Believe that God can hate
Hated by the world for Jesus' sake - sermon in Barmen Gemarke on the occasion of the symposium of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland "Common Bible, common mission" (Sermon text: Joh 15, 18-21)
Sermon text: Jn 15, 18-21
18 If the world hates you, know that it hated me before you did.
19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, that is why the world hates you.
20 Remember what I said to you, the servant is no greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you too; if they have kept my word, they will keep yours too.
21 But they will do all this to you for my name's sake; because they do not know him who sent me.
1. When the world hates you
Does the world hate us because we profess Jesus Christ? The Christian churches are recognized in the structure of our state. Publicly even. The Basic Law protects them expressly and in a special way. With their Diakonie and Caritas they share in the social responsibility of our society and are therefore well suffered. How can one talk about the hatred of the world against us Christians? One may well doubt whether we are always taken seriously. Perhaps precisely because we have tempered the original fire of the message of Jesus to a lukewarm oven, because we make many compromises with this world, because our way of following Christ is not radical enough. But we are obviously not hated.
Of course, it was obviously different with the first Christian communities. They suffered injustice and persecution. They honored God in the man from Nazareth whom he called his father, and they felt called out of the world. And then they made the experience that for the sake of their faith they were not only despised, many were persecuted and killed. Like the one they had succeeded. They were hated as Jesus said they would be. Behind these persecutions they saw the signs of a collapsing world of cosmic proportions and lived amidst the misery with a comforted certainty: in the end we and the whole world are promised salvation.
The first disciples apparently did not understand what Jesus meant when he predicted this hatred. The meaning of his speech was hidden from them. Even when Jesus ended up under torture and crucifixion, they still did not understand it.
God's way with us humans - a path of suffering. Who understands that? We see the cross, the failure, but how do we recognize life in it? Can salvation grow out of it? We don't understand that either if we're really honest with ourselves. But suddenly it can fall from your eyes like scales like the disciples did back then. They first had to meet the risen Lord before they recognized suffering and the cross as God's way to salvation. Then it gradually became clear to them that the way of the Master is the way of his disciples. They did not formally obey the laws, but insisted on their meaningful life. They did not go along with what everyone did, they refused to worship the emperor, they did not forget their origins but instead stood by the side of the poor and suffering. God is on the side of those who suffer. And with that the place is shown which his successors have to occupy.
This place is dangerous and stressful because there are so many terrible ailments in the world that it seems no wonder. Incidentally, it doesn't just grow out of the world's formal hatred. Suffering also arises because the world triumphs when it appears to succeed in everything. M. Luther: Those who serve the mammon have violence, popularity, honor, property and security from the world, while an infinite number are haunted by worry and are unable to cope with the disasters. And the efforts of those who stand up for those who suffer are often just a drop in the ocean. It always hits those first who have always been weak. They suffer most from the ecological crises, the terrible wars, the fundamentalist terror. Hunger, flight and displacement are growing, there is torture and killing, even in countries with a democratic tradition. And megalomaniac concepts of state and society proliferate, in which people feel chosen as born again and allegedly want to liberate the whole world. And there are the catastrophes in personal life: unemployment, life-threatening diseases, the fear of aging, loneliness. It is the weak who suffer first, after the New Orleans hurricane it was seen again. Suffering is everywhere, obviously inevitable.
2. Believers' hatred of the world
The history of early Christianity went on. The hatred of the world against believing Christians turned into hatred of believing Christians against the world. The persecuted became persecutors. And the whole unfortunate story of persecution of heretics and religious terror, of Inquisition and forced conversion began - and above all the story of hate against the Jews. Often it was justified with the unfortunate accusation that they were to blame for Jesus' death on the cross.
In our sermon section that seems to be already laid out. The psalm quotation at the end of the section reads: "They hate me for no reason" (Psalm 69: 5). Many interpreters therefore suspect that here the Evangelist John had already pointed the way against the Jews, and they also conclude from other passages that the Gospel was already shaped anti-Jewish. We cannot discuss that in this sermon. In any case, John was repeatedly interpreted and preached anti-Jewish.
The terrible story of the Christian roots of hatred of Jews has led to endless suffering. The church has misused its real center, namely the suffering and the cross of Jesus. Time and again human power has decorated itself with crosses, has set out on crusades to conquer and kill. And greed and power were always involved.
Above all, the cross was misused as an instrument of hatred against the Jews when it was intended to justify their persecution. The allegation is that the Jews killed their brother Jesus like Cain killed his brother Abel and are thus guilty of Jesus' death for all eternity. We know the consequences: hatred of the Jews and their persecution for almost 2000 years of church history. Today we can only look at this story with shame. The churches' anti-Judaism has nurtured anti-Semitism, this racist increase that has above all become a disease of European culture. The Jews of the Diaspora who fled after the destruction of Jerusalem suffered from him. And anti-Semitism culminated in the Holocaust of the 20th century, when death had become “a master from Germany”.
