Tagged: Martin Luther King

Stories of War and the Victory of Love

The word that Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised above the hills;
All the nations shall stream to it.
     Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
That he may teach us his ways
    And that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
 He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
They shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    Neither shall they learn war anymore.

Isaiah 2:1-4 (NRSV)

Last Saturday, 33 missiles and drone strikes rained down on the people of Ukraine, destroying essential infrastructure, and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power as the weather starts to go cold.

This is just one more moment in a conflict that officially began several years ago with the annexing of Crimea by Russia in 2014, and since then, the conflict has simply not stopped, leading up to the invasion by Russia in February.

Up until the invasion, it was reported that 14 000 people had died in the conflict, but now the explosion of fighting with the invasion is seeing a death toll exponentially higher. The numbers are difficult to determine as both Ukraine and Russia are doctoring their numbers for the purposes of morale, but the best estimates suggest that somewhere between 7 000- 30 000 Ukrainian civilians have died, 60 000 Ukrainian soldiers have died, and possibly 90 000 Russian soldiers have been killed. So somewhere near 200 000 people have died and several times that injured, not to mention 13 million people have lost their homes. Those numbers, when I read them, left me speechless.

And sadly, this war does not seem to have an end in sight. Canada and other western powers have been sending resources, whether financial or military, to Ukraine, as well as imposing sanctions on Russia, which seems to be helping¾and I firmly believe these are good things, just as I deeply sympathize with Ukrainians who are simply defending their homes against a force that seeks their personal and cultural destruction.

And yet, an important detail in this conflict is often ignored by the secular west: this is a war being done by Russia, which believes it is a Christian nation, perhaps even a restored Christian empire, and it believes that the church and the state are one, its culture and its faith are one, and that these things ought to be defended and advanced using military force if threatened. The Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Moscow has called this a holy war, sanctified by God to advance the ways of Orthodoxy in a world that has embraced the evils of western tolerance. And so, as we lament a death toll that nears 200 000 lives, this is met with a unique anguish for us Christians that those who are doing this claim Jesus on their side.

Whether this is the defence of the innocent or the justification of invasion, the world feels pulled towards war; its seductive allure to total war, whose end is destruction, whether the annihilation of the Russian forces, the annihilation of the Ukrainian forces and people, and in the end, perhaps, the termination of both. There is something about these numbers that make us long: Is another way possible?

Martin Luther King, Jr. once reflected on this possibility:

“War, as horrible as it is, might be preferable to surrender to a totalitarian system. But I now believe that the potential destructiveness of modern weapons totally rules out the possibility of war ever again achieving a negative good. If we assume that mankind has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war and destruction. In our day of space vehicles and guided ballistic missiles, the choice is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., from “Pilgrimage into Non-Violence,” in Strength to Love, pg. 161

So, how are Christians to think about war? We can’t ignore this question as we live safely in Canada. With tensions mounting between the Western powers and Russia as well as China, many are saying we could be seeing the stirrings of what will be another global conflict within our lifetime.

We do not know what will happen, but one way or another, we have to ask some simple but difficult questions: Whose side is Jesus on? What is Jesus’ way? What hope do we have?

1. A Different Allegiance

The narrative of the Bible is not a story where God’s redemption drops out of the sky unaffected by time but meets us in the midst of things within our complex web of relationships and histories, stirring us little by little towards God’s kingdom.

And so, it should not surprise us to find that when we look at the pages of Scripture, we find war, but not only that, God’s people going to war by God’s command.

And if you have ever read through the Bible, you will come to some passages that might shock you. There are passages in the Old Testament that command the killing of the Canaanites, the nation that lived in the land before Israel. The reasons for these passages in the Bible (passages in Deuteronomy and Joshua) sound frighteningly similar to the reasons the leaders of the church in Russia are saying they invaded Ukraine: the war is to punish the sin of those in the land, the war is to make sure God’s people are secure, the war is to stop the advancement of evil ways and keep God’s people pure, and so on and so forth.

These passages have been cited in our own history as well. Centuries ago, European settlers believed they were a new Israel coming to America, a new promised land, and because of that, its inhabitants, the indigenous peoples with their perceived pagan ways, needed to be exterminated if they did not convert.

Reading these passages should, hopefully, causes us to ask: is this all there is to this story? To read these passages as straightforwardly pertaining to today, as if that is where God wanted to leave our perception of him, where God leaves us in the drama of salvation, is to miss what we might call a long arc toward peacemaking in the biblical narrative.

It began with God meeting a desperate people in an ancient world that believed in things like tribal holy war, and these laws reflect a gentle push towards something better than the status quo.

We see this in all kinds of issues: the treatment of women, marriage, slaves, children, wealth, etc. If you have ever thought a certain passage of the Bible on these topics taught things that seemed regressive, potentially harmful, even oppressive, ask yourself what this look law looks like in comparison to what was being practiced in its time, and you will see what my Bible professors call, “a redemptive-movement,” glimpses of how God is nudging God’s people little by little towards the ends that God desires.

The whole of the biblical narrative is a travail moving from the subservience of women to equality, from slavery to emancipation, from exclusion to solidarity, from brutality to charity, and so also, from war to peacemaking.

