Wednesday, February 25, 2009

O Sinnerman, where will you run to?



The Rev. Richard Hall explains this photo:

Visitors to a Liverpool art gallery are being shaken by the sight of a new statue of Jesus. Called ‘The Cleansing of the Temple’, I don’t suppose it is meant to represent ‘Gentle Jesus meek and mild’, but reactions have been even more extreme than the artist intended. Some are convinced the statue is evil and recoil in terror. Others fall to their knees in prayer. Some say they see sparks coming from the statues eyes.

Gerard Van Der Leun quotes the lyrics of 16 Horsepowers' song, "Sinnerman."

O sinnerman where will you run to
O sinnerman where will you run to
O sinnerman where will you run to
All on that day?

Run to the mountain
The mountain won't hide you
Run to the sea
The sea will not have you
And run to your grave
Your grave will not hold you.
All on that day

Gerard explains,

Many years ago, I was flipping through the pages of a newsmagazine and came upon a photograph of the machete-hacked corpse of a child floating like some half-chewed chunk of jetsam in a backwater of Lake Victoria. This was during what we now think of, because we have to think of it as something distinct from our normal run-of-the-mill massacres, as the Rwanda genocide.

It was a crystal clear photograph showcasing an act of genocide like any other, only the meaningless details changed: children, machetes, an African lake. As a professional in the pornography of violence, the photographer had gotten in close. The child's eyes could be seen. They were without pupils, a dead fish-belly white; the white of clotted milk. ...

The child was long since buried or left to dissolve as mere carrion. What had disturbed me was only the abstraction of a child snagged out of the world with photographic film, transmitted across the oceans via orbiting satellites. printed up on sheets of flimsy paper, and delivered to me and millions of others on a weekly basis.... to what purpose?

To. What. Purpose.

Because I needed to know? What did I know? That we are, each and every one of us, capable of the darkest evil? This much I'd known long before I'd known it.

Did I see it because I needed more confirmation? I'd long been confirmed. And yet the image stuck in my mind, not as an obsession, but as an unbidden harbinger. And in time, I came to know it's purpose.

It's purpose was to teach me to hate God. ...

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended, that we to judge thee have in hate pretended? By foes derided, by thine own rejected, O most afflicted! (Johann Heermann) Gerard continues,

Childhood leukemia? God's on the job.

A close friend is shot-gunned on 14th street in a mugging? God's there pulling the trigger.

Yet another mass grave in yet another subdivision of Hell in Europe, Africa, the Middle East? God's working the back-hoe.

It's all a tough and dirty job and nobody but God has the moral clarity to do it. ... A real Professional. To top it all off He had billions of fools convinced of His mercy and His goodness. They were ready to tell you that "God so loved the world. ..."

But, O sinnerman where will you run to
O sinnerman where will you run to
O sinnerman where will you run to
All on that day?

There wasn't any kind of great switcheroo where my hatred was replaced with love and the peace that passeth all understanding. It wasn't a replacement, but it was a departure. I did not forget the photograph. I would never forget the photograph. But I did let go of the idea that the evil it embodied was an Act of God. It took me a long time, a lot of hate, and a very simple song before I understood that every act of evil is an Act of Man.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered; the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered. For our atonement, while we nothing heeded, God interceded.

There was a day when Jesus was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, where he said,

"This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day." ... And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father." Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

O sinnerman where will you run to ...
Run to the mountain
The mountain wont hide you
Run to the sea
The sea will not have you
And run to your grave
Your grave will not hold you.

So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life."

The Hebrew Scriptures say that the word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai:
"Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me."

But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to
Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went
aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.

Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose
that the ship threatened to break up.
O sinnerman where will you run to
O sinnerman where will you run to
O sinnerman where will you run to?
Then the sailors said to each other, "Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity." They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. ... The sea was getting rougher and rougher.

So they asked him, "What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?"

"Pick me up and throw me into the sea," he replied, "and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you."

Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried to the LORD, "O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man's life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased."

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard ... .
O sinnerman where will you run to?
Run to the sea
The sea will not have you
And run to your grave
Your grave will not hold you
all on that day.

Where can we run to? The Psalmist asked that question: "Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?"

Jonah surely did not think he could escape God. He instead sought to disqualify himself from carrying out God's command by running away from what God wanted him to do. Is that the escape we try to make, too? To run away from our God-commanded responsibilities? Why on earth do we think we can succeed? Not even the grave can hide us when the Lord comes again.

The prophet Malachi had words to say about that:

But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire ...

And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the children of Levi, and refine them like gold and silver, that they may give offerings to the LORD in righteousness.

O sinnerman where will you run to?
Run to the mountain
The mountain won't hide you
Run to the sea
The sea will not have you
And run to your grave
Your grave will not hold you all on that day.
Run to the Lord.
When you gonna stop running?
When you gonna cease fleeing?
When you gonna stop hiding?
When you gonna start heeding?
O sinnerman, Jesus is calling!
O sinnerman, Jesus does see you!
O sinnerman, Jesus is coming,
all on that day!

O sinnerman where will you run to?
Run to the Lord!

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life's oblation; thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee, I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee, think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, not my deserving.

Update: I should point out that "Sinnerman" is not original to 16 Horsepower but goes back quite a bit. As Gerard says, it's a spiritual, though whether it goes back to the antebellum South I do not know. As well, the lyrics tend to vary a little from singer to singer. Here is 16 Horsepower's version; there are many others. (It was even used as a theme song in the movie, "The Thomas Crown Affair.")

No comments: