Archive for May, 2011

Yesterday I preached on the topic of Memorial Day.  If you’re interested in hearing my thoughts, listen to the audio by clicking here, or see the player on the “sermon audio” page of this blog.

War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today. ~John F. Kennedy

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A “lede” is the first line of an article or new story.  It’s meant to grab your attention and to communicate the most important part of the story.

To “Bury the lede” is a phrase used in journalism when someone has written a news story where the truly important fact is way at the end of the story, or buried in the middle where someone won’t actually catch it.  NPR did just that the other day.

In this story on “All Things Considered” they had a story about how President Obama signed an extension of the PATRIOT Act using a device called an autopen.  The device allowed him to be in France and sign the paper in Washington, DC.  The story was ultimately about whether or not it was constitutionally legal to sign a bill this way.

My problem is this: there was zero discussion on whether or not the PATRIOT Act itself is legal or justified.

The important story here is that a president who ran on platform of revolutionizing open government has just extended a set of laws that are the most covert and secretive in the history of the country.  He extended a law that he ran his whole campaign against and everyone is upset about the pen!?

I’m not afraid that he signed the bill using an autopen, I’m afraid that the bill that he signed means that people could very well be spying on me because I’m a Mennonite and a threat to national security.

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In January I saw an article in the Wichita Eagle about a woman who was thoroughly convinced that the rapture and the end of the world would be on May 21, 2011.  At 6pm to be exact.  Well, this Saturday is the fateful day and, as one would expect, the story has been picked up by various news outlets.

Now forgive me if I sound a little cynical, but I know my history.  From the very first moments that Jesus walked the earth people have been predicting his return, and thus the end of the world with it.  So far, no one has been right.

What’s more, I know what happened at Münster.  To recap, a group of Anabaptists violently took over the town of Münster and swiftly began killing people, running around naked and doing a whole bunch of other things all because they were certain that Jesus was coming back right then and there.

That was 477 years ago.

What disturbs me most is how people who believe the end of the world is at hand have actually begun to act in the mean time.  When people believe the end of the world in nigh, their true selves seem to come out and they begin to live out what they really believe.

The people in Münster quickly turned into wild, violent and disturbing versions of themselves.

Many people awaiting May 21st have also sold their cars and homes, refused get married, gone on spending sprees, and a host of other things that seem to be essentially selfish in nature.

All of this misses the point of what Jesus was trying to say.  In Matthew 24 Jesus paints a very vivid vision of the destruction of the Temple and the end of the world.  While many have spent time trying to analyze this description to see the signs in our world today, they have completely missed the main point of what Jesus was trying to say.

In verse 36 and then 42-44 Jesus says,

36 But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[f] but only the Father….  42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Whenever someone in the Bible says “Therefore” it means that what they are about to say is going to be their main point.  The main point that Jesus was trying to get across is that you don’t know when the end of the world is coming so you should live every day as if it was the end of the world.  We are supposed to live in a constant state of readiness and holiness, and always be following the will of God.  The main point of Jesus’ talking about the apocalypse is not to give you a set of clues to figure out the date of the end of the world, but rather to inspire holy behavior.  In fact, I would say that to predict the end is actually blasphemy because you are attempting to figure something out that is reserved for God alone.

So, am I worried about Saturday? Not really.  Although it would really mess up the wedding that I’m performing for my friends.

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I have yet to respond in any public way with my thoughts on the killing of Osama Bin Laden.  For the last week and a half I have simply been taking in others responses and trying to sort out my own thoughts.  So here’s what I’ve been able to process for myself.  Perhaps it will be of some value for you as well.

At first my reaction to the story was rather ambivalent.  I heard the news after we finished up a fundraiser for Camp Mennoscah at Bethel College.  I had just cleaned up and was starting to drive home when I turned on the Radio and KFDI was all a buzz with a forthcoming announcement from the president.  For the hour and a half that I was driving home I heard the live ABC radio feed including reporters with little to say, commentators with their two cents, and finally the full announcement from the president.

After uttering the obligatory “holy crap” I mainly listened in stunned silence.  My mind did wander back to that day in college when I woke up to the news of the twin towers exploding in flames and I thought how this was something of a bookend to that saga.  But I also thought of all of the lives that were lost in the last 10 years, not just at the hands of “terrorists” but also at the hands of the U.S. and it’s allies.

The part that got me though, was when the reporter  started talking about the crowd that was quickly gathering in front of the White House cheering and chanting U-S-A, U-S-A.  As they turned on the live sound feed my heart cringed.  While the chant was U-S-A the image in my mind was the countless protests on the other side of the world that looked exactly the same except in a different language chanting a different slogan.

Now, granted, I’m a pacifist who has intellectually ripped apart the justifications for U.S. superiority, military power and the use of the myth of redemptive violence.  However, emotionally, up until the point where I heard the chanting, there was a part of me that actually thought that I could say that no, this war wasn’t about East vs. West, Islam vs. Christianity, Native vs. Imperialist.  Some part of me wanted to believe the rhetoric of justified causes.  But at the moment the chanting came over the radio I realized that, no, we are no better than those we claim are our enemies.

In the following days one commentator said that we should go easy on the young people of our nation who were out cheering and chanting.  That this was the closest thing that we were ever going to have to a VJ day or a VE day in the War on Terror.  What’s more, the expressions of celebration were not celebrations of someones death but rather collective relief of a decade of living in fear.

There may be some truth to this, but there’s one key difference between the killing of Bin Laden and VJ or VE day.  On those day’s the celebration was because fighting had stopped and peace had broken out.  On that Sunday, the celebration was over someones death.  Those are very different things.  One is to celebrate the cessation of killing human life, and the other is to celebrate the death of a symbolic figure that will ultimately not result in less killing.

Now, being that I’m a pastor, part of me thinks that I should have a response that is more Biblically based and less social commentary.

So, Biblically speaking, I have my standard bag of tricks.

Matthew 5:43-48  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Not only is there the “love your enemies” part, but there’s also a great commentary to be had in verses 46 and 47.  I would translate it into this context like this “If you party in the streets over the death of your enemies, what reward will you get?  Do not even the terrorists to that?”

Proverbs 24:17-18  Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice,
18 or the LORD will see and disapprove
and turn his wrath away from them.

Verse 17 is fairly obvious.  Verse 18 makes me a bit uncomfortable but ultimately falls in line with in line with Romans 12:19

 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord

That being said, I have found more resonance with Ezekiel 33:11

As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.

Am I glad that Bin Laden is no longer in a position to kill other people.  Yes.  But that change doesn’t require that he be killed.  As Ezekiel says, I would rather that he turns from his ways and live.  For that matter, this is the same wish that I have for everyone who takes human life.  For the state that carries out executions.  For the governments that carry out “shock and awe” bombing campaigns.  For the gang members carrying out revenge killings.  For those who make people disappear into secret prisons.  For people who carry out systematic rape and torture.  For those who oppress others in a plethora of ways around the world.  I wish the same thing for all of them that I wish for Bin Laden: that they turn from their ways and live.

Ultimately, I’m saddened more than anything else.  Mainly, I’m disappointed in the response of my country and many Christians who have been celebrating this event.

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For those of you who are interested, we’ve started recording our worship services digitally, and are going to be putting the sermon audio up on the web.  There’s a widget here on this blog on the “sermon audio” page, and it’s also at our church’s website, www.pleasantvalleymennonite.com.  Hope you enjoy it!

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