Toorak Uniting Church

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Caught in the crowd

Genesis 37   John 8: 1 – 11
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
25 April 2010

Two years ago a boy who had been in Freke’s class jumped off a building and killed himself.

He had been bullied - of course
He came from a troubled family background - of course
He had always been the odd one out - of course

And now he left others to deal with the guilt, the hurt and pain and the questions he found to difficult to deal with in life.

Nobody knew how to deal with it.

Sure, there was a funeral, there were flowers, there was a lot of conversation going back and forth on facebook, twitter, SMS and other social networks. The kids talked amongst themselves, wondered what they could have done, IF they could have done anything. The school made counseling available for whoever needed it.

Until someone said: "We better put this behind us. It doesn’t help anybody to stay with the negative. Let’s be positive. Let’s move on". So they did.

Every now and again he pops up in conversation. Let’s call him James. And when he does it makes people uncomfortable. They all feel sorry, but they find it difficult to say so. They all feel sad, but that also is difficult to talk about. If anything it makes them feel guilty they are finding it hard to be positive. To move on. So they silence their sadness, their guilt and their discomfort, put a brave smile on their face and pretend it is not there.

I believe we all have James experiences in our lives one way or another. Experiences of someone finding themselves alone in an unfriendly crowd in need of someone to speak up for them because they themselves can’t. We all know people like James, like the woman who was brought to Jesus, like Joseph.

We may also have been part of the crowd while James was beaten into the cement, while the woman was brought before Jesus, while Joseph’s brothers decided they wanted to do away with him. Perhaps we were there when they cried out for help, perhaps we joined in because we never liked James, or felt the woman shouldn’t have done what she did, or because Joseph was an arrogant what you me call it. Maybe we just turned away, quietly, because we didn’t want to get involved, and risk our own safety.

It is even possible that at some stage we discovered how intimidating someone or lording it over them can be very satisfying, especially when you feel you have the support of a silent crowd watching it happen. You may know how difficult it is to pull away from that kind of abusing power once you’ve got it and give others the respect they are deserve.

War is usually justified as standing up for what is right, of coming to the aid of people who are the victim of tyrannical regimes, and defending basic human rights. Standing up to wrong doing, abuse of power, and perceived injustice on a much bigger scale than happens in the playground, in our families or at work. War is often promoted as leaving the silent crowd behind to do something. To make a difference. An attempt to change the world into a better place. All too often those who set out fighting for the good cause discover just how difficult it is to not get entangled in the violence they are trying to put an end to and keep their integrity and idealism intact when they face the forces of death and destruction.

A couple of weeks ago there was an outrage about American soldiers who were heard laughing while they were shooting, in this case innocent, people. These men somehow lost something of their integrity, their humanity, their ability to discern between horror and joy in the hell called the Afghan front. That’s what war can do to us. But not only war.

Wielding power, managing violence, finding the balance between just cause and letting our basest urges run away with us is one of the most difficult challenges we as humans have to master. Be it in a theatre of war or in the struggles of every day life.

At the heart of Christianity there is a person who managed to keep his integrity intact. Who managed not to let himself be sucked into the power play of those around him, but remained true to what served justice, peace and wholeness. Who didn’t turn away or cover up but laid bare what was causing people pain and offered healing to them where he could. Even where it cost him his life. He ended up like James: beaten into the cement, dressed in a purple robe and nailed to a cross.

The people of his time tried to put his message behind them. They tried as best they could to silence his voice that insisted God’s Kingdom could only be where James and people like him are no longer left to cope for themselves. Where compassion and love win every time from fear and betrayal. Where people share the sadness as well as the joy of life, without trying to pretend things are any different to what they are. Where pain and suffering are brought to the surface and dealt with. Where nothing is left to fester and healing sought however painful the process may be so it won’t, later on translate into violence. Where sorry is a word that is readily offered and forgiveness is regarded as a God given opportunity to lay bare what is bothering us and heal it. Where Easter faith makes us stand with Jesus while resisting the pull of power, trusting that even where the odds may seem overwhelming we will, nevertheless find a death defying life force that will bring peace and healing if we do.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2010

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