Proclaiming Peace

Luke 1:67-80 Zechariah’s Song

67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David 70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—72 to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:

74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

Happy second Sunday of Advent. Last week we focused on hope. Advent always starts with a dark message where we explore the brokenness of the world. But we don’t stop there, because we know that God doesn’t stop there. We look for a little healing in this broken world, a little light in the darkness. The second Sunday of Advent is designated as peace Sunday, and it focuses on the person who comes before Jesus to prepare the way of the Lord, the man we know as John the Baptist.

I read an interesting fact this week. The story of John the Baptist is found in all four of the gospels, including John, which tends to be a bit different from all the others. But the birth narrative, the story of the babe born in a manger, is only found in two of the gospels: Matthew and Luke. The author of the commentary I read said that the story of John the Baptist was more essential to the gospel than the manger of Jesus.

So, in the spirit of Advent, turn to your neighbor and call them a brood of vipers.

Today we will be looking at the song of Zechariah, John’s father. This is one of at least three songs we find in the first few chapters of Luke. Mary sings when she finds out she is pregnant, Zechariah sings at the naming of his son, and Simeon sings when Jesus is dedicated at the temple. And each one is more than just a song of praise, they are songs of foretelling. “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High.” “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to your people Israel.”

These aren’t just songs, they are prophecies.

Recall that Zechariah had an experience about nine months earlier with the angel Gabriel. Zechariah was a priest, but he wasn’t one of the big shot, important priests in Jerusalem. He was the priest in a smaller synagogue outside of town. But Zechariah was chosen by lot to offer incense at the main temple in Jerusalem, and it was there that he received the message from Gabriel that Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child. Even in their old age, they would give birth to a son. This boy would be filled with the spirit of God, and a great prophet, like Elijah years earlier.

Zechariah said, “Coolio, looking forward to it.” No, he showed some doubt and essentially said that ship has sailed. So Gabriel gave him a sign. Zechariah was rendered mute until the boy was born and they named him John.

After Zechariah proclaims, “His name is John,” the next recorded words out of Zechariah’s mouth are found in this song/prophecy. He begins this prophesy by saying in verse 68, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.”

There is a challenging word in this verse, one that is not consistently translated. In the NIV is says that God has come to his people. The Greek word translated as “come” is ἐπισκέπτομαι,v  \{ep-ee-skep’-tom-ahee}, which is more appropriately translated as “visit.” The KJV translates it as visit, but most modern translations don’t because it is confusing to think of God as visiting us. Isn’t God always with us? I don’t speak of my wife coming home from work or my children coming home from school as a visit. They aren’t visitors, they live here.

But this is actually a specific kind of visit (see Scott Hoezee’s commentary, from which I am drawing a lot of this material). The episkeptomai is a pastoral visit, like when I visit someone in the hospital or someone who is sick. The concept is that there is someone who is hurting, and God has come for a pastoral visit. There is brokenness, and God shows up with a casserole.

Yes, God is always with us; God is always present. But God entered into this world in a special way to offer a pastoral visit to the broken. We call that the incarnation; we call that the birth of Jesus.

Hold this idea of God bursting into this world to pay a visit to the broken in the back of your mind for a bit, and we will return to it shortly.

It is Christmas time, and many people will be traveling. There are probably people here who will be staying with others, and there are probably people here who will be hosting others.

I heard it said that visitors (again from Scott Hoezee) always cause joy when they stay with you. The difference is some bring joy to your home when they arrive, and others bring joy to your home when they leave. Regardless, when someone is coming to stay with you for a period of time, there are usually some things you must do to prepare. You may bake some cookies or perhaps an entire meal. If they are staying overnight you may put fresh linens on the bed and towels in the bathroom. Depending on who is visiting, you might even get out the good monogrammed towels and the expensive hand soap. Unless you keep an immaculate house, fully stocked with food, a visitor is going to require some preparation.

Enter John the Baptist. John is the one who makes the preparation for the visitor. But rather than changing sheets, he’s changing people’s hearts. John calls for the people to repent, for the kingdom of God is near.

I don’t know about you, but I think that phrase has been overused and abused in our world. When I think of repentance, I think of some guy standing on a street corner, yelling into a bullhorn. More specifically, I think of the guy who used to (and perhaps still does) stand on the oval at Ohio State, yelling at students as they walked past, telling them that they needed to repent because they were going to hell. I never witnessed it first hand, but my friends say that this guy used to call college women “whores” as they walked by in their short shorts and tank tops. He never bothered to ask if anyone was already a Christian. In his mind, we all needed to repent.

And he was right. We all did need to repent, and we still do today.

To repent doesn’t mean to feel guilty about something you did until you do it again. It also doesn’t mean to ask for forgiveness and then pretend like it never happened. To repent literally means to turn. If you are walking along a winding path, and you come to a turn, you must adjust your stride, turning to the left or the right. If you don’t, you walk off the path. And the more you wander off the path, the further you need to turn to get back on the path.

So yes, we all did and still do need to turn. We need to make the adjustments in our life to stay on the proverbial straight and narrow. Some of us need to make greater adjustments than others, but we all need to be aware of the need to always turn back to Jesus.

This is how John prepares the way for Jesus. He calls people to make adjustments in their lives, to get back on the path. He isn’t just speaking to the tax collectors and the sinners. He is talking to the religious leaders and the pious people. We all need to take time to make those adjustments in our life and get back on the path. And in Zechariah’s prophecy, he calls this path the “path of peace.”

A few years ago, a Mennonite pastor, who is no longer a Mennonite or a pastor, voiced a concern to me and some of our colleagues. He was frustrated with the Mennonite Church, and I can understand that, as frustration with one’s church and denomination is nothing new. But what he said has stuck with me for the last five years or so. He said, “The Mennonite Church thinks that peace is the Gospel.”

I’m not sure how we responded to him at the time, but I assume someone said something about what voices he was listening to, or that he needed to be in contact with our mission agencies. We probably tried to offer a definition of the gospel that included the forgiveness of sins and peacemaking, as I think both are essential parts of the gospel. But as is often the case, I usually think of better answers at a later time.

I wish I would have responded to that disgruntled Mennonite pastor by saying that the central message of the gospel is indeed about peace. But we need to have a bigger understanding of peace.

When we think of peace, we often think of the absence of warfare, maybe the hippies protesting the Vietnam War, wearing their beads and throwing up a deuce. But as I’ve said before, when we think of peace, we need to keep the biblical concept of shalom in mind.

The complicated nature of shalom in obvious in 2 Samuel 11, the story of David, Bathsheba, and Uriah. Uriah is out in battle under the leadership of Joab when David sends for him. In verse seven we read, “When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going.”

Other translations have David asking about the “wellbeing” of Joab, the soldiers, and the “prosperity” of the war. In the Hebrew, David asks about the shalom of Joab, the soldiers, and the war.

The shalom of the war.

Shalom can indeed be translated as the absence of war. But words like wellbeing, prosperity, wholeness, completeness are also accurate. I think the best way to think of shalom is to use the phrase, “It’s all good.”

Wholeness. completeness.

Zechariah’s prophetic song says that John will go before the Lord to prepare a way. How does he do that? He offers knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins and he is “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

John’s job is to guide our feet into the path of shalom, the path of wholeness and completeness.

To the pastor who said that the Mennonite Church has reduced the gospel to peace, I’d say you have reduced peace to the absence of warfare. The biblical model of shalom is wholeness and completeness. And that means shalom in our relationships with one another, shalom in our relationship with ourselves, and shalom in our relationship with God.

The gospel is healing and hope in the midst of brokenness.

Remember that weird Greek word I started with, episkeptomai? Zechariah said that God came to this broken world on a pastoral visit. When we were sick, hurt, or broken, God came to pay us a visit. And in this brokenness, John proclaims wholeness and wellbeing. John proclaims shalom and he guides our feet into the path of peace.

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Proleptic Discipleship

Jeremiah 33:14-16

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time

I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;

he will do what is just and right in the land.

16 In those days Judah will be saved

and Jerusalem will live in safety.

This is the name by which it will be called:

The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Happy first Sunday of Advent. Many here today did not grow up observing Advent, including me, so I find it helpful each year to start with a little history.