We stand in the continuity of this history of our church. It's good that our churches have now recognized their share in the hate story and are doing everything they can to never fall behind this knowledge again.
Because anti-Judaism has cut us off from the rich roots of our faith in the Jewish tradition. At the same time he has veiled the actual cause of the cross. These are not the tools mentioned in the Gospels, Judas and the Jewish people, Caiaphas and Pilate. All the characters in the Passion story are exemplary, not for the Jews, but for us. They are like you and me, are me and you. One can resist this knowledge if one blames the Jews for the death of Jesus. And the abuse story doesn't end there. One can sanctimoniously avoid one's own guilt if one declares the death of Jesus on the cross as unimportant for the faith - ostensibly because of the danger that the cross could be misused in an anti-Semitic way. Or because the death of Jesus was so cruel that a church in which people should feel good should better put this message in the background.
3. Is the world's hatred really our destiny?
As Jesus' followers, we are currently not hated, I said. But such situations can suddenly come upon us. I remember Paul Schneider, who was murdered in Buchenwald. The contrast between German Christians and those who confess, as well as the struggle among those who confess to find the right path, can be made clear in his fate. Should Christians steer the course of the confrontation or adjust diplomatically and tactically? This delicate back and forth that historiography reports is what bothered Paul Schneider. He suffered from that. And in this suffering he found the cross depicted. For him the confusing path of the church did not speak against the power of God, but was for him the testimony of God's care. Where we humans are weak, God is all the stronger. That is why he obeyed God more than men and became the martyr of our church without condemning others who were less courageous.
Persecution of Christians continues in many parts of the world today. On a trip to India by an EKD delegation, we had just come to an emergency meeting of the National Christian Council. Some nuns had been murdered by radical Hindu fundamentalists; an Australian missionary was burned in his car with a young son. “They do not persecute us because we are Protestant or Catholic,” said the Catholic Archbishop in Delhi. “They persecute us because we are Christians”.
Is persecution the real, normal condition of Christians? Should we actually, if we really recognize the living in the crucified one and confess that he embodies the closeness of God, hatred for us? Yes, it seems to happen over and over again. But what if it doesn't?
In this situation, it is not always a weak confession to blame. Nowhere is it written that we should seek martyrdom. Like the first people of God, we are promised in other places a good and safe life in this world. And all ordinances that alleviate suffering and promote life are God's gift.
The faith of Israel precedes us in this. Saved from Egypt, brought out of slavery, given a land to live safely in. They can live here, and so can their children and grandchildren, if they respect Adonaj all their lives, do justice ... and obey all that is commanded. (Dt 6) God's right is a shelter against harm to life, marriage, property and honor. Such knowledge grew most strongly when the competition with Adonaj was greatest, in the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BC. The Jews were hated there. Ishtar and Marduk, fertility and potency, sun and moon - the great king, with his presumptuous godlike dignity, had all power and honor. As always in history, when the presumptuous gods get the say with their functionaries and comrades in the name of leader and race or in the name of party and class.
It was precisely then that the power of the Jewish creed developed and went out into the world of the peoples of this earth. With him the measure of peace is made known all over the world. This standard is God's right that will turn the dream of peace into a reality. That is the good news for our future together.
This is the great treasure of Israel's spiritual tradition.
We cannot simply adopt this story and its promise as if we had taken the place of God's people. We have to listen carefully to what it means to be a wild olive branch ... to be grafted into the olive tree and connected to the root, as Paul writes in Romans (11:17 f.). But this root carries us and it helps us not to get tired of making God's world just.
Listen, humanity, we can change the confession of Israel. Because we got it from Jesus, the Jew, who includes us and all peoples in the experience and history of his people. We Christians believe in him his God. Jesus, the Jew, included the community of Jews and Gentiles in the stream of those who can shape their coexistence with love for God and neighbor. We know from him that this God seeks the lost and chose the little ones. From him we know how risky life is in disregard for God, the life of elbows and cynicism, the life of fratricide, the oppression of women and the exploitation of children. Therefore we can name injustice, the sources of suffering, its causes and its selfish ends. We don't need to close our ears to the voices of the victims. We can share in their pain. We share the longing for a law that protects the weak from the arbitrariness of the strong. Law that spreads against corruption and against the globalization of injustice. We must form an axis of peace towards them. That alone protects the world from hatred. We must show that our differences in faith do not prevent us from peace. Because we share the longing for peace and justice with one another.
How will our world go on? What will become of me and mine? So many people ask and come to this church with such thoughts and worries. What moves and burdens them, they bear in prayer before God. They allow themselves to be carried with their burdens by the prayers and chants of the community, by the encouragement of God that they receive in the celebration of the Holy Supper. It is a great gift that such places exist. But a greater one is the certainty that God takes these worries seriously, that he cares for our souls. Then we can endure it when the hatred of the world really hits us.
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