Friday, September 30, 2011

Is God Hear With Us or Not?, First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

Is God Here with Us, or Not?
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY 9/25/2011
Based on Exodus 17:1-7 & Matthew 21:23-32

There are two basic concepts that I see being brought out in this morning’s Lection reading: the first deals with the topic of “trust” as used under the umbrella of faith; the second is “authority”, also under the umbrella of faith.
As I process the readings that are selected each week by the Common Lectionary, I quickly come up with a title for what I am going to speak about, and I use this title as the theme for what I reflect to you each Sunday. I usually come up with the title of the message by Tuesday so that Danielle will have it as she prepares the bulletin each week. The title of this reflection is “Is God Here with Us, or Not?” Little did I realize just how many times I would actually be asking myself this question throughout the week. I am not sure how much teaching will come in this week’s reflection as the focus will tend to share more reflections on how the week has progressed.
There are weeks when our lives are just floating along with very little trial and tribulation. Louise Wesswick was sharing with me yesterday about how she has spent a good share of this week in “heaven”, so to speak, through the opportunities of attending three differing events that lifted her spirit beyond her normal weekly activities. When these come, we need to make sure that we savor those times and give thanks for them. These are what are referred to as “Mountain top” experiences. There are however times in our lives when we are not having “heaven” in our experiences, but rather like the Israelites in today’s story have feelings of isolation, possibly a sense if abandonment, or in the midst of great suffering and loss find ourselves asking the question, “Is God Here with Us, or Not?”
When I received word that our church secretary, Danielle Valdez was not going to be able to carry her baby to full term and that her little girl will die upon delivery, I began the process of asking God “why” was this happening to her and Rolando? I was feeling pain for her, as it took me back to a time of the first pregnancy of my wife and I, and the miscarriage that occurred a few weeks after I had become use to the idea of becoming a father. I remember how angry I was with God, and wondering how God could let this happen to the person that I love. Are you here God with us or not?
This past Thursday and Friday, I was in Cody attending the Annual Meeting of the Wyoming Association of Churches. On Thursday afternoon we as a group visited the Museum of the Heart Mountain Interment camp. Personally, I have always had issues with how we as a nation handled our Japanese citizens at the beginning of WWII, but I had no idea of how much anger was inside of me about unjust acts, in general, until I began this tour. If you ever pride yourselves on being an American and that your rights as stated in the Bill of Rights will protect you, go up to this museum and let it challenge that trust in our government and nation as a whole. There were over 110,000 people rounded up from their homes, put behind barbed wire fences for three year plus, most of them second and third generation native born citizens, denied due process of law, because of panic and fear created by the attack of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese government. Where was God during this time of their life’s?
In the story of the Israelites, you have a group of people who have become free after generations of being enslaved by the Egyptians. Moses was called by God to become the person who was to speak to Pharaoh for the Israelites. Moses was the one called by God to give them courage and direction to leave the land of Egypt and move back into a land that God had waiting for them. A staff was given to Moses as a symbol of the authority give to Moses by God. It was through the staff that Moses confronted Pharaoh, it was through the staff that Moses was able to part the waters of the Great Sea. There was a cloud by day that protected them and a pillar of fire by night; when they were hungry and had nothing to eat, God gave them manna in the morning and quail in the evening to feed them.
With all these great events that showed the Israelites that God was in their presence, walking along side them, we read once again of how they cry out in despair for water, not remembering how God had set them free. They had forgotten the manna and the quail, that God gave them to eat. They had forgotten how they crossed the sea in safety as the waters parted. When they found themselves without water, they panicked and began to look for a scape goat through Moses, the man whom God had chosen to lead them, and asked, “Is God here with us, or not?”
We haven’t progressed that much from this story. When something goes wrong in our lives, we instinctively look for something or someone to blame our troubles on, forgetting all the blessing that we have received from God in the past, forgetting to remember that even during times of trial, of hurt, lose, and pain, that God is here along side of us, walking each step of the way, even holding us at times when it seems too much to bare.
So, all this discussion has come from Thursday afternoons visit to the Heart Mountain Museum in Cody. Yesterday, Saturday, I again was asking, “Is God here with us, or not?” at the ordination of Martha Atkins, the pastor of Mount of Olives Lutheran Church. In that celebration, it was easy to see God’s presence, as Martha received her ordination, her “authority” to become a called clergy. She had to go through a long process of schooling, of writing papers, of being questioned and interviewed by those who have previously been given authority to make sure that she truly is being called of God into the vocation of ministry.
In some respects, for those of us who have gone through this process, it is easy for us to point to where our authority comes from when asked by someone, “Who gave you the right to stand up there and tell everybody how to live their lives?” “Well, beside the fact that I received a call from God, I have a diploma from a seminary that says I have earned the right, and not only that, but I have had to sit in front of a large group of people, who questioned me about what I have learned, of what I would do in this instance or that instance, I have had people lay their hands on my head and bless me to do the work of the church, that is where my authority comes from.”
Jesus didn’t have it quite so easy. He didn’t go through the accredit schools, he certainly didn’t have the support of the Pharisees or other temple priests. He didn’t have a staff like Moses, in which he could wave in front of everyone and show that God gave him the authority. Jesus had been baptized by the prophet John to do ministry. He had a healing ministry to show his authority, he was able to help people leave a life filled with sin or of being possessed by demons and become a whole person again. When questioned about situations, he spoke answers that brought truth about God and the things God desires most for us.
In the parable that Jesus presented to the Pharisees in support of his actions, he asked which son was the “good son?” Of course, the one who did what his father had asked. What Jesus was telling the Pharisees, as well as us, is lip service isn’t what being a good child of God is about. Rather it is in the actions of what we do, that are pleasing to God. When we sit silently and watch injustices being done, or even being spoken, we are no better than the son who said yes and never did anything.
We can grumble and kick our heals all we want when we are challenged with what God is asking. We can even say “No”, but eventually if we want to be the people that God is asking of us to be, then we will have to open our hearts to listening and then incorporate what the Holy Spirit teaches us. Fear and panic is not the life of Gods people. Oh we may cry out “Is God here with us or not” but the fact that we are crying out to God, means that we trust God to hear us, not only in our pain, but also in our joys. Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Assumptions are Planned Resentments, First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY 9/18/2011