The word “advent” is a Latin word that simply means, “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” We sometimes use the word to refer to life-changing items, as in when we say, “The advent of the smart phone has changed the way human beings interact with one another.” In the church, we focus on the arrival of a person. We focus on the arrival of Jesus.

In Advent season, we focus on the two-fold arrival of Jesus. We celebrate the arrival of Jesus as a baby, looking at the texts that foretell the birth of the Messiah. We also anticipate the second arrival of Jesus, the second advent, when Jesus will return to set this world right, to fully establish his kingdom, and reign over it forever and ever.

One of the most obvious symbols of Advent (at least in our congregation) is the lighting of the Advent candles. We have five candles: three purple, one pink, and one white. The candles represent four different virtues of Jesus: Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. Each of these virtues will be the focus of one Sunday during Advent, and one additional candle is lit each week. The lighting of each candle represents us moving closer to the arrival of Jesus, who is the light of the world.

The third candle in our arrangement is pink. I do not know why it is pink. In some churches, the altar is covered with pink cloths, and the clergy wear pink vestments. I would wear a pink shirt on the third Sunday, but I don’t own one. The change from purple to pink is to signify a movement from hope to joy. Though there is no consensus on why the color is pink, some believe it is to represent the mother of Jesus, Mary, whose story is often told on this Sunday.

Finally, the fifth candle is white. A symbol of purity, we call this the Christ candle. The white candle is lit on Christmas Eve, a small manifestation of the light that has come into the world through the birth of Jesus. And on Christmas Eve, when we gather together to sing, we light candles from the Christ candle and surround the sanctuary, symbolizing the light of Christ spreading throughout the world.

But we do not start today with all five candles lit. We start with one. One single candle, the candle of hope. In absolute darkness, one single candle can make a huge difference. Before we celebrate Christmas day, we begin with a word of hope in a struggling world. Let’s start by looking at our passage from Jeremiah, and see what timeless message there might be for us today.

The book of Jeremiah tells the story of the Babylonian Exile. The people have rejected God, pushed him out of their homes, their lives, their synagogues. The way Jeremiah tells the story, God experiences this rejection like a person experiences a divorce when that person wants to remain in the marriage and the other person doesn’t (see chapter 3). God can’t force Israel to remain his bride. After repeatedly confessing his love for Israel, God allows Israel to leave him. And when they do, they are overtaken by a more-powerful nation. And things aren’t good.

Chapter 33 tells of the desolate lands, stripped of both livestock and vegetation. The conditions are bad, and Jeremiah is in some kind of prison. In this depressing situation, Jeremiah reminds the people in verse 11, “Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever.”

The people divorced themselves from God, but his love endures forever. Bad times have fallen upon the people, and they have brought it upon their selves, but God’s love endures forever. Reject it or embrace it, God’s love endures forever.

In our passage for today, God reminds his people that he is going to keep his promise. That’s right, even though they abused their relationship, God’s sticking to what he said. “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.”

Words of hope, spoken to the people of God in the midst of their suffering. God has made a promise, which sounds similar to the one made in Isaiah as well. There is this idea of dead wood, a broken branch, a dried-up stump. And out of this death, God promises to bring life. That dead wood is a metaphor for Israel itself, but a new life will sprout out of that death. A descendant of David will lead the people to safety. And those of us who call ourselves Christians believe that new life from the line of David to be none other than Jesus Christ.

Words of hope, spoken to the people of God in the midst of their suffering. But I wonder how much help that really was? Their land has been taken, their families have been scattered. All they have ever known seems to be gone. Despair is a strange thing. For some, when all you have is gone and all you know is suffering, hope is all you can hold on to. For others, these kinds of promises come off as platitudes, clichés. And sometimes they hurt more than they help.

It is those people who I most-closely associate with. God promised the Israelites to fulfill this promise, so why wait? Why not do it now? All that is left to do is to wonder…and wait.

Indeed, we Christians believe this promise was fulfilled in Jesus. But still, we wonder and we wait.

Waiting is not easy, especially when the world seems to be crumbling around us. Recently, an American missionary was murdered when he illegally entered an island off the coast of India in an attempt to preach the Gospel to these people. He was there because he felt a call from God to do so. I don’t think he lasted a full day. As sad as that story is, I’m even more disappointed by the way I’ve seen some friends of mine, Christian friends, fighting over whether or not this 26-year-old man should be venerated or condemned for his actions. I don’t want to get into their arguments here, but the whole conversation made me sick to my stomach. In such an ugly situation, my friends, my Christian friends, were making the entire thing even more ugly.

This isn’t a unique phenomenon, either. There continues to be ugliness along the US/Mexico border. There are reports of violence on both sides. Rocks thrown by people attempting to cross the border, tear gas deployed in response. I hear friends arguing on both sides of this issue, and I see pictures of children suffering at the hand of the “grownups” involved. I wonder where God is, and I wonder if we Christians aren’t actually making the situation worse.

I feel as if I’ve known nothing but brokenness my entire adult life. I came of age in a post-9/11 world where the threat of terrorism has been a part of every newscast. And it isn’t just in places like New York City, or Afghanistan. Local, home-grown terror, like we saw in places like Charleston, SC, and Charlottesville, VA, is real and really scary.

Yes, things can seem very bad at times. But this is nothing new. They were bad in Jeremiah’s day, and they were bad in Jesus’s day as well. Things are bad today and they have been bad since the fall of humanity. We have a choice in how we respond to the brokenness we see in the world around us. And I think that a lot of it comes down to one question: Who are you listening too?

You will get a very different view of the world based on what voices you choose to listen to. If you listen to Fox News, you’ll hear a different “state of the union” than if you listen to MSNBC. Joy Behar and Sean Hannity might tell the same story, but they are going to tell it differently.

Immigration, race relations, corruption, collusion. So much is wrong with the world today that I sometimes just want to retreat into my home and watch Christmas movies instead of hearing one more report. I’d be happy to withdraw from the rest of the world right about now.

But that isn’t our calling as Christians. We are called to speak words of hope into this broken world. In the 1960’s Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band proclaimed, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” Like Jeremiah, we are to proclaim the Messiah is coming to town.

And we don’t say it as a platitude or cliché, as if to say, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” We say it because we believe that one day Jesus will return to set things right. And we say it with our words and our actions, because sometimes, actions speak louder than worlds.

When you believe something, you don’t just say it out loud or hold it to be true in your heart. You live as if it were true. This is sometimes called “prolepsis.” Prolepsis is “the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished.”

You may have heard the saying that we are to dress for the job that we want, not the job that we have. This has inspired any number of memes on the internet, including people dressing up like super heroes, astronauts, and princesses. You might say that these people are living and working proleptically.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live proleptically. We proleptically embody the kingdom of God that Jesus came proclaiming. We speak words of hope with our mouths and our lives.

I believe that when God spoke of fulfilling the promise to send the Messiah, he did so in Jesus. And I believe that when Jesus promised to come back again to set the world right, he meant it. Obviously, this hasn’t happened yet, so we live proleptically. We practice proleptic discipleship, living as if the promises of Jesus, the promises of God, are not simply something to be fulfilled in the future, but are coming to completion in our own time and place.

What does that look like? We are currently in the time of year when many people try to help those who are less fortunate. I inquired with the Valley Mission about providing a meal over the next few weeks. I checked with our church members who are board members at the Valley Mission, and they went straight to the executive director to see if we could be of any help. When asked if we could prepare a meal, she more or less said, Eh, we’re good right now. The actual word she used was “inundated.” They are currently inundated with people wanting to provide and serve food.

So I offered her a monetary donation instead, which she was happy to receive.

I wish that they were inundated with people wanting to serve all year long, but even if just for the holiday season, it is heartwarming to know that we aren’t the only church looking to help out. When we live proleptically, we feed the hungry. And if every Christian lived proleptically, we would get a lot more of those, Eh, we’re good right now kinds of responses.

We live in a time and place where poor people are looked down upon as lazy. People ask Why feed the poor, they’ll just be hungry again tomorrow? We feed the poor because one day there will be no hunger. We proleptically embody God’s kingdom here and now.

I also believe that one day in heaven we will be surrounded by people of every color. God loves all people, red, brown, yellow, black, and white. The African-American man was created in the image of God, and so was the Latina woman. So we proleptically work for God’s church, regardless of the color of the skin of the person sitting in the pews. I think that it is pretty great that more of last Sunday’s offering was sent away than kept. And it went to support a church that most of us will never benefit from. I can’t speak Spanish, but we sent over $3,000 to a Spanish-speaking church plant.

