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Good Friday, 04/03/2015

Sermon on Isaiah 53:5, by Samuel D. Zumwalt



But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Chances are you do not think of yourself as an evil person or that you participate in the perpetuation of evil. Doubtless those who go to work in so-called “family planning” clinics or those who raise money for these clinics are like that: seeing themselves as compassionate persons who prevent unwanted pregnancies, thereby sparing countless children from being unloved. Others may see themselves as simply on the side of empowering women: giving women the opportunity to get out from under the tyranny of oppressive men and to have better futures than those kept barefoot and pregnant. Others are much more Darwinian in motivation: wishing to organize the world in such a way that the most capable have the best opportunities to survive and the unfortunate and infirm are prevented from taking too many valuable resources.

Does that make the most sense rationally, not to be encumbered by mere sentimentality?

Chances are you do not think of yourself as an evil person or that you participate in the perpetuation of evil. Doubtless many cast ballots for candidates who represent their most deeply held values. Many are convinced that just by casting a ballot we are choosing compassion over mean-spiritedness, progress over atrophy, education over ignorance, and enlightenment over the dark ages. Indeed many people, regardless of their political party, think they are on God’s side just by choosing one candidate over another. Many seem to believe they will bring in the Kingdom of God by their own efforts rather than exercising the responsibilities of citizenship. Doubtless some stay home and do not participate in the political process as if not choosing were not in itself a choice, as if not choosing somehow were an act of moral purity rather than, in actuality, making a choice to let others choose for us instead.

Chances are you do not think of yourself as an evil person or that you participate in the perpetuation of evil. Those who prosecute war know the likelihood of so-called “collateral” damage, the unintentional killing of non-combatants. Those who perpetuate the various terror campaigns rarely think of themselves as terrorists but rather as revolutionaries or resistance fighters. That they purposely hide among non-combatants in order to force those fighting against them to kill non-combatants is often a cynical publicity campaign to paint their enemies as monsters. Because for many, the ends justify the means, little or no thought is given to the men, women, and children who will end up as disposable pawns in the great game. Because for many, the world is sharply drawn in black and white, they assume support for one side is only for good.

Chances are you do not think of yourself as an evil person or that you participate in the perpetuation of evil. We do well to remember the first murder in the Bible was brother against brother. We do well to remember that when one brother cheated another in the Bible, it was with the direction and full cooperation of their mother. Many of us never see how the hole in our own soul leads us to commit soul-killing acts of pyschological terror against other members of our family. Selfishness is not merely a manifestation of narcissism. It is a deliberate act of evil. But many a person has left a marriage and children thinking him- or herself to be merely selfish when, in fact, evil is being done that will bear sour fruit from generation to generation. The man or woman who squanders family resources on alcohol, drugs, pornography, or other adulterous liaisons may think of him- or herself as weak, damaged, broken, or ill. But many never go all the way to the fearless facing of the truth and to the admission he or she is doing evil repeatedly.

Chances are you do not think of yourself as an evil person or that you participate in the perpetuation of evil simply by investing or purchasing or subscribing or using or by doing your job efficiently without regard to how your life is spent supporting evil. How laughable when entertainers, investors, and politicians purchase carbon credits as if to absolve themselves from their conspicuously consuming lifestyles, as if they were somehow more moral than those who do not make such grand gestures. Doubtless the entertainers and investors who line up to support candidates they deem to be the last hope against the barbarians at the gates never once see how much more they are like those they oppose, even as they deem themselves, the arbiters of good. Many years ago, playwright Bruce Jay Friedmann’s “Steambath” series on PBS masterfully drew a last encounter between a self-help psychologist and God disguised as the janitor. God sent the woman to hell, because she had excelled at helping people to feel good about being selfish. In an encounter between Carmela and a psychiatrist on the HBO series “The Sopranos,” the crime boss’ wife was told that, by admitting she knew the source of the funds that maintained her affluent lifestyle, she was, in fact, participating in evil. She went away sorrowful like the rich young man in one of Jesus’ parables.

How difficult it is to admit one does evil, one participates in evil, and one perpetuates evil simply by the choices one does and does not make daily. It is offensive to confess that we are poor, miserable sinners, born in bondage to sin and unable to free ourselves. What excuses we make rather than living, as Martin Luther said, “coram Deo” (consciously in God’s presence)!

