Saturday, December 5, 2009

Which War is Sin?

Which War is Sin?

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? 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. 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."

"What should we do then?" the crowd asked.

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

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

"Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?"
He replied, "Don't shake people down for money and don't accuse them falsely—be content with your pay."

This week, Cordelia and I went to see A Christmas Carole at the Alhambra Dinner Theater. The Theater closed in October, but was bought by an investor. They stripped the place, cleaned it, got new cooks, and they are off and running.

I tell you, we had a great time. After the play, all Delia could talk about was how she wanted to act in a play and how wonderful the show and the fish was. She really liked the fish.

Delia even got to be on stage at the very end, after Scrooge had undergone his transformation. He apologized for despising all children. Delia said it was okay. She forgave him.

In 1934, the Church of the Brethren accepted the following statement at Annual Conference: all war is sin. We, therefore, cannot encourage, engage in, or willingly profit from armed conflict at home, or abroad. We cannot, in the event of war, accept military service or support the military machine in any capacity.

Seven years later 80% of those Brethren drafted joined the military and fought in World War II. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:34 not to worry about tomorrow. Likewise He tells us in Matthew 8:22 to let the dead bury the dead – I’m not interested in debating the morality of World War II. Church is not a history lesson but a place for a discussion of now.

In the poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the very Ancient Mariner shoots an albatross in the middle of an ocean voyage. Albatross were tokens of good luck, sacred, in a way, to sailors. Shooting one was a grave sin. In fact, it resulted in the death of all aboard the ship, save the Mariner, who had to wear the Albatross, hung like a leaden cross, around his neck.

We are warned by Jesus of a similar punishment for a certain action. He tells us, in both Mark 9 and Matthew 18, that being a stumbling block for a child who believes in him is a sin – that it would be better to have a millstone hung about your neck & be cast into the ocean – that is, to be drowned.

If we look at an earlier place in Mark 9, Jesus tells us to welcome children – and that welcoming children not only greets Jesus but the Father as well. I spoke about that last month, that Jesus equates children with himself and with God. Certainly an appropriate thing to remember at Christmas.

What, though, does this have to do with war? Or indeed with today’s passage from Luke?

It is the traditional belief of the Church of the Brethren that all war is sin. Indeed, there have even been proscriptions against military and governmental service. This would seem to go against Jesus’ recognition of the Centurion in Matthew 8 as a man of great faith and John’s instructions to the soldiers in today’s passage. Neither of them say: “quit the Roman army.” Instead, John says “don’t extort money with violence or threats” – that is, “behave correctly.”

So, for those of you of military age or past military service, if you can or could behave correctly and have great faith, I commend you.

Let’s think for a moment, however, about that Theater.

Theater has often had a shaky relationship with the Church. After the Puritans took over following the English Civil War, the Theater was banned as immoral. Movies and plays are often protested by this church group or that, often with people crying “won’t someone think of the children?” Perhaps you feel the same way, that Hollywood is insidiously invading our homes and warping the minds of our children, crushing and destroying them and you get your friends together at dusk, whip them up into a rage and go burn that theater down

that has me and my daughter in it as we are watching a play about Christmas. Or maybe another parent and child – perhaps watching a terrible, unholy play. Maybe that parent is even a very bad person. And those actors and that director really did want to warp the minds of everyone they could – maybe they even wanted to kill them.

What would you have accomplished in the end by your acts but the murder of a child? How would you feel, seeing that little, broken body?

What if it were not you burning down that theater but your neighbor? How would you feel?

What if that theater were not a playhouse but a theater of war?

I know. We shy away from current political events. We’ve even got justification, as Brethren, for doing this. The Church, in its traditional stance of separatist nonviolence “has a passive interest only in the activities of state and makes no effort to influence diplomacy.” Heck, for a long time, our members didn’t even vote.

But today, today I fear we, as citizens of the United States of America who are more importantly citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven are in grave danger. I believe we have a millstone around our necks. And that millstone is Afghanistan.