And it seems that while God is gentle in instructing this redemption, we see little break-outs, seed moments, and events where the kingdom of God shines through with particular clarity.

It can look like Deborah in the book of Judges, a woman called by the Spirit of God in a time when women were seen with little worth to be a prophet and judge over all of Israel.

It might look like the love poetry in Song of Songs, where the bride and groom are described with a mutuality in marriage that defies the curse of Eve: “I am my beloved’s, and he is mine.”

It can look like laws in the Old Testament, like the laws of Jubilee, where every 50 years, all debts would be forgiven, all slaves would be set free, and all land wealth would be redistributed.

Or it can be a moment like when the commander of Israel, Joshua, is sitting ready with his armies in invade Jericho, and he sees a mysterious angelic man, and he asks him, “whose side are you on? Are you one ours or theirs?” And this man says, “I am the commander of the armies of heaven, but I am on neither side” (Josh. 5:14).

This is but one moment that plants a seed that suggests God is beyond our earthly allegiances, whether they are political, ethnic, financial, or even religious, what we label as Christian allegiance. Whose side is God on? When we seek to pull God onto our side to justify our community, our causes, and our conflicts, God is quick to say, “I am on no one’s side.”

Isaiah’s vision is another moment, written in a time of mounting tension between the superpowers, and it envisions many nations coming to Jerusalem to the house of God. They come to a God that seems like the God of a different nation, a God not of their nation, and yet, they assemble in Jerusalem, welcomed as if they are not strangers as if this nation is the place of the gathering of many nations, a people out of many peoples, and here they unlearn the ways of war.

Whose side is God on? God is on everyone’s side. God is not the God of one nation but all nations, not one people but all people.  

This calls us to a fundamentally different allegiance as the people of God, who know and trust this truth. We are citizens of heaven, first and foremost.

This did not stop the early Christians from still being Romans or Greeks or anything like that, nor does it stop us from being Canadians, but it does orient us to say we do not participate in these earthly allegiances if they are set against our allegiance to the kingdom of heaven.

And when we realize this, we have to ask ourselves, whose side are we on? Are we on the side of the powerful, the rich, the apathetic, the status quo or are we on the side whom God has declared his special favour: the weak, the oppressed, the poor, the widow, the orphan, the lowly, the captive? Whose side will we choose to be on?

Whose side are we on when our nation says we need to invade these people in order to keep us safe and secure? But perhaps that question is not for us in Canada today: Maybe it might look like this: Whose side are we on when innocent people are being killed and need our help, millions of refugees have lost their homes and are showing up at our doorstep? Will we turn a blind eye and say, “Sorry, but helping will cost us too much. We have to look after ourselves”? Whose side will we be on?

But let’s go further: what if our nation says we need to forget about the rights of indigenous people or the rights of foreign workers because it means too much for Canadian prosperity to treat them fairly? Whose side will we be on, then?

Whose side are we on when our nation uses its military presence to protect its grip over the economies of the Caribbean, its mining interests over the inhabitants of South America or the Congo? Canada has a very respectable military, but it is not perfect. And those things don’t tend to make the news because it so readily goes against the narrative that we Canadians tell ourselves, we are the peacemakers, the good guys, and our nation does not oppress anyone. That is not quite true. When it comes to confronting the truth about ourselves, again, whose side are we on?

2. A Different Way

What our allegiance is will determine a different way. Isaiah says that “For out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” What is this way, this word, God is instructing us toward?

As we have been seeing, there is a process that is working itself out in the biblical narrative, where God meets humanity where they are at, in the midst of tension and conflict, and slowly teaches them redemption, wooing them towards reconciliation, little by little.

And yet, this narrative comes to a kind of summit or apex moment in the coming of Jesus Christ, who came proclaiming what God’s kingdom is about: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Children of God.” Where Joshua and David came and defeated Israel’s enemies, this new Joshua, this new Son of David, this Messiah came and gave a different teaching:

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:43-45

This Messiah waged a war of a different sort, not against people but against sin, fought not with weapons but with grace. And as the story of the Gospels show, the world, even God’s own people, did not want peace.

One writer said that we simply cannot have peace until we understand that peace will always feel like it costs us more than war. And Jesus’ preaching started costing a few people some things: their power and reputation. And so, religious leaders orchestrated the murder of the Messiah.

On the night Jesus was betrayed, soldiers came with Judas to get him in the Garden, where he was praying. One disciple, eager to defend the Messiah, a worthy reason for violence if there ever was one, takes a blade and strikes one of the soldiers. Yet, Jesus turns to heal the soldier on the spot of his own arrest and rebukes the disciple: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take up the sword will perish by the sword.”

Then, Jesus was taken, tried, tortured, and hung on a cross to be executed. And it is here, in the darkness of the cross, that the word of God shines most clear. Jesus prays, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”

The heart of the Bible is the message that at this moment when we treated God as our enemy, when we killed God’s very son, God was saving us.

The cross is how God treats his enemies. Thank God!

3. A Different Hope

Yet, if the cross is how God treats his enemies, if we are saved by the cross, if we are called to take up the cross as well, the cross is also how we treat our enemies.

