Lenten Series: Virtues for Turbulent Times
A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy K. Hammer, February 25, 2018
John 8:2-11; Romans 12:9-13 GNT
Reading from George Fox
Until last month, I had never heard the name Larry Nassar. And most of you likely had never heard the name either; unless you have kept a close eye on USA Gymnastics. But now the photo image of the man bearing the name Larry Nassar is one of the most recognized and perhaps most despised images in America.
For, you see, former gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40-175 years in prison on sexual assault charges after being convicted of abusing and assaulting over 150 girls and women he had been responsible for treating over the years. The charges leveled against Nassar would make any conscientious person sick. Perhaps you saw the video of the distraught father who blasted Nassar verbally in the courtroom for assaulting his daughters and begging the judge to give him just five minutes alone with Nassar before he bolted across the courtroom and lunged at him before court officers restrained him. Many of us might have been tempted to do likewise had we been a parent in that courtroom.
Nassar’s actions in abusing young girls in such a manner caused me to ask, “What happened to respect? What was Nassar thinking? Had he no respect at all for the sanctity of human lives that he used for his own selfish pleasure?” Respect for humanity dignity – what has happened to it in our world?
Sadly, respect and honor for the other have fallen into disfavor, as so much of what is going on in the world today tragically illustrates. Take, for instance, the #MeToo Movement. Women who have been sexually harassed, harmed, and abused have mustered their courage with the charges against Harvey Weinstein and are coming out of the woodwork to admit that they, too, have been disrespected and dishonored and shamed by those in power who have taken advantage of them and used them as objects. Results of a USA Today survey released just this past week revealed that of hundreds of women connected to Hollywood who responded, 94% stated they have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault. Sadly, women in America have not been afforded the respect and honor rightfully theirs, in spite of the organizations and movements that have sought to make it so. And even more sadly, the plight of women and girls in some other parts of the world is even much more dire.
Think of the number 10,000. Now think of that in terms of children – 10,000 innocent children. It is unfathomable to think it, but that is the number of children in the United States who are victims of sex trafficking every year. Think about that! How is it possible that in the United States – supposedly the most civilized, progressive country in the world – that 10,000 children are exploited and trafficked yearly in the United States? Such facts should make us sick and ashamed. What has happened to human decency and respect and honor for others, especially for young, innocent children?
Here is the problem, it seems to me: By and large a collective sense of respect and honor for the other in our society has been lost. Guarding the human dignity of others has not been at the top of America’s priorities, it seems. The trend seems to be to make myself look good even if it means disrespecting and falsely discrediting others to do so. Disrespect for the worth and dignity of others has become so commonplace that perhaps we have grown numb to it and it has been accepted as the norm.
But from a religious perspective, it is incumbent upon us to look with respect and honor upon every person we encounter, since from a theological standpoint everyone we encounter has been created in the image of God. Or in the framework of the thought of George Fox, founder of the Quakers, there is “that of God in everyone.” And so, in every face I look upon, I should see one created in the Divine Image, one who is deserving of respect and honor.
I like something Albert Einstein said: “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” What a wonderful compliment to the character of the great scientist! The bottom line of that truth is no one should ever be looked upon and used for selfish pleasure or monetary gain. Everyone is deserving of respect and honor. Paul, in one of his most beautiful passages, encourages, “Love one another warmly . . . and be eager to show respect for one another” (Romans 12:10).
Unfortunately, as we flip through other books of the Bible, we will find many instances when respect for others is lacking, especially when it comes to the rights and treatment of women. I could have selected any number of biblical stories that chronicle women being abused and taken advantage of – the story of King David’s daughter Tamar and the banished women following the return from the Exile as related in Ezra (Ezra 10:44), just to cite two examples.
Jesus, on the other hand, was the exception to the rule. The stories the early Church left us regarding Jesus’ interactions with and treatment of women show a sense of respect and honor. Jesus’ interactions with the Samaritan woman at the well and the woman accused of adultery are just two examples of how Jesus proved to be revolutionary and showed respect for the women he encountered.
By the way, as an aside, don’t you find it interesting that in the story of the woman accused of adultery, the man that was with her isn’t even mentioned? Where was the man who was also a party to infraction? Why wasn’t the man also brought to the Temple and charged? Wasn’t he as guilty as the woman? Perhaps even more so? The woman, as has often been the case in history, may have been a victim in this story. She may have been forced to do what she did. Often women did and still today have to resort to such relations or prostitution, even, as a means to survival. In many cases prostitutes are the victims, not the real perpetrators. They feel forced into prostitution in order to survive or provide for their children, or they are victims of forced slavery. Because of life’s circumstances, we should be less judgmental and more sympathetic for women of our world, as Jesus was with the woman brought to him for stoning, to whom he afforded respect.
Well, what can we do to address the problem of the loss of respect for the other? we ask ourselves. You and I may feel helpless when it comes to widespread lack of respect and the failure to guard the human dignity of the hidden abused of our nation and world. What can I do to restore respect for women who have long been harassed and abused and used, and what I can do about the 10,000 children trafficked in America every year? we ask ourselves. Not much, we may initially conclude.
But the good news is there are numerous organizations that are working to combat trafficking of women and children. If you Google organizations seeking to combat sex trafficking, dozens of organizations will pop up. Maybe there is one good organization we might find to support financially and do our little part in trying to put an end to this epidemic, such as the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery sponsored by Senator Bob Corker.
But perhaps the one most important thing that every one of us can do is consider and perhaps change our attitude and actions toward all those we encounter in our daily lives and be more intentional about showing respect toward the other. We can begin to change the world by showing respect and guarding the dignity of everyone we know locally. We don’t have to agree with someone to show them respect. Confucius said, “Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?”
I love the words of that Christian folk tune of the 60s and 70s that says:
“. . . we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.”
Respect for the other must begin in the home, and move out to the community, workplace, soccer field, city government, and so on. From the community, respect must flow to the state, nation, and wider world. We must foster respect for both genders, all races and ethnicities, all sexual orientations, and all nations. Otherwise, we will continue down the path we are on to self destruction.
Respect that seeks to guard the human dignity of every person is a spiritual virtue sorely needed in these turbulent times in which we now live. We are seeing a revolution in America today, a good revolution that should be forcing every person of faith, every American, to rethink how we look at and relate to others, as we make respect for others and their human dignity a number one priority. May it be so. Amen.