In a country that seems to always be arguing about immigration, our church made a very theological and proleptic statement. We said, “Jesus loves you, and so do we.”

We Christians are called to clothe the naked and feed the hungry now because one day there will be no more poverty. We are called to support one another financially and prayerfully, regardless of race or ethnicity, because one day we will be gathered together as members of every nation bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We care for the sick, because one day all sickness and even death itself will be abolished.

We live in a broken world, and there is no way to avoid it. We cannot fix it. We cannot hide from it. But we can choose the voices that we listen to. Are we going to listen to the doomsayers, or are we going to listen to the voice of the one who says, “Behold, I make all things new!”?

When we listen to the voice of Jesus, and the promises that he has made, we will live a life of proleptic discipleship. And as proleptic disciples, we speak words of hope into a world of darkness, with the desire that others will choose to hear these words as well.

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Thankfulness 365

Luke 17:11-19 (NIV)

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

After winning the 1982 World Series, it is reported that the 85-year-old owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, August “Gussie” Busch, called his manager, Whitey Herzog, into his office and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Busch told Herzog, “You had such a great year, I want to give you a lifetime contract as the manager of the Cardinals.”

Herzog looked at the aged man sitting across the desk and said, “That’s great, but are you talking about your lifetime or mine?”

I think that story may be a bit apocryphal, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if it was 100% true. We live, as author James Glassman says, in a “culture of complaint,” which is a nice way of calling us all a bunch of whiners. I would add that we live in a culture of entitlement. We think the world owes us, and when we don’t get our way, we raise a fuss about it. I’m just as guilty as anyone, but I hope to change that. My hope is that we all can move from a culture of complaint to a culture of gratitude, a culture of thankfulness.

We are just days away from Thanksgiving, so it seems appropriate that today we are looking at thankfulness. But I also realized as I wrote this sermon that perhaps I’m a part of the problem. I preach a sermon every third Sunday of November on thankfulness. There is nothing about that which is bad in and of itself alone. The problem is that I only do it once a year. Let me share a story to set the stage.

On October 27, I took the children with me to Lowe’s to pick up a few items for a project. Often times they resist going to any hardware store with me because I tend to look around for awhile and plan future projects. But this time of year is different, because Lowe’s seems to be among the world-wide leaders in distribution of seasonal, inflatable yard decorations. Ever since the end of September, Lowe’s has been filled with eight-foot-tall scarecrows and gigantic pumpkins, all of which appear almost as if by magic, with the flip of a switch.

When we arrived on October 27, many of the Halloween inflatables had been removed and replaced with Christmas inflatables.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas, though I readily admit that I don’t love the way Christmas has been commercialized and become a time to buy things we don’t need with money that we don’t have. But the spirit of Christmas, the love, joy, peace, and music are all things that I love. I even enjoy houses that are well decorated for the season. But I have a problem with people seeming to jump over Thanksgiving in order to celebrate Christmas a month earlier.

I know I sound old and crotchety, but I also know that I’m not the only one. I saw this on social media last week from someone defending celebrating Christmas early: “No one is skipping Thanksgiving!!! Here’s how it goes: Oct 1-Oct 31=Halloween. Nov 1-Nov 21=Christmas. Nov 22=THANKSGIVING. Nov 23-Dec 25=CHRISTMAS.

I’d say that actually illustrates the problem, but does not solve it. Have we reduced Thanksgiving to one day a year? I have absolutely no problem with celebrating Christmas year-round. Listen to your Christmas carols and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” in June if you like. But gratitude is something we need to practice year-round as well. We need to practice because practice may not make perfect, but practice does make permanent. Let’s jump into our scripture to see what the Bible has to teach us about gratitude.

Our main text for today is one that commonly surfaces this time of year. Ten lepers come to Jesus, having heard that he has the power to heal. They call out to him, “Jesus, Lord, have mercy on us!”

All ten show some level of faith by simply coming to Jesus. Addressing him as “lord” or “master” shows another. What does Jesus do? He sends them away. But not angrily, as if to say, “Get away from me, you scum!” No, he says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

Certain forms of leprosy were known to clear up, and the Torah laid out the procedures to be declared clean once again. It was necessary for a priest to inspect a formerly leprous person in order for that person to enter back into society. Jesus was sending them to the priest so that they could be declared clean. The very fact that they left Jesus and started toward the priest was an act of faith. It is reminiscent of Naaman being told to wash in the Jordan River seven times. Just doing it was an act of faith.

The text tells us that as they went, they were made clean. Then in verses 15-16, we find the high point of the story: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.”

I love that Luke includes that last little bit, “and he was a Samaritan.” First of all, a point that is tangential to my main point for this morning, I find it beautiful that in this group of ten outcasts, nine of whom we are to assume are Jewish, there is still a place for a Samaritan. I’m not sure if they treated him as if he were lower in their hierarchy than the Jewish lepers, but I would assume there would be Samaritan lepers he could spend his time with as well. This group of outcasts welcomes another outcast into their group, even though he is doubly outcast by the Jewish community.

Yet I think the reason Luke includes this little snippet about him being Samaritan is to highlight the same thing he highlights later in his gospel when he includes the story of the Good Samaritan. Here is someone who is doubly outside the community of Chosen People as a Samaritan and a leper. Yet he is the one who pauses his celebration to come back and offer thanks.

Let’s look quick at how he offers thanks and how we can today as well. There are two words I want to lift out of this these verses. The first is the word “praise.” The root of the Greek word used in this passage is “doxa.” Doxa is translated into a number of English words or phrases, the least clear being the most common. Doxa means to judge or discern. It is used as an idiom to describe offering words of praise to God. We are judging or discerning God’s actions as worthy of celebration. Doxa is the first part of the word “doxology.” Add “logos” to “doxa” and you have “words of praise.” So we sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow./Praise Him all creatures here below./Praise him above all heavenly hosts./Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

How do we offer thanks to God? We sing His praises.

The other word I want to lift out is “thanks.” The word in Greek is “eucharisto,” from which we get the word “eucharist.” We often refer to the breaking of bread and drinking of the cup as the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. In some of the high church traditions, this event is called the eucharist. It is a giving of thanks. Jesus says eat the bread and drink the cup, and do this in remembrance of me. And it isn’t just so we can say, “Oh yeah, remember that bearded guy we used to hang out with?” No, we remember the teachings of Jesus, the sacrifice of Jesus, and we give thanks. And if we are to take Paul’s words to the church in Corinth literally, he says anytime we eat the bread and drink the cup we are to remember him. We give thanks, not only at communion, and not only when we gather for Thanksgiving dinner. We give thanks every time we break bread. We give thanks every time we partake of the cup.

So what leads one man, a Samaritan nonetheless, to come back and give thanks when the other nine didn’t seem to even think about it? The text doesn’t say, but one commentary I read was very helpful. The writer said that though all ten lepers experienced the same healing, the one who returned had likely developed an attitude of thankfulness over his entire lifetime. We aren’t naturally predisposed toward gratitude. It is something we must condition ourselves to.

Think about children, everyone here was a child at some point. From day one children are given food, clothing, and shelter. Nobody expects and infant to say thanks. But as children get older, and they receive gifts or goods, parents instruct their children to say thank you. In our household, we could step up our family prayer time for sure. But one thing we always do is pray before a meal. That is good for the children and for us parents. Be thankful for what you have, not everyone will have food today.

And it seems to be a problem well into adulthood. The Bible instructs us to “give thanks in all things” (1 Thess. 5:18). Not for all things, but in all things. Find something to be thankful for. As the book of James reminds us, every good and perfect gift is from above.

If you live in the Staunton area, you probably recall that we had a bit of an ice storm this past week. The roads were never very bad, but the ice accumulated on the trees, electric wires, and the hard surfaces. The kids were home from school, and I had work to do. And later we had some limbs come down on our property, which I’ll have to clean up at some point. The cars were all covered with ice. Things were shut down. I was frustrated.

I had to catch myself. There are people living in the streets. There are people without food. And not to rub it in anyone’s face, but we never lost electricity. Our home was always warm and filled with Netflix. (I can’t say the same about the church. Burr!)