And so, if this is our allegiance, if this is our way, we will have a very different hope. Isaiah names this hope. One that day…

 He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
They shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    Neither shall they learn war anymore.

There is an old joke that, despite being a joke, names how we so often misunderstand Christian hope. It goes like this:

One day a man feels troubled and goes to church. He comes in and hears the preacher proclaim, “Step aside, and let the good Lord fight your battles.” He finds this inspiring. Just then, a gust of wind blows, pushing open the preacher’s coat to expose that he had a pistol holstered in his coat. The man is taken aback by it. After the service, he goes up to the preacher, “Pastor, you said step aside and let God fight our battles.”

“Yes,” said the preacher.

“Well, then, why are you carrying a gun?” the man asked.

The preacher looked at him like he had said something silly, “Of course, I carry a gun! That’s to hold them off until he gets here!”

I think that is actually a lot of people’s view of Christian hope: “God will fix that one day; until then, we can’t do anything about it. God will bring peace one day; until then, we are stuck killing each other. Oh, well.”

Put another way: our drive to annihilate our enemy is driven by a kind of worldly hopelessness. I have no hope left for my enemy, no hope for their redemption, so I need to take history into my hands as its judge.

That is not how we understand Christian hope. If God promises the restoration of all things, our hope is that God invites us to participate in this reality in a fuller way every moment, in anticipation of what God will one day do.  

In fact, this is how the early church understood Isaiah chapter 2. Here is what Justin Martyr said,

“And that this [he is referring to Isaiah chapter 2 here] did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God, they proclaimed to every race of people that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the world about God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie or deceive our examiners, and willingly die confessing Christ.” 

Justin Martyr, First Apology, 1:175-6

If our allegiance is that God loves all people, this fundamentally prevents us from quickly saying I am on your side and dead set against them, much less choosing the sides of power and privilege.

If our way is shown in Jesus’ loving for his enemies, our way has to see in our enemy someone God has died for, with love that matches the love that saves us.  

And if our hope is that God will judge all people and restore all things, this also prevents me from needing to repay evil with evil. As Romans 12 says, hope frees us to overcome evil with good. We do this because we trust that this is how the story of human history, God’s story with us, will end.

Walter Wink, the biblical scholar the worked to overcome racial segregation in the apartheid in Africa, once said that being a Christian was the art of resisting evil without becoming evil ourselves.

This does not mean we give up helping those that need help and opposing those who harm the innocent; it does not mean we jump to easy conclusions and give up that moral wrestling that has to negotiate those difficult moments where self-defence and protecting others, where force and harm are in play, where the tragedies of violence still happen. But it does change how, why, where, and for whom we act.

What does this look like? I am not going to offer a quick answer here. There isn’t one. However, let me conclude with this: The El Salvadorian archbishop and martyr, Oscar Romero, was told by some he needed to embrace violence and revolution if the people of his nation would be liberated from their oppressive and corrupt government. Violence was the only way to bring peace. Romero, a message he died for, said this, echoing Isaiah 2:

“We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.“

Oscar Romero, from The Violence of Love

While we live in a complicated world where militaries and police forces surely have their role to play in maintaining order when an enemy threatens us, however, do we get pulled into that seductive spiral towards total war, the grim realities of which history repeats over and over, or do we see a different possibility–light breaking in, by which, however that might look, we are inspired to do the hard work of “unlearning the ways of war”?

Let’s pray…

Longing for the Justice, Praying with Persistence

Sermon preached at Wolfville Baptist Church, Sunday, Oct. 20th, 2019.

Grocholski_Praying_Jew

Grocholski, The Praying Jew, 1892.

It is a privilege to be here with you this morning.

It is also a great privilege to be able to have my friend and colleague, Melody Maxwell, leading the service with me. The irony should not be lost on us all that while she is “interning” here for her ordination, she is a great teacher to all of us. Not only the students, but I myself have learned much from her.

I am the Assistant Professor of Theology at Acadia Divinity College up the hill from you, I have been there now just over a year. My wife and five boys have absolutely loved settling into life in the Annapolis valley.

I can’t decide which I like better the people or the food. Its harvest time – you know that is a very really struggle. I had to ask myself recently whether I wanted to go out and see friends or stay in and enjoy a caramel apple pie from Sterlings. The struggle is real.

Perhaps I don’t have to choose most times. It was over delicious food with great people that I came to be speaking here by the way. Pastor Scott had my family over for dinner and as we talked and ate – Scott and I obvious geeked out and talked about theology – he asked me to come speak while he was away.

The scripture that the lectionary presented for us today – in other words I did not choose this scripture, it was the scripture of today in the lectionary, the reading plan a lot of churches in their daily reading – it is one that I think is deeply needed for our world today, for our church today, or us, right here, right now.

Luke chapter 18:1-8: ‘Then Jesus[a] told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”’

1. What is Prayer?

Why pray? What is prayer?