You may have heard a term “collateral damage.” This is a 6-syllable word that means “dead children.” Oh, sometimes it also means “dead grown-up,” but what I’m concerned about – what Jesus tells us God is concerned about – are those dead children. How can they come to know the peace of Jesus and the love of God if we are paying to have bombs dropped on them?

How can we balance the safety of our troops, who willingly join to the service of the State, against the weight of a dead child?

Many of you may have voted for our current president in the hopes that he would end war. Some of you knew better. You knew, as the church of the Brethren once did, that “war is an inevitable and recurring evil so long as the heart of man is not at peace with God through the blood of His son.”

But here we have a leader who, far from creating peace, will send more troops and drop more bombs and kill more children who will never hear the good news that they are loved by God.

Brothers and sisters, we have to remove ourselves from this. We must make it clear that any method of war that involves “collateral damage” is unacceptable. But we must also understand that our actions are unlikely to change the behavior of nations – indeed, only God through Jesus can do that. So we must make it clear that we do not condone the murder of children and acknowledge that those murders are being carried out not only in our name but with our money and with our training.

I confess this is a hard message for me to give here, a relatively young member of the congregation, a fairly new member of the church. But when I was called to leadership, I knew that a great part of the call was to speak about how to live our lives each day for God. I’ve talked about what we are called to do regarding service and faith, but I think we’re all a bit afraid to talk about politics in our deeply divided society.

We know, of course, who the source of division is. Would that Satan got behind us all; would that we would crush him under our heels.

I had not intended for this to be my message today. I love the Christmas season. I was all geared up to talk about the coming of Jesus.

But Jesus, as Christmas reminds us, was first a child. And out of our love for Jesus, we should love and protect all children and speak out when they are in harm’s way, even if we are putting them there.

When we pray for our nation and our leaders, we shouldn’t pray in the hateful fashion of those who would abuse the 108th Psalm, but in the fashion of Tim Tebow, whose eyepatch verse, John 16:33, was especially poignant last night:

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

We should pray that our leaders remember that peace is in Christ Jesus, not in bombs and drones.

I say this because of a dream. If I despaired in delivering today’s message, I certainly resisted speaking about this. Thursday night, I had the most terrible dream I have ever had. I dreamt that I was in a house with another man. We had a one-year-old Cordelia with us. She was crying. We each shot her, but still she cried, so I had to shoot her one more time. Then her face was frozen with weeping. I threw her dead body on a heap of children. In my dream I wept when I knew what I had done. I woke paralyzed with pain and sorrow; the images from the dream are still fresh in my mind. Helpless I prayed to God: “please take these images from my mind.” To my dismay, I was answered clearly: I was given these dreams because I was doing the very same thing – I and every American was killing Afghan children. We were responsible for those deaths and God despised our actions.

I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even relax. I tried, believe me. Being a poet, I wrote a little poem in my head that made me feel better:

No peace,
No victory
is worth a murdered child.
We’ve got to stop the war today.

One weight lifted, but I was still restless. I could finally get out of bed, though. I went and cradled my sleeping daughters, overjoyed they were still alive. But the weight was not gone. I went downstairs and wrote of the dream in an email to a few friends I knew, both in real life and online, and felt I could finally sleep.

But I, nor you, can never rest. We are violating the law of God. We must all fervently pray for guidance, forgiveness, and peace. We must remember in our actions and our conversations that we are followers of Christ Jesus and children of the living God before we are anything else.

We must forgive ourselves, our leaders, our enemies, and our soldiers. We must pray for peace.

Pray with me:

God, we sin in so many ways,
but you find a way to forgive us.
Forgive us now,
wash us with your son’s blood
even removing the blood of daughters and sons
murdered in our name.
We pray that we may do your will
and that we may be instruments not of war
but of peace.
Pray for our leaders and the leaders of the world
over whom you hold dominion
that they may seek to create order
through peace and bravery,
not war and cowardice.
Show us your way, Lord,
and give us the strength to obey.

No comments: