From A Voice for Justice
April 30, 2006
But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” (Acts 3:6)
I was sitting in the doctor’s office a couple of weeks ago and had one of those endlessly long waits. I’d read Sports Illustrated going back to the Super Bowl. I’d even flipped through the gardening and home magazines. Finally, I picked up the local New Jersey Jewish newspaper, The Jewish State. I wish I’d picked it up first.
The entire cover page was about Jewish concern about the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Under the heading, “‘Never Again’ is Now,” I read about Jewish efforts to raise awareness and help with humanitarian relief. I read about a Jewish lobby pushing for the US government and world community to intervene in Darfur with peacekeeping troops. I read about a Jewish doctor from Princeton who closed his practice for half a year to go live and work in refugee camps there.
Last week, just a few days after reading the article at the doctor’s office, I got an email from Anshe Emeth Conservative Temple here in town. Under the same heading, “Never Again,” our Jewish neighbors were extending an invitation for concerned citizens to join them in a bus trip to Washington, DC. There, an interfaith group would be calling on the president and Congress to take action to end the genocide in Darfur. At least one of our congregants took the invitation. Our dear friend Elsie is traveling to Washington as we speak.
“Never again,” refers, of course, to the holocaust, the event that has become the symbol of large-scale, man-made horror over the past sixty-one years. In article after article this week, I read Jewish authors who said that in light of the holocaust, Jews have an imperative to do something in the face of genocide. Dr. Efraim Zuroff wrote, “So as we face the terrible crimes being committed in Darfur and its vicinity by Arab militias supported by the Sudanese government, we have a Jewish obligation to speak out against the murders and try our utmost to facilitate prompt action to save those targeted by the killers.” He went on, “If ‘never again’ is to have real meaning, the lessons of the holocaust have to be taken seriously by Jewish people who, today, are in a position to render meaningful assistance in the fight against these crimes.”
“Never again.” It’s a great theme that grows out of the awful experience of the holocaust. It’s a mantra that tells a story, and it’s a story that leads to action on behalf of Darfurian victims of 2006. Skepticism creeps into my mind. It’s good to care, but what can a relatively small number of American Jews possibly do about the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan – even if they successfully recruit concerned Christians, Muslims, and humanists? It’s so far away, the politics are confusing, and the power players hold all the cards. China won’t help because they want to keep access to Sudanese oil reserves. We won’t help with our troops, because our troops are overextended guarding Iraqi oil reserves. Everyone has their own agenda for not stopping the destruction.
But Jewish communities in America haven’t let the tremendously difficult road ahead stop them. Their story, their formative story of the holocaust, is so strong that it leads them to try to beat the odds, to think the unthinkable. “Our humanity is at stake,” writes famous Jewish author, Elie Wiesel. He says, “We must be involved. How can we reproach the indifference of non-Jews to Jewish suffering if we remain indifferent to another people’s plight?”
I hope that the story of the holocaust is not just a Jewish story but one that the world community joins in on. We should all say together, “Never again.” But as Christians, there is another story that we have. And as I thought this week about the power of “never again,” and how it is impacting the global political discourse about Darfur in 2006, I felt strongly that it was time to address Darfur in light of our formative story. We’ve got a story that needs to sink into our beings, and then we’ve got to live in its light. That story is, “He is risen, and so are we.” It’s an Earth-shattering story; a story that has so much hope in it that it should lead us to strive to overcome all negatives with radical positives. He is risen, and so are we, and we are filled by the Holy Spirit, and empowered to be in the presence of God for Darfur.
Think about what the formative story did to Peter. Do you remember the stories we were sharing about Peter, and the other disciples, just sixteen days ago, on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday? Soldiers came to arrest Jesus to drag him off to prison and “the disciples deserted him and fled.” When Jesus was before the council, and Peter was waiting quietly outside in the courtyard, a servant girl came up to him and a dialogue ensued that went something like this:
She questioned if he was one of the disciples.
“I do not know what you are talking about.”
“But you were with him.”
“I do not know the man!”
“People, this man was with Jesus, listen to his accent, he’s a Galilean.”
“I swear to you that I do not know the man.”
Can you blame the disciples, and Peter? Church and state came down on their Lord with one crushing blow, and all hope was gone.
Even an empty tomb didn’t immediately lead them to radical new ways of being in the world. I said a couple of weeks ago at the Easter service that the women who were at the tomb were overcome, put in an ecstatic state over the events of Easter. It took them a while to share the story – they had to take it in. Then last week we read that one of the disciples’ first acts upon hearing that Jesus was raised from the dead was to go and lock a door, for fear of those same powerful rulers who had killed Jesus. It took multiple visits from Jesus, and the breath of the Holy Spirit, to get them fully on board with what God had done in the resurrection, to get them fully committed to the story.
We hear about Peter again today. Maybe this Peter is a different guy.
The first thing we read is that Peter goes back to the temple. Back to the temple – what’s he thinking? That’s where Jesus got in trouble just before his death. Hardly any time has passed, maybe seven weeks, and Peter’s back? No way. People know Peter’s face now. Pentecost has occurred, and thousands have started trusting in Jesus and identifying Peter as the outspoken leader of the Jesus movement. Going to the temple is risky.