It is a question that a certain Court of Appeal had to ask as it would have it in British Columbia in 1980. A man accused of arson sat before the court, and as the court deliberated on the evidence as to whether this man did in fact burn down a building, the man, distraught, bowed his head and whispered a prayer. However, in bowing his head, he accidentally leaned into the microphone in front of him, to which the whole court heard him pray, “Oh God, let me get away w this just this once.”

The judge initially discounted this as evidence because a prayer was something private, a conversation between a person and their god, and therefore could not be used. This decision was revoked upon appeal as illegitimate, and so, well, lets just say our boy the arsonist had his prayer answered, just not the answer he wanted.

What is prayer?A court had to think about that and so often we don’t think about what it is. Prayer is talking to God. Prayer is acknowledging God, thanking him, praising him, confessing to him, even listening to him.

Nearly all religions have prayer in it. Ancient Greek religion and philosophy at the time of the New Testament spoke about prayer, with an interesting difference. The Greek believed prayer was important.

Similar to many Christians, they believed prayer helped you become a better person. It is a old proverb that often we pray hoping to change God only to find God has changed us in the process. That is very true.

But the ancient Greeks didn’t believe you could convince the gods to do anything on your behalf. Why? The gods were up there and we were down here. The gods really were not all that concerned about humans and imploring them based on some grand moral cause was seen as pointless because the gods there not moral. They were selfish and aloof. If anything you prayed because if you did not pray, then the gods might be offended at your lack of devotion.

Prayer in the ancient world was like paying a phone bill for a phone that does not work out of fear that if you don’t pay that they will take away your heat and hydro as well.

The Hebrew people, the people of the Old Testament, believed something different. God was a God of love, of redemption, a God that made this world out of his sheer generosity, and is intimately involved with it. Prayer was able to do something, it was able to be answered because God was a relational God, promising to make right what has gone wrong. Our God makes and cares, reveals and listens, relates and rescues.

There is an old philosophical problem that if God knows all things, why would you need to ask him what you need and if he is in deed good, would he be doing that anyway? The only answer to this we see in the implicit logic of Scripture is that God longs for relationship, God will to relate to us, to act with us, and not just by himself.

God did not make himself to be the battery of a clock work universe with you and me as mindless, involuntary cogs and gears. No, the world – we are are invited to be something more like God’s dance partners, invited to dance to the music of redemption, and this dance takes relationship, communication, free will, and vulnerability.

Just as there simply cannot be any good relationship without time spent with one another, without communication, without listening to another, there simply cannot be a Christian life without prayer. Prayer is to faith what communication is to love, and so, prayer is as vital to the Christian as breath is to living.

Jesus reminds us of the need to pray always. 1 Thes. 5:16 says to “pray without ceasing.” Why? Because at every moment God is with you; God is near you; God loves you.

Our God is God Immanuel, God with us. He has stepped into history, the eternal one into time, the infinite one into finite space, and he became flesh, in Jesus he took on our form, “in the likeness of sinful flesh” says Paul, (God had bound himself to our fate to say, “I will come through for you for I have literally put skin in this game”), and so he has shown that there is no barrier or distance between us and him.

God is the very root of our being, the very spark that gives us life, the energy that gives us vitality, the air that gives us breath. He knows us perfectly, and yet he wants to hear from us. He does not want to be a spectator to your life, but an active part. He is what causes our hearts to beat, and yet he is gentle enough to knock and ask to be invited it.

P. T. Forsyth once said, the greatest answer to prayer is prayer itself. What he meant is that God answers prayer, but the fact of prayer of this kind speaks of the beautiful reality that God listens and loves, a God who is with us and for us.

I know this from pastoring. It was often my privilege to lead a person in their first prayer. Often I would have coffee with someone that I met in the community and I could explain to them that God loves them and that God was always waiting to listen to their cares in prayer, they just needed to voice them. Often the prayers were wonderfully simply, “Um, hey God, its me Josh…um, you’re great. I need help. Thanks in advance…bye.” It’s funny but we sometimes we have over complicated prayer and made it too formal. I love a prayer that is intentionally worded to speak to my heart, but I know God sees that prayer is just as beautiful.

Do you know you can talk to God at any moment? Do you know you can tell him anything? God is the kind of God that delights in hearing what is on your heart. Tell him.

2. Sometimes we can lose heart

Jesus tells us to continue to pray and not lose heart. Is he saying that we need to pray in order to not lose heart? That prayer teaches us to hope as we acknowledge God, remind ourselves of who Christ is and what he has done?

As I have said, it is true, we often come to prayer longing for change in the world or in God perhaps, all to find that God is using prayer to change you: to have a heart of hope, to have a character more confirmed to his, to be comforted by his presence.

Or, and I think this is the more likely reading, is he saying that as the disciples continue, they will pray for many things in a world that is dark they may get discouraged? Have you every prayed for something, something you knew had to be good and if God is good he should obviously want to do this good thing?

Perhaps you prayed for a clear path in the midst of confusion and complexity, all to find that the option that you thought that seem like God’s best option for your life was not what ended up being the case.

I know of a couple that felt called to be missionaries in another country. They were educated, they raised money, they learned new languages and sold their home. Yet when they arrived in their new place of ministry one of their children got fatally ill, and they had to come home permanently, shocked with grief and having to adjust to a life they never foresaw, they wondered how could this be in God’s plan for them as opposed to being out on the mission field? The path seemed so clear, the option obvious.