Assumptions are Planned Resentments
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY 9/18/2011
Based on Matthew 20:1-16

This past week, I read an article in the Christian Century titled, “Why sermons bore us.” It seems that for centuries, sermons have not held to the expectations of those who come to listen to them. The question then becomes, “why do we still insist on having the sermon as the focal point of the Worship experience?” The author of this article presents this observation: We joke about boring sermons, but often it is we who are boring – and bored. We say that sermons have bored us when actually they have disappointed us, failing to be the alternative word we need, failing to be the speech that arises not from our own meager entertainments but from the life of the Spirit. “We are bored, when we don’t know what we are waiting for.” One thing we are waiting for is for preachers who feel the strong wind, who sense the heights above them and the abyss below and take a deep breath and preach a life-changing gospel. Christian Century, Sept 6, 2011 pg31
This quote implies that for those of us who site on the far side of the pulpit assume that the responsibility of making scripture alive and exciting falls directly upon the person who is on this side of the pulpit. I would have to agree that in reality, this statement is true, but I have deep concers as to the health of a congregation where this is true. For a number of decades, the church in this country has structured itself as hiring the leadership and allowing the work of the church to lie upon those hired. If the church is growing, then it seems like a good thing, but if the church isn’t growing, then the poor performance report fall on the shoulders of those hired and does not include any responsibility on the part of the congregation. Another way to look at this, would be observing a congregation that has grown because of the pulpit skills of the pastor, a pastor who has exciting sermons, yet when that pastor leaves, the church suffers a great loss in attendance. This happens because the concept of “lay-ministry” did not take root during the time of the strong pulpit.
While hearing about the scripture might be boring, when it comes to reading scripture, I cannot believe that anyone would find what they read boring! Each week as I read and contemplate the suggested Lectionary readings, I am not only challenged with by what I read and of its meanings, for me, or for this church, or for the larger community of Rock Springs, but I find an excitement that comes through these stories. There is always something challenging to me, as well as ever changing, in finding something new in a well read parable. The point being, it is in the action of personally reading, the action of personally studying the scripture that makes it exciting. When we are not actively engaged, then we can become bored in what we hear.
As assumptions of what a sermon is supposed to do in order not to be disappointing or boring, assumptions can also lead to resentments, very much like what we have read about this morning. This morning’s parable about the “workers in the field” is another parable that assaults our 21st century sensibilities.
Here we see a landlord, hiring workers to work in his field; an agreed wage is set with those first workers and they go out and start working their little hearts out. Periodically during the day, the landlord see’s others who need work and also invites them into the labor force; here we do not see a discussion upon wages being agreed upon, it seems that just the opportunity to work is enough. Then at the last hour of work, those who are still unemployed are also invited into the field to work. Everybody seems to be happy until it comes time to receive their wages for their work. Those who worked only for the last hour were paid first, in front of those who had worked all day long. Seeing those who worked only an hour receiving a wage equal to what they had agreed upon by those who hired on in the morning, lead them to believe that they would receive a greater amount than what had previously been discussed. When they receive the agreed upon amount of wages, which was the same as those who had worked only an hour of the day, they became very resentful and were quite angry with the landlord for treating those last workers as equal to them.
Of course we cannot look at this parable as a literal understanding of employer/employee relationships. First off, this is a parable, which by definition means “a story” not meant to be factual, but rather to reveal a truism. Secondly, if we were to take this story as factual, we would simply have to not deal with it, because it goes against all of our understanding about how economics works both as an employer and as the employed.
