there is freedom, redirection, and release, if we but claim it. Mary has chosen the better portion, and it will not be taken from her. You cannot make her afraid any more, because she has heard the truth. She has chosen where to sit and where to stand and where to stand her ground.
Sit at Jesus’ feet. Listen to his words. Make them your own. Peace, be with you, Jesus says. Shalom. Stand firm and be set free.
So can we, may we, stand our ground right here. Our trust is in the Lord, and him alone.
Thanks be to God.
“I will gamble on goodness, opening my spirit to every stranger, offering the hospitality of my compassion, the welcome of my own hopeful soul, …searching for the sameness that binds our hearts as one.”

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