Posted by: owizblog | February 25, 2018

White Rose: Sermon, 25 February 2018, UCB

Mark 8:31-38

1

Sometimes, things are very different to what they seem. Sometimes, what looks all-on-the-surface, and superficially easy to sum up and understand, has an abyssal depth to it. That’s what Peter found, when he blurted out “You are the Christ, Son of the Living God!” and found out what that meant, and where Jesus’ road was going to lead them all.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

white rose memorial

What you’re looking at appears to be a patch of strewn paper, litter really, on some cobblestones. Look more carefully, and you might see that they seem to be leaflets tossed down to be trodden on and, if it’s a rainy day, stamped into papier maché before the street-cleaners can pick them up.

The cobbles – well, you’ll be familiar enough with short stretches of cobbles on Scottish streets, including some on this island.

There are quite a few in St Andrews, and in the cobbles outside St Salvator’s Chapel, it’s an old tradition among the students that you don’t step on the initials PH set into them, or you’ll fail your exams!

Patrick Hamilton

They refer to Patrick Hamilton, who was burned to death on that spot in 1528 for introducing Lutheran ideas into Scotland.

Similarly, in the street by St Andrews Castle, the residence then of Cardinal Beaton,

George WIshart

you can see the initials GW set in the stones, for the Calvinist martyr George Wishart, burnt on that spot.

white rose memorial

You look at the very similar cobbles here, and wonder; is that St Andrews? Could those strewn leaflets be covering up a martyr’s memorial in the stones? Well, no. That – what you’re looking at, there – is the memorial. What looks like strewn leaflets commemorates, outside the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, the courage, of a group largely of very young people who knew exactly what they were doing, and what it would cost them. And it did. It put them in the hands of the Gestapo, who executed almost all of them after cruel interrogations and trials that were a mockery of anything you could call “justice.” Their core group were arrested on the eighteenth of February 1943, seventy-five years ago last Sunday, and the siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst, were tried (facing their “judges” with enormous courage and defiance) and executed on the twenty-second – seventy-five years ago last Thursday.

2

 

The White Rose group consisted almost entirely of students, with one of the professors and some others among them, who in Germany in 1942 and 1943 distributed leaflets calling on Germans to resist the Third Reich.

White Rose

Such courage is barely imaginable in the face of a monstrous evil which knew no constraint on its capacity for horrible revenge.

As Hans Scholl, who was only 24  when he was arrested, interrogated, tried and executed, said to his Gestapo inquisitors, “I knew what I took upon myself and I was prepared to lose my life by so doing.”

The White Rose group printed – or rather duplicated – a series of leaflets which were distributed in Munich and beyond. They also embarked on a campaign of graffiti, using metal templates.

Not all of them were Christians, finding the imperative to act in their faith. We err gravely if we imagine that willingness to oppose evil to the very last measure of life, and even unto death, is something that only people of faith possess. Many, many people who were not Christians resisted the Nazis, But there are people of faith who do possess it, and for them its source is obedience to the call of Jesus Christ.

Of the group, Willi Graf and Katharina Schüddekopf were devout Catholics. Christoph Probst was baptized a Catholic only shortly before his execution.

Alexander Schmorell was of Russian extraction, and an Orthodox Christian.

Not everyone in the White Rose group professed Christianity. But those who did knew that there was, in the situation in which they found themselves, only this that they could do.

Others, just like them, demonstrated a courage that challenges comprehension, because we, however courageous we feel we may have been called on to be at some time in our lives, have never been called to be courageous in circumstances like those – in which the virtually the whole of your society, even those who dislike and even detest the satanic powers that have taken it over, will fail to understand what you do, will see it as some sort of futile stupidity at best, some sort of weak betrayal at worst.

Soldiers are called on to lay down their lives. But not even the bravest soldier is called on to embark on a course that will lead to his certain death, without weapons, renouncing and condemning the violence all around him, and with a self-sacrificing will not to fight.

Yet for the White Rose group, that was the point. They believed that there was a point to doing something that would lead to their certain deaths. So they embarked on the course, followed the path, if you like, that would lead them there.

Some of them did it because what they had seen, and experienced – of the treatment of Jewish people, and others, in Germany, or for several of the men, who were medical students called to serve for periods on the Russian front, what they had seen of the horror of war, and the atrocities perpetrated on civilian populations of those the Nazis called “subhuman” – these things drove them to understand, whether or not in the context of a religious faith, that here was an evil which had to be resisted to the last measure.

And some of them felt that, knew that, and placed it in the framework of faith. For them, it was what their faith demanded of them. And for those whose faith was Christianity, it demanded this of them, because it was the road of the disciple, and it was the road of the disciple because it was the road of Christ.

3

Not that they courted martyrdom. Jesus says, in the prayer we all speak in his words, “Lead us not into temptation.” That doesn’t mean “Get us through Lent without us weakening and eating chocolate.” It means “Lead us not into testing, being tested, being put to the test.” We don’t want to go there, we don’t want to be there. We ask God not to take us there.

But sometimes we find ourselves there, nonetheless.

And what shall we do?

