Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Different Kind of Hero

The following sermon was written by the Reverend Scott Walters of Christ Episcopal Church and is published here with his permission.
Billy Dick was 6 years old and sitting in Sunday School at the Lakewood Methodist Church in Dallas. It was Easter, and his teacher was telling the story of the crucifixion. Billy Dick squirmed as the gruesome events of Good Friday unfolded. Finally he thrust up his hand and waived it in the air until the teacher stopped and acknowledged him. And when she did, Billy Dick stood up and declared, “If Roy Rogers had been there, those dirty S.O.B.s would not have been able to do it!”
The reason that the story of Billy Dick’s mildly profane Easter outburst made its way to us all these years later is because his cousin was a guy named Stanley Hauerwas, who grew up to become a theologian, a not always so mildly profane one at that. More specifically, his cousin Stanley became a theologian who worried about our tendency as Christians to confuse God with Roy Rogers.
That’s my oversimplified, unqualified synopsis of Stanley Hauerwas’s theology. But the God as Roy Rogers problem is not confined to the imaginations of six year old boys. Long after we’ve learned not to stand up and blurt out what we really think in Sunday School, don’t you think we still believe that God’s saving work is a lot like that of a cowboy hero? God wins the day because God is infinitely quicker on the draw, God’s aim is perfect, and the Resurrection was that satisfying moment in which evil got what it had coming. Got it right between the eyes.
But there’s a problem. The problem is that even on this side of the Resurrection, we’re still looking for someone to come riding into town, six guns blazing, to set things straight. Because things still aren’t straight. Evil is still around. Which means that apparently Jesus wasn’t Roy Rogers at all. Apparently Jesus wasn’t that kind of savior. But we, just like those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, just can’t quite believe it. Because we have a hard time believing that there’s any other kind of hero.
Billy Dick was pretty sure he knew what would have happened if Roy Rogers had been at the crucifixion. And most of us Christians are pretty sure we would have recognized the risen Christ if we had met him on the road to Emmaus. Or if we’re humble enough to give those two blinded disciples a break, we at least believe we would recognize Jesus now. He’s “our kind of people”, right? We understand who he was and what he was about. We have the creeds and the scriptures. Maybe we had a mother who made sure we were in Sunday School. And not just on Easter.
But the story of the walk to Emmaus suggests that we can miss the risen Christ even if he’s walking right beside us. In fact, one of the most curious details of this story is not just that the resurrected Jesus met two people on the road, but that he took them through the meaning of the scriptures, beginning with Moses and all the prophets. He told them what it all meant. He showed them how his life was the fulfillment of all that came before him in the life of Israel. These two people got the whole biblical scoop, right from the mouth of the second person of the Trinity.
And they still miss it. They still couldn’t see him. Maybe they couldn’t see him because they were still looking for Roy Rogers.
In our world, and I don’t mean in our day and time, I mean in life here on planet Earth, it’s hard to imagine meaningful power without at least the capacity to resort to violence. Even if we think God wouldn’t blast us to bits, it’s important to us that God could blast us to bits. And we probably harbor the hope that God will eventually get around to blasting at least a few people on our very selective list, to bits.
Jesus’s whole life and teaching, however, refuted this familiar notion of power. In the desert he refused the temptations to earthly power as his ministry began. He taught us to love our enemies and forgive those who persecute us. And he lived out those teachings right through to the end. Right through his own wrongful execution.

Now, from our perspective, turning the other cheek is an act of restraint. It’s a moment in which one response is justified, but we decide not to strike back, because Jesus, for some strange reason, told us not to.
But what if Jesus’s teaching about peaceableness toward our enemies and his refusal to respond to persecution with violence was not restraint? What if the whole of Holy Week and Easter was not about God holding back what God might really do to set things straight? What if it was simply a moment of God being thoroughly and perfectly God? What if our small human notions of justice imposed by force and violence have nothing to do with the ways of God at all? Could that be harder for us to believe, even than the resurrection?
Soren Kierkegaard told a story about a king who fell in love with a peasant maiden. But the king wanted the maiden’s love to be true. He wanted her to love him only for who he was, not for his title, not for his crown, not for all that it might mean to be a friend with benefits to the king.
So he covered up his purple robes with peasant clothes. And we know how these fairy tales go, right? The maiden does fall for the king. And for the remainder of the story, we wait in anticipation for the truth to out. We wait for the moment in which the king will make his real identity known, the moment in which he will tear off the rags to reveal his purple royal finery.
Kierkegaard says that this is how we view Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. In the Incarnation, God puts on a peasant’s garb. God was clothed as a human for a while. And the Resurrection was the great tear in that garment, the moment in which the truth is made clear.
But Kierkegaard says that the strange truth of the Incarnation is that it is nothing like his little parable of the king and the maiden. There is no garment. God is not covering up or withholding some great divine power in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is what God looks like and lives like when God walks the earth.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus couldn’t recognize Jesus because they were looking for a messiah who would establish justice by earthly means. They were looking for a good guy in a white hat to give those dirty S.O.B.s what they deserve. So what if the risen Jesus makes a few post resurrection appearances to a handful of people then floats away from them on some hillside? That’s no victory by Roy Rogers’s standards.
But maybe God’s ways and God’s standards are different from ours. And maybe for us, just as for those two disciples, our eyes are opened and we see the risen Christ only as we realize that kings and cowboys have been claiming to be our violent saviors since the beginning of history. And they have all let us down.
What Jesus struggled to show us is that God’s ways are not theirs. God’s ways are not ours. For there is a love at work in our world and in our lives that refuses to force itself upon us or even to resist our violent attempts to put it down. There is a love that comes to us not on horseback with the cavalry close behind, but in the breaking of bread with Calvary close behind. A love that comes to us in the face of someone right beside us. A face that is strange to us only because we’ve been looking for the wrong kind of hero. But a face that will still come suddenly into focus for us, just as it did in Emmaus, in the breaking of bread together. Amen.

And may the peace of the Lord be always with you.

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