And he doesn’t go there quietly. Peter goes and heals somebody who was carried on a stretcher to the gates of the temple each day to beg. That’s the kind of crazy business that got Jesus killed. Peter got close to that man in his grave-like state. He stopped, looked the man right in the eye, stretched out his hand, and said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”
When his action of healing the crippled man led to a gathering crowd, presumably of commoners and the temple authorities, he addressed them boldly, telling them they had handed over and rejected Jesus, the one sent by God. He named Jesus, claimed that the rabble rouser Lord was present in his followers, still causing a raucous of unmitigated love by the power of the resurrection.
“He is risen – and so are we.” That’s our story. Once it sinks in, it should start changing us. Once it’s our story, it ought to allow us to dream big dreams, stand up against great evil and take giant risks in love. Once it’s our story, we should all have our names changed to Petros: Peter, the rock.
When you live in light of this story you care more, you dare more, you worry less, and you are up for any test that comes your way. For Christ is risen from the grave, and so are you! But it’s hard to experience being raised without first going to the grave. Today is about going to the grave.
I don’t mean your own, end-of-life grace. I mean to the graves, prisons, and refugee camps of the world. Go to the bombed-out neighborhoods of Iraq or the famine-ridden neighborhoods of Malawi. Go to the grave of tears on the face of the kid who got beat up on the playgroup, the grave of fear of the gay teenager who is lonely and afraid of the upcoming prom. Go to the graves of the world and tell the story there, “He is risen, and so am I, and you can be too.” Go to the graves of the world, and rise from the graves of the world: the Nazi Germany grave; the Palestinian/Israeli grave; the Haitian grave; the Darfur grave.
Some graves we face in our family life, our community life, our national life. Some graves we face together as a world. Today, moved by the plea of our Jewish neighbors, I want to get specific and talk about Darfur, and about the suffering of brothers and sisters of ours, for God is parent of all. Maybe the skepticism I voiced earlier is on your mind. “What’s Darfur got to do with me?” Or, “It’s so complicated and big, let me work on the things in my own life that need fixing.”
Friends of the God who covenants with the world and revealed that covenant through the death and resurrection of Jesus, every broken place has to do with all of us. Every grave needs Easter. Will we ever be able to do everything for everyone? No, and God doesn’t expect that. God’s the only one with “omni” before the list of personality traits. But the story of the New Testament disciples is the story of people going to every grave-like situation and saying, “He is risen – watch, I’ll show you how!” I believe this is what Jesus wanted when he said, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them [bringing them from death to life], in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Go to graves, and reenact the story represented by the words, “Christ is risen and so are we.”
Let’s first visit the grave. In 2003, in Darfur, the western region of Sudan, an armed group of African Sudanese Darfurians began to actively protest against what they viewed as oppression by Sudan’s Arab-dominated government. This came near the end of a twelve-year civil war between northern and southern Sudan. The government responded by arming militias known as janjaweed, to go on campaigns of murder, rape, and arson against entire tribes. This was a shocking way to respond to a political challenge. Since 2003, four hundred thousand people have been killed, and an estimated two million have been displaced. The victims have primarily been Muslim villagers, mainly of the Fur, Zaghawa, Massalit, Jebel, and Aranga groups.
Many of the survivors have been displaced within Sudan, but hundreds of thousands of people have spilled over into Chad, a country that has tremendous troubles of its own. A few weeks ago, the ruler of Chad indicated that by June, all Darfur refugees will need to be out of Chad. Chad can’t handle it.
Just yesterday, the UN World Food Program announced that, beginning tomorrow, it will cut daily rations in half due to lack of funding. The 6.1 million people being fed by the program will have their daily rations reduced to 1,050 calories per day. James Morris, the executive director of the UN program said, “Food must come first. We cannot put families who have lost their homes and loved ones on a 1,000 calorie a day diet.” In the same article another spokesman said that the reduction in rations will eliminate any gains made a year ago, when malnutrition in Darfur was cut almost in half because of adequate funding.
Friends, have hope – don’t be overwhelmed. I say that almost against my will. It feels overwhelming, but there is one who overwhelms our overwhelmed realities. Those tombs can be empty. We’ve got a God who empties tombs. So let’s work on that assumption!
I’m going to ask you today to consider making some commitments to those in grave-like situations in Darfur:
Call your congressman and ask him to support emergency supplemental funding requested for humanitarian relief and peacekeeping purposes.
Call your senators. Thank them for their work. Ask them to support emergency supplemental funding requested for humanitarian relief and peacekeeping purposes.
Attend rallies and sign petitions to bring relief to the suffering.
Make a financial offering to Church World Services food program. Church World Services is an ecumenical organization for humanitarian relief. It cost pennies a day to feed a person through CWS’s program.
Talk to each other in the church about what you’ve done, or about ideas you have for congregational involvement, and report back to me – so we can praise God together for all that is being done and to be inspired to do more.
Jesus Christ is risen today; that’s our story. We have hope where we should not. It’s foolish hope – to choose nonviolent love – but it’s the only love I know that has the power to open tombs. Let’s live as if we’re risen – because we are. In Christ the world can be risen indeed!