Perhaps you have prayed for a spouse to change or a marriage to mend.

Perhaps you prayed for a friend or family member struggling with cancer. All to see the cancer slowly over take them.

When I was in college, both my parents died of cancer. My mom had been battling breast cancer since I was in high school, then suddenly my father got pancreatic cancer my third year of college, and he died five months after that, two weeks after I graduated. My mother two years after that, after the cancer that we though she had beaten came back suddenly.

I know God heals in miracles. I have seen what I can only explain as miracles, and yet I don’t know why my parents died where others lived.

Perhaps you have gone through something similar.

Perhaps you have looked at this world, this broken world, and you have prayed for healing and peace and reconciliation and liberation, as I have, all to feel like this world is growing darker.

As we hear of shootings and crises in immigration, news of economic strive that our churches are all feeling the pinch of, or of global warming or the latest dire news about the Kurds, fighting for their lives and loosing their homes, all messages delivered to us in our newsfeed accompanied by articles and memes spouting a new hate, a new irrationality, a new indifference and apathy that has caused me sometimes to wonder in prayer, “Where are you God in all this? Why aren’t things getting better?”

It is easy to look at this world and lose heart. It is easy to pray and feel discouraged.

3. The Parable of Persistence

Jesus knows this. And so, he is telling his disciples, who will face persecution, who will face the oppression and tyranny of the Roman Empire. This disciples will see many of their family members disown them, many of their friends get martyred, all to come to martyrdom themselves, most of the disciples executed for their faith in Jesus. Jesus knew that they are going to see things that would discourage them.

Jesus knows his disciples will pray, they will pray for things that they knew were good, and yet they will see things happen that are disheartening. Jesus knows this.

Jesus does something unexpected, odd even, but brilliant here, he comes into that hopelessness and gives us an analogy in this parable that reminds us that there is hope, that there is always hope. He gives us to the situation of a widow who keeps coming to a cruel judge for justice.

The persistence of the widow – someone with little power or wealth or status, nothing in her but the God-given will to see something better – succeeds where there is no reason for her to succeed other than by her persistence.

The judge, cruel but also apathetic, so apathetic that in the face of persistence, he allows justice as a path of least resistance, in order to not get worn out. Evil is its own demise.

This parable has taken place many times over in the pages of history. People of little power or status or wealth, succeed against all odds, against terrible apathy and evil, why? Perhaps nothing other than persistence, that we can see God behind.

Look to history, we see Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg, brought in arrested before inquisitors, having to escape for his life, writing books hidden away in a tower, all by his persistence he sparked the reformation, what some have called the most powerful social movement of the last half millennia.

We see examples like the persistence of William Wilberforce, who against the wickedness of the slave trade with all its corrupt wealth, was able to write and persist and convince the English world of the evil of slavery.

Look at Emily Stowe, a Christian Quaker, the first female physician and first advocate of women’s suffrage in Canada. Facing sexism, she persisted in advancing her ideas creating the first associations for advancing women in education, in difference professions, and in arguing for the right to vote. She persisted!

Look at Gandhi in India, a person who used hunger strikes and the forms of non-violent resistance, leading a movement against the British who subjugated India and so he successfully persisted in seeing India become independent and free. In the face of imperial power, he won hearts without shedding a drop of blood.

Look at Martin Luther King, in the face of the racist bigotry of segregation, King used again nothing other than non-violence, intellect, faith and persistence in his civil rights campaigns. While he was attacked, stabbed, threatened and eventually assassinated, through his efforts the apathetic heart of President Johnson was moved and the whole American people with him.

King once said that “the arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

And I can name many more, whether Dorothy Day or Desmond Tutu, or perhaps today we see the example of Greta Thunberg.

Jesus chooses a parable, it is a situation his disciples will know. They will live this parable.

Jesus is perhaps saying, remember that change is possible, a new world is possible, and that is why we can keep praying.

While the disciples did not see the end of persecution nor did they get to live out their lives in quiet, dying in peace, they did see justice: they saw the kingdom coming; they saw the Gospel proclaimed; they saw the Spirit moving; they saw hearts changed.

In all these instances and many more, while history has its darkness, its valleys, it also has its peaks, its beacons of light, its triumphs. Do not forget them! And do not forgot that with God all things are possible!

Why is change possible? Because God is not a tyrant like the unjust ruler, and if a despot can be moved, there is nothing with God who loves us and cares for us that can’t be moved.

How can God not want the best for us if he is the God that died for us?

How can we not have hope when the forces of evil could not keep our Lord Jesus Christ buried in the tomb?

How can we not persist when we see his Spirit moving?

4. Will we be found faithful?

So the text says,’7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”’

Perhaps sometimes we pray: “God solve all this sickness and poverty and war and ignorance. Do something about it!” And God says, “I am going to do something about it: I am going to send you.”

God surprises us some days with unexpected miracles, other days he tells us that we have everything we need already.

We pray longing for the kingdom, but we also praying knowing as Jesus says just a few verses earlier: the kingdom of God is among us. It is within us.

