You Can’t Kill Eternal Norms
The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
"’I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’”
These words of Peter from the Book of Acts are spoken to the Roman centurion, Cornelius, and other gentiles in Cornelius’ home, after Peter has a revelatory dream about who can be included in the membership of the early Christian church. Up until that dream it was required by the church elders that to be a member of the church one had to follow the Jewish law, including dietary restrictions and male circumcision. Peter’s epiphany, which was a message from God, caused him to have a change of heart. Where he once believed that partiality needed to be shown toward who could be a part of the Church, he now doesn’t. God showed him otherwise. All are able to be included as long as they honored God and did what was acceptable to God: Which translates as following the way of life that Jesus taught us as he preached the unfolding reign of God.
In that revelation to Peter, God explodes the norms that guided the religious society of that day. Norms that were restrictive and exclusive were set aside, and new norms of inclusion and radical welcome were set in place.
How are we doing with that folks? How are we living into the norms of God’s reign that Jesus preached? How are we doing showing no partiality toward others? Others who we may find different from us and may want to exclude, but rather doing what is right and acceptable to God, which is to love them? How are we individually and as a society, doing with that?
I would venture to say poorly. In fact, instead there has been an increase in showing partiality – even what I would call hyper-partiality - and of excluding others who we don’t think fit into the fabric of our country, our neighborhoods, our schools, and our churches, over the past few years.
So extreme are some elements of this trend of showing partiality, that the norms of our society and of God’s reign are being ignored, and even at times maligned, as not being of God.
In a New York Times op-ed piece recently titled, “People Can Savage Social Norms, but Also Revive Them,” columnist David Brooks speaks to the current assault on norms that we as a culture and nation once held dear.
He writes, “A culture is made up of norms — simple rules that govern what thoughts, emotions and behaviors are appropriate at what moment. It’s appropriate to be appalled when people hit their dogs. It’s inappropriate to ask strangers to tell you their income.”
‘Most norms are invisible most of the time. They’re just the water in which we swim. We unconsciously absorb them by imitating those around us. We implicitly know that if we violate a norm, there will be a social cost, maybe even ostracism.”
Some of the norms that Brooks is speaking of are civility, common courtesy, mutual respect, which includes not verbally or physically abusing others, and just plain old common decency. In times past these were the norms that guided society and allowed us to live together in reasonable harmony.
Yet these norms are being flaunted, often with glee. And in many circles instead of people who do so being ostracized by others - or at the least challenged - they are being encouraged, being lifted up as good people with a noble cause. At times it gets so extreme it seems as if a new blood sport has come into vogue in savaging these previously accepted norms, which are being thrown to the lions like so many Christians during Roman persecutions of the faith.
Brooks observes, “We’re living in a moment when norms are in maximum flux. [Those in public office] have smashed through hundreds of our established norms and given people permission to say things, [and I would observe, do things as well] that were unsayable [and, again, I would add, undoable] just a decade ago. Especially in politics, the old rules of decorous behavior no longer apply.”
Yet, some norms are eternal and should never be disregarded, and certainly not savaged. These eternal norms find their genesis in the sacred texts of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Norms like: caring and providing for the alien and stranger in our midst. Seeking after the welfare of widows, orphans, the sick and vulnerable, the poor. Protecting those imperiled by violence. Living the values of the Beatitudes. Seeking Christ in all persons. Loving those who don’t love us. Respecting the dignity of every human being. These are the norms of God’s reign that Jesus and the prophets proclaimed; norms which have undergirded the norms of civil society.
It was in upholding the values of these eternal norms of God that Jesus was scourged, crucified and died. He was savaged by those who saw those norms of non-violence, radical respect and love as being of little or no value.
The Resurrection of Jesus from the grave is God’s response to Jesus’ death, and the attempt to negate those norms he proclaimed. Resurrection is God’s validation of what Jesus preached about the poor, the outcast, the penitent, the marginalized, the despised. Despite anyone’s best attempts you cannot kill those norms that God lifts up in Jesus’ Resurrection, just like you can’t kill Jesus, because those norms find their source in God. They are eternal.
Resurrection of these norms in our own time is to be our response to those who have savaged them. Paraphrasing David Brooks, people can savage these eternal norms, but that God, through us, can resurrect them.
The theologian, Amy-Jill Levine states that, “The whole message of the Bible, and specifically of the kingdom of Heaven, is to see the world otherwise: as God wants it to be rather than as it is.” That’s why we who profess faith in Jesus need to resurrect these norms. We see the world otherwise. We see the world the way God wants it to be. And as we see in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, God will not be thwarted by anyone who would savage the ways of God.
On this Resurrection Sunday, we are called to work toward resurrecting decency and civility. We are called to resurrect non-violence and the complete welcome of the other. We are called to resurrect mutual respect and honor the dignity of every human being.
These are the norms of God’s reign. They are the norms that Jesus died for and for which God raised him from the dead.
The empty tomb represents the triumph of those norms over the way of savagery, of hope re-renewed in what Jesus taught and preached. They are an invitation to participate in God’s work of building God’s reign through Jesus Christ. For us this Easter and every day that follows may it be so.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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