At church this past Sunday, we lit the second candle in the Advent Wreath – the one that represents peace. Ironically, peace seems fragile in the world right now. It feels like extremists of all types are hellbent on saber rattling, stereotyping and pandering to fear and violence.
This morning, I’m little overwhelmed by everything in the news. The world seems to have gone crazy. It’s almost beyond belief. It’s almost beyond belief that there have been more shootings than days in America in 2015. It’s almost beyond belief that Christian leaders are calling for more guns in hopes they can “teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.” It’s almost beyond belief that the leading Republican candidate called for a ban on Muslims (both American and foreign) entering America. It’s almost beyond belief the comments and conversations on my newsfeed.
And so, on this second week of Advent, when the church calendar tells me that I’m supposed to be thinking about “Immanuel” – God with us – and peace, I’m struggling with how to live in the world and yet at the same time take Jesus seriously.
I understand that the world is a complicated place. I understand that when it comes to political solutions, nothing is simple, especially when we’re talking about peace and safety and terrorism and the like. I understand that when it comes to gun ownership, there are devout, level-headed Christians who disagree. I’ve had deeply respectful, loving discussions with people all over the political spectrum.
In fact, I think the argument can be made that the only people who don’t see it as complicated are the extremists – the fundamentalists – on either side of any given debate. To the right wingers and left wingers, to the conservatives and the liberals, the solutions are general, sweeping and simple. But to the vast majority of us who don’t overly identify with either side, being peacemakers is complicated.
What grieves me most this morning, as a pastor, is how we subvert or just ignore Jesus in all of this. You don’t really need to be all that religious or devout in order to say that Jesus is one of the most important ethical teachers in the history of the world. (I think he’s much more than that, but for this conversation, we don’t need to go any further.)
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” I wonder how you take that seriously and then talk with humor about “killing those Muslims.” Maybe you sincerely believe that you should defend yourself. We can debate that. (I’m actually not an all-the-way pacifist.) But there shouldn’t be a celebration of that harsh reality. There shouldn’t be joyful anticipation of the opportunity to kill someone to “teach them a lesson.” I believe if we are put in that situation, it should grieve us. It should trouble us to no end that we might be asked to violate “thou shalt not kill.”
Jesus also said, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” I wonder how we’re supposed to do this in reality. It is undoubtedly difficult, but that doesn’t mean I just get to ignore it. And I’m pretty sure praying for my enemies doesn’t mean killing them or stereotyping them.
This is a really small thing, but today I reached out to a local imam, just to say, “How do I bless you in a time where many want to persecute you? I don’t know what will come of this, but just maybe, in a small way, it will help foster peace in our community.
I was arguing in my head with someone who wrote something on my Facebook page about how violent Jesus was, quoting the Hebrew Scriptures and Revelation 21 as justifications to set aside – or at least to minimize – the pacifist leanings of Jesus. And I had this thought:
What if the disciples had their concealed carry permits? What if the disciples had defended Jesus with deadly force? Oh, wait. Peter did, and Jesus told him to put away his sword.
It’s really, really hard to read the gospels and ignore the non-violence of Jesus. My goal here isn’t to shame those who aren’t pacifists, or even to advocate for pacifism, really. I understand that theology is complicated and people see it differently. I mainly want to say: let’s keep it complicated. Let’s keep going round and round with the hard stuff, even if we think we’ve landed on a position. I think the faithful response to Scripture and tradition is to keep talking, debating, arguing and loving each other the whole time.
At the very minimum, and maybe especially when the world is as it is right now, we ought to daily pray the prayer of St. Francis:
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”
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