Sometimes we pray for the hand of God to intervene; Sometimes God reminds us that we are his hands and feet. We are his body.

When we pray for the end of poverty, God stirs us towards generosity.
When we pray for the end of war, God moves in us reconciliation.
When we pray for healing, God gives us compassion.
When we pray for liberation, God gives us persistence.

If you are wondering today why  the path of the world has taken a step back,  when you cry out to God longing for the kingdom, for justice, can you consider the possibility that the God is calling you to step forward?

Here is another odd truth: you are the widow of this parable. The widow was a person, as I said, without status, wealth, or power. You can say to yourself I am not strong enough, not smart enough, not financially stable enough, too young, too old, to make a difference. Yet God can use you to be the difference we long for in this world!

Do not lose heart, persist in prayer.

The question I want to leave you with then is Jesus’ Wolfville Baptist Church, will Jesus find you faithful? Will he find us faithful?

Will he find us speaking honesty in a world that does not want truth.
Will he find us being humble in a world of arrogance.
Will he find us being loving in a world that has stopped caring.
Will he find us being generous in a world of greed.
Will he find us being gentle in a world of violence.
Will he find us being just in a world that is cruel.

Will he find us confronting the powers of darkness by the light of his Holy Spirit?

Will he find us being faithful?

Let us take up that invitation today right now, and let’s pray with persistence…

“God’s Victory over (Our) Evil” A Sermon for the Ecumenical Unity Service 2018

e7d5798fb6e085d9f198abb17130bf82

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” – Martin Luther King

From the second book of the Bible, we are given a powerful story.

That God’s people came to the land of Egypt under the protection of Joseph, the long lost son of Jacob, who secured the prosperity of the land against terrible famine, all because he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. But after many years, the Israelites multiplied and the Egyptian Pharaohs grew forgetful of who Joseph was and what he did for the Egyptian people years ago.

So, a tyrant Pharaoh arose, who turned and enslaved the Israelites. He forced them to build its temples and pyramids from bricks, hearkening back to the tower of babel. In Scripture the figure of Babylon, the idolatry of empire itself, has many names: Assyria, Greece, Rome, Egypt.

Empires always put power before people. Empires always but money before humanity. Empires always justify terrible oppression as maintain order.

Pharaoh worried that the Israel were getting too numerous for their Egyptian overloads to contain, and in order to keep Egypt pure and powerful, he ordered the genocide of all the baby boys of Israel.

The narrative tells of one boy, Moses, who survived the genocide by being floated in a reed basket down the river, to be picked up providentially by Pharaohs daughter and raised as her own.

This boy, Moses, grew to be a man, and when he learned of the truth about who he was and what the pharaoh had done, murdered a slave master, and fled into exile.

Moses’ outrage tried to solve oppression with violence, and it did not work. Violence never ends violence.

In exile one day he happened upon a mysterious burning bush. It was ablaze but was not consumed. The mysterious sight spoke to him, identifying himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that he had heard the cries of the people in slavery, and was now going to act.

What shall I call you, Moses asks? “I am that I am” the presence answered. The un-nameable, uncontrollable, freedom of being and root of all existence itself, the Great I Am, this being is on the side of the poor and the oppressed.

Moses is commissioned reluctantly to go and tell the new Pharaoh, his half-brother, that God wants him to let his people go. God wants liberty for his people. God want liberation for all people.

Pharaoh, who believes he is god, refuses, and so Ten Plagues rain down to break the tyrant’s resolve. First the sacred Nile turned to blood, then frogs and lice spread, then disease and boils, hail and locusts, then finally darkness covered the land, and then it says that Pharaohs’ resolve was finally broken in the Passover as the angel of death himself descended and visited the death of the firstborn boys back against Egypt.

Pharaoh finally relented and allowed the Israel to go. But as they left, however, he recanted.

He assembled his army to re-enslave the people and slaughter them if need be. The people fled and then found themselves pressed up against the sea, nowhere to run. No weapons to fight, no soldiers or chariots. All hope was lost.

But then as the story goes, God opened up the sea, walls on either side, dry land in the middle, so that the Israelites could escape.

The Egyptian army rallied to pursue, but as they made their way into the divide, God let go the walls of water, washing the army away.

The Israelite slaves were now free, free without every picking up a sword on their part, free to live, more importantly, free to worship and follow their God.

So, Exodus 15 recites the praise of the people for God rescuing them.

I will sing to the Lord,
    for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
    he has hurled into the sea…

The Lord is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him…

The Lord is a warrior;
    the Lord is his name…

Who is like you—
    majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
    working wonders?

Our readings for this unity service looks at the God we worship (Ex. 15, Psalm 118, and Mark 5). God who is strong, majestic, holy, awesome in glory. It is this very God that is on the side of the weak and the oppressed. It is this very God that opposes the proud and will brings down the powerful. It is this very God who has promised to end the presence of evil in this world.

This is important to say that this story is more about who God is than about the spectacle of walls of water crashing down on unsuspecting Egyptian soldiers. Hollywood loves to fixate on the imagery of chariots and walls of water, whether Moses is played by Carleton Heston or Christian Bale, but Hollywood often forgets the theology.

