Text: Ephesians 6: 13-19
13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
There was a man who had been out at a party and he stayed longer than he probably should have and he knew his wife was going to be angry with him for getting home so late. On the way home he decided to take a short cut through the local cemetery – this would save him at least 5 or 6 minutes of walking rather than staying on the streets and walking around. As he started into the graveyard, he noticed the light from the streetlights was growing dimmer and dimmer. It seemed a cloudy evening and there was no moon light, not even a star. Blacker and blacker it grew until he could hardly see his hand in front of his face. And then it happened. He walked into a mound of dirt he could not see, tripped and fell into an open grave.
He picked himself up, not hurt because the dirt was soft –obviously a recent digging – and began to search for a way out. If it was dark before you can imagine what it was like six feet below the surface. He couldn’t see a thing. He felt around the dirt walls searching for a root or something he might grab hold of to pull himself up and out of the open grave. No luck – the walls seemed smooth as glass in the pitch black of night. He jumped up, flailing his arms up over the top of the grave hoping to grab some grass, perhaps a weed, anything that he could grasp to pull on; over and over and over again he jumped up trying to grip onto something. It was no use. Exhausted and sweating he made his way to the corner of that empty grave, sat down and decided he would just have to wait for morning until someone came along to help him out. Soon he drifted off to sleep.
He awoke to the rustling and solid thud of yet another wanderer cutting through the same cemetery and falling into the same open grave. The newcomer jumped and jumped, just like he had done for several minutes. Finally the first man decided to speak from the dark corner of the grave where he had been sleeping. “You’ll never make it” he said to the newcomer. But he did.
Part of what makes this story entertaining is that we understand the situation through a particular paradigm that we have been taught. Every Halloween people remind us again that cemeteries are supposed to be scary places where mysterious things happen and where the ghosts and goblins roam. Just the thought of walking through a graveyard at night and alone scares some of you right now – in broad daylight. And when I began to tell the story and had the man cut through the cemetery – you knew right away it was a bad idea. We have been conditioned to anticipate such things and of course this story fulfilled your expectations. Then when we put ourselves in the shoes of the second man who fell in and imagined ourselves struggling to get out when suddenly we hear a voice out of nowhere that states “you’ll never make it” – well, we can all understand this would make someone jump right out of their skin – and out of the grave as well. So of course, this is what gives the story a humorous conclusion – because we can relate so completely to the second man.
The reason we can relate is because of paradigms. Paradigms offer us a certain structure and a certain way of seeing the world and understanding what is going on around us. Most of the time, paradigms are very helpful – as a matter of fact, not only are they helpful, but they are also necessary. They are also extremely difficult to change once they are accepted as truth. This can be a problem.
There are at least two false paradigms that have become sort of famous over the years. One such paradigm involved the shape of our planet – everybody knew that the world was flat. The other paradigm involved a man named Galileo who suggested the earth was not the center of the universe. We all know what happened to him. Once accepted as a general guiding principle and understood to represent the collective wisdom of those in power, a paradigm becomes almost sacred – people are willing to die rather than re-think a paradigm. It’s true – that is what caused the Civil War – people were unwilling to rethink the paradigm of slavery – they chose to kill and be killed rather than to have a sacred paradigm challenged.
I began with a light-hearted story to illustrate how paradigms help us think. But now we must face up to the fact that they can also be very powerful motivators and we must also recognize that a particular paradigm can also be inaccurate. Regardless of what we have been told, regardless of who else believes it to be true, regardless of what has been written about it – the chance remains that any paradigm we believe to be true could be not so true.
There is such a paradigm in Christianity. This is a powerful and deeply entrenched paradigm that has shaped our culture in a thousand ways. The trouble is, I don’t believe the paradigm to be accurate – and it isn’t just a little out of whack and in need of a slight adjustment. It is completely wrong. It is so wrong that the exact opposite of this paradigm is what I believe to be true. The trouble is – as I said before – once a paradigm is accepted they are very difficult to change.
The paradigm of which I speak is the paradigm of redemptive violence. Contemporary theologian and Bible scholar Walter Wink identifies it as the myth of redemptive violence. By whatever name we identify the thinking, it is still the same. The idea that in some cases violence solves problems and can be used to bring peace and good, sometimes violence can even be used to bring redemption.
The orthodox Christian position on the sacrifice of Jesus supports this thinking. This position believes that God required a blood sacrifice – an act of incredible violence – in order to save humanity. The scripture I read at the beginning of this sermon speaks of the Gospel of peace and the sword of the Spirit as compatible elements and all being from God. The whole armor of God.
Truth is, I believe, this paradigm of redemptive violence that is so often taught as such a good thing, spills over into our culture at large. Why else would we kill people to demonstrate to people who kill people that killing people is wrong? Why else would we support wars and military coups that are supposed to bring peace and tranquility to a nation or region? Why else would we be willing to tolerate the mass casualties of innocent civilians in acts of war? Is it possible that we are the most violent nation in the world (and we are by far) because we are also the most “Christian” nation in the world? Think on that one for a little bit.
The paradigm of redemptive violence originates within the Christian and Hebrew scriptures. The drowning of the Egyptian soldiers after the parting of the Red Sea is redemptive violence. The forceful taking of the Promised Land recorded in the Old Testament is redemptive violence. The story of God asking Abraham for Isaac is a story of redemptive violence. Any sacrifice at all is an act of redemptive violence. And don’t think it is limited to the Old Testament because it is not. Every Easter millions of sermons are preached praising the redemptive violence of death on a cross.
The problem is that violence is not redemptive. It never has been and it will never be. The teaching of the paradigm of redemptive violence is something we need to confront as the church moves into the 21st century. It is a paradigm that needs to be challenged and re-thought. As difficult as it is, it is work that must be done. The question is; are we up to the task?
Food for thought. Go in peace and go with God. Amen.