The meaning them of course points to the understanding of how God treats each person; it is a story of who gets “in” and an implication that no one is left out. This is where we start to have problems with what Jesus is sharing with us. My former mother-in-law use to say to me, “you know, most of us Christians are going to be very surprised at who we will see in heaven!” That is the cruxes of this story. This parable relates closely with the story about the Prodigal Son, where the older brother who stays home and works, resents the generosity of his father. He resents his father, as well as his younger brother. Is this not a primary issue that we all must face?
As I visit with folks who no longer attend worship, anywhere, the overall theme that I hear come from “being disappointed” by either the pastor, or by the behavior of someone in the congregation, or of the members as a whole. Assumptions are planned resentments! When we assume something and when that assumption isn’t fulfilled in the manner that is expected, then resentment occurs. There seems to be an assumption that every pastor is “Omnipresent”, that is, when a person becomes ordained into ministry that they somehow become all knowing about what is going on in every person’s life. “Well, the pastor never came up to the hospital to visit me when I was sick.” “The pastor never came and visited with me when I really needed her, while going through my divorce.” Most of the time, the poor pastor wasn’t even aware of the hospitalization; same way about the private things going on in the life of each person in the congregation.
In this parable, the workers first hired to work, forget by the end of the day, that they too started out unemployed and become envious of those who were employed later in the day when they receive the same amount of wages. Instead of being thankful for the opportunity to work, envy becomes the focus. Do we find ourselves at times like those workers who were first hired, of being envious of another’s generosity, or gifts, of another’s talents, or abilities, possessions, social status and so on?
Over the past few weeks I have been presenting the Gospel, I hope in a true form that speaks to the forgiveness of God to all peoples, of the hope and gift of life eternal, because of the cross which Jesus died upon, a forgiveness of all people’s sins. Tonight 6 p.m., we start a study of the book Rev Rob Bell published, “Love Wins”, which continues the discussion about assumptions of who gets into heaven and who doesn’t. This book address the basic issue that we within the church can fall prey to, that of feeling we deserve something more than everyone else, because we see ourselves as being entitled over others that we perceive less deserving.
One of the problems with resentments that come because of envy is that it diminishes our own gifts and talents and secretly robs others of theirs. It is God who is the giver of every good gift, whether it is ours or someone else’s. The reality is that all of us benefit from gifts, whether it is a gift that we personally possess or whether it is a gift that someone else has. For when we allow these gifts to be presented, then everybody wins! Are we unable to celebrate another’s gift because we are not able to celebrate the gift that we have received? How often are we ungrateful for God’s graciousness and mercy? How often do we deny God’s love and forgiveness not in the life’s of others, but in our own life?
This is a hard parable to accept, because it goes against our humanness in the way that we have been conditioned in our society of economics and of competition that “capitalism” is based upon. We easily can fall into the trap of thinking that some of us are saved while others are not, solely because we feel entitled and view others as not being up to “our” standards. The other side of this coin is that we may feel that we are not worthy enough to deserve the gift and grace of God, which would keep us outside of the field and not enjoying the freedom to use the gifts that God has already given to us. This story is about the Love of God toward all of us! It is about how we are seen as equals in the eyes of God. Our challenge is to then look at each other and see what God see’s in each of us! Amen

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Word is Love, First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

The Word is Love
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY 9/4/2011
Based on Matthew 18:15-20 and Romans 14:8-14

