Notes for A More Coherent Sermon: Violence as Sin

This sermon was written two years ago—violence in London and in Toronto and in the Middle East was in the news. There is more anger in it than in most of my sermons.

Looking at the news this past week, I haven’t noticed a major positive social transformation in the intervening time.

1 P.M.
Sunday, July 3, 2005
Seventh Sunday After Trinity
St. Andrew’s Old Catholic Church
Chapel, St. Simon’s Anglican Church
525 Bloor St. East (Toronto)



Romans 6: 17 – 23

But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed
from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NRSV)


Mark 8: 1 – 9

In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way-and some of them have come from a great distance.’ His disciples replied, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?’ He asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’ Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. (NRSV)


Sin is everywhere. We see the results of it in the news where the decisions of some individuals to cause harm to others is woven through reports from around the world. From rape in Sudanese refugee camps to children being expected to care for other children who are AIDS orphans in Africa to the setting off of bombs in subways and on a bus in London, England we see the results of nurtured sin.

And we also see sin in the words of those that act as apologists for violence. There are those justifying the bombs in London because English troops are occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. But just as the children in Hiroshima were not at fault for the bombing of their city, just as the gay co-op housing activist beaten to death in B.C. was not at fault for being the victim of homophobic violence, just as the 3 year old girl in sub-Saharan Africa isn’t at fault for her mother having AIDS, just as the abused woman isn’t at fault for her bruises, those on a bus in Tavestock Square who were able to look out their bus window and see a statue of Gandhi are not responsible for the bomb. Efforts to justify hatred and violence and suffering are wrong, such justifications being a sin that we all to easily drift into.

Violence exists because individuals chose to engage in it; people live in deep poverty and without hope because those can address these problems chose to ignore them. Violence and injustice are encouraged when context is considered more important than suffering; when we seek more to respect arguments in favour of political violence, homophobia, racism and injustice than to put an end to the evils we are encouraged to embrace.

In the gospel today we see Jesus facing a crowd of irresponsible people. They followed him into a dry, barren area without proper provisions. They should have made better decisions. Yet as a result of their actions they became miserable. When asked to help, those closest to Jesus were resentful. They had brought enough for themselves and for Jesus, but not for the thousands who didn’t bother to consider what could happen to them. Jesus did not lecture the hungry on their irresponsibility. Jesus did not blame them for the decisions of others, including himself, that resulted in their being hot and hungry and away from home. Instead, he acted with open and unstinting compassion and insured that all were fed. He did not blame the victims of hunger for being hungry, he fed them.

In being released from sin we are challenged to live again in love. We are challenged to put aside being in bondage to the expectations of the world—the reasoned justifications for violence that justifies invading Iraq and bombs in a Subway; the use of faith to justify pelting a gay rights parade in Jerusalem with rocks and bags of excrement; the misuse of scripture that is used to convince victims of violence to offer their suffering to God rather than seek safety and wholeness.

Embracing righteousness demands a new way of living in the world. We see a need and we address it. We see a wrong and we refuse to accept it in silence. We are coerced into taking part in the oppression and hated of others and we seek a different way of life. In the dry land where Jesus feed the 4,000 the gifts of creation were shared with everyone. A crowd of strangers acknowledged their limitations and Jesus acknowledged his responsibility. Like a child in pain reaching out in hope, like a person in a dark tunnel connected to life only by touch, there was trust that what is needed to sustain life can and would be shared.

Monica Helwig, in her Eucharist and the Hunger of the World, describes the central action of our worship as being in many ways a statement that we hunger and that in community with God and with one another one can be filled—we hunger for the sustaining present of God, we hunger for peace, we hunger because our cupboards are bare, we hunger for dignity and all our shared hungers can be satisfied by a life in harmony with God’s intent for creation. In approaching the altar we state that we can not do everything on our own, that we are connected to one another and to God.

