Thursday, November 09, 2017

Remembering Kristallnacht: No More Scapegoats or Easy Answers!

Today, November 9, is Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass. The day remembers that on November 9 and 10, a series of violent acts, pogroms, were unleashed against Jews throughout Nazi-ruled Germany and the territories it controlled.

We commemorate this awful event not only to memorialize the innocent victims of antisemitism, but also to act as a solemn reminder.

Kristallnacht and the Holocaust happened when people looked for handy scapegoats to blame for their own misery and grievances.

Post-World War One Germany suffered under the weight of vengeful indemnities charged against it by those who won the war. Then, the Great Depression hit, making things even worse for the Germans.

Along came Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, with their militant nationalism, promises of future greatness, and simple prescriptions for what ailed Germany. Life would be better for Germany, the Nazis claimed, if they could get rid of the Jews. The Jews, Hitler said, didn't belong in Germany. The Jews, Hitler said, took money that belonged in the hands of Germans.

Kristallnacht reminds us to be wary of the easy answers, of blaming others for our problems, of viewing people different from ourselves as inherently threatening. The easy answers of Nazism unleashed the most destructive war in human history.

What happened in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s is all the more tragic because Germany, of all places, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation, should have known better.

The Church of the Reformation, Lutheranism, taught, as Scripture teaches, that all human beings are sinful and that all human beings are redeemable.

It taught that the God of love cared enough about every human being that He took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, Who paid the price for our sin, and Who gives everlasting life with God to all who turn from sin and follow Christ. Christians are called to lives of humility, love of God, love of neighbor.

The Reformation was the seedbed from which the entire notion of personal worth, and with it democracy, grew.

The authenticity of people's Christian faith is tested when adversity strikes. It's then that easy answers and scapegoating, instruments of Satan himself, tempt us away from humility, repentance, faith, and love. It's then that we're tempted to think that we are the righteous ones and that "the others" fall short and need to be conquered or destroyed.

When Hitler and the Nazis spoke the devil's words, Germany's faith in Christ was largely found wanting. Today, we celebrate the Lutheran Christians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, in the name of Christ, resisted easy answers and scapegoating and instead, stood with Jesus Christ. But when the pressure was on, they were the exceptions and not the rule.

Today, many Americans feel aggrieved. The world economy has changed. We are learning that as a mere 6% of the world's population, we can't always get our way. We see our nation becoming more diverse, more like the melting pot we were always taught that it was and that frightens some. And we see a few "other" people who cause great heartache in our country through acts of violence.

Nazis, Klansmen, and nationalists, parading as patriots and even as Christians, "wolves in sheep's clothing," to quote Jesus, offer up easy answers and scapegoating. Our country's problems, they say, have been caused by "the others." They use Nazi slogans like "blood and soil." They say nice things about thugs and bullies, who they mistakenly think are strong, people like Vladimir Putin, Recep Erdogan, and Rodrigo Duterte. They think that at least dictators maintain order, just like Germans once said that Hitler was sort of bad, but he kept the trains running on time. They said that as though the benefit of on-time trains outweighed the slaughter, the injustice, and the tragic, useless war that he, with his easy answers and scapegoating, unleashed on the world.

What ails America and the world today and what is needed to resolve our ills can only be seen when we accept the hard answer, when we quit blaming others, when we accept that we are not entitled.

What ails America is us. 

As Romans 3:10-12 tells us, echoing passages from the Psalms and Ecclesiastes: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

This is the verdict of God over every human being who refuses to acknowledge their sin and that because of it, we deserve the eternal condemnation of God. Accepting this hard answer about ourselves as individuals, as families, and as nations is the fundamental first step to healing what ails us.

The second is found is Acts 16:31. There, the jailer of the apostle Paul and his associate Silas asks what he must do to be saved from sin and death. Their answer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

That is not an easy answer. It entails taking responsibility for our failings, a willingness to be corrected by God, the courage to trust in God and not our own thoughts or feelings. It entails daily surrender to our loving God and daily seeking His help to love our neighbor not only as we love ourselves, but also as Christ has loved us: sacrificially, compassionately.

Life without God is filled with easy answers, scapegoating, broken promises, dog-eat-dog days, constant fear, imprisonment to sin and death.

Life with God is filled with worthy challenges, personal responsibility, working together as community, courage, liberation from sin and even from death, facing persecution and the accusation of naivete. So be it!

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23)

We must remember the lessons of Kristallnacht and its intrinsic call to repent and believe, to trust in the God Who first revealed Himself to Israel and has now revealed Himself to all the world in Jesus Christ. No more easy answers! No more scapegoats! No more hate! Only the God of love we meet in Jesus. That's Who we more than ever.

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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