It Happened Again

Here are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday of Easter
I have said it before and I will say again, “I am not a big fan of the Book of Revelation.” Like many, it seems out of place with the other books of the New Testament, especially in terms of its imagery and tone. It is a book that is filled with symbolism and hidden meanings that perhaps only make sense when read in the context of the period in which it was written. There is even some doubt as to whether the John that wrote this book is the same John who wrote the Gospel of John and the three letters from John. It is certainly not what I would consider to be the culmination of the New Testament.

Yet, there are many today who see the images that John the Seer saw and say that those are the images of today, not 2000 years ago. There are many today who see the events of today, especially the violence and war in the Middle East and say those are the signs of the coming Apocalypse. But those who follow that line of thinking follow a line of thinking that did not come out of 2000 years ago but rather 200 years ago. And it is a line of thinking that is inherently, or at least I think it is inherently, flawed.

We speak of a new hope in Christ and John the Seer writes of a vengeful God who is going to destroy the world because we are not willing to follow the teachings and the manner of Jesus the Christ. And if this world is to end with some major battle on the plains of Armageddon, shouldn’t the ones who are saved be the ones who worked to prevent this battle? Those who proclaim the End Times as described in the Book of Revelation are, at least to me, pushing for this final battle; they are the ones who want the war to end all wars. And I don’t see how God will ever reward those who push for the destruction of the human race and this planet; rather, they will be the ones left behind wondering as to where the true peacemakers went.

I write this today because John the Seer does speak, in the Epistle reading for today (1) of the hope and promise that comes in the presence of Christ. Unfortunately, this week all we heard was wailing of loss and the shouting of blame.
No doubt you have wondered why someone would kill thirty-two people for no apparent reason. And the videotapes that the killer provided offer no answers other than that he was a young man who found himself full of rage and estranged from the world. Sadly, we will never know why. We might ask why he was not helped but we find out that help was offered but he refused the help. We might ask how it was that he was able to get the weapons that he used and we find out that it was all perfectly legal (though later in the week that wasn’t so clear).

We might ask why, in the light of this tragedy, anyone would not want some form of gun control? And then we hear others say that if everyone had a gun and shot first and asked questions later, then such acts of violence would be eliminated. This, of course, precludes the inevitable consequences of having a gun in your possession when you get angry or frustrated but apparently that is not a problem to be considered.

We had better ask why it is so much different when thirty-three people die in a college town in this country as opposed to any number of deaths in Iraq or Darfur or anywhere else. Is it because violence in other countries, the death of young people elsewhere in the world, has no meaning to us? Is violence so much a part of our lives that we can ignore it unless it comes in big numbers?

Are these the End Times that others say John the Seer spoke of? Is all the violence in the world a precursor to something apocalyptic and move violent than we could ever imagine? Or is it simply just a sign of our culture and what we have allowed it to become and what we are turning into? Are we like Saul, blind to the world and the message of Christ? In the April 18th issue of the Kansas City Star (2), Mike Hendricks wrote,

Consider: Why is it that a college student in Virginia can so easily obtain handguns to spray his classmates with deadly bullets?
Because we help make it possible. You and me.

No, we don’t pull the trigger. But we might as well be helping the killers reload by not demanding an end to the easy availability of firearms in this country. We let the NRA have the ears of our politicians, when our voices could be so much louder.

Jeneé Osterheldt wrote,

Everyone wants to point fingers.

Some say hip-hop is the culprit. Others want to blame George Bush. And then there are the truly hateful who blame homosexuality for all the world’s ills.

But they can say what they want, right? We let people use their right to free speech as a shield, their words as weapons.

Are we so blind that we cannot see that there are problems in this world and we are going to be the ones who must solve the problems? Saul could not regain his sight until he went to Ananias and allowed Ananias to heal him. And we have to realize that we are a lot like Ananias in that we do not want to take on the task of dealing with things that are abhorrent to us (3). We would rather simply be who we are and say that we are Christians without having to do anything which proves that we are.

Amidst all the shouting and the accusations, amidst the finger pointing and sorrowful looks, we cannot hear Jesus quietly speaking to us on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. But, hopefully, we will be like Peter, quick to realize that it is Christ who is offering us breakfast this morning. But like Peter, we will also know that we have denied Christ. And, like Peter, we will frantically seek to get Jesus the Christ to accept our apologies for not being His faithful servant.

You can almost hear Peter shouting to Jesus, “Please accept my apologies, Lord!” And you can sense the frustration that must have been inside Peter when all Jesus would say is “feed my sheep.” (4)

If we love Jesus as we should, then we must be like Peter, reaching out to others and offering them the Love of Christ. If we love Jesus as Peter did, then we will work to make this a world in which senseless acts of violence become moments in the past.

This is not an easy task by any means. For John the Seer, the world around him was not the safe and serene world that he would have liked it to be. But he saw a future that would be a far better one than the present world around him.
Ananias might have been afraid that helping Saul would be dangerous but, in the end, the future that he feared never materialized. Saul became Paul and the Word of God was brought forth to the world. And, no matter what doubts Peter might have had, he knew that Jesus loved him and he too took the Word of God into the world.

Yes, this week has been one that causes us to fear what might come next week. But if Ananias had let the fear within him control his actions then he might not have gone and healed Peter. Then the Word of God would not have gone forth. If Peter had remained uncertain about where he stood with Christ, he would have never sought forgiveness and then there would have been no one to take care of the new church and the people that were to come. If we allow our fears to control us, we lose sight of Christ and what we are supposed to do in His name. If we allow our fears and our uncertainties to control our lives, then it is certain that the tragedy of last week will happen again.