I think thankfulness is something we develop. Just like an athlete must develop their lung capacity or a musician must develop their skill, we must develop our ability to be thankful. It is very easy to look at people who have more than us and be jealous, but it is also very easy to look at others and be thankful. That’s a choice.

And thankfulness has proven benefits. Study after study show that thankful people tend to be healthier, physically, mentally, and socially. When you are thankful, you become a healthier version of yourself, and then you have more to be thankful for!

Some of the most inspiring stories I hear are of people who seemingly have nothing expressing their gratitude for what little they do have. Some of the most discouraging stories I hear are of those who seemingly have everything but offer no gratitude to God or others.

I recently heard a pretty well-to-do man being critical of Christianity and joking that his family wouldn’t invite him to pray for their meal when they gathered for Thanksgiving. He claimed that he would pray, “Thank you God, for this food that we cooked ourselves, and purchased with the money that we made at our jobs.”

He was trying to be funny. I found him rather simplistic. Yes, you can buy food, but someone had to grow that food. And there is a reason that I’ve never met a farmer who was an atheist. You can arrange your fertilization plan, buy the best seed, kill the weeds, and till the soil. You can even irrigate the field. But you cannot make that seed grow.

Give thanks.

You can buy things with money you earned from your job, and maybe you worked really hard to get and to keep that job. But who gave you the mind and body to perform it? Who gave you the rationality and cognitive ability to perform the kinds of tasks you need to perform?

Give thanks.

We need to train ourselves to be thankful; we need to train ourselves to see God at work in our lives and the ways other people help us along the way. We can so easily fall into the trap of entitlement, thinking that we are owed things. We can easily fall into the trap of thinking we are a self-made man or woman, as if we earned all we have. Indeed, you may have worked your hands to the bone, but it is God who gave you those hands to start with.

So I echo the words of 1 Thessalonians and encourage you, in all things, give thanks. Not just on Thanksgiving Day, and not just during the month of December. Practice thankfulness 365 days a year.

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Women, Orphans, and Strangers

1 Kings 17:8-16 New International Version (NIV)

8 Then the word of the Lord came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

12 “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”

15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.

The inspiration to love and care for others will at times come from the least-likely places. Sometimes it is those who we are to be caring for who remind us of our Christian duty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and provide water for the thirsty. Nobody is exempt from Christian hospitality.

Let’s start with some background information for today’s text. In the previous chapter we read about a series of kings in Israel. Some were good, some were less than good. The last king mentioned is Ahab, who is given a unique distinction. In verse, 30 we read, “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.”

Ahab was considered the evilest of all the kings because he worshiped the Canaanite gods Baal and Asherah.

Immediately following the description of Ahab and his dabbling in other religions, we find a new champion of the Hebrew faith named Elijah. We have no background information on Elijah, but his name alone is a hint at where his allegiance lies. El is one of the Hebrew words that we translate as “god.” Jah is short for the Holy Name of God, which no Hebrew man, woman, or child would utter aloud because of the commandment to not use the Lord’s name in vain. Jah is short for Jehovah, or Yahweh. The name “Elijah” means, “Yahweh is God.”

Does anyone else anticipate a confrontation brewing?! Elijah, the servant of the Lord, says to Ahab, the servant of Baal and Asherah, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (v.1b).

God appears to have given Elijah some power, but notice that we are never told that it was God’s idea to stop the rain. God gives Elijah the power and the freewill to use his power. And Elijah chooses to stop the rain to show that the God he serves is superior to the God of Ahab.

During this drought, which lasted around three years, God instructs Elijah to hang out beside a brook so he would have water, and God sends meat and bread to him twice a day, delivered by the ravens. Ravens were an interesting choice to feed Elijah. First of all, ravens are a carrion bird, which means their main diet is the flesh of dead animals. Furthermore, ravens were considered unclean in the Hebrew faith, being mentioned in both Leviticus 11:15 and Deuteronomy 14:14. We aren’t told why they were considered unclean, but many of the other birds that are listed are also carrion birds.

Have you ever wondered where the ravens who fed Elijah got the meat? Just wondering.

I also wonder how Elijah’s interactions with an “unclean” animal might have prepared him for an interaction with a person on the periphery of society. A gentile, a widow, an outsider.

            Let’s jump ahead to our text for this morning. The brook dries up and Elijah hears the voice of God: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.”

Notice two things here: the woman who is to supply Elijah with food and drink is a widow and a foreigner. We will also learn shortly that she has a son back home. This woman is among those who the Old Testament frequently commands God’s people to care for. One example of the many comes in Deuteronomy 10:17-19: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

God cares about these people and repeatedly calls his people to care for these people.

So it is interesting that when Elijah first sees the woman he finds her gathering sticks for a fire. And what does he do? Rather than helping her collect the wood for the fire, Elijah asks, Can you get me a drink of water, and a bite to eat? Please?

Typical man. He doesn’t even offer to help with the firewood.

The woman’s response is amazing. She says in verse 13, “As surely as the Lord your God lives, I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

If we summarize all of that, we find that Elijah is the person who causes the drought, all because he and Ahab are fighting. But when these two powerful people clash, who suffers? It is the weak; it is the very people who Elijah and all of God’s people were supposed to be caring for. Often, it is the weakest among us who suffer the most when people in power fight.

This is a good reminder today, on the day that marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1. Millions of people died as a result of this war, including both soldiers and civilians. One of the greatest causes of death among civilians was malnutrition, caused by a halt in trade and a reduction in labor when men went off to war rather than tending their farms.

That would be a very sad story if it ended there. But it doesn’t. God informed Elijah that the widow’s supply of flour and oil would miraculously replenish as long as the drought lasted. She, her son, and Elijah would live. All she had to do was trust in the god of this stranger, give him a portion of the little food she had, and allow him to stay with her until the drought ended. You know, no biggie.

But she does just that. She opens up her home and feeds this stranger, welcoming him to share in what little she had. And she was blessed. The flour and the oil continued to sustain all three of them until the earth produced again. It was the widow who practiced radical hospitality.

I’m in favor of condiments in general. If I’m eating a sandwich, it probably has ketchup or mustard on it. Do you know what it doesn’t include? Mayonnaise. I’m not against mayonnaise, I just don’t see the purpose. I remember when I was in college walking over to a friend’s apartment for lunch. He made us ham sandwiches. All those in the know understand that you put ketchup on ham sandwiches. But my friend put mayonnaise on our ham sandwiches (without asking). I offered him some grace because 1, he was feeding me. And 2, because he was from Pennsylvania. They do things a little different in Pennsylvania. To this day, I still have a theory that people who put mayo on their sandwiches are either from Pennsylvania or have relatives from Pennsylvania.

I was thinking about mayonnaise the other day and I came to the conclusion that there is only one kind of sandwich upon which it is okay to put mayo: the BLT. If you have never enjoyed a BLT, you are missing out. It is a little foretaste of heaven. And if you eat kosher, they do make turkey bacon.

As I was meditating on mayonnaise, I remembered a story that my father told me when I was probably in my early teens. And I wanted to get the details all correct, so I called my father. The first thing I asked him is if he likes mayonnaise. He said, “It isn’t my go-to condiment, but I do like it on a sandwich with lettuce, bacon, and tomato.”

If there was ever a question about where I get my love for foods high in fat and cholesterol, now you know.

My father helped me fill in some of the gaps from a story that he told me when I was probably 15 about when he was about 15. The story originally happened about thirty years before I heard it, and his telling of the story first happened about 25 years ago. That means the story I remembered he was remembering from over 50 years ago.

My father remembers baling hay with my grandfather’s hired men on land that they had rented. This was back before they had a kick baler, so workers would ride on the wagon and grab the hay as it came out of the baler and stack it on the wagon. Out in the middle of the field in the middle of the summer, this was surely a hot, sweaty, and sticky job.

My dad was working with one of my grandfather’s hired men who just happen to live in a house right next to the field in a little, old, rundown shack. This particular hired man was memorable for being especially dirty and stinky, which is saying something on a dairy farm, where everyone is dirty and stinky.

