Discipline to Rebuke, Teach, and Learn
2015 09 13 – Danforth Mennonite Church
(I am wearing my orange TRC t-shirt)
Truth and Reconciliation is not my topic today, but I wear this in honour of those survivors of residential school who brought the story of their experience of injustice and forced assimilation to our attention. Not only did they speak the truth but they spoke again and again, retelling painful stories of powerlessness. They accepted the cost of telling the truth. I wear this in honour.
There is a pattern observable in our world and in our scriptures today. Some would call it victim blaming.
Scapegoating the whistleblower. Killing the prophet. Those who identify and oppose violence and oppression risk becoming its victims.
True, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. The persistent widow gets her justice. But sometimes there is a cost.
“On July 28, 2012, three Plowshares activists, Sister Megan Rice, 82, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Michael Walli, 63, breached security at the U.S. Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons facility Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, causing the government to temporarily shut down the weapons facility. Once inside a “secure” area, the activists hung protest banners on a uranium storage site, poured human blood and spray-painted the walls with anti-war slogans.
Following a controversial trial (see CommonDream.org’s coverage), the three activists were convicted in early May 2013 on the charges of damaging property in violation of 18 US Code 1363, damaging federal property in excess of $1000 in violation of 18 US Code 1361, and intending to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States and willful damage of national security premises in violation of 18 US Code 2155.Megan Rice was sentenced to 35 months, or just under three years. The other two protesters, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, both were sentenced to 62 months, or a little more than five years.”
During the proceedings, their charges were drastically increased in severity
I can’t describe it better than the title to the Common Dreams article – How the US Turned Three Pacifists into Violent Terrorists
These three identified a grave danger, posed no risk, took full responsibility, and were pilloried using anti-terrorist punitive legal structures.
They were separated from family and community. Years of their lives were stolen away and ground into dust. Who does a thing like that?
In our gospel reading, Jesus asks the disciples who He is. They respond ‘the Christ’. He explains what it means to be the Christ. What the consequences of His journey will be for his relationship with his religious leaders, and his vulnerable body.
Jesus explains how the violence of the world will manifest. How he will be murdered.
Peter rebukes him.
Jesus resists his rebuke in one of his harshest responses. He goes on to share the cost of discipleship. To outline what it is necessary to do to follow Him.
I want to go back and linger with Peter.
We don’t know what he said, on what grounds he rebuked Jesus. It seems likely that he was objecting to Jesus talking of his death. Did Peter think that Jesus was being morbid? Making a sick joke? Did he think this sort of talk would demoralize the disciples? Was it just too painful to contemplate?
Whatever his reasons, he was angry at Jesus. Jesus had revealed something of the true nature of the world. His rejection by the religious elite. The ugly reality of the death that awaited him. He also spoke about rising again on the third day. Peter was scared, confused, and angry.
Interesting to note.
Jesus made the cost of discipleship clear, and we know that when the moment of crisis came, Peter chose not to suffer with Christ. He chose to pretend not to know Jesus when He was undergoing torment. He denied him three times.
But before that happened, the first resistance Jesus felt, the first anger directed against him, was from his own friend.
Perhaps Peter saw his own fate. Tradition too says that he was crucified.
The passage from Isaiah describes someone who is taught, and who obeys God. They are subjected to violence, oppression, humiliation. We don’t really know why. I am captivated by the initial description that this person is someone who is taught. What have they learnt?
And why are they so opposed? So hated?
One thing I know for sure is that this person is steadfast, resolute and vulnerable. They do not turn back, but instead give their back to those who would strike them. They have incredible strength to endure.
True. There is an ultimate vindication, just as Jesus named that he would rise again on the third day, but we are not there yet. Our plowshare activists are still in prison, the nuclear weapons remain in production…
Until then, it seems a very bleak picture. And the worst part is that it is all your fault. If only you would conform. Stay quiet. Go with the programme. Compromise, accept a limited success, back down, take a break.
But because these people, these prophets, cannot do that, they incur the wrath of the entire institution. Their enemies punish them, and their friends abandon them, criticise them, dismiss them or tolerate them barely.
There is always the temptation to stop fighting. To accept the lie and jettison the truth. Peter tempted Jesus with that criticism. Just like Satan in the wilderness, offering the easy path. Offering success without sacrifice and conquest for the measly cost of a soul.
Jesus does not accept that kind of moderation, that sort of temptation.
Who are the prophets today? What truth telling is being harshly opposed, and by whom?
Who must set their face like flint, face rebuke, and believe in ultimate vindication?
I don’t know how many of you followed the experience of the Pink Menno at the Mennonite Church USA gathering this year. Pink Menno is a group working for the inclusion and celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people.
Responding to a series of resolutions which aimed to deal with the presence of LGBTQ people in congregations, without space for LGBTQ people to even participate.
Pink Menno took over the stage for a satirical skit, pointing out the absurdity of debating resolutions without those affected by the resolution.
Instead of doing the sensible thing, letting it play out, giving space to the disruption, giving way for a brief moment, conference organisers chose to resist the skit.
Some people tried to cut off the sound. Some shouted angrily. Some tried to sing over the top of it. Some tried to wrestle away the podium.
Let us collectively consider – who are the prophets today? Where is their voice? Where are we called to be prophets? How can we navigate the cost of the truth and build communities to support prophetic truth?
This poem was written afterwards by an onlooker
I wonder what it must be like,
To have your body controlled by everybody,
And precisely because everybody — nobody,
To be made mute such that,
The only way to be heard is through satirical theatre,
The only way to be resist their control is to place your body
Between them and their moderator–
That is, to disrupt their process with your flesh,
Knowing full well that you will incur the rage of men,
Men who whisper of peace,
But scream so goddamn loud for you to get off the stage that saliva flies from their mouth and lands on the delegates two tables down,
And on the Christ candle,
Knowing full well that you will be drowned out by worship songs,
Silenced, that is, in the name of Jesus,
Songs that could be sung with you, sung instead
And knowing that even your allies,
(Probably too soon to call them friends)
Will shake their heads and wag their fingers,
Will lecture you about being counterproductive,
Will believe the lie,
From the Father of Lies,
That you are causing problems,
Rather than revealing them.
And despite knowing of all this–
Of the cowardice and asymmetrical power of your oppressors,
Of the inexcusable cluelessness (that borders on treachery) of your allies,
To summon up,
To count the cost,
To (so to speak) put your whole self in,
And perform satirical theatre,
Like grace plays
I would like to end in a prayer
Compassionate God, who shared human form for a time and shares our lives for all time
Help us respond with courage to the trials of our day.
Help us listen for prophetic voices
Help us hear them despite discomfort, despite temptation to turn away, despite temptation to offer solutions when healing is needed.
In our violent world, God, help us be nonviolent.
In our oppressive world, God, help us undo oppression.
In our impoverished world, God, help us be fruitful.
In the name of Jesus, who spoke the truth and speaks it today