This Sunday, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, I am at Dover United Methodist Church in Dover Plains, NY (Location of church). The service starts at 11. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Joshua 3: 7 – 17, 1 Thessalonians 2: 9 – 13, and Matthew 23: 1 – 12.
This sermon is being prepared at a time when we are preparing for the singular most political act of our life and at a time when we quietly (perhaps too quietly) remember those who have fallen on the field of battle. Whether we wish it to be or not, Election Day is somehow intertwined with Veteran’s Day; for those we have elected in the past and those we elect next Tuesday and in elections to come will have, in some part, the command of those who have died or will die on fields of battle.
Our thoughts of wars to come should be tempered by our thoughts of wars past. Yet, it would seem that we would rather not think about them at all. We have turned our commemoration of Memorial Day into a celebration of summer and we barely even know what the significance of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month means or why Armistice Day is now called Veterans’ Day.
We are fighting in at least two wars overseas right now yet we see or hear nothing related to the costs in human terms or the future of this country. A war against terror cannot be fought on traditional battlefields with traditional weapons; a war against terror is fought against the causes of terror including poverty, hunger, sickness and disease, oppression and inequality. We seem to blindly accept the words of our leaders that we are winning a war against terror but yet we still send troops overseas.
We have also forgotten what Robert E. Lee said, “It is good that war is so horrible or we might grow to like it.” General Lee also said “What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”
It is not a question of do we fight or should we fight; it is a question of how do we solve the problems of the world without resorting to violence and power. This is not a statement of appeasement or capitulation; it is a statement that says we must seek solutions to war and violence before war and violence are given the chance to develop. We know what causes war but what do we do to remove the causes of war from our lives? We know that a group of people or a nation oppressed will seek to rise up so why do we not seek to remove the oppression? We know that a people starving and impoverished will seek ways to find food and resources, so why do we not work together? Yet, we willingly and easily listen to leaders who offer the blood and sacrifice of others in exchange for the promise of easy victory at no cost. We accept those words because we see war as the ends to a mean, not a continuation of the process.
Yes, there are governments and there are people whom we may call evil. We must work to see that such individuals do not dominate this world. But, is using their ways the best way to defeat them? Or, in using their ways, their methods, do we not become like them?
We see it in our political rhetoric today. If we cannot win the people with our ideas, we will use their fears. It is often much easier to cloak our opponents with the mantle of darkness and evil than it is to offer a new vision. For a new vision can only be seen in the light of truth, justice, and equality; false teachings will quickly die in such light.
The other day I got a chance to hear Janis Ian speak about her career. In 1966, she recorded a song called “Society’s Child”. This was a very controversial song when it was released because it dealt with the subject of inter-racial dating. In her interview, Ms. Ian recounted how protesters almost drove her off the stage and out of the profession. But she continued to sing and during this one performance, when those who were protesting her song looked like they would attack her, the theater management shined lights on them. In that light, where others could see them, they quickly stopped their harassment and tried to hide. It has been said time and time again that false teachings will wither in the light of truth. This is but just one example.
In the 1960’s did we win more with the Peace Corps or our various military corps? Did our leaders then and do our leaders today understand what force can or cannot do? Will those whom we elect in two days understand the outcome of their decisions and the effects that such decisions will have?
We have created a world in which hatred, violence, and war are seen as the solution to the problem rather than part of the problem. It is time that we take a stand against this path; it is time that we take a stand for what is right.
I am not saying that we should say to the person whom we elect as Commander-in-Chief this Tuesday that they will be expected to lead our troops, the young men and women of this country, into the next big battle. I am saying that whomever we elect must be prepared to do all that he can do to insure that such a battle doesn’t take place. And that is a statement to each one of us that we must do all that we can do to insure that the next battle doesn’t take place.
And while we must demand that our leaders stand with us, we must stand against the changes we see in the world that lead us to more wars and more violence.
