God’s hopes for us began before the creation of the world. And what God intended from the beginning gives us insight into how God works to bring about what he intends.
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Eight members of Virginia Mennonite Conference have filed an official complaint with the conference asking that pastor Duane Yoder’s credentials be put under review for breaches of trust. A letter distributed to the Lindale Mennonite Congregation on March 22, 2016, revealed that Duane Yoder withheld from his congregation for more than a year and a half a report by Lauren Shifflett of her sexual abuse at the hands of Luke Hartman, who at that time was serving as vice president of Eastern Mennonite University. The letter states, “Someone from our congregation contacted SNAP about an abusive relationship [involving Luke Hartman] that was brought to our attention in August 2014.” At the time, Hartman was known to be a close friend and ministerial colleague of Yoder’s. Hartman first met Shifflett when he served as a youth Sunday School teacher at Lindale while Duane was pastor. She was 15 years of age, Hartman was some 20 years her senior and married with children. The published accounts by Shifflett and her sister Marissa Buck, include a detailed report of grooming, sexual abuse, stalking and threats of violence by Hartman.
The risen Christ confronted Saul on the road to Damascus, asking Saul, Saul, “Why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.” There is a whole lot going on in this statement, worthy of our careful consideration.
Jesus asked Saul why he was persecuting Jesus and immediately added that Saul’s effort to persecute Jesus actually hurt Saul, not Jesus. These vindictive deeds hurt Saul because in so doing Saul was kicking against the goads.
In Biblical times a goad was a pole with a sharpened iron spear like point that was used to prod oxen to move in the desired direction, especially when oxen were being used to plow a farmer’s field. Over time the ox learned to move in the direction that it was being prodded. Whenever, the ox in frustration kicked back against the prick of the goad, the force of the kick actually forced the point of the goad deep into the hide and flesh of the animal, magnifying greatly the pain from this self-inflicted wound.
The risen Christ was warning Saul that his efforts to hunt down and punish the early Christians was contrary to God’s plan. Saul was not only failing to go where the Holy Spirit was prodding, but Saul just like a stubborn ox, was actually kicking back against the goad, and that was the source of the pain he was now experiencing. Jesus intervened on the road not only to protect the Christians Saul was persecuting, but the risen Lord was determined to save Saul from himself.
We like Saul are prone to ignore divine intentions, because we are so preoccupied with our own desires. We pursue what we want and we fail to heed the signs or the warnings that the Spirit raises before us. When God begins to take more and more forceful action to bring us back to Christ’s path, we foolishly tend to kick back, rather than turn around.
This is especially urgent for our nation right now amid such deep racial divisions. So many horrible acts of violence. Sterling Alton. Philando Castile. The five police officers in Dallas. In the wake of the violence, we as a nation are drawn towards the temptations of escalating fear, deepening prejudice, and repeating attacks.
Furthermore this downward spiral is not coincidental. It is in so many ways self-inflicted consequences of racial hate and discrimination. What we experienced this past week is the direct result of 400 years of kicking against the goads.
First slaves brought to America in 1619, a year before the Mayflower landed filled with pilgrims. Then 250 years of legalized slavery. Then another 100 years of Jim Crow laws and ‘separate but equal’ that was never equal. And in the past 50 years since the height of the Civil Rights movement, racial and economic inequality have continued to spread creating ever deepening divides between people based on the color of our skins and first languages that we speak.
We are a nation of stubborn oxen.
We keep kicking back against the goads. Producing ever worsening wounds. More prejudice, more fear, more violence. And there is no end in sight, as long as we remain determined to keep going in the current direction.
We have to make a complete change. Admit that the entire situation has become unmanageable, how our country deals with race and inequality is out of control. Believe in a power greater than ourselves. Then, like Saul, turn ourselves over to Christ and let Him take control leading us in new directions.
It is never too late to turn around and begin doing the right things. After all, a saint is just a sinner who fell down and got back up again.
It is not surprising that much of the wise guidance that is most important for us in overcoming the racial divides is found the teachings of this same apostle Paul who Jesus lifted back up again and set on a new path. For it is Paul who explained that we cannot overcome evil with more evil. Instead we overcome evil with good. Paul also revealed every congregation is the body of Christ, but what kind of body would we be if we had only hand with no feet. The church today as in all times is at its best, truly incarnating Christ when it is fully inclusive.
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It can happen even after 400 years self-inflicted wounds of racial hatred and discrimination. In fact it will happen as you and I inspired others by our example to get back up again, join hands and go in direction of Christ’s own love.
Hear the good news, the same loving Jesus who confronted Saul on that road to Damascus is here this morning eager to turn you around.
How much do you have in common with Saul on the road to Damascus? Where are you persecuting Jesus by doing what is harmful to yourself or others? How often, just last week were you kicking against the goads?
Surely, now is the ideal time to stop fighting against God, and instead just allow Jesus to nudge you back onto His path. When we let go of our stubborn ways and let God take control there is no limit to how much better life becomes.