A sermon preached by Ben Edwards, ordinand at Evening Prayer 14th March 2017.
I remember once at school there was this kid who was essentially at the top of the food chain. He was this sort of dark eyed, brooding thug who I never once saw crack a smile. His Dad was a detective inspector, it turned out, and therefore he obviously felt any school rules were entirely beneath him. He pretty much did exactly what he liked to anyone, was first in any queue for anything worth queuing for, got the seat he wanted (inevitably the back row in classes), got the schoolyard hangouts he wanted and got the fearful respect of all the other kids that he’d thumped for looking at him funny or daring to ask out the pretty girl in the class that he fancied but wouldn’t go out with him.
And then, one term, another kid joins the school who is close to 6 feet tall and built like a brick privy. I mean this guy was like a mountain, easily bigger than absolutely all staff members barring Mr Booth, the fearsome games teacher with the perennial scowl, but even he was wary of facing this kid down. I would like to point out that this kid isn’t me.
Of course, our man the detective’s son didn’t much like this new kid, and it wasn’t long
before the inevitable happened. I can’t remember the details exactly, but detective Dad kid squared up to brick privy kid, and brick privy kid pushed detective Dad kid over in the dinner hall, in front of the pretty girl he fancied that wouldn’t go out with him. Feeling he’d been embarrassed by brick privy kid, detective Dad kid then slide tackles brick privy kid in Games on the football pitch. Brick privy kid, having been quite badly hurt by this deliberate attack, then waits for detective Dad kid after school and after a bit of argy bargy punches him in the face and gives him a black eye… then it gets really nuts, because detective Dad himself finds out where this kid lives and the family car gets stoved in… back and forth this went, tit for tat, one party does something stupid and destructive
so the other has to top it. It ended pretty badly for detective Dad and his kid – another serious fight occurred outside school, involving a crow bar, and detective Dad’s leg got broken, at least that was the rumour. His kid left the school and did not come back. Brick privy kid stayed on, his Dad apparently got off with a self-defence plea, but no-one messed with Brick privy kid, and he became the top of the food chain. He didn’t seem to learn anything from this process, but went on to replace detective Dad kid.
Who could blame him? It’s the story that we have been telling ourselves since time immemorial, the myth of redemptive violence. This tribe swept in and slaughtered another tribe – the survivors wait until they have regained their strength and hit back. Caesar, peace and victory, you crush the opposition, that’s how we bring peace. You crush us and we’ll regather our strength and hammer you back twice as hard. You insult our religion or our political ideology then we’ll destroy your innocent citizens with nail bombs. We get bombed, well we’ll get right back up and dust ourselves down and bomb you back, twice as bad, until there’s nothing left of your homelands.
And it isn’t just in the sphere of violence; we see it in business, in entertainment, in politics – a Mexican senator says he’ll divert the country’s corn supplies from the US to Brazil and Argentina –Iran votes to retaliate against the US immigration ban – China threatens retaliation for US trade Regulations – the bad guy does bad things and so bad things happen in return. . . it’s the pattern of the world which no-one ever seems to take any lessons from. It’s also the pattern that many Christians in the West have superimposed upon the Cross. Somehow, bad stuff happens – SIN- and
God isn’t happy, so God somehow has to cause violence upon something in order to appease Himself in some way, so He sends His own Son to take on human form and become the perfect sinless sacrifice, dying in the most painful and humiliating way, thus paying back the wounds God has had inflicted from the sin of humanity. . . and we’re supposed to take what lesson from this?
Is it any wonder that Christians in many parts of the Western churches are supportive of war? Supportive of dropping bombs and rejecting the resultant refugees? Redemptive violence is the dominant religion of today, and now it informs Christianity rather than Christianity informing society.
The mistake being made, for me at least, is this overlaying of the myth of redemptive violence over The Cross of Christ, an atonement model of penal substitution. The Cross is not God taking His pound of flesh for the damage caused to Him by sin, the debt owed to Him by the bad things we have done. The Cross is the final answer to the cycle of redemptive violence. God himself, the Son of the Trinity, taking all the violence and hatred and evil of the world upon Himself and saying, Enough. It is finished. It ends here. And now. For all time. All violence that has been and will be. Ends here.
It is finished.
Non violent resistance. The refusal to co-operate with an evil system, through the power
of the greatest of love, bends the universe towards justice and away from the perpetuating of evil, of sin. It is a far more potent weapon than violence in the freeing of the oppressed, of the enslaved.If brick privy kid had only loved detective Dad kid as his neighbour, had resisted without violence,had extended the hand of friendship instead of the shove of fear, perhaps things will have been different. However, in a world where even God is made to bow to the myth of redemptive violence, perhaps things would have got a lot worse for everyone else.