The day went on, and my father baled hay alongside the poor, stinky, dirty hired hand, getting more and more hungry with each bale stacked. Then out of the house came the hired man’s wife, carrying two sandwiches. She made them mayonnaise sandwiches. Two pieces of white bread with a smear of mayonnaise between them.

What do you do when you are a teenage boy who doesn’t like mayonnaise and you are presented with a mayonnaise sandwich? You say “thank you,” eat the entire sandwich, and tell the story to your children.

The story is funny, because mayonnaise sandwiches don’t appeal to anyone. And when they are served up by the dirty, stinky, poor family, it becomes a little more gross. But the reason my father sat me down and told me that story was to point out the generosity of this family. Though they had little, they shared what they had with him. They served mayonnaise sandwiches because they couldn’t afford turkey or ham. Perhaps they couldn’t even afford peanut butter. But what they had, they shared.

The hero of our story for today isn’t Elijah, but the widow. Though she had little, she was willing to share it with a foreigner, a stranger, a person from a different religious background. In doing so, she served the very person who was supposed to be serving her. She practiced radical hospitality.

If you have ever been in a third-world country, especially if you have been hosted by a family there, you probably have experienced this as well. The last chicken is butchered so you can have a good meal. The finest fruit is harvested for you. The best bed is reserved for the guest.

I’ve been on the receiving end of such hospitality, and it has an effect on me, just as I assume it had an effect on my father 50 years ago.

God has blessed us to be a blessing to others. We can use those blessings, whether they are power, money, authority, or respect, to hurt others. Or we can use those blessings to bless others.

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But Didn’t Jesus Say…?

Matthew 10:34-39 

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,/a daughter against her mother,/a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Back by popular demand, we are addressing the New Testament teachings, many straight from the mouth of Jesus, that can be interpreted as endorsing violence. Before we actually look at these texts, I want to offer a bit of a prologue. If you have found this series interesting, I encourage you to listen to a sermon series from a Brethren in Christ church in Canada called The Meeting House. The Meeting House had a series they called “Inglorious Pastors” a number of years ago, which was a seven-part series entirely devoted to what I have called Christocentric nonviolence. The pastor, Bruxy Cavey, addresses a lot of the same issues we have covered, and he says a lot of the same things you have heard here, but in the kind of detail you might expect from a seven-part series. Bruxy and I have both read the same books, and I have drawn from him as well, so not all of what he has to say will be new to you.

One thing I learned from Bruxy is that these arguments against nonviolence usually work best when the scripture is taken out of context and used as a soundbite. For instance, when I’m talking with someone about nonviolence, they will often throw a passage out there and say, “But Jesus said, ‘I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ Obviously, he wasn’t nonviolent!”

Yes, Jesus did say that! But context matters. Furthermore, Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, and he frequently speaks about loving your enemies and not harming others. As I’ve said before, it is helpful when we find a challenging teaching in the Bible to look at what is clearly stated elsewhere. And if Jesus says clearly to love our enemies and turn the other cheek, I’m going to give that teaching priority over something that may not be as clear as we would like it to be.

Let’s start with that passage. Verse 34 says, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

As a standalone soundbite, that sounds pretty, well, violent. But what is Jesus talking about here? Let’s expand this verse to include the next three: “For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Jesus isn’t talking about rejecting peace and using the sword in battle or in war. He is talking about rejecting peace and using the sword against…your own family. That’s a good way to honor your father and mother right there!

Is Jesus telling his followers to go out and kill their families? No, and if he was, he is only authorizing the use of violence against one’s own family. But nobody would make that argument, so obviously Jesus is using this phrase differently, perhaps metaphorically.

Let’s start with the word “peace.” The New Testament was written in Greek, but Jesus, being a Jew, would most likely have had the Hebrew concept of peace in mind when he said this. The Hebrew word for peace means more than just the absence of violence, though it can be that as well. The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom,” the very word I begin each sermon with. It is a greeting, similar to “peace be with you.” But shalom has an even more expansive meaning. It can mean “wellbeing,” and “wholeness.” We’ll come back to this word shortly.

The second word we need to consider is “sword.” The sword is often used as a metaphor in English for warfare, even though I doubt actual swords are used often today. Someone might say that the government has the right to bear the sword, though they mean guns, bombs and other methods of modern warfare.

Greek uses the word μάχαιρα,n  \{makh’-ahee-rah} to describe a number of different types of swords. The Greek Lexicon defines makairah as: 1) a large knife, used for killing animals and cutting up flesh  2) a small sword, as distinguished from a large sword  2a) curved sword, for a cutting stroke  2b) a straight sword, for thrusting.

Only the last two definitions, which are the least commonly used, even hint at hurting another human being. Instead, these swords are used to cut up meat, dividing the meat from the bone. That’s why the word “sword” is frequently used as a metaphor for dividing. We see this in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Did Jesus instruct his followers to take up the sword against their family members? No, it makes more sense to me to think that Jesus was saying that his teaching would not bring wholeness, but division, among family members. Even fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. And if you don’t believe that to be true, try talking religion around the Thanksgiving table in a couple of weeks. Maybe it would be a good idea to bring a sword.

Luke 3:7-14 

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

The passage from Luke’s gospel represents a common argument that people use when we make statements about nonviolence. The argument states that Jesus, John the Baptist, and Peter all had interactions with Roman soldiers, but never did these leaders tell the soldiers to leave the army or to stop fighting.

The first response I have when people mention John the Baptist is that he was a representative of the Old Testament. Jesus says in Matthew 11:11, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Jesus is saying that John is the greatest of the Old Testament prophets…but all who are a part of the kingdom that Jesus is enacting are greater than John. I don’t deny that there is violence in the Old Testament, of which John is a part. But with the arrival of Jesus, the people of God are called to live differently. Let’s pause this story and come back to it shortly.

In Acts 10, Peter has an interaction with a centurion in the army named Cornelius. Cornelius is a gentile, and he comes to Peter after they both receive messages from God. After they meet, the gentiles receive the Holy Spirit and are baptized. But never does Peter tell Cornelius to leave his commanding role in the army, nor does he tell him to stop killing.

Matthew 8 and Luke 7 both tell the story of Jesus healing the centurion’s servant, or a more literal translation would say that Jesus healed the centurion’s slave. There is a direct interaction between the centurion and Jesus, but Jesus never tells the centurion to leave the army or to not kill anyone.

Three interactions with soldiers, none are asked to change their ways. Well, actually, John did have this to say in verse 14, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

Are we to believe that is the only requirement for soldiers who come to be baptized? Be happy with your pay. Or do the other things that John just mentioned—if you have two shirts, share one; don’t cheat people out of money—also apply to these soldiers?

In Peter’s interaction with Cornelius, there was no mention of any ethical teaching. Their entire interaction was about God calling the Gentiles into the church. And in Luke’s account of Jesus’s interaction with the centurion, Jesus doesn’t say anything to the centurion. In Matthew Jesus says six words to the centurion: “I will come and cure him.”

We can’t build an argument based on what Jesus, John, and Peter didn’t say. That’s called an argument from silence, and it is rhetorically weak. Notice Jesus also didn’t tell the centurion to release his slave. So obviously Jesus is pro-slavery.

No, that doesn’t make sense. We don’t have any record of these soldiers receiving any ethical teaching other than to be happy with their wages. Yet I’m pretty sure Jesus expects more from his followers.

Revelation 19:11-16 

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords.

What about all of the violence in Revelation? I’ll keep this brief, in part because I tend to believe we need to be cautious when formulating any theological position on this particular book of the Bible. I’ve read Revelation plenty of times, I’ve been a part of a graduate-level course taught by an eminent scholar on this topic, and I still don’t know what Revelation means. That doesn’t mean we should avoid Revelation, but that we should be careful about how dogmatically we interpret it.

This passage presents the rider on the white horse. His eyes are blazing, his head bears many crowns. This horseman is often depicted leading any army, wielding a sword, with blood dripping from his robes. Verses 13-14 say, “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.”

This rider is meant to represent Jesus, a warrior leading his army into battle. But if you have ever watched a crime drama, you know that when a detective stumbles upon the crime scene and finds blood, it is always important to ask, Whose blood is it?

We find a different image of Jesus presented in chapter 5. Jesus is depicted as a lamb who was slaughtered, yet has somehow survived. Furthermore, in chapter 7 we read that those who wash their garments in the blood of the lamb are now dressed in dazzling white.

