Rainbow Sermon from Sept 10 service

This is the sermon Rev. Murray gave at TSA’s September Rainbow Service.

Over the last fifty years, our society has made huge advances
in the acceptance and inclusion of people who are part of the LGBTQ community. Laws have been changed.
Equal rights have been enshrined in the Canadian constitution.
Social acceptance has grown significantly.
There have been a lot of hard won battles for recognition and dignity.
It has not been an easy fight, and the fight is far from over,
but progress has been made.

Even as our society has evolved
there are still those who are militant in their opposition
to our world becoming more inclusive.
Just when transgendered people are becoming more visible in society,
they have come under fierce attack.
They have become the scapegoat that must bear all of society’s fears and anger.

They are not the first to be scapegoated in this way.
When our country started allowing immigrants in
from Eastern Europe and Asia over a century ago,
these newcomers found themselves to be the target
of a fierce campaign of hate because they threatened the British identity.
When the Women’s Liberation movement picked up steam in the 1960’s
they were the target of ridicule and derision.
The Gay Liberation movement that soon followed also faced a fierce backlash. Sadly such fear and hatred is not new.

The idea of a scapegoat is thousands of years old.
In the Old Testament book of Leviticus,
the rules for a scape goat are set out for us.
Back then people used animal sacrifices as a way of pleasing God,
of getting God’s attention, of making peace with God.
It is supposed to restore order.
The animal carries our guilt, and pays the penalty for us.
By this act of sacrifice, a person’s sins are to be forgiven.

This is an ancient concept which we still use today in many ways.
Societies often makes sacrifices, in order to achieve its goals.
When the high priest is justifying putting Jesus to death,
he says ‘it is better for one person should die
in order to preserve peace for everyone else.’

With a sacrificial mentality, some person or persons are deemed to be expendable, because it is easier to forsake them, than it is to help them.
We find a group to blame for our troubles, and we sacrifice their well-being,
in order to strengthen our own.
The Nazis famously made the Jews into their scapegoats,
blaming them for Germany’s difficulties
after their empire had collapsed after the First World War..

Those who make the sacrifice seek to profit from it,
so they can find forgiveness of sins, peace and prosperity restored.
After sacrificing Jesus, the Bible tells us that Herod and Pilate
became friends for the first time.
They both believed the voice of creative dissent must be crushed,
in order to preserve the status quo.
The peace of Rome was paid for with a cross and a sword.

The problem is, sacrifices don’t always work.
A sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins had to be made every year.
Each family had to make a sacrifice every Passover
in order to stay connected with God.
When a social sacrifice fails to achieve peace,
it usually fuels the spiral of violence.
The group who sided with the victim then seeks revenge for their suffering.
Their passion for their cause is inflamed by the loss of the victim.
The sacrificial victim becomes a martyr to the cause.
We see this spiral of violence and revenge in so many wars.

In many Christian churches, Jesus is presented as the ultimate scapegoat.
Many Christians talk of his death as being a sacrifice
which takes place at God’s command.
Such logic is confusing at its best, and repulsive at its worst.
What kind of God orders the death of his own child
in order to appease his anger with the world which he created?

The myth of redemptive violence suggests
that only such righteous acts of violence can solve all the world’s problems.
We are not the first generation to question this interpretation.
Thankfully there is another way to look at the death of Jesus
that helps us reject the call for violence to solve all our problems.

After Jesus dies, the Bible mentions how the curtain in the temple was torn in two. On its own, this sounds like a minor detail,
until you realize what that curtain represents.
In the Temple, there was a veil which separated the Holy of Holies,
where God was hidden, from the worshippers.
You can see this in how our chapel is designed.
Imagine the raised platform with a curtain hiding that special place from view.
Only once a year, on the Passover,
would the High Priest bring a sacrifice in to the Holy of Holies,
to find God’s favour.
On this night, on the Passover, the curtain is ripped in two
and it falls to the ground.
Suddenly the gap between God and humanity is forever bridged.
In the language of their day, this means people now have complete access to God. We don’t need to the old tradition of ritual sacrifices
in order to get God’s attention any more.
By the tearing of the curtain we are given the assurance that God is with us. Always, at all times.

