Choosing Non-Violence

Readings for this week March 3 – April 3
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – A Faith to be Lived Out

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8

Justification isn’t a static thing, and isn’t something that only applies to our private lives and therefore something that we keep to ourselves. Co-crucifixion requires that conformity to the model of Christ’s sacrificial love be embodied and enacted in us, in our lives, our public, lived-for-others lives. This demands that we identify with the weak, powerless and marginalised. We cannot do true justice on our own, but we can be the embodiment of God’s justice, each of us – and God’s community as a whole – a conduit for love, generosity, forgiveness and transformation. Justification through co-cruciformity must be lived out in the world.

The gospel of the crucified Messiah shapes Paul’s understanding of holiness. Paul is convinced that the crucified Son reveals the holiness of the Father, and that the justified (those co-crucified with Christ) are called to be holy through on-going co-crucifixion in the power of the Spirit. Human holiness is grounded in the cross that reveals the identity of the Son, the character of the Father and the activity of the Spirit. It is Trinitarian and it is cruciform. Holiness is Christlikeness: it is ‘putting on Christ’ or ‘living with Christ’, as opposed to living in the darkness – the darkness of pursuing our own desires and giving our own impulses free reign. Cruciform holiness challenges our self-centred, individualistic, self-created notions of holiness. It is not self-help or self-realisation or self-invention. It is not something we earn. Holiness comes through the transforming power of the crucified and risen Christ working in us – working in a life wholly given over to God and his purposes for creation.

Questions to Consider
What is holiness? How do we live holy, yet everyday, lives?

Prayer
Lord God, make me holy as you want me to be holy. Guide me, lead me, correct me, transform me in the name of your son. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – The Road to Damascus

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Acts 9:1-6

Paul is perhaps the most well-known example of someone undergoing some sort of conversion experience. His encounter with Jesus “on the road to Damascus” is used to describe an important moment of understanding or insight that leads to a complete re-evaluation of one’s beliefs and attitudes. That is certainly what happened for Paul. His encounter with Jesus led him to reassess his life and his beliefs. He didn’t just throw out all his old beliefs (Judaism) and replace them with new ones (Christianity), regardless of what many have thought over the years. His beliefs about God, creation, Israel, Temple, Land, Salvation and so forth all had to be reconfigured and rethought in the (literal) light of his encounter with Jesus. But one thing often overlooked in this transformation is that it wasn’t just the content of Paul’s beliefs that changed. How he lived those beliefs and sought to act on them also changed, especially in one crucial respect. When he was Saul, he attacked the church; he lived a life of violent zeal for his God, harshly persecuting the followers of Jesus, hounding them, aiming to stamp them out, even colluding in their martyrdom. But once he became a follower of Jesus, he dispensed with the violence that had characterised his attitude to those he perceived as his opponents. His encounter with Christ, and his embrace of the way of Jesus, was incompatible with a life of violence. In embracing Jesus as the centre of his life, Paul was also embracing non-violence as a way of life.

Questions to Consider
How fundamental do you think this change was for Paul? Was it just for him (because of his particular past) or is it for all followers?

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Zealous for the Lord

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Philippians 3:5-6

The call to violence, especially to holy violence in pursuit of purifying some sort of meant-to-be-perfect community, is really another (human) way of trying to justify ourselves before God. If we see ourselves as the ones who have to maintain and protect the holy integrity of the community, enforcing the rules and regulations and banishing those who refuse to follow them, and then believe that this is what pleases God, then violence as a method will inevitably follow. Pre-conversion Paul found the key to right relationship with God through his zeal for the law – and this led to his violent persecution of the church due to its flouting of – indeed its supposed disregard for – the law.

In the Old Testament, there are only two figures recorded as being justified by an act: Phineas by his violent (murderous) zeal, Abraham by his faith. In the person of Paul, we see someone moving from imitating Phinehas to imitating Abraham, moving from violent zeal and killing others to grace and faith and embracing dying. The pursuit of holiness is still a major motivator for Paul, but his methods have changed. Instead of a passion for persecution and violence, he now exhibits a passion for Christ, and holiness is now achieved through the pursuit of Christlikeness, and this through cruciformity, embracing the cross of Christ and the crucified one who gave himself for others upon it.

Questions to Consider
What are you zealous for in your life? How does it show? What does being zealous for God look like for you?

Prayer
Loving Father, stir my passion for you and for your ways. Fuel in me a growing desire to know you more and to offer you more of myself each day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Sacred Violence

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 11:5

There are many in today’s world who are more than willing to baptise violence in the name of God and use it as a viable – indeed, indispensable – weapon in the fight against the enemies of God, and as a righteous person’s legitimate response to the Godless world around them. Our world has known no shortage of sacred violence perpetrated in the name of God, or in the name of some supposedly God-ordained ideal. The reasons behind the rise of sacred violence today are the same as they have been throughout history: community purification (getting rid of those whose non-compliance with community standards threatens to infect others, and keeping others out); the belief that the ends (good and God-approved) justifies the means (violence and exclusion); and the belief that our acceptance by God, or acceptance into his renewed kingdom, depends on our success in remaining pure.

In a world in which ‘sacred violence’ is such a common, accepted occurrence (even by certain segments of the church and certain nations that claim to be working in God’s name), the body of Christ on earth needs to make nonviolence and non-retaliation a central dimension of its teaching and its life. For much of the history of the church we have failed to do this, and this must be acknowledged and atoned for. But nonviolence and nonretaliation, as exemplified in the cross, are the way of God and are therefore also to be the way of his people. Resorting to violence is inappropriate for those who believe that Christ’s resurrection is proof that evil will ultimately be defeated.

Question to Consider
What is so attractive about violence in the name of God?

Prayer
Gracious God, forgive us our violent impulses, our anger, our hate. Teach us to love, to be merciful, gracious and self-giving in love. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Way of Non-Violence

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 18:1-11

Jesus did not raise his hand against others. When the soldiers came to the garden to arrest him, he did not fight back, he did not resist; he even rebuked one of his closest followers who drew a sword and attacked those who were there to arrest him. Rather than inflict violence upon others for the sake of self-preservation, Jesus stopped those resorting to violence upon his behalf, and instead walked a path that ended with violence being inflicted upon him. He absorbed the violence that was aimed at him; he did not seek to deflect it. This is the heart of God that we see revealed on the cross, a God who chose not to inflict violence on us (however deserved it might have been), but rather who chose to take on the violence that we directed at him (however undeserved it was).

This is not to say that we are deliberately to seek out violence and place ourselves in its way – but if it comes to us, then we may be expected to suffer it, especially on behalf of others, in imitation of Jesus who suffered on behalf of others. All others. Even on behalf of creation itself. The cross shows us another way of responding to violence – and the resurrection provides an alternative to the evil that surrounds us. God’s vindication of Jesus through the resurrection is also God’s vindication of the method used to defeat evil: sacrificial nonviolence and nonretaliation. God’s way of saving the world is through loving enemies rather than destroying them, and absorbing violence rather than inflicting it.

Questions to Consider
What are the different ways in which violence manifests itself in our communities? How do we absorb and deflect this violence?

Prayer
Almighty Father, strengthen us as we seek to live nonviolent lives in a violent world. Teach us love; give us courage; help us bring peace to people and places that do not know what it is. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)