Thursday, April 12, 2007

Shoah Sermon draft...

(Thanks to my deacon for the graphic)

This is a rough draft of the sermon I will preach on Sunday, April 15, Yom Ha Shoah--the Holocaust Day of Remembrance. I have included the Scriptures I will be using. I will also have resource lists and some other materials available. For readers who are interested, I highly recommend Sanantha Powers "A Fine Hell," Richard Plant's "Men of the Pink Triangle," and Rosemary Radford Ruther's "Faith and Fratricide," as well as Carroll's "Constantine's Sword." Constructive comments welcomed!

Leviticus 19:13-19a

You shall not defraud your neighbour; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Holy One. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbour: I am the Holy One. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Holy One. You shall keep my statutes.

Psalm 77
One: I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that I may be heard.
Many: In the day of my trouble I seek the Holy One; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.
One: I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints.
Many: You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.
One: I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit: "Will God spurn forever, and never again be favourable? Has God’s steadfast love ceased forever? Are God’s promises at an end for all time?
Many: Has God forgotten to be gracious? Or in anger shut up God’s compassion?"
One: And I say, "It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed."
Many: I will call to mind the deeds of our God; I will remember your wonders of old.
One: I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.
Many: Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples. With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
One: When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled. he clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Gospel: Mark 2:28-34

One of the scribes came near and heard Jesus and the Pharisees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, the scribe asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?"
Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other'; and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbour as oneself,'-- this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."
When Jesus saw that the scribe answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the realm of God." After that no one dared to ask Jesus any question.

Today we’ve departed from the usual readings and celebrations of the church calendar to observe a day of remembering our lost, our murdered, our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered sisters and brothers in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, as well the other members of the various thnic and religious groups who killed. They weren’t killed in a simple hate crime or impulsive gay-bashing. They were systematically murdered by a national government, as part of a considered policy at the highest levels of that government. I’m referring, of course, to what is often called the Holocaust, or systematic murder, by the Nazi government of Germany during WWII of those they considered not worthy of living. A preferred term is “Shoah,” which means "catastrophic upheaval.” A holocaust is actually a sacrificial term, meaning a burnt offering. The murder of millions is not a sacrifice to the God I worship. The groups sent to the concentration camps included, but were not limited to, Jews—which was a racial category according to the Nazis, not religious—Roma, or gypsies; and Poles. These groups were considered inferior races and therefore not desired in the “new Germany.” Jehovah’s Witnesses and clergy, especially Roman Catholic clergy, were considered dangerous because they were thought to be more loyal to their church than to the German state—which in fact turned out to be true, as so many of them remained faithful to Christ and the reign of love, instead of the German government and their rule of hate. Also, Nazi philosophy was that Judaism was a “dirty” religion, and Christianity was no better because it came from Judaism. Jehovah’s Witnesses, besides being Christian, did not take oaths and cared little for secular politics, believing as they did in the imminent return of Christ. Another part of Nazi belief was that the powerful or “master races” should reproduce as much as possible. Thus heterosexuality was celebrated and homosexuality was brutally punished—for men. Lesbians were persecuted, but they could always be forced to have children, in the Nazi view. So all these groups—gay men, Jews, clergy, Roma, Poles, resistance fighters, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and some lesbians—were arrested and taken to the concentration and extermination camps.

This is not a pretty subject. It’s not a happy thing to remember. But it’s a necessary thing to remember. The historian and writer George Santayana write that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I don’t think historical events exactly repeat themselves, but I do believe that similar attitudes and beliefs arise time after time. The intolerance of women indicated by the witch hunts of the late Renaissance and the hatred of Jews and others by the Third Reich of Hitler are not, in the final analysis, so very different.

And, I think, we have to be aware and alert to signs of a resurgence of that same hatred and intolerance among us today. It doesn’t have to be religious—although the insistence on drawing rigid lines between what is acceptable and what is not is very strong among the religious not-so-right. But it can be political and cloaked in terms of protecting children or jobs or even the environment—but the fact is that someone is being pushed aside, made to be less than human or not matter.

In Jesus’ day, as well as the much earlier days when the book of Leviticus was compiled, given the social and political structure of society, it was the widows and orphans who were shoved aside and ignored, If you were not, or did not have, an adult male attached to you somehow (father, husband, brother, uncle) you did not matter, because only the adult males mattered in that society. If you weren’t an adult male—if you were a young boy, or an unmarried woman, for example—you were only seen as a person in connection with your father, your adult brother, your fiancé, and so on.

But God demands a greater justice. God insists on equality of treatment. Neither the poor nor the rich should get preferential treatment. Honesty, integrity and justice are to rule all that we do in our interactions with each other. Jesus says much the same thing when he tells the scribe that we are to love God with all our heart and soul and strength, and that we are to love our neighbours as we love ourselves—and moreover, that these two commandments are pretty much the same thing. If we love God, we love those around us. And that makes sense.

We are all made in the image of God. Every one of us carries a part of the image of God in us, and so then if we claim to love God, we must also love those around us, who show us God’s face. Not just the ones we like or who like us, but everyone. And that means we have to protect each other, too. Martin Niemoller, the German theologian, knew this well. There are several versions of what he said; one of the better known versions goes:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

We are all in this human predicament together; if we do not have the courage to speak up for our sisters and brothers, we are not loving them, we are not loving God.

Martin Luther King put it another way. He said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We cannot ask what it will get us to take care of our neighbours—we are required to do so, by the God who made us all equal and in God’s image. There is no hierarchy of suffering. Someone once told me they thought that Jews made too much of the Holocaust and that blacks had suffered more under US slavery. This ranking of suffering is pointless, really—what about the Armenians slaughtered by the Turks in the days before World War I, or the millions killed by Pol Pot? Or the many different people colonized by Europeans? Or the systematic oppression of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people around the world? It’s especially bad in Jamaica right now, by the way—there’s a letter on the back table from our Moderator, Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson telling us about it. A group of mourners at a funeral were attacked because they were thought to be gay men and lesbians. And it goes sideways, too—even within the oppressed groups, there are ranks—lighter-skinned vs darker-skinned, male vs female, the various sub-groups shunned by other sub-groups… Where does it end?

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

As part of my seminary training, I traveled to Poland and visited many of the Shoah sites there—Auschwitz, the Warsaw Ghetto, Treblinka, and others. Many of the memorials and monuments say, “Never again.” Unfortunately, that vow has proved as evanescent as mist. We have only to read our newspapers or watch the news to know that genocide, even state=sponsored genocide, continues to this very day. It’s a laudable goal to stop genocide and oppression—but a very difficult goal to reach. As long as human beings try to define another group of human beings as “Other,” whether it’s based on their race, where they were born, the way they worship God, whether they love another gender or their own, whether they identify with the gender given to them at birth or not—anyone who is different from the group-defined norm is rejected. As long as human beings think this way, there will be hate crimes, there will be murder, there will be genocide.

But I believe that can change. Slowly, painfully, one person at a time. Probably not in my life time—but maybe by the time my son’s children grow up, we’ll be a few steps closer to that goal.

But only if we remember, and recognize the terrible results of not knowing, of not caring, of not loving one another enough to protect each other. To love our neighbour as we love ourselves.

If we remember, then we can work to keep the murder, the hate, from happening; we can work to eliminate it. We can love one another as we love God.

In the name of the Creator of the Universe, amen.

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