Last week I closed the message with these following statements and questions:”As people who say we are followers of Christ, we need to look at our actions … and compare them to what Christ teaches and how Christ acted toward those who tried to do harm to him. “How do we not repay evil with evil? How do we reconcile, not taking revenge when wronged? How do we truly ‘bless’ those who persecute us?
The quest for the Christian is to define their life by the standards that Christ laid out within his ministry. The road to peace is far more difficult than the road to revenge. We are called to live in genuine love, to hate what is evil but to not address evil with evil. Finally, we are a people called to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer.” From sermon titled: Defining Your Life, by Rev Steven R Mitchell
This week’s lectionary text continues this discussion of “How do we act when wronged?” Matthew brings this point down to conflict within the church when it occurs between two individuals. It states, “15-16"If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you've made a friend.” Matthew then says if that person doesn’t respond, then you are suppose to again approach this person but this time with several other members of the church, so they can verify everything that is being said. This way, you have witnesses and you don’t get into a public fight with the “He says, I say” arguments. Again, if the perpetrator isn’t mending their way, then you are to bring this church member before the whole body and if the offender still refuses to listen, then we are told: ” if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
I don’t know how this particular section of Matthew strikes you when you read it, but this last Monday when I was starting my preparation for today, terror struck my heart. Every church has struggled with members who seem to be willful in their actions, meaning that they feel that they are above the rest of the assembly. If it isn’t hard enough to try to deal with situations such as this, then it is compounded with that little caveat, “if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” In truth, this is the part of Matthew that I found very difficult to deal with. Many churches, if they practice church discipline take this section and use it as a club to try and beat into submission the person that is accused.
What I see in this reading is the potential abuse on the part of the larger church body. Many churches have read the segment that says, “To treat them like pagans or tax collectors” to mean, excommunicate this person who isn’t changing their behavior. When this direction from Matthew is taken, the church has created an adversarial environment which often can escalate into an explosive situation and more than the original two people find themselves entangled, creating many more victims from the original “wrong.” The truth of the matter is: any disciplinary action by the church should be redemptive, not punitive, in intent. Feasting on the Word, Mitchell G. Reddish
Excommunication and/or exclusion type of behavior is punitive action, not redemptive or an act of reconciliation.
If we take this same line of scripture and listen to how Eugene Peterson understands it in his translation of The Message, we read a differing approach: If he won't listen to the church, you'll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love. In other words, we are to continually be in fellowship with this type of person, showing a love and forgiveness that Jesus himself showed those who mistreated him. In Romans, Paul says it this way: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
Among the many things that Paul tells us which can rule our physical bodies, hate and need for revenge, are two of the most powerful feelings that we deal with as humans. We are just a week away from the 10th Anniversary when 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four passenger jets and brought down both towers of the World Trade Center, penetrated a section of the Pentagon and the fourth planed crashed in a field not reaching its objective because of the actions of the passengers. There has been a tremendous amount of programming on Television this past week on the topic. Some programs being aired focus in such a way as to promote a continuation of being a victim of these actions, and in essence allowing ourselves to be held hostage by the Al Qaeda. Other programs are presenting topics that focus on constructive actions that provide healing from this violence and the ability to move beyond being a victim toward providing space that allows for healing and hopes for a future that will promote peace. One of these ways is with the building of two fountains, one at the base of the North Tower, the other at the base of the South Tower, in a park setting, with the names of every person who lost their life that day.