If we let the fears of the world dictate what we are to do, then we will not be there when others cry out. We cannot let the fears of the world do that; we must be there at that moment when others need us. It is comforting to know that there was a United Methodist presence in Blacksburg this week. It is also comforting to know that the Wesley Foundation was able to offer comfort and support to its campus community this week. I add this little thought because there are some places where the discussion is to take the Wesley Foundation off campus. If the fears and the darkness of the world are allowed to rule the world, then where will students go for solace, comfort and support? The fears and darkness of the world will rule if we let it. And then the tragedy of last week will most definitely happen again.

If we listen to God, just as Ananias and Peter did, then we can carry the Word of God out into the world, we too offer the hope and promise of Jesus Christ to those without hope. And then the joy and peace found in Christ will happen again.
(1) Revelation 5: 11 – 14
(2) My thanks to Andy Bryan ( for first posting these comments
(3) Acts 9: 1 – 6 (7 – 20)
(4) John 21: 1 – 19

7 thoughts on “It Happened Again

  1. The images of the Revelation are disturbing as are those of the Crucifixion. Similar images of judgement are commonly found in the Old Testament. As well these images are not unique to the Revelation. One need only consider New Testament parallels such as Mt. 24-25. To say that these images are only of recent not ancient thought is not greatly significant. For centuries Christian thought was not greatly occupied with many issues that today are rightly of central focus.

    One of several major themes in the Revelation is that history is linear and terminal and that in the face of diabolical evil the righteousness and justice of God is triumphant. That this is described in terms of war is not suprising. The image is recurrent throughout Scripture as it graphically communicates that very struggle with evil that has so marred the human race. Never in Scripture is there ever any image presented of making peace with evil.

    To make sense of unrestrained evil exceeds my capacity. On a far larger scale how can one understand the savagery of a Hitler, a Stalin, a PolPot or even Saddam.

    There are many thoughtful persons of faith who are strongly opposed to restrictions of the possession and use of firearms. Such weapons are not the problem. Had even one single student or teacher had available a single pistol and used it, the murderer would have been either stopped or killed and a larger tragedy averted. The problem is that, to borrow a phrase, “the heart of man is desperately wicked.” We can make all the laws we want to try to control behavior but there is no law that can make people love. Guilt is not collective. Society is not guilt of 32 murders. A single individual murdered each and every one of the students who died.

    There is a difference in the death of these 32 students. They were victims of a crime. Darfur is a calculated genocide. Iraq is the consequence of a weak UN response to repeated provocation by a recognized rogue dictator. A similar pattern played out in Austria and the Sudatenland before Poland ignited WWII.

    Is ours an apocalyptic culture. Possibly. We are not in control of our culture. Others have imput and if such is their imput, we can only seek to offset it and convince others that ours is a better vision of society. They will have to determine for themselves if our vision is persuasive. Our nation is comprised of over 300 million individuals. The NRA is comprised of slightly over 3 million individuals distributed through 50 states. The voters who are repeatedly not supporting gun control are not primarily members of the NRA. Advocates for any legislation have only to persuade voters of the merits of their position. It is not wrong to be required to convince persons to support your position. That is the nature of our federated republic.

    To revisit guilt, blaming hip hop or President Bush is no more than politics pandering to interest groups. Such “free speech” is part of the price of living in a genuinely free pluralistic society. We do not criminalize speech, even if it is “outragious” as cartoons of Mohammed or a Cross immersed in urine or protesters buring the American flag.

    God gave Ananias a tough calling. Confronting evil in the name of Christ is never easy as most of us would rather avoid what we abhore. But we are not called of God to work for “world peace.” We are called of God to seek to bring lost men and women to Christ. There is every indication that the murdered came from a good home with loving parents. There is no indication that his home was Christian. Along with the many institutional efforts made to help this young man, is there any indication that he was ministered to in the name of Christ? Not to be simplistic, but is it possible that his anger and resentment reflected his own alienation from not simply the academic community but more significantly his alienation from the Lord? If all we want is a society were we are all made safe, where “senseless acts of violence” are but “moments in the past,” that is only a matter of regulation and confiscation. If we want a transformed society, that will take more than law. That will take hearts transformed by Christ.

    Like Ananias, that is a tough calling. To respond by more programs, more money, more laws, more whatever is much easier and at the same time demonstrably ineffective. And unlike Ananias, we may well find that helping is dangerous. We may well find that as we seek to help we put ourselves at risk. We have to decide how we shall live. Ananias was not unafraid, but he was faithful. We may not be able to avoid fear, but regardless we can be faithful.

    One further thought about faithfulness. Not a single one of us is indispensible. I believe it was Mordicai who so advised Ester saying if we fail to act, God will find someone else. If we do not act, let us not suppose that the Lord can not by His grace empower someone else to fill our place. Ananias, Peter, Paul were all wonderfully used of God not because they were so unique that no one else could have filled the role but because each yielded himself to the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit.
    As was once said, there will be “wars and rumors of wars.” And as long as the 24 hour news cycle drives viewer interest, that will be true not only of conflict on a international scale but even of conflict in homes and on college campuses.

    In a world dominated by evil, in a competitive culture where the “winner takes all,” where fairness and meritocracy collide with privilege and heritage, College and university students need a positive witness for Christ to challenge them with a genuinely alternative lifestyle. Sadly such a strong effective evangelsitic witness for Christ is on almost all such campuses lacking. The answer is not to remove the Wesley Foundation but to reconfigure it to be provide what is now so very lacking. The Wesley Foundation along with the campus ministries of other denominations needs to do more than simply be present to offer comfor and support for troubled students. There needs to be a strong unrelenting focus on evangelizing students for Christ. That is the only way these students or anyone else will ever experience the joy and peace of Christ. Anything else is just about as useful as putting bandaids on broken bones.

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