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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Sermon - 6th Sunday After Easter

John 14:23-29

The ugliest side of warring humanity has been very much in the news this past week, hasn’t it? First, there were the photos and videos released by the Pentagon. Iraqi prisoners being tortured, and abused, and humiliated, by smiling American soldiers.

Then, a horrific reply came on Tuesday, when Al Qaeda members released the videotape of a young man (26 years old) being beheaded, in retribution for that mistreatment. Evil, responding to evil.

These are the horrors that make the news, and justifiably so. They are almost unbelievable; shameful examples of how far we can go in denying the image and likeness of God that is present in each and every human being-- and the damage that results when we do.

However, I am also aware of the less notable moments of war; of quieter suffering that goes on in the background every day. I can close my eyes, and in my mind...

...I’m listening to Cindy, and her mother’s fear, as I sew a patch on her son David’s Reservist uniform-- one that normally indicates that the wearer is slated for overseas duty.

...I’m reading the prayer request that came through my Seabury email, about Holly, the woman who runs our bookstore at school. Her husband is a Marine, and just received orders for Iraq. He ships out in about a month, leaving her at home with two small daughters.

...I’m standing in chapel for Tuesday Eucharist, as the Prayers of the People are read, including a list of soldiers who have died in Iraq that week-- and I watch the blood drain from my friend Susie’s face, as she recognizes one of the names.

The the pain and suffering of war are not limited to body counts, and the criminal atrocities that garner media coverage.

In light of this, Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel have never been more relevant. Sometimes Jesus can seem confusing; but not in this passage. This is as direct as he gets. “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” The wrongs we’ve been hearing about in the news are clearly not done in obedience to Jesus’ teaching. It is not what God wants for us. It is not what God wants from us. As Christians, we are given another path to follow, away from vengeance and retribution, and toward the loving God that is shown us in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

“My peace I leave you, my own peace I give you.” The peace that Jesus offers is clearly not “as the world gives:” that which governments, all though history, have striven to achieve through force. He leaves us his peace, in the example of his life: teaching, serving, healing. He gives us his peace in the assurance of salvation, through his death and resurrection. Through the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promises “the Father will send in my name,” God continues to reach out to each one of us-- heart by heart, soul by soul. And then he asks us to do the same for others-- loving them one by one, beginning where we are, and with what we have. This doesn’t need to be a grand, impressive gesture, though it can be. Sometimes-- many times-- it starts in small ways.

My friend Mark was ordained a priest last year, and is a Chaplain Candidate for the U. S. Air Force. One thing I’ve learned from Mark, as he’s gone through this process, is this: although they go into the same dangerous places as the men and women in their units, chaplains do not carry a gun. In fact they cannot, by military regulation, carry military weapons of any sort. Mark’s “protection,” his “weapons,” as a Christian chaplain, will include a Bible, and this stole. I made it for him, as a gift for his ordination. One side is Pentecost red-- a color commonly used for ordinations, symbolizing the presence of the Holy Spirit. The other side is camouflage material. Yes, it’s the real thing. David donated a set of his BDU’s for this effort-- the kind he wore jumping out of perfectly good planes over Kosovo.

As you can imagine, camo cloth is an unusual thing to see at a seminary, let alone the sight of someone stitching embroidery on it. So, while I was making this, I had several people ask me what I was working on. My standard response came out of the Old Testament book of Isaiah: I told them I was “turning swords into plowshares.”

Now, one reversible stole is not the answer, certainly. But it is a start-- or maybe a symbol of a start. When I hold this, I see on one side the best efforts of the world at peacemaking; and on the other, the hope of true peace that Jesus offers, in which camo cloth-- and other military equipment-- will neither be used as a way to perpetuate a cycle of evil, nor needed as a protection from violence and sin.

God help us to make godly choices, large and small, “for the healing of the nations.”


Blogger Dawgdays said...

It almost feels unfair, unfair that you bring war from its far removed place right into my head, unfair that you take the folks that neither of us really knows and join them with the folks that we both know, unfair that this war is now somehow more real.

But that's the point, isn't it?

Then you hit me with a piece of cloth. When I read, "turning swords into plowshares" I stopped with tear in eye and lump in throat.

I now know why I like these pieces of yours so much. - They're not sermons, they're witness. You're not just talking about it, you're living it, every day.

Blessings, sister. Keep it up.

May 16, 2004 9:50 PM  

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