Martin Luther King said it best:

The meaning of this story is not found in the drowning of Egyptian soldiers, for no one should rejoice at the death or defeat of a human being. Rather, this story symbolizes the death of evil and of inhuman oppression and of unjust exploitation. (King, Strength to Love, 78)

This is a narrative that we see through Christ as we look at evil in the world, which reminds us of God’s ultimate victory over evil and how we are invited to live that out in part today and awaiting a final day of God’s liberation.

1. There is real, radical, systemic, and cosmic evil in our world today.

One might think this is an obvious point. Just turn on the news and you are bombarded with messages about corrupt politicians, poverty, wars and disasters.

But why do we think anything is or can be evil at all – and not just merely unfortunate?

Again, this seems obvious but just as God has become a suspect belief today, so with him, also the belief that there is actually good and evil.

One atheist Neuroscientist wrote that empirically there is no good or evil technically, just nature that we prefer and nature that we don’t. The world, disasters and death is neither moral or immoral. It just is. As far as human nature, there isn’t evil or good, so much as proper functioning brains and malfunctioning brains.

Coincidentally, he is not to big on the idea that humans have free will either.

Our culture has placed its trust in the power of the empirical, and as a result, with belief in a transcendent God out of the picture, so also, slowly with that good and evil.

The world as it is is all there is. It is not evil or good, it just is.

Why is there meaning as opposed to meaninglessness?

Why is sacrifice more virtuous than comfort and apathy

Why is compassion preferable to domination?

Why is good preferable to evil?

Why is life preferable to death?

We are learning that these cherished hopes we have as humans and more specifically as Christians, they are not natural givens. They are not sitting there obvious to the disinterested observer. They are seen by faith. They are produced within a particular community that looks to God for what is most true and meaningful, most ultimate and good.

It is faith in a God, who made the world good, that we know that there is a primal innocence and beauty residing in all reality, and that as humans have made the decision to rebel and reject God’s life and goodness, evil and sin has deformed our world.

Some might say God obviously does not exist because of all the evil in this world. I think it is the opposite. We can only see that there is something called evil in this world by believing there is something good beyond the world.

If God exists and God is good, we know is not the way it ought to be.

2. When we consider evil in our world, we have to contend with the evil within us.

When we know God’s will is goodness, truth, beauty, life and hope, then we look at the world and see that it has radical, systemic, and cosmic evil.

But when we say there is something wrong with the world out there, the scriptures us push to turn our attention from the evil out there to the evil in here, in our hearts. The in excusable evil we do.

This evil is found in the capacity of human beings that in light of all our education and knowledge, all our collective wisdom and arts and religion, and all our power and technology we will still choose the path of annihilation, knowing full-well its harm.

When we know the vast waste and depravity of violence, we still go to war.

When we know that more is accomplished in unity, we choose division.

When we know the benefits of facing hard realities, we still choose to cling to our delusions.

In this story of Israel and Egypt, if we are really honest, we must realize that we are more often Egypt than Israel.

So often we read the Exodus story saying we are the Israelites in a spiritual bondage. The reality is we are more accurately the Egyptians. We are more often oppressor than oppressed. We are members of one of the wealthiest nations on the planet.

We sometimes smugly accuse our neighbors to the south of injustice, but we Canadians have to realize our own nations sins.

Our corporations have stripped the resources away from people in South America and Africa.

Our banks have suffocated the economies of many Caribbean Islands.

We have used our military to even overthrow democratically elected leaders and even  Christians leaders in other countries, all to secure our wealth.

I am no internet conspiracy theorist. These are all facts in plain sight. The question is do we have eyes to see these realities?

Underneath our facade of a nation of peacekeepers and human rights is a disappointing track record of exploitation that we Canadians turn a blind eye to because we don’t want to know where our products come from or what is ensures our economic comforts.

We are more like the Egyptians then the Israelites. Many good Egyptians of conscience probably sat ideally by as Israelites died building temples and pyramids. They probably did the same thing we are going. Throwing up our arms and saying, “Oh, well,” and turn a blind eye because they did not want to sacrifice their comforts..

To be human from the standpoint of faith is to know we have a primal goodness, but also the terrible capacity to forsake that goodness.

We as Christians know that while our faith pushes us to love more and pursuit truth more and justice more, but we also are aware that our hearts can also contort our religion into instruments of apathy and self-righteousness.

We do this when we offer prayers that we don’t intend to act on.

We do this when refuse to reach out to the broken in our communities.

When we cling to our own comforts rather than living sacrificially.

When we shut out the world so that we don’t have to have compassion on it.

We look out at the world and we condemn its evil, we look at our country and we realize we are living in a modern day Egypt. And they we look at our churches and we have to realize we are no better.

forgive

3. God’s answer to evil, our evil, is the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ

What happens when we see evil in this world and we realize that we also have that same evil within our hearts? What do we do when we realize we are more like Egypt than Israel?

The book of exodus is a narrative that gets retold, recited, and re-enacted throughout the Bible, particularly the New Testament. If we don’t read the Exodus through the New Testament we are left realizing we belong drowned in that sea rather than safe on that shore. We deserve sorrow not these songs.

But Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures. Jesus is our exodus.  Jesus shows us true exodus.

This story of Passover is re-enacted and fulfilled in the last supper and the cross.

This is important because for the exodus story to apply for us, we need to place ourselves in the seats of the disciples. And what did the disciples do? They failed just as we failed. They turned from Jesus. And so often we do to. The disciples that ate with Jesus, knew what was good more than anyone else, they sinned. That is the beginning of the church.

Judas betrayed. Peter denied. The others fled in fear. The people of God were complicit in the murder of their messiah. The law of God was manipulated to execute to their own deliverer. To see radical evil in our world and in our hearts, we need not look any further than what happened to Jesus at the cross by those whom he came to save.

The world denied Jesus, but the more troubling part is that we denied Jesus.

And so, the words are ever more powerful that on the night of the Passover, the night the disciples remembered this exodus event, this was the night Jesus was betrayed, Jesus became our the Passover lamb, to liberate us from our own sins.

His body that we broke, was broken for us.

The blood the people of God shed, he embraced as a path to forgive them of the very sins they were sinning against him. A new covenant.

No vast sea was split the day Jesus was nailed on the cross but the veil was torn, a greater cosmic event occurred: God forgave his enemies, us, God atoned for sins, our sins, even as we murdered him. God embraced death so that we could have life. God chose to suffer as one cursed so that all who cry out forsaken would know they are not.

And as the Gospels say, here the Scripture were fulfilled.

To read exodus through the cross is to know that Jesus died for Pharaoh just as much as Moses. Just as Jesus died for Peter who denied him, he died for you and me that fail to follow him.

To read this narrative of Pharaoh being thrown into the sea with his soldiers through Christ is to realize that Jesus fulfilled this by accepting that punishment for evil on himself not visiting it back on those that deserve it.

To read exodus through the cross is to know that God’s way of dealing with evil is not with bringing disaster on the perpetrators but by bringing healing.

To read the exodus Passover through Jesus shows us a God that does not want to kill his enemies, but rather a God who loves his enemies, overcomes them not with force but  with forgiveness, such that even the Roman guards by the cross cried out, “Surely this man was the son of God.”

At the cross the great evils of this world that nailed Jesus to a Roman execution pike did not prevent our Savior from being fully obedient to the Father and fully willing to forgive us. That is how evil was defeated.

And three days later, the Father raised Jesus from the died, overturning histories judgment.

The resurrection was the overturning of death itself. The weapon of evil and fear, empire and tyranny was disarmed that day.

Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.

Jesus overturned our sins that day too. He appeared to those that betrayed him, the disciples, and announced peace to you.

Death, sin, and despair have lost. They destiny is oblivion, and our destiny is liberation.

When we lose hope in ourselves, when we are overwhelmed at the sin in our hearts, we know that we worship a God that would gladly accept the death penalty in order to bring us to him.

When we look at our world, its systems of oppression and corruption, the cogs of death that keep turning, we know we worship the God of life, who raised Jesus from the dead.

Hell reigns, but not forever.

Oppression reigns but its days are numbered.

Death reigns but it realizes now it is the one that is mortal.

Sin is here but it has been defeated.

Christ has had his definitive victory that Easter morning for the tomb was found empty. The grave could not contain him.

Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.

The question then is how to we live this victory?

4. How do we live out the victory of the resurrection?

We are called to sacrifice. When we know that God has given us salvation and the enduring presence of his love, we take our liberation and use our freedom to take up our cross. No one is liberated until everyone is liberated. And the highest freedom is not material mobility but spiritual strength. That is only possible by follow Christ no matter what.

Martin Luther King knew this. Oscar Romero knew this. Maximilian Kolbe knew this. Jim Elliot knew this. All the martyrs that have given their lives for Christ, the Gospel and his kingdom of truth and justice will tell you this.

There can be no path to resurrection without the cross just as there cannot be any path to freedom without sacrifice. And this sacrifice is freedom.

We must be sorry. This freedom begins in repentance. There is no solution to the terrible evil in this world until we take responsibility for our own roles in further it. We are called to acknowledge that we sin and we need forgiveness. We repent because we need restoring.

The Gospel gives us that counter-intuitive truth that humility is liberation. Liberation from ourselves.

We are called to serve. The only way our world will become a better place is by good people acting differently. For use to move out of our culture’s default setting of selfishness and apathy and ignorance.

As Desmond Tutu said, God has no body but ours. God has no hands and feet but ours. God uses our eyes to look upon the oppressed. He uses our ears to listen to those suffering.

Are we, brothers and sisters from different traditions of Christianity, ready to be Christ’s body again?

Lastly, tonight, we are called to sing. That is what we are doing today at this unity service. When we worship a God of perfect goodness and power and love, we see the world differently. If we don’t continue to meet together, to pray together, to recite Scripture together, we will grow weary along the difficult path disciples must way.We need each other.

When we worship together in the unity of Christ, we show a divided world that there is hope beyond the fragments.

And so, please stand with me and let us renew are hearts by praising our God with this inspiring song, “The Right Hand of God.”