It Begins in the Heart Where God Put It!
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
March 18, 2018
Jeremiah 31:31-33 (NRSV)
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,[a] says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
I found myself on several occasions this week talking about how to be a nonviolent presence in our world. With students walking out of schools and plans being made for marches it seemed to be on many people’s mind. Sadly, too often the nonviolent efforts don’t make the news because they often are hard to sensationalize. This week’s walk outs and the continued marches across our country are a continuation of a long history of nonviolent ways to speak to injustices and violence in our country and world.
It has been 11 years since a good friend of mine and a pacifist-progressive-Mennonite introduced me to this nonviolent way through two life-changing books by John H. Yoder. Sadly, John Yoder was disgraced over sexual harassment allegations and passed away at the age of 70, but his work in the area of nonviolence and what he coined “The Politics of Jesus” (the title of one of the books) are still classics on the subject and transcend his personal life.
Yoder’s book, “If a Violent Person Threatened to Harm a Loved One…What Would You Do?” (which is a compilation of answers to that question from the likes of Leo Tolstoy to Joan Baez) stopped me in my tracks. For the first time, I was challenged to see the issue of violence and nonviolence as not just an outward reaction, but something that was happening within my own heart. I realized I needed to ask some serious queries of myself in relation to my own views and what I actually believed. This in many ways started a crisis of faith in my own understanding.
It was in this crisis and discovery that I headed into a year of diversity training at Huntington University and my first classes as a doctoral student at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. I found myself reading the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Merton, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, John Woolman, and many more. All people who found the benefit of nonviolence and have taught on its value.
Yet, it was specifically in my study for a paper about Gandhi’s influence on Martin Luther King Jr.’s spirituality where I began to hone my understanding of nonviolence and its importance at the core of my life. Since this time, I have come to learn that Gandhi and King are essential reads in understanding nonviolence and its impact on our world.
It was the following quote from Gandhi, in a book edited by Thomas Merton titled, “On Non-Violence” which first grabbed my attention. Mahatma Gandhi says,
Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being. . . . If love or non-violence be not the law of our being, the whole of my argument falls to pieces. . . . Belief in non-violence is based on the assumption that human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love. . . . If one does not practice non-violence in one’s personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken.
To begin seeing the seat of nonviolence as my heart, started an evolution in my soul. In many ways, I was learning that the condition of my heart was key to how I respond to my world. This was a little different than just saying I had the love of Jesus down in my heart, like I was taught in the Sunday School song. This was saying that it was more than an acknowledgement or belief. For the first time, I sensed the need to take care of nurturing my heart, finding inner peace, and connecting to my inner light (as we practiced last week) to help me become a more peaceful and non-violent presence in this world. I had to admit that some of the violence I experienced in this world – I actually caused – and it stemmed from my own soul.
Gandhi wrestled with this as well. Not only did he begin to see non-violence (or as he named it Satyagraha) as inseperable from our being, he also saw it as desperately important to the future and shalom (peace) of humankind. Unless we found the seeds of nonviolence in our own lives, the world was not going to get any better.
Ironically, many people do not know this, but in my research I learned that Gandhi said many times that he developed his ideas about Satyagraha (nonviolence) in large part from the New Testament teachings of Jesus.
Gandhi considered Satyagraha a way to synthesize Jesus’ teaching about peace and non-violence into the life of the individual. He believed that non-violence came through embracing the qualities Jesus lived out in his life – such as:
n loving our enemies,
n seeking truth,
n experiencing personal transformation,
n being people of virtue,
n and having a religious faith
all things that Jesus had lived out in his life and had said should flow from our hearts.
If you remember, on one occasion, Jesus goes out of his way to make a point about where our thoughts, beliefs, actions, and what we say stem from with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. Jesus said,
“You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season.” (MSG)
The importance of the condition of the heart was something that Martin Luther King Jr. learned from Jesus but allowed to be nurtured by studying Gandhi during the difficult days of the Civil Rights movement. King knew that retaliation or violent means were not what should flow from the heart and if they did it would only make things worse. Gandhi was leading sit-ins, walk-outs, and marches in India with non-violent methods and King adopted the same perspectives for his movement. The key for both of them was to make sure their heart was centered and in the right place. This is exactly what I saw many students do this week across the country as they walked out in the same non-violent tradition. King learned that nonviolence and nonviolent resistance as Gandhi taught were better responses to what he was facing just like the students in Parkland, FL. King also realized that to do this work meant to go deeper and see what was behind the outward violence – something many people are calling our politicians, administrators, and leaders on today.
For Martin Luther King Jr. going deeper and seeing behind the violence meant to start within himself. King said this,
“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”
King’s views changed dramatically as he internalized an ethos of nonviolence and allowed his responses to flow from that centered-space.
I believe, King and Gandhi both realized that nonviolence transcends our outward actions and must be rooted in our hearts where true love is found and nonviolence has it’s beginnings.
“Nonviolence which is a quality of the heart, cannot come by an appeal to the brain.”
Nonviolence was not simply a body of knowledge to learn or be taught – it was something that (as I said in this week’s “As Way Opens” in Friend to Friend) is planted deep within each of us and must be cultivated and nurtured by actually living it out through our love for God and others.
Just inside the door of my office, I have hanging the Six Principles of Nonviolence which I purchased at the King Center in Atlanta on one of my visits. These are a summary of Kings thoughts on nonviolence which he compiled after learning from Gandhi. They show just how nonviolence must stem from our depths. Just listen as I read these 6 principles to you:
Principle 1: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
Principle 2: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
Principle 3: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
Principle 4: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
Principle 5: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
Principle 6: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
And this takes me back to our text for this morning which Eric read. God says the new covenant is
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
What did that look like? What was God writing on our hearts? The prophet Micah gets to the details when he writes,
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
What God wants of us resonates with Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Merton and many more. It sounds simple, but it is the foundation for building an “ethos of peace” in our world. Our hearts should be filled with the desire to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our God – and that, I believe describes a nonviolent spirit.
Folks, love is nonviolent. Love is peaceful. Love is kind. Love is what binds us to one another. And when that is what is found in our hearts we can understand better Martin Luther King Jr.’s words,
“Love is a force by which God binds man to Himself and man to man. Such love goes to the extreme; it remains loving and forgiving even in the midst of hostility. It matches the capacity of evil to inflict suffering with an even more enduring capacity to absorb evil, all the while persisting in love.”
I want to end this sermon with reading what we as Quakers say about being people of peace and nonviolence. This is from the American Friends Service Committee webpage under Quaker Testimonies.
In renouncing war and violence, Friends embrace the transforming power of love and the power of nonviolence, striving for peace in daily interactions with family, neighbors, fellow community members, and those from every corner of the world.
This is who we are – people who embrace the transforming power of love and the power of nonviolence. When we live this out – we too have the ability to change our world like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. before us. Let’s join our children and take up that mantle of nonviolence and march forward with love and nonviolence in our hearts!
American Friends Service Committee has offered some queries for us to ponder regarding nonviolence (I have included them on the back of your bulletin). As we enter waiting worship, take some time to ponder these as we wait and listen.
How can I nurture the seeds of peace within myself, my community, and the world?
How can I work to eliminate hatred, injustice, and both physical and institutional violence?
How can I be more open to seeking the goodness in people who act with violence
How can I increase my understanding of nonviolence and use it in all my interactions?