What would we do? What would we have done? Where small groups, of Christians, Marxists, atheists, some Anthroposophists and Buddhists and others resisted as Germans at terrible cost, millions who professed a safe, respectable Christianity, pretended not to know, or went along with what they did know, or even embraced the Nazi regime as some sort of perfecting of Christianity.

What would we have done? That’s why we pray: “Lead us not into temptation…” We don’t want to go there…

But sometimes, the world goes there. And the world the White Rose group lived in went there. Sometimes, we have to find ourselves in the times and places of trial to be delivered of the evil that creates them.

 

4

Like almost all families, we have our affectionate in-jokes. On a quiet Sunday afternoon, or in the sleepy laziness after Christmas Dinner, if someone heads to the kitchen, and someone calls after them “While you’re there, could I have a cup of tea?” or some such, the answer is “It’ll cost you!” It never does, of course. It’s a joke about how love operates in families. Love doesn’t cost the beloved anything. There is no bill, no charge, for love.

And now, you’ll all have running around in your head Tammy Wynette’s horribly overworked and hideously twee “And the cost of my love is ‘No charge’…” (I’m sorry if it’s a favourite of yours.) You’ll remember how the little girl tots up the wage-value of the chores she’s done, which comes to fourteen dollars and seventy-five cents, and presents the bill to her mother, who replies:

For the nine months I carried you,

Growin’ inside me – NO CHARGE,

For the nights I’ve sat up with you,

Doctored you, prayed for you – NO CHARGE,

For the toys, food and clothes.

And for wiping your nose, there’s NO CHARGE,

When you add it all up.

The full cost of my love is NO CHARGE.

I’m not entirely sure that that explanation of love entirely measures up to Paul’s criterion in 1 Corinthians 13. Apart from anything else, love is supposed never to be boastful, and it sounds to me as though Tammy is boasting about her love right there. Paul also says that the worker is worthy of his hire, and I’d feel a lot better about this song if, after saying what she had to say, the mother had actually paid the little girl what her chores were worth, rather than trying to manipulate her into working for free out of guilt.

But there is some sort of a point there. Love makes no charge. Love has no strings. Love, if it be love, is freely given, and received as love.

 

5

But love has a cost. The Christian tradition has found many ways of exploring the theme that God bears the cost of loving us in Godself. Some of these are deeply unhelpful and even dangerous, casting God the Father as some sort of narcissist who can’t get over an injury to his (sic) “majesty” or “dignity” and simply forgive, and who can’t get past the understanding – and this is God we’re talking about – that someone has to pay for the injury to God that human sin has caused, so he squares the circle by having someone innocent killed, but that’s his Son, whom he can raise from the dead, so it’s OK.

It isn’t often put like that, and when it is, it’s clearly blasphemy, and nothing remotely to do with the New Testament. What is clear from the New Testament, even – or especially – read against its Old Testament background, is that the world is radically, radically, not the way it should be, and people’s relations with each other and with God are radically not what they should be, and at profound levels, everything has gone wrong, and that what God does is to bear, in Jesus Christ, and out of love for all that he has made, the cost of putting it right.

And that’s why Jesus walks the path he walks, and that’s why – and inLent, and Holy Week, surely, this is inescapable – this path leads where it leads. Once again, to paraphrase the Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, this is a crucifying world. If you love enough, in a world like this, you will be hurt. In fact, if you love enough, you will be crucified. if God’s love comes, open and loving and vulnerable, into a world like this, it will be crucified. And it is.

That’s why Abelard, the twelfth-century poet-theologian so cruelly treated because of his love for Heloise, could write about the Cross as the great demonstration of love that can change the hearts of men and women, and explain what unconditioned, unconditional love really is.

And that’s why the ancient tradition of the church can speak of Christ embracing the Cross, and giving himself up to the powers of evil who control the world as it is, and believe that the world belongs to them, and always will.

And for this understanding, the Resurrection is both the defeat of the evil that holds the world captive, and the anticipation of how things will turn out in the end. The powers of evil cannot hope to prevail against the loving God who pays the price and bears the cost of loving the world.

For this way of thinking, “paying the price”, and “bearing the cost”, are deep metaphors, where those who think that God can’t forgive without getting someone else to settle the bill, aren’t just thinking literally because they can’t cope with metaphor; they are turning God into Shylock, who whatever he says, can’t get past what he’s owed. (And yes, I am uncomfortable turning to Shylock, and the unpleasant antisemitism that marks Shakespeare here – but that’s a measure of the way people who think literally about these things distort the picture of God the New Testament gives us.)

 

6

The White Rose group, Christians and non-Christians, bore the cost of what human beings had done to their society and their world. They embraced the price of doing so, every one of them. Christians, Atheists, Buddhists, Anthroposophists, Marxists – all those who gave themselves to the apparently suicidal work of opposing Hitler did so because the cost had to be borne, or the world would be lost.

And there’s a pattern there, and we see it clearly for the first time on that little hill, where Jesus, for the first time, tells his disciples what the cost of discipleship really is. To be loved is free. To love is costly. For God, it’s infinitely costly. But to be loved is a call to love in turn, to be loving, to become loving, and to do that – still – in a crucifying world.

Says Jesus, who loves us freely and unconditionally,  “A new commandment I give to you .– that you love one another as I have loved you.” And that’s the cost of discipleship.

 

 

 


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