This past Monday I attended a seminary/retreat in Colorado, which focused on how to diminish the destructive nature of “Them vs. Us”, specifically between the Muslim and Christian world, but this can be applied to any situation where we find ourselves in an adversarial situation, just like what Matthew is speaking to this morning. The key speaker was Dr Mirslov Volf, Professor of Theology at Yale’s School of Theology. Dr. Volf is one of our leading Theologians of the twenty-first century. Mirslov comes from a most interesting background. He is a Croatian, raised by a father who was a Pentecostal minister, in Serbia, had a Serbian nanny, all under the old Communist USSR. He spent most of his years during military service being interrogated because of his father’s profession, being seen as a potential enemy of the state.
Mirslov is a strong voice directed to the church, calling us to conduct ourselves as Christ has taught us in how to live. He spent much time discussing his involvement over the past decade in finding common ground within Christianity and Islam. He spoke about how the same miss-information about Christians is being feed to the Muslim world as we hear miss-information about Muslims in our country. I would also like to point out that, on Sept 11, 2001, Mirslov had just finished his concluding statements to a group of people in one of the conference rooms in the North Tower, when the first plane flew into the Trade Center. So when this man is talking about how anti-Muslim propaganda goes against our call by Christ to seek out peace, he is not just a professor who lives behind the doors in an Ivy tower, but was at ground zero that morning of the attacks, and what he shares with the wider Christian community should be listened to with much respect and reflection.
Coming back then to how I struggled with our lesson in Matthew, that of applying Matthews formula as solutions for discord within the community of faith, I already have shared that we are not suppose to approach these situations with censure and punitive intent. We are in fact told by Matthew to keep plugging away in love in relating to those who seem to create ill feelings. This of course can only truly be practiced when we, as Paul has put it, have put on the Lord Jesus Christ!
So the first step, as suggested by Mirslov, is to make ourselves open in order to provide the atmosphere that is needed for reconciliation. In Mirslov’s book, Exclusion and Embrace, he explains this concept with a simple illustration. 1) We must be able to embrace the other person. So the first act is that of “self-opening” our self, so that we are creating an invitation, an invitation that has created space for union. 2) There is waiting. We have created the invitation, but we must wait for the other person to respond to this invitation, by opening up our arms, there by becoming vulnerable and having the ability to embrace. Our hope is that they too will create space for this union, which means that they too also must open their arms in order to embrace each other. By forcing an embrace you have actually excluded that person, because you have not allowed that person to be their self. You might be hugging them but you are not embracing them. You have “assimilated” this person into your being, but by not allowing them to be their self, you have not “embraced” that person. 3) Once this person has chosen to enter into this “embrace” then we have the closing of the arms. It is affirming their presence as the other person also affirms being there. 4) Once we have had this embrace, we must open back up the arms to let the other person go back to being who they are. This allows for individuality to continue for both persons.
“Exclusion” is by nature the creative act that allows for individualism. It is the boundaries that I set up for myself, that allows me to be who I am and to exist within my space. This is the proper aspect of exclusion, of boundaries. However, we can create excluding acts when we violate a person’s boundaries. We can exclude a person when we assimilate them into our reality.
This is how I think we have to look at what Matthew is trying to teach us, in approaching conflict within the church body. We want to be able to create the space for union. We do not try to assimilate, because that is violating that person and there is no true union.. As Jesus told his disciples in last week’s text, “for what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but loses his life?” What happens to our soul is far more important than what happens to our bodies. As Paul tells us, “All the commandments, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
“How do we not repay evil with evil? How do we reconcile, not taking revenge when wronged? How do we truly ‘bless’ those who persecute us?” By loving our neighbor as Christ has loved us. As we stand at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ, we have to come to realize and then embrace the truth that Christ died for every sin that has been committed, he died for every sin that will be committed in the future. The sin of those 19 men, of 10 years ago has already been forgiven by God. Those sins that each of us do to one another, has been forgiven by God. Sin separates us from one another, so if that sin has been forgiven by God, then we as followers of Christ must create the invitation for reconciliation between one another. It means making no provisions for the flesh to gratify its desires (that of revenge or hate). The word is Love. Amen