Whose blood is it? It is the blood of the lamb, who now rides on the white horse.

Well what about the sword? Verse 15, “Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.”

If this was to be a real battle, I would suggest holding the sword in your hand, not in your mouth. Elsewhere in the Bible, when a sword is said to be coming out of someone’s mouth, it is a reference to scripture.

And let me just say this, even if Revelation is talking about a time when Jesus will call his saints together for a battle, please note that this is in the future. If Jesus shows up on a white horse and calls you into battle at the end of time, I’m not going to stand in your way. But that doesn’t change how we are to live now. Our orders are to be people of peace until further notice.

Finally, what about that whole “sell your coat and buy a sword” thing, Jesus?

Luke 22:35-38 

35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That’s enough!” he replied.

First we need a little context. In Luke chapter 10, Jesus sends out his disciples to do some ministry, and he sends them without money or possessions. At that stage, people were excited about Jesus’s ministry, and his disciples were met with open arms and a warm place to sleep. Things have changed a bit by Luke 22. The world has turned on Jesus and on his disciples. They cannot count on the kindness of others to care for them. Now the world sees them as a part of the problem, as sinners. You might say that the people counted Jesus and his disciples among the transgressors.

No, who would use language like that? That’s Old Testament kind of language. Exactly! That comes from one of the Suffering Servant passages from the book of Isaiah, which most Christians believe refer to Jesus. Isaiah 53:12 says, “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Jesus was quoting from Isaiah 53; therefore, by instructing his disciples to buy swords, he was fulfilling the scripture about being counted among the transgressors. And the word Jesus uses that is translated as sword can be understood to be a dagger, like a thief might carry.

There is also a theory that Jesus is suggesting that they carry a sword because, while they were welcomed into homes before, now they will have to fend for themselves, which might mean killing and slaughtering their own food.

A final interpretation is that Jesus is using the term “sword” metaphorically, and the disciples interpret it as literal. So when he says, “That’s enough,” he wasn’t saying that is sufficient, but more along the lines of “Enough of this!”

Which is correct? I lean toward the fulfillment of prophecy. What I don’t find convincing is when people say that Jesus was allowing violence when he told the disciples to buy a sword, because when the disciples say, “See, we have two swords,” Jesus says, “That’s enough.”

If Jesus is really encouraging violence, two swords isn’t enough. In the violent scenario, Jesus would be leading his followers against the entire Roman army. Two swords would not be enough! I’d think they would want to have at least 12 so they could each have their own! And in that same chapter, when Peter does use a sword against the guard, Jesus rebukes him. The same chapter, the same night! I find the other explanations easier to accept than the violent explanation.

My friends, I know that these teachings are challenging. But when we look at them in context and use a little bit of reason and logic, it isn’t hard to read them in a way that differs from the violent interpretations. Don’t let people get away with doing soundbite theology. Look at the context and ask what Jesus is really saying. And does it override Jesus’s clear teaching on enemy love and peacemaking?

I’m under no illusion that everyone will agree with me and come out at the same place as I do. All along I’ve been simply asking that we take the teachings of Jesus seriously. Let’s flip the script. When international relations are strained, let’s start by asking how we can peacefully resolve things rather than having war be our first option. When we are threatened, let us think of creative ways to expose evil instead of slipping into the “kill or be killed” mentality.

We are followers of Jesus Christ. And yes, he calls us to do some challenging things. But through the grace of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can be peacemakers. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

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Using our Talents Well

Matthew 25:14-30

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Today’s passage is one that has been interpreted over the years in many different ways. Such is often the case when we look at parables, especially as Jesus is often intentionally vague, calling his hearers to think more deeply about a subject. And I don’t think that it is wrong to get multiple teachings and applications from one single parable. However, just because multiple applications are acceptable, that doesn’t mean that all proposed applications are correct.

With parables it is always helpful to ask what the point is, what is Jesus trying to make clear to his hearers. Often times there are other actors and actions in a parable and we need to make sure not to take supporting information to formulate doctrine or theology.

A good example of this is found in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. In this parable, the rich man lives a life of luxury while ignoring the pleas of the poor man at his gate, Lazarus. But when they die, Lazarus is lifted to glory with Abraham, while the rich man experiences torment in Hades. The rich man looks to heaven and sees Lazarus there, and he talks to Abraham, asking him first to send Lazarus to place a drop of water on his tongue, then to warn the rich man’s family of what is to come.

From this parable we can see that there can be communication between heaven and Hades, and that there is a clear line of sight between the two. The rich man saw Lazarus, so why wouldn’t Lazarus be able to see the rich man? This observation seems to inform the theory held by many scholars, theologians, and church that one of the greatest joys Christians will have in heaven is watching the damned suffer in hell. Tertullian, Aquinas, Johnathan Edwards all wrote something along these lines. The great hymn writer, Isaac Watts, even wrote a song about it: “What bliss will fill the ransomed souls,/ when they in glory dwell,/ to see the sinner as he rolls,/ in quenchless flames of hell.”

(There are other passages that may be understood as depicting a window between heaven and earth. Exploring those passages and this concept is not the point of this illustration.)

Can people in heaven see people in hell, and does that cause them joy? I truly doubt that, but the point that I’m trying to make is that isn’t the point of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man! The point of that parable is that the rich man failed to follow God’s command to care for the poor, and he was punished for it. The rest is just there to make the story flow!

When we address the parable of the talents, I suggest we try not to make theological pronouncements based on tangential information. For instance, I would encourage everyone to not form your understanding of the first person of the Trinity based on the depiction of the angry master in this story. We cannot assume that Jesus is trying to tell us that God reaps where he did not sow and gathers where he has not scattered seeds. I’m not sure I even know what that means, but it sounds like the master is this this story is stealing the neighbor’s crop. I didn’t plant that corn, but it looks pretty good to me. Ralph won’t miss a few bushels.

            We can’t even say for sure that the master is meant to represent God. I would argue that it isn’t supposed to represent God, particularly because of the way this parable begins in verse 14: “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.”

What journey did God go on? I thought that God was omnipresent, always with us. And I don’t think God steals other’s crops, which is why I don’t think the master is supposed to represent Jesus, either. The identity of the master isn’t the point at all. We need to ask again, What is the point of this parable?

Peak again at verse 14, where Jesus says, “Again, it will be like…” The word “again” suggests that this is a continuation of a previous thought. What is the “it?” If we go to the beginning of this chapter, Jesus tells us. “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this.” If we go back further, we find that our passage is a part of Jesus’s critique of the religious system of his day. Several chapters all occur in the period of one day, including Jesus cleansing the temple, and his eight woes, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” And depending what camp you find yourself in, Jesus either talks about the end times or the destruction of the temple, which occurred in 70 AD. There is a critique of the religious system, and a warning that it is all coming to an end.

The first 13 verses of our chapter for today tell the parable of the ten virgins, which calls for believers to be ready. But the parable of the ten virgins doesn’t say how to be ready. The next two stories do. Each successive parable further illustrates what it means to “be ready.” Immediately after our text is the story of the separation of the sheep and the goats, where those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, offer drink to the thirsty, take care of the sick, and visit the incarcerated are rewarded, while those who neglect them are punished.

Recap all that: Jesus is critical of the religious system. He warns his hearers to be ready, to always be prepared. At the end, it is those who care for the “least of these” who are rewarded. And sandwiched in there is a parable about our talents.

Bible scholar, NT Wright, says that the parable of the talents is meant to be a critique of the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus depicts the religious leaders as the unfaithful stewards of what God had given them. They were the leaders of God’s chosen people, and they had taken what they had been given as a gift, a blessing from God, and buried it in the ground. In doing so, they preserved the gift, but they failed to expand, grow, and develop their status as a blessed people. The were blessed to be a blessing, and they buried it in the ground.

Let’s break this parable down and see how it could apply to us today.

The NIV does something weird with this passage. I understand why they do it, and on some days, I would agree with this translation. Other days I wouldn’t. The NIV translates the Greek word talenton as “bags of gold.” The idea here is that the master places a large sum of money in the hands of his servants. Our modern understanding of the word “talent” doesn’t really capture that meaning. When I think of a talent, I think of gifts or abilities. Someone might be a really good juggler, singer, or magician. That’s a talent. And we get our English word talent from the Greek word talenton.

Is Jesus speaking about money or talents, in our traditional, English way of understanding talents? I think both. Both these things can be gifts from God, and they are entrusted to us to use appropriately for God’s kingdom. Though Jesus is speaking metaphorically of something other than money, I think we can apply this text to anything we have been asked to steward.

A talent in Jesus’s day was a measurement of weight, like ounce, kilogram, or pound. And it was a pretty large weight, approximately equivalent to 75 US pounds. Usually, when a talent was described as a unit for money, it was a reference to 75 pounds of either gold or silver. Which material it is makes a big difference in the value of the talent.

So which is Jesus referring to in this passage? We don’t know, but the exact value isn’t really important. The point is that it is a lot. 75 pounds of silver may not be as valuable as 75 pounds of gold, but I wouldn’t turn my nose up to it and walk away! Regardless of the material, a single talent was probably more than any of these servants had ever seen at one time in their life. Estimates put the value of a talent around 15 years of wages.

The master gives one servant five talents, another two, and a third servant receives one talent. The first two were able to double the investment, and wouldn’t it be great if Jesus told us how! But that’s not the point. The focus is on the one who buried his talent to keep it safe.

He had been entrusted with something very valuable, and he hid it to keep it safe. He was afraid, but we aren’t told exactly what he was afraid of, other than he was afraid of the Master. Was he afraid he might lose it and get in trouble? Or was he afraid that he would invest it and the market would tank? We don’t know. All we know is that he played it safe and did nothing but hide the talent.

And this is what truly angered the master. The master was angry that the servant did nothing with the talent that he had been entrusted with.

One thing we can see in this passage is that talents are not always equally distributed. I don’t think I need to explain this to you as you have probably figured this out. It doesn’t take long until we realize that some people are simply more gifted than others. I have a pastor friend who is always sharing online about his various athletic endeavors. He is playing flag football in this league, softball in this league, and leading his basketball team to the church league championship. I’ll also admit that he is a better communicator than I am. What’s with all the double dipping into the talent pool, bro?

My next-door neighbors are professional musicians, and when someone yells “Play Freebird,” they can do it on the fly (pun intended). You want to hear something awesome, listen to a clarinet/violin duet of Freebird. I’m not sure I could play anything resembling a note on either of those instruments. I’m pretty good at playing chopsticks on the piano, and most times I can peck out Mary had a Little Lamb at a level where you can recognize the tune.

Talents are not evenly distributed in our parable for this morning, and they are clearly not evenly distributed in our world today. And it is really easy to get bummed out by this. But notice in the parable, everyone received something. Everyone has a talent. No, they are not equally distributed, but you have a talent, and so do I. But every talent is valuable. I think that is why Jesus uses such a valuable quantity of money in this parable. While what you or I have been given might not seem like much when we compare to others, we must recognize that value is still great in God’s kingdom.

But here’s the challenge. When we start comparing our talents to others we can get pretty jealous, maybe even a bit embarrassed. We can, like the wicked servant, become afraid. And when we become afraid, we bury our talents. At least it will be safe here.

The second point that I want to lift out of our text this morning is that this gift isn’t for you.

Over a decade ago, my family gathered at my parents’ home on Christmas morning, as we do each holiday season. And like most families, we exchange gifts on Christmas. I recall this specific Christmas and one specific gift. It looked like any other small box with my name on it. But when I tore into the wrapping paper, I was surprised to see a nice, leather wallet. This surprised me because I already had a nice, leather wallet. What surprised me even further was my mother’s response. She turned to me as I held the wallet in my hand and asked, “Is it the right one?”

Not knowing what was going on, and not wanting to be rude, I replied, “Yes, it is.”

I found out later that about one month earlier, my mother and my younger brother had traversed the aisles of Wal-Mart in search of a new wallet for him to replace his well-worn wallet. It turns out that the wallet that my mother had given me was intended for my brother. It was my gift, but it wasn’t for me.

That wallet continues to serve me well.

That’s what you call a “negative object lesson.” That’s what not to do.

The servants were given talents from the master, and when the faithful servants doubled their talents, they recognized that it still wasn’t theirs. Even the wicked servant knows that the talent belongs to the master and says, “Here, you have what is yours” (verse 25b).

James 1:17a says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” 1 Peter 4:10-11 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

The parable of the talents seems to be a critique of the Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day. These were inheritors of the blessing God gave to Abraham, and they have buried that gift. Maintaining it, for sure. But the blessing God gave to Abraham was meant for the world. The gift wasn’t meant to be kept exclusively for their selves.

We have received gifts, we have received talents, and we have received blessings. The parable of the talents asks us, How are we using those talents for God’s kingdom?

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But what about…?

John 2:13-17

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

I want to start with a simple question: Is the Bible a nonviolent book? The answer is no. Throughout the Old Testament we find story after story of Israel rising up against other nations and killing off thousands of people. What is even more challenging is that there are times when God calls for the violence, even going so far as calling for what the Bible calls “Herem warfare.” Herem warfare is the complete annihilation of a people group, including men, women, children, and livestock. “Herem” is often translated as “totally wipe out,” as it is in Numbers 21, when Israel it told to “totally wipe out” the Canaanites.

Is the Bible nonviolent? Nope. And there are many more examples of God not only allowing violence to occur, but actually commanding it. And Malachi 3:6a reminds us, in no uncertain terms, “I the Lord do not change.”

In fancy Bible talk, we call that the “immutability of God.” Immutability does not mean that you cannot silence God, like you mute a television, but that God does not mutate. God does not change. Furthermore, we Christians believe that Jesus is the full manifestation of God, a member of the Trinity, God in the flesh. And Hebrews 13:8 teaches us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

So God does not change, Jesus does not change, and the Old Testament clearly speaks of God instructing the Israelites to kill their enemies and to put people to death for committing certain crimes. Is the Bible nonviolent? No, but Jesus is. So how do we reconcile an Old Testament, which is at times violent, with Jesus, who seems to teach and practice nonviolence?

This is just the first of a few concerns I wish to address this morning as we follow up last week’s sermon on Christocentric nonviolence by asking, “But what about…?” But what about the Old Testament? But what about Hitler? But what about __ NT teaching? But what about serving one another? We can’t address all of these questions in depth, but I hope to at least orient you to how I think about these questions. Let’s start with the Old Testament.

The first thing that I would say is that I do not find it inconsistent to say that while God does not change, the things that God expects of his people does. I sometimes speak of a progressive ethic in the Bible. God meets people where they are and moves them toward where he wants them to be. God clearly allows polygamy in the Old Testament, but by the closing of the New Testament, we learn that at least certain leaders in the church are called to monogamy. The Old Testament teaches the Lex Talionis, equal retribution for an offense. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Then Jesus comes along and says in Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

This is just one of the six antitheses of Jesus found in Matthew chapter 5, which follow the pattern of “you have heard it said…, but I say unto you…” This does not mean that God has changed, but it does mean that what is expected of God’s people has changed.

I don’t want to say that everything has changed with the coming of Jesus, but a lot has. When was the last time you slaughtered a goat upon the altar for your sins? When did you last kill someone who committed adultery? According to the Old Testament, you can be put to death for breaking the sabbath and for marrying one’s mother-in-law. Children who disobey their parents are to taken to the town gate and stoned until dead (Deut. 21:21).

God does not change, Jesus does not change. But what is expected of the people of God has changed, and I’m glad for that.

However, that isn’t to suggest that things will continue to change. We are told in scripture that Jesus is the fullest and clearest revelation of who God is. So while we may have had peeks or glimpses of who God is along the way, now we see God clearly in Jesus. And Jesus is nonviolent.

The second objection to Christocentric nonviolence that I would like to address this morning is what I often call the binary objection. The binary objection always starts with some hypothetical situation, often one that is not likely to occur, and then forces you to choose between two options: take the life of the offender or do nothing. This often goes something like this: You’re nonviolent? A pacifist? What would you do if someone broke into your home and tried to rape your wife or kill your family? Are you telling me that you would sit there and do nothing? Or, But what would you do if you had a chance to take out Hitler?

