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The Christ Who Shed Stone Tears

 
 

“The Christ Who Shed Stone Tears,” Pastor Jim Clarke’s sermon for August 7, 2016. Scripture: I Corinthians 1:26-3 and Luke 12:32-34.

Listen to the sermon here.

Thirty-four years ago I went on a pilgrimage. I took a trip from one end of Japan to the other. I was living in Hokkaido, the northernmost island, and I went all the way to Kyushu, the southernmost, specifically to Nagasaki.

Every year missionaries serving in the United Church in Japan (Kyodan) had an annual conference, usually held near Tokyo at a place called Gotemba. But this particular year, they decided to hold the meeting in Nagasaki because of Christianity’s role in Nagasaki’s history.

Nagasaki has a distinctive place in the history of Christianity in Japan. Kyushu is where St. Francis Xavier landed in 1547, a Portuguese Jesuit and the first Christian missionary in Japan. Through the work of the Jesuits, Christianity grew in Kyushu and Nagasaki became the primary port and point of contact with the outer world.

Nagasaki was also the epicenter of the persecution of Christians in Japan in the 7th Century. A major site that we visited in Nagasaki is the monument for 26 martyrs who were crucified in Nagasaki in 1597; some of whom were children.

At that time there were as many as 300,000 Christians in Japan, a larger percentage of the population than today. The story of the purge of Christianity in Japan is brutal. Christianity was outlawed in Japan for the next 250 years. Officials would go from town to town and ask everyone to step on a picture of Jesus or Mary. If they did not they were crucified, or thrown into a boiling hot spring, or hung upside down in a pit of offal. Their ears were cut and they bled to death. Some Christians went into hiding on isolated islands around Nagasaki.

In the 19th Century, when Japan opened its doors again and the church returned to Nagasaki, a group of Christians appeared at the front of a church, claiming to be Christians. Known as the Kakure Kristians (Hidden Christians) numbering around 30,000, they continued to practice the faith in secret. My journey to Nagasaki became much more than a trip as I learned these things. Indeed it was a pilgrimage.

Americans naturally associate Nagasaki with another historical event: The dropping of the second atomic bomb (Fat Boy) on August 9, 1945. But to the Japanese, Nagasaki carries these two crucial associations: Fat Boy and Christianity.

I have often wondered whether if those who chose Nagasaki would have done so had they known this history. Nagasaki was actually the second choice for Fat Boy. The first was Kokura, but it was clouded over. It was cloudy in Nagasaki, too, but the clouds broke just enough to drop the bomb. Not on the center of the city, not on the harbor or the industrial area, but up a valley known as Urakami.

To be more specific, the epicenter was directly over the Urakami Church, one of the oldest and largest churches in Japan. When I learned this 34 years ago, my gut twisted and my heart sank. The irony of it cut like a knife.

In the museum at Peace Park, there are a few relics of the Urakami church. The most notable for me was a bust of Jesus from the church. As one would expect, the flames from the blast smoothed away most facial features, like 1,000 years in the ocean. Creases in the hair – gone. No suggestion of eye brows or lashed… or lids, leaving a piercing stare of shock and deep sadness. In my mind’s eye, I could see tears…. Tears of stone.

There is a Japanese saying:  Better to see the face than hear the name. This was true for me in Nagasaki. This picture/image of Jesus became an abiding one for me. A picture not of strength, but vulnerability, distress, sorrow and weakness. Much like the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. It is the Jesus who knew the Cross; who intimately knew the reality of pain and abandonment.

God chose what the world considers weak to shame the powerful. (I Corinthians 1:27)

The world is run by the will to power, clearly impacted into Fat Boy. In politics, economics and the high school gym class, the need for power over others; to beat down the weak; to be the one in charge; to have control.

But God chose the powerless. The Jesus who shed stone tears. In the gospels, Jesus was with the powerless: The tax collector, lepers and women. Those who were rejected and shunned. Not the strong, but the weak. Who knows the sadness of all. Who knows the evil of domination and the bully.

He was despised and rejected by others

A man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity

And as one whom from whom others hide their faces

He was despised and we held him of no account.  Is. 53:3

My reckoning with the world came in junior high when I was bullied. I still remember the counselor saying that boys will be boys and I had to be stronger and fight back. But I couldn’t, and I judged myself for it. I’ve also been bullied in the Church; people telling me what to do… or else! And I would say than bullying in the church is one of the biggest reasons for its demise….

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day acted like bullies. They wanted to keep people in their place; have power over them; be in charge. But Jesus hung out with the vulnerable and he himself was not violent or mean… He remained helpless all the way to the Cross and he did this so that we might know that God is with us when we are alone or abused, bullied or weak, sick and depressed; not amongst the elite or those who have the power.

Another time of spiritual transformation for me was hearing about “The Domination System” for the first time from Marcus Borg. (God rest his soul.) The idea that domination was a part of the way the world works. That it is the ground and source of evil in the world. And that Jesus came to expose it and resist it without using violence. To sit with the weak so that they may know that God loves them and is with them.

As a weak person, I don’t know how I could live without this knowledge. The Jesus who shed stone tears called me into this life of not having the power and exposing those who have power and abuse it. I believe the gospel calls us to share power in world affairs, as risky as that is, in our living rooms and locker rooms; in all our communities and the church.

And I believe the Christ who shed stone tears would call us to seek out the powerless in our families, at our schools, in the youth group, in politics and in the church. To stand with the weak. To share their pain as Jesus surely would.

The Christ who shed stone tears has become a powerful image for me, shaping how I see the world, and I offer it to you as well. How would this Christ look at our world and our lives? What do you suppose he would be thinking about our politics? Or our international relations? Or our schools? Or our families?

I share this picture of Christ with you: Of piercing eyes, sad but wise; head smoothed by the flames of suffering in the spirit; of uncompromising love; compassionate, suffering with us, resisting domination, loving us in our weakness, bottom line.

Amen

 

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