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Defining Your Life, First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY 8/28/2011 by Rev Steven Mitchell

Defining Your Life
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY 8/28/2011
Based on Romans 12:9-21 and Matthew 16:21-28

Earl Nightingale, an early twentieth century motivational speaker often said, “People don’t plan to fail, they just simple fail to plan.” This is not true about the person of Jesus, as we read in this week’s lection reading of the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus had very intentional plans, in which he shared with his disciples about what his future was to be, as well as stating what the results would be of those plans. He said he must go to Jerusalem, where he will undergo great suffering at the hands of the religious leaders, and be killed. The result of these events would however allow him to rise from death. At this Peter, who just last week we learned had been given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, didn’t want to hear what Jesus was telling him and tried to sway Jesus into not taking this course of action. Jesus then calls Peter, “Satan”, telling Peter that he is a stumbling block to Jesus; for Peter was setting his mind not on divine things but on human things.
Many of us are much like Peter, wanting to have direction, but when given the plan, don’t like what we hear and resist following what has been presented. Congregations are very much like this. They hire a minister, expecting the minister to create plans that will help the congregation move out of the rut they have found themselves in. But when the pastor lays out the plan that he has been hired to do, and after explaining the costs both financially and physically this plan is going to require, the congregation begins to voice concerns much like Peter, say things like, “We can’t do that, that is too difficult, it is too much work and it is too expensive.” In essence they have hired a leader, but don’t wish to be lead, because they don’t like hearing what it takes to move from point A to point B.
Jesus then explained to his disciples, “If you want to become my followers, you have to deny yourselves and take up your cross and follow me. If you don’t, then you will lose what you want to accomplish. This “picking up my cross” might sound simple, but just what does it actually mean?
When I was a child, I exasperated my parents a great deal because I was always asking questions. When they would give me a task to do, I often followed up with the basic, “who, what, why, when, where, and how” questions. They perceived that I was being defiant when asking these question, which I really wasn’t. In general, I tried to please my parents, but in order for me to know that I was accomplishing what they wanted me to, I generally needed more information than what they would initially give me.
In Romans, Paul, gives us some very practical instruction as to the “what, where, why, who, when, and how” to Jesus’ remark about “picking up our cross and follow him”, with a whole laundry list of behaviors that we are to not just strive toward but do, do specifically toward those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. “9-10Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
11-13Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. “ Okay, these things sound pretty normal as to the way we are to act toward other Christians. It is pretty much the same type of behavior that parents would teach their children in how to act toward their brothers and sisters. Well, that is something that I can buy into, after all, if you are in a church setting, we should all be able to play nicely with one another, should we not.
But then comes the part of the lesson that isn’t so easy for most of us to buy into. Paul switches from how we are to act toward other Christians, to how we are supposed to respond to outsiders, to strangers who are not like us, even to the bad guys. 14-16Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down. Get along with each other; don't be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody.
17-19Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you've got it in you, get along with everybody. Don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. "I'll do the judging," says God. "I'll take care of it." Generally, this is where most of us will throw down the cross. This is the part that we don’t like to hear and can become very anger and even nasty.
We are coming up on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, an event that has changed how we live in this country. That act by a group of terrorists has created an atmosphere where we now treat people who look differently than us with great suspicion.
Scott Bader-Saye, a teacher at the Episcopal Seminary of the southwest, writes in this week’s issue of the Christian Century, “Ten years later, I think the most significant change that occurred on 9/11 was that America became a victim, and since that day we have faced the moral hazards of negotiating that status. The moral challenge for the victim comes in the temptation to use one’s suffering as a shield to deflect moral questions, to say, ‘never again’ and to whisper under one’s breath, ‘whatever it takes.’ Victimhood becomes a kind of moral currency that justifies one’s actions in advance.
Vice President Dick Cheney gave voice to this logic a few days after the attacks, declaring that the U.S. had to ‘work the dark side,’ using any means at our disposal and without any discussion.” Ten years later, we continue to bear the bitter fruit of that decision: Muslims in the U.S. continue to face persecution, mosques are viewed with suspicion, Guantanamo Bay continues to operate, torture remains a political tool, and we are no closer to peace in the Middle East.
Jesus does not allow Christians to take refuge in the blank check of “what-ever it takes.” We are called to test our own actions and maintain our own faithfulness, to notice the log in our own eye even when we have been wronged. This is not to blame the victim but rather to understand that the victim remains a moral agent and that the logic of “there is no alternative” only provides cover for those unwilling or unable to imagine alternatives. Ten years later, the church must offer and embody the alternatives that our political leaders have refused.
The church’s capacity to respond to an event like 9/11 is formed long before the event in all the small ways we learn to practice patience, love, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. It is these practices that we need ten years later to empower our witness for peace and reconciliation.”
Now I do not know where you might stand on the actions that we took after 9/11, but we must realize that those actions have put us at war for eight years, with much loss of life, property, and resources on all sides, and has lead to our borrowing unimaginable amounts of money from other countries that puts us at peril for national security as well. These actions turned us away from looking at ourselves in an introspective and constructive manner that might have helped in the future to overt future wars; the need of looking at the log in our eye, so to speak.
As people who say we are followers of Christ, we need to look at our actions as a nation as well as on a personal level and compare them to what Christ teaches and how Christ acted toward those who tried to do harm to him. There are some very deep questions that need some serious discussions: How do we not repay evil with evil? How do we reconcile not taking revenge when wronged? How do we truly ‘bless’ those who persecute us?
Our challenge through this lesson is to understand the tension between living of the world (abiding and going along with the standard of the day) verses living in the world as a people called to live by a radical standard called for by Christ.
The quest for the Christian is to define their life by the standards that Christ laid out within his ministry. The road to peace is far more difficult than the road to revenge. We are called to live in genuine love, to hate what is evil but to not address evil with evil. Finally, we are a people called to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer. Amen