There was never a single Hebrew religion anymore than there was ever a single Christianity, despite the prevailing myths in both traditions. Jesus taught in an age when there were many sects and divisions among his people, not only the traditional divisions between tribes, but also theological differences and differences of opinion about how to deal with the Roman Occupation, that brutal colonial power making things a living hell for so many Jews.
The Sadducees, a group that included most of the Levites and the Aaronite priesthood, were still fairly safe and well off under Roman rule, lived in a bubble of social and economic privilege, so they decided that the Romans weren’t all bad, that the thousands strung up on crosses must have done something to deserve it, and figured, “Hey, it is better to work with the Romans, right?”
The Pharisees were identified less by their social power and more by their theology. They wanted to make the Law of Moses relevant to a modern context, at least modern compared to the century before the Exile when it was written, so they re-interpreted the Law. In this, they most resembled Jesus, who was also reinterpreting the ancient law, yet they come in for the harshest criticism in the gospels.
Events after the death of Jesus no doubt color these accounts, for the Pharisees led the effort to throw the Jesus followers out of the synagogues in the decades after the Jewish Revolt. Later gospel authors had very personal beef with the Pharisees. But is seems likely that their repeated condemnation in the stories and teachings of Jesus represents something real, a real animosity Jesus felt for this sect, something that is actually explained in the gospels. You see, the Pharisees, more than any other group, worried about what people would think of them. It was very important to keep up appearances.
Then there were the Samaritans. The term was used loosely in the time of Jesus, meant anyone that lived in the regions of the former northern kingdom that had not come back under Jewish control after the Hasmonean Rebellion in the 2nd Century BCE. During that revolt, the Maccabees and their followers re-claimed the territory around the Sea of Galilee, but there was still Samaritan land between there and Judea proper. Jesus was born in a Jewish zone surrounded by Samaritans and Gentiles.
Many of those Samaritans, maybe even the majority, were still actual Hebrews worshipping Yahweh. They, along with the lower classes of Judah that had been left behind during the Exile, were simply excluded from Jewish identity by the elite that returned from Babylon. In fact, there had been tension during the centuries when the Northern Kingdom, called Israel or Samaria, co-existed with Judah because their cult worship was not focused on Jerusalem. So it was that this group of Yahweh-worshipping Hebrews, came to be despised.
A few hundred Samaritans still exist today, still use a Pentateuch that pre-dates the Exile, still worship at Mount Gerizim, the site of Hebrew worship before David conquered Jerusalem.
In today’s story, it is the one at the margins of society, the Samaritan universally loathed by any good Jew, who steps up and shows compassion. He’s not worried about social status. Hes not worried about what people might think. He sees someone in need, and does what needs to be done.
This week I have heard things like: “We need to come together.” “It was just campaign rhetoric.” “He’ll be more tempered in office.” “Better to be in the conversation than outside.” And if you have been paying attention, almost every single one of these phrases was used in Germany. That horror did not start with gas chambers. It started with regular people downplaying the danger of hate, of excusing a demagogue.
The dog whistle of violent speech works every single time. Sarah Palin’s political action committee put a gun sight over Gabby Giffords’ district and a mentally unstable young man put a gun to Gabby Giffords, and many others. Hate speech leads violence.
These are the things that happened this week, our very own Kristallnacht:
A Muslim woman in a hijab had it torn from her head as her attacker told her to go hang herself. Another Muslim-American woman was doused in an accelerant, but escaped.
Ten-year olds in Michigan sat in tears as their classmates chanted “build the wall,” and told them they were being sent back home to Mexico.
African-American freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania found themselves placed on a “Nigger Lynching” list.
A young Alvin Ailey Dance student was accosted by a group of five men yelling “Grab her by the _______.” Another young woman was actually sexually assaulted by young men chanting the exact same thing. A ten year old girl was sexually assaulted by a fellow student who said “If the president can do it, I can too.”
Swastikas and racist graffiti has been found in dozens of middle and high schools across the country, in Minnesota, in California, in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania is also just one of the many communities where LGBT students and individuals have been targeted.
Four men in a pick-up truck flying Confederate and Nazi flags pulled a shotgun on a young black man.
A woman with a Hillary sticker on her car was chased and traumatized in a road rage incident.