Jesus challenges this pattern as well.
When the risen Christ does re-appear, his first words are “Peace be with you”.
This is not what a revenge-seeking culture expects to hear f
rom a man they have just put to death,
and who has come back from the grave to face them.

One author who grasped this alternative understanding
was the British author C.S. Lewis.
Have you ever read Lewis’ book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”? They’ve made a great movie of it as well. T
he story of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
is a good example of this deeper symbolic understanding
of the meaning of Jesus’ death.

The Chronicles of Narnia books have been a classic
since they first published over seventy years ago.
In C.S. Lewis’ story, the lion Aslan, is the Christ figure.
Aslan allows himself to killed so the evil queen will spare the life of a child.
The queen had tricked the child into betraying his siblings.
In the magical world of Narnia, the penalty for such a betrayal is death.
According to the ancient laws of sacrifice, such a traitor must die,
in order to restore balance and peace in the world.
In the story, this is called the ‘deep magic from the dawn of time.’

Aslan offers to take the child’s place, so the boy might be spared.
The queen and her dark forces readily agree to Aslan’s offer.
She believes she will be free to later renege on sparing the child,
and then be able to take over the kingdom.
Aslan goes quietly to his death,
and the queen heads off to defeat her opponents in a surprise attack.

Then, as the dawn comes, something unexpected happens.
Aslan rises to new life.
He is resurrected.
At that moment, the stone altar which was used for this and all such sacrifices
is shattered into two pieces, never to be used again.

When asked how this was possible, Aslan says this is an even deeper magic,
from before the dawn of time.
He says that when an innocent person dies on behalf of others to free them,
this will break the cycle of violence and sacrifice altogether.

The story of Christ’s death is not a case
where offering a bigger sacrifice earns you a bigger reward.
This shows that violence will never solve our conflicts.
Blaming others for our problems will never solve our problems.

This is a story where sacrifice itself is broken.
Because of Christ, there can be no more scapegoats.
There can be no more convenient victims for us to blame for our misfortunes.
We can’t blame the messenger for telling us our ship is sinking.
There is nothing we can give up or sacrifice which will win us favour with God. This deeper message is a liberation.
This deeper message is hope filled good news.

The entire sacrificial mentality is now irrelevant
as a way to make things right with God.
On this occasion, the political and religious powers
tried to use an innocent man of God as the sacrificial victim.
But this sacrifice didn’t work.
Instead the sacrificial altar has been broken by God. Forever.

Instead of the brutality of maintaining the status quo at all costs,
and instead of using violence as revenge,
a new community of people is born out of these events.

We are a people who are committed
to the innocent victims which our society often forgets.
We are a people who cling to the one whom God raises to new life on Easter.
This is to be a community of inclusion where all are welcomed in.
We are to be a people who are committed to a life
which requires no more sacrifices or violence
in order to put things right between us, our neighbours, and with God.

The death of Jesus was a terrible tragedy, which should never have happened.
But it did.
With his death, he suffers the full weight
of all this word’s violence and hatred and fear and blame.
An innocent man, trying to reveal God’s healing grace, became the scapegoat.
He was blamed for disrupting the peace, for threatening the status quo.
Yet even the Roman soldier who stood at the foot of the cross
recognized they have just put to death an innocent man.

As a result of the events of Easter Sunday, sacrifice is no more.
The altar of sacrifice is broken, never to be used again.
By this violent and terrible act, we are reminded
how the barrier between God and humanity has been torn down.
God is in this world, with us, in us, walking with us.
God is breaking new bread with us, each of us, all of us, because of this day. Because of this deeper message,
we can look past the painful sufferings of this day,
and realize the good which comes out of it.
Because of this deeper meaning, we can face painful days like this
with a sense of hope.
Even though you may be the target of hate and fear,
know that fear and anger and hatred do not get the final word.
Love always wins in the end.
For in life, in death, in life after death, God is with us.
We are not alone.