The binary options are to sit there and do nothing or take the offender’s life. There are many options in between, and I think it is helpful to think through these options. In the case of someone breaking into your home, what if rather than keeping a gun on hand you keep an airhorn? You could sound that airhorn, startle an invader, and alert neighbors. We sleep with a phone right beside our bed. I could dial 911 and make sure the intruder knew I called the police. I can do any number of things to draw the attention of my neighbors, of law enforcement agents, or to intimidate the offender, all without using violence.

Furthermore, there is no guarantee that if I did have a weapon that it would save my family. There is a really good chance that someone who broke into my home with a weapon is going to be more skilled at using it than I am. And if they saw me with a gun, they would probably think that they were in a kill or be killed situation.

Also remember that these situations are entirely hypothetical for most of us, and God willing, will remain hypothetical. None of us knows what we would do in a hypothetical situation until it actually happens. I think that we need to be trained in how to respond creatively and nonviolently in situations that may become violent so that we naturally respond in a Christ-like way.

The Hitler question is always a good one. But we can easily ask that question from a different perspective. Think about it this way. When I spoke on the separation of church/world/and state, I said that we have the responsibility to resist the government when they don’t act like Jesus. Now keep in mind that most people living in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party were Christians, either Lutherans or Catholics. It was Christians who enforced the laws of Hitler. It was Christians who rounded up the Jews and led them to Concentration Camps. It was Christians who executed around 6 million Jews.

So I understand the argument in favor of killing Hitler. But what if Christians had refused to fight for Hitler, we really wouldn’t need to be asking the question of whether or not we should fight against Hitler.

That doesn’t answer all of the questions, I know. And I’ll admit that this is the best argument against Christocentric nonviolence. Most people, Christian or secular, who read the teachings of Jesus will admit that Jesus commanded us to not use violence to defend ourselves. But what about others? As some have said, Jesus might have said to turn the other cheek, but he never said to offer your neighbor’s cheek.

There are also a fair number of times when Jesus or the NT writers say something that could be understood as promoting violence or at least not arguing against it. For instance, our scripture for this morning is John’s account of the cleansing of the temple. Jesus enters the temple, around the time of the Passover feast. Jews would have traveled to town from miles around because it was required that they attend this festival. But nobody wants to travel across multiple countries with sacrificial animals. (I don’t like to travel across the county with my children, so I get this.) They are going to buy their sacrifices when they get there.

When they get there, all the prices are jacked up, like merchandise at a Harry Potter Festival (Stauntonians know what I’m talking about). But what option do these travelers have? They need to make their sacrifices, so they pay the jacked-up prices. For a Harry Potter Festival, we call that business, we call that capitalism. But in the temple, Jesus called it robbery. So we read in verse 15, “So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”

Ah, proof that Jesus used violence! He used a weapon! But who does the text say Jesus drove out with the whip? “Both the sheep and cattle.” And if you have ever seen cowboys rounding up cattle, they don’t actually hit the animals with the whip. It is the sound, the crack of the whip, that startles the animal and makes them move. It is true that this text can be read differently, but which seems more consistent with everything else that Jesus said and did?

I’m sure there are more than what I’ve listed here, but these are some of the most common passages from the NT that some claim prove that Jesus was not nonviolent. I simply don’t have enough time to address each of these passages, but if enough people want, I can address these in a future sermon. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1: Peter, John the Baptist, and Jesus himself all addressed members of the Roman army, yet they didn’t tell them to leave the army.

2. Jesus says in Matthew 10:34, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

3. In Luke 22:36; 38 Jesus says, “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one… The disciples said, ‘See, Lord, here are two swords.’ ‘That’s enough!’ he replied.’”

4. The violence of Revelation.

 

Though I don’t have time to address each of these now, if this is of interest to you, a simple Google search of this passage with the words “nonviolent reading” will help you understand what’s going on. And often, like the story about the whip, it is pretty easy to understand these passages from a nonviolent perspective. I offer you these passages because I’m not trying to hide anything. I want you to make informed choices in matters of faith and life. But I know that this issue, along with many other teachings of the church will always be confusing. Anyone here have the Trinity figured out yet? But while these nonviolent teachings are still confusing, I would invite you to ask if there is really enough evidence to override all of the clear teachings from Jesus on loving our enemies.

The last argument against nonviolence that I want to highlight this morning usually goes something like this: You pacifists just don’t want to get your hands dirty. You don’t love our country enough to defend it.

Here’s the thing, if you aren’t willing to do anything to make the world around you better, then that argument is right on target. But we also have a history of people doing something.

In 1984, Ron Sider, a professor and writer of such books as Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, challenged the gathered body of believers at the international Mennonite World Conference to die by the thousands. He praised those who were willing to die in war defending what they believed in and called for nonviolent Christians to enter into the most dangerous parts of the world to work for peace. He writes, “Unless we…are ready to start to die by the thousands in dramatic vigorous new exploits for peace and justice, we should sadly confess that we really never meant what we said.”

Out of this sermon was birthed what we know today as Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Sometimes serving our country means most dangerous parts of the world, but we can serve others right here in our neighborhood as well.

I am amazed by the stories of conscientious objectors, especially during World War II and the Vietnam War. One story was made popular by Mel Gibson in the 2016 film, Hacksaw Ridge. Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Desmond Doss, a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church, who became a conscientious objector and made the decision that he could not fight in what we now call World War II. Doss differed from our traditional Mennonite teaching in that he believed it was okay for him to enlist in the Army, as long as he did not have to carry a weapon. He was permitted to do so as an Army medic, a position where he brought healing, not death.

The chronicles well the torment and hazing that Doss experienced from other soldiers. But when they went to war, Doss was depicted as the hero. Doss was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor, being credited for saving 75 injured soldiers. According to the movie, some of those he saved were the very ones who hazed him for not carrying a gun.

Doss didn’t “do nothing” in the face of danger or war. He did what his conscious would allow. But we don’t need to go so far away as Okinawa for stories of conscientious objectors making the world a more beautiful place.

Many in our congregation enjoy the outdoors. On a beautiful fall day like today, it is great to drive up to the Blue Ridge Parkway or Skyline Drive and take in the beauty of God’s creation. Many of us have hiked and camped at Sherando Lake, where we even had a baptism service three years ago. If you have ever driven Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or been to Sherando Lake, you have enjoyed to fruits of the labor provided by Conscientious Objectors. In 1942 the Lyndhurst, Virginia, Civilian Public Service Camp opened. This camp was operated by the Church of the Brethren, another Historical Peace Church, though six different denominations were represented there. According to records, there were about 60 active conscientious objectors in the camp, and their work is described in the summary as such: “Men graded and seeded road banks to prevent erosion and deterioration.  They also cleared brush and constructed rail and stone fences.”

Many men were assigned to work in hospitals and mental health facilities. When I shared with an older pastor in Ohio that I was serving as pastor in Staunton, VA, he said, “Oh, I know Staunton. That’s where the Staunton Lunatic Asylum is.”

I said, “Yes, we don’t call it that anymore. But yes.” He knew about Western State because there were Mennonites doing alternative service right here in town during WWII.

There were camps around the country where men chose to serve their country by working in the areas of wildlife preservation and forestry, in agriculture, and in hospitals. And the program was refined and improved through the Vietnam. Some people in our congregation received 1-W status as conscientious objectors during this time and served in various capacities.

And do you know who paid for these men to be in CPS camps and to work in alternative service? It was funded by the church.

In my opinion, those of us who refuse to take up weapons need to do a better job of taking up the shovel, or taking up the bedpan. Whether in an official capacity, or privately, I think we all are called to do something to make this world a better place. For those who are convicted by the peace teachings of Jesus, that won’t mean going to war. But it may include volunteering in a hospital or in the National Park. It may mean picking up litter or teaching underserved children how to read. Pacifism does not mean being passive. Nonviolence does not mean being noninvolved.

I believe in nonviolence. I believe that Jesus taught and lived nonviolence. Nonviolence is the official position of the Mennonite Church. One of the things I want us to do is to move past binary thinking on this matter, as if the only two choices are to take someone’s life or to do nothing. I think Jesus shows us to think creatively and expose the evil around us. Or, as theologian Walter Wink writes, “Jesus is not telling us to submit to evil, but to refuse to oppose it on its own terms. We are not to let the opponent dictate the methods of our opposition. [Jesus] is urging us to transcend both passivity and violence by finding a third way, one that is at once assertive and yet nonviolent.”

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