You will say to me that it is impossible for an individual to change the system that is so large that it threatens to dwarf us. But to stand against poverty, against hunger, against sickness, against injustice and equality and for righteousness is more than dashing off letters to Congress or refusing to buy products that threaten the health and safety of both the buyer and the worker.
We need to invest energy in remembering what and how our spiritual ancestors stood against the corruption, the injustice and the oppression of their times. Three thousand years ago, the prophet Amos spoke out against the direction society was headed. It was a time when great wealth was flowing into the country but it was also a time when the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. It was a time when the people did everything “right”; they tithed, they kept the Sabbath. But the people, despite their apparent religiousness, ignored the poor and the downtrodden.
Is that not the truth today? There are over two thousand verses in the Bible that deal with wealth and poverty and our responsibility to the poor; yet we ignore these words and say that any discussion is irrelevant to the problems of poverty and its effect on the poor.
If there is poverty, hunger, sickness, or oppression in this world; there will be violence and destruction, for violence and destruction grow out of poverty, hunger, sickness and oppression. We cannot seek justice and equality in other lands if we do not seek justice and equality at home. We cannot say that we need a strong defense for national security if there are people we are protecting who have nothing. We have forgotten the lessons that tell us that we cannot have both guns and butter; we will have to learn that we need butter before we can have guns.
We cannot have a god that only serves us when we desire it to; we must also serve God when He demands that we do. It is our Biblical faith that calls for those with “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” to stand with Jesus Himself on the behalf of those who cannot.
Henri J. M. Nouwen, in Making All Things New, wrote
The spiritual life is not a life before, after, or beyond our everyday existence. No, the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of the here and now. Therefore we need to begin with a careful look at the way we think, speak, feel, and act from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, and year to year, in order to become more fully aware of our hunger for the Spirit. As long as we have only a vague inner feeling of discontent with our present way of living, and only an indefinite desire for “things spiritual,” our lives will continue to stagnate in a generalized melancholy. We often say, “I am not very happy. I am not content with the way my life is going. I am not really joyful or peaceful, but I just don’t know how things can be different, and I guess that I have to be realistic and accept my life as it is.” It is this mood of resignation that prevents us from actively searching for the life of the Spirit.
Our first task is to dispel the vague, murky feelings of discontent and to look critically at how we are living our lives. This requires honesty, courage, and trust. We must honestly unmask and courageously confront our many self-deceptive games. We must trust that our honesty and courage will lead us not to despair, but to a new heaven and a new earth.
When the Israelites crossed the River Jordan, the leaders were right there, in the middle of the River. Joshua did not say to the Israelites, “cross the river where I show you.” He stood in the river with the other leaders and said, “Now you can cross.” The people could not have crossed the river until the appointed leaders carried the Ark of the Covenant into the River. It was that direct involvement that insured that the people could cross.
Jesus spoke of leaders who would carry the burden instead of giving it to others to carry. Jesus very bluntly points out that difference between the leaders and the people. The leaders placed the burden on the people while taking all the glory. And when it came time, Jesus carried the burden for all of us. We come to the table today because that is what He did.
Jesus presented us with the concept of the servant-leader, the leader who didn’t stand in front of the people for the glory of the task and hide when the task was tough but rather was there with the people where the work needed to be done. Paul is pointing out that he and his companions in ministry did not expect “extra-special treatment” for what he was doing. Paul also noted that he was pushing the people of Thessalonica to lead lives worthy of the glory of God.
We must take a stand today. On the eve of the Armistice of the Great War, the war they said would end all wars but only caused more, that we will not only say we are against war but we will begin working to make sure that there are no more wars. We will do that by saying that Gospel message to feed the hungry, heal the sick, find homes for the homeless and bring hope to the oppressed is more than just words in a book but the goal of life. We must give dignity and the means to a quality life to all people, not to just a few. Again, we recall that Jesus gave dignity and meaning to the life of those who sought Him after society had rejected them; so too are we called to do the same.
We remember that Christ called us to follow Him; we remember that He stood for us against slavery to sin and death. He calls us to stand with Him today. Where shall you stand?