Posters appeared on the Ohio State campus saying “Love Who You Are. Be White.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center has analyzed over 200 incidents targeting women, the disabled and minorities in recent days. Civil Rights activist Shaun King has received over 10,000 emails. Most contain accounts of hate crimes and harassment.
Many have rolled their eyes during recent years as I have named the pervasive hate and racism in this country, when I remind them that the lynch mob never went away, it simply got a badge. Some are worried about what I might say in this pulpit, worried about what people might think.
Many are tired of me speaking of the broken brown body of Jesus. Yet, like Paul, I can only do one thing, and that is to preach Christ, and him crucified, foolishness to the Greeks and a scandal to the Jews.
I was a gay civil rights organizer in Jesse Helm’s North Carolina. I know about risk. I was gay-bashed by a group of men in England, a group that knew that I was working for cash under the table and dare not turn them in. Friday, for the first time in many years, I feared for my safety. As young white laborers worked in the Parsonage yard, I wondered if I would be safe if they knew I was gay.
I can pass. I’m not married, don’t have a partner, and I don’t fit the ridiculous stereotypes, so I can pass through life without anyone ever knowing. And I must not do it, for every time I pass for straight, I make life harder and more dangerous for those who cannot.
Today I am wearing a safety pin, a symbol of resistance that has already spread across the country, inspired by a similar campaign in Britain after Brexit triggered a surge in hate speech and hate crime. It is a small thing, but it says I am an ally to women, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, the disabled, the LGBTQ community. It is small, almost meaningless, but it is a start. To me, it is like the White Rose, that symbol of a small non-violent resistance movement in Nazi Germany led by Sophie and Hans Scholl.
I must not pass, must not turn my head. The safety pin not only tells others that I am an ally, it requires me to step up when I see hate in action. I care deeply about the environment, joined the Surfrider Foundation as a young surfer decades ago, but today I need to turn my eyes to my fellow humans. In that ditch today is a Muslim girl in Orono, afraid to go to school, a gay boy in Blue Hill Consolidated School trying to decide how he will commit suicide.
I will fly my freak flag and tell the world that I am one of those people that those in power hate, one who has no rights under the sharia rule of the Christian Taliban.
I will preach comfort where comfort is needed, and I will challenge when challenge is appropriate. Like Rob, when he spoke out against the war in Iraq, I will make some of you uncomfortable. I will lead you, with courage and humility, if you will let me.
But the pastor is not the church. You must decide which church you will be. Will you walk on by, turn your eyes away from the bodies in the ditch and pretend not to see? Will you, in your bubble of relative safety, downplay the threat? Will you worry what others might think?
There are concrete actions we can take right now… not partisan actions, for we are a church, and we do not answer to earthly rulers and parties. We can become a regional center for teaching tolerance. We can become a sanctuary for those who feel threatened. We can take on the instruments of systemic racism, the new slavery of mass incarceration, the disenfranchisement of countless Americans under the New Jim Crow.
We can hang a rainbow flag, declare that God is still speaking, and join thousands of United Church of Christ congregations that will be on the front lines.
Of course, you can keep this from happening, even if you are in the minority, even if action is the will of the church.
Back in the age of that White Rose Resistance, in the age of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the OSS, the agency that would become the CIA, published a manual on sabotage, only recently declassified. It contained the usual advice on active ways to sabotage the Nazi regime. But then it went on to list passive forms of sabotage designed to bring the system to a stand still.
Here are those methods, as reported by the Guardian, a British newspaper.
1) “Insist on doing everything through ‘channels’. Never permit short cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.”
2) “Make ‘speeches’. Talk as frequently as possible and at great length.”
3) “When possible, refer all matters to committees, for ‘further study and consideration’. Attempt to make the committee as large as possible.”
4) “Advocate ‘caution’ and urge your fellow conferees to be ‘reasonable’ and avoid haste.”
5) “Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to reopen the question of the advisability of that decision.” And
6) “Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.”
Sounds like a manual on church to me.
Who will you be? Who will this church be? Will you be the priest, the Levite, walking by? Or will you follow the gospel? Follow the prophets, who cry out for justice for the oppressed, for the immigrant?
I cannot speak for you, but me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Even if that house is just me and 80 pounds of Golden Retriever love. We’ll do what we can.