We admit that we were bound to a life that was destructive and desire a life of hope and personal transformation. We never approach the altar alone. 2,000 years of shared life in the faith are with us; every hand that reached out for the presence of God in a time of despair is with us; those that have died in the flames of the inquisition or in a tunnel in London are with us; those who sat hungry after following Jesus for three days are with us; those who are not perfect are with us. With us are all those who are stating that creation is for all and that violence and oppression and greed are sins. We are not alone.

In London this week and in Iraq and in Columbia and in the Sudan and in Israel/Palestine and in Nigeria and in Toronto people were injured and died due to the conscious decisions of others. They were shot at or had their homes bulldozed or could not afford access to proper medical care. They saw the fruits of sin first hand. In London and in Iraq and in the Sudan and in Israel/Palestine and in Nigeria and in Toronto a stranger held a hand in the darkness or put their freedom at risk speaking out or brought into their sanctuary a frightened family or turned to someone they loved and said ‘Never again’.

Redemptive love was shared.

Bob Dylan was right when he sang “You’ve got to serve someone.” Or, in the words of the old labour hymn “Which side are you on?” Paul’s Epistle to the Roman reminds us that we have a choice of how we will live in the world, given that we are all connected and share in creation. Serving hatred and violence in word or action is one servitude. Living in love and seeking harmony with creation is a different servitude. The first servitude are chains that wear down everyone. The second servitude is the hand on your shoulder in hard times. We are reminded in the epistle that individuals matter and do make choices—some of which are destructive and some of which are life affirming, but are choices people freely made and are ultimately individually accountable for. The gospel reminds us that all are in need and living in harmony with creation will encourage us to feed all the hungers an individual might have.

In London this week and in Toronto and in Palestine and in Iraq we were shown vividly what happens when individuals chose to embrace sin. Quietly and persistently, at the same time and in the same places where sin is embraced, others embrace a different path. In the generous spirit of feeding the 4,000 we are called to reject evil and embrace love. We are called to be a light in the darkness, a sign of hope in hopeless times. Let us embrace this challenge with fully and with delight, embracing life as intimately as those that set off the bombs in London rejected it.


4 responses to “Notes for A More Coherent Sermon: Violence as Sin

  1. This is good stuff. The call of Christ is certainly quite a radical one that spurs disciples on to many things that the world doesnt understand, but certainly benefits from.

    Im glad there are people out there that understand statements like”Blessed are the peacemakers.” Thanks for speaking out on behalf of the oppressed and those who bring peace to this world of terrible violence.

    Have you ready any good books on these topics? If so, please let me know some that you recommend.


  2. Thanks for your encouraging comments.

    Two of my other entries on my blog—I Am An Anarchist/I Am a Pacifist; and A Preferential For the Individual—include a brief list of books that you may find of interest.

    If you’d like more suggestions, I certainly can provide them.



  3. rogueminister

    Wow you certainly do have quite a reading list. Are there any in particular that you think are the best, or most poignant?

    Also have you read anything by John Howard Yoder, Lee Camp, Greg Boyd or Richard Hays? Just curious, because these men also provide some great materials.


  4. My bias is towards anything by Thomas Merton but I found
    Nonviolence to Animals, Earth and Self in Asian Traditions
    also among my favourites.

    John Yoder was the only one of the four authors you’ve
    mentioned that I have read but I’ll look for them in the future.


    From Resources for Radicals (an annotated bibliography):

    Block, Walter and Irving Hexham, eds. Religion, Economics and Social Thought. The Fraser Institute, Vancouver 1986. This is the report of a 1982 conference dealing with religion, economics and social thought. The chapters by Gregory Baum, Roger Hutchinson, Edward Scott and John Yoder are strong calls to active compassion.

    Yoder, John Howard. When War is Unjust. Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis 1984. This is a short theological exploration on how churches that believe in the just war theory should respond to modern warfare, which is in violation of the whole concept of a just war. It includes a brief and positive look at the possibilities of non-violence as a way to respond to the threat of war.


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