“The banality of evil” is that famous phrase coined by political theorist Hannah Arendt to describe former Calvinist Adolf Eichmann’s key role in the Nazi Holocaust machine. His job was to carry out Reinhard Heydrich’s plan to exterminate milllions of European Jews. Arendt’s choice of words indicated that Eichmann saw himself as just following orders and doing his duty to his country, that he did not exercise any sort of critical thinking or moral deliberation but efficiently went about sending Jews to be exterminated in concentration camps without any sense of remorse. Reporting from the war crimes trial of Eichmann in an Israeli court, Arendt concluded her book: “Just as you [Eichmann] supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang” (Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, 1963).

Whether retribution accomplished justice in Eichmann’s case is debatable. Certainly he was deprived of living to old age, but could his death do more than satisfy the blood lust of those left behind to do justice on behalf of his victims? As Gandhi famously observed, when you pursue an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, everyone ends up blind and toothless. And yet, can we not understand at the most visceral level the desire to purge the evil from our midst? Do we not yet do that through capital punishment and the use of drones to search and destroy?

Countless Christians have perpetuated anti-semitism supposedly in retribution for the killing of Jesus on Good Friday almost 2,000 years ago. Although the Nazis were pagans and not Christians, millions of Christians addressed former Roman Catholic Adolf Hitler as Leader (Der Fuerher) and only a relative few resisted his evil reign. Martin Luther’s pamphlet “On the Jews and Their Lies” became part of former Roman Catholic Josef Goebbels propaganda in support of Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) when Jewish houses of worship, businesses, and homes were looted and burned the night before Martin Luther’s birthday. What possibly can be said about that but “Lord, have mercy upon us?”

Contrary to popular thought, the Bible describes the practice of slavery, as it does with polygamy, but does not approve of it. Yet generations of Christians tolerated the selling of human beings (even as we tolerate human trafficking today), and some Christians bought and sold their neighbors created in God’s image. William Wilberforce and his pastor and former slave ship captain John Newton were, for years and years, voices crying in the wilderness against the British slave trade. The bloodiest war fought on the North American continent had, at its roots, the right for individual states to determine whether slavery was lawful. Some of our own family’s Cherokee ancestors were forcibly removed from this state at the direction of the President Andrew Jackson. Thousands of Native Americans died on that forced march known as the Trail of Tears.

On this day, we have gathered not merely to decry the evil that others do or, God forbid, to blame the Jewish people or anyone else for the death of God’s Son Jesus. Yes, most but not all of the Jewish religious leaders wanted Jesus dead. Yes, many but not all of the Jewish people in that crowd wanted Jesus, a fellow Jew, dead. And yes, it was the Gentile Roman governor and his Gentile soldiers that condemned and nailed God’s Son Jesus to the cross. But on this day, we Christians confess that the Lord Jesus, God’s dear Son, was the Suffering Servant whom the prophet Isaiah described. He was crushed for our iniquities in order that all might be set free from bondage to sin, death, and Satan. Baptism into His death and resurrection is the death of the old Adam or Eve in us, and that old rebellious Adam or Eve must be drowned daily through confession and repentance. Baptism is not magic. It is a way of life – dying and rising daily!

Good Friday is our day of quiet celebration not in the triumphalistic sense that Christians are in a safe bubble beyond the reach of evil now. We know this world and ourselves too well to pretend we have more than the promise of salvation as long as we remain in this sinful flesh. Rather we rejoice this day that God’s Son Jesus has borne our sins, and those of the whole world, on His lonely cross, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against those who have been claimed in Baptism as His sisters and brothers, marked with His holy cross, and sealed with the Holy Spirit.

Momentarily we will sing Johann Heermann’s hymn, “Ah, Holy Jesus.” His final stanza is our faithful response to the One who graciously chose to be crushed for our iniquities: “There-fore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee, I do adore Thee, and will ever pray Thee, think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving, not my deserving” (1630, translated by Robert Bridges).


In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


The Rev. Dr. Samuel D. Zumwalt
Wilmington, North Carolina, USA
E-Mail: szumwalt@bellsouth.net

Zusätzliche Medien:

Isaiah 53:5 © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]