Matthew 26:47-56 & Luke 22:35-53
September 16, 2001
I don't know about you, but I am exhausted this morning. The past week has been harder to bear than anyone ever thought. Simple, everyday tools have been used to bring immense sadness. Airplanes have been turned into bombs. We don't know where there is any security.
If the truth is told we have known about this potential for insecurity all our lives. We have all experienced some part of insecurity with previous relationships and jobs and the presence of death among our family and friends. But, in human fashion we have denied what we knew.
We gather today with a wide variety of needs to still make sense of the world around us, to grieve that which we know has been lost, and to make decisions for both the short-term and long-term. I pray you will find comfort and guidance from our time together and really recommend that you stay for Meet-U-Time in order to talk about how you are doing in light of terror coming close.
This was more than any of us needed and we are dazed.
Two days ago I got tired enough of trying to be helpful to folks with their questions and with their anxiety about friends and family who were in New York or Washington, D.C. that I crashed into a deep sleep in front of the TV. And the the phone rang, waking me up. There was a phone within reaching distance but I was so disoriented that I went stumbling through the house trying to find the noise. By the time I got to another phone it was too late. The caller had hung up. And I just stood there in the kitchen
It is at this point I turn to the scripture we heard this morning about Jesus and some of his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus has repeatedly told the disciples that terror, disaster, death was coming his way. The disciples repeatedly refused to look beyond their own needs and comforts to the reality of the world around them. So it was that Jesus warned them against sleeping or denying reality for this would be a temptation that would keep them spiritually bound to the present world and not be able to see or live within a new reality of heaven come to earth.
In this regard we are like the disciples who, against Jesus' warning, slept and denied Jesus open-eyed look at the world and evil. We have had an abrupt call in the middle of our dozing and thinking things were finally going to be alright. I feel we have been like me when I was rudely awakened and not sure what was going on or how to make sense of the information coming in.
I finally just found myself standing in the kitchen. The disciples found themselves standing in the garden with terror coming at them and Jesus with clubs and swords instead of airplane bombs.
The disciples were just like us, they reacted out of what their feelings and emotions told them to do. That reptilian part of our brains took over and they struck out.
It is recorded that the disciples struck out with a sword and lopped off the ear of one of those causing them terror (please note that they probably got the wrong person in their haste to do something - a servant is not the same as the armed terrorists coming at them).
I don't expect there would be many here this morning who wouldn't understand their action. We have certainly heard from polls that this would be the response of our selves and our fellow citizens. We want to lop off an ear for Jesus and for our dead.
At this point we are caught in the human condition of perpetuating the first action after Adam and Eve left another Garden. Cain killed Abel and was afraid of retaliation. GOD put a mark of protection on Cain, terrorist and murderer that he was.
The disciples were afraid and retaliated. The symbolic lopping off of an ear (we have such a difficult time hearing one another in the deep places of our lives) says we really don't want our enemies to hear us and to change. We want them to be deaf to any appeal to change so we can be justified in our retaliation.
If GOD had taken a poll about whether to protect Cain with a special mark, GOD would have found out that GOD was in the minority. This is part of the miracle we are looking for - a way of breaking the cycle of violence which is so much a part of the human condition.
Deep in our hearts we know that pay-back only sets up another round of violence. But we have a very difficult time living up to that ideal.
Jesus follows in GOD's footsteps. When the disciples strike out Jesus responds in two ways which are a challenge to us.
One thing Jesus does is to instruct the dazed disciples who went to sleep in their Garden of Security and awoke to Terror. Jesus says anyone who uses swords and retribution will be destroyed by swords and retribution.
I am not sure we are ready to hear this yet as there is more grieving to do and there is punishment which is appropriate for those who planned this Terror in our midst. However, I am equally sure, that we will have to take these words into account in the near future.
GOD and Jesus set a high standard for us in protecting Cain and berating the disciples. My prayer is that we will not dismiss this out of hand and begin to listen to it in a way we never have before. Surely there is wisdom in Jesus' instructions to put away the sword. Surely this is difficult and filled with danger, but those who live from their baptism and toward resurrection must take this seriously.
The second thing that Jesus does is to reach out and heal the person whose ear had been hacked off by the disciples. How like Jesus! The most difficult of situations bring forth his basic work of healing of the nations.
This is a challenge to us because we are still at the stage of wanting our pound of flesh. We want more than 10,000 ears for the more than 5,000 lives of our citizens who died.
Jesus, on the other hand, reaches out to heal and restore the Terrorist. This seems to many to be un-American and un-Christian. We would rather that Jesus had called down an army of angels to do in the evil-doers. But somehow Jesus goes a different way and this is a challenge to our hearts and our heads. In days soon to come it will not be easy for us to avoid this image of Jesus reaching out to heal the one coming against him.
Let me suggest that our Spiritual Work in these days is that of separating our desire for vengeance which belongs to GOD from the call from GOD and Jesus to protect and heal sources of evil.
This Spiritual Work is ultimately very Practical Work. The cycle of violence needs to be broken somewhere and Jesus says it will be broken with him and his followers. Jesus and those who follow him will not take up the sword but will continue to offer healing - even if that takes them all the way to the Cross.
It is this living way of Jesus which is calling to us today and for these next days. We are in the midst of testing to see whether we can follow where Jesus led.
A help to us will be a remembrance of our baptism.
I ask you to help one another to not only renounce evil, such as terrorism, but to also repent of your sin which desires retribution rather than punishment and war rather than a world court.
I ask you to help one another to accept the freedom and power of GOD to resist participating in further evil, injustice and oppression - even if they promise greater security, for, ultimately, there is no security from dying. There is only living faithfully.
I ask you to help one another to put your whole trust in Jesus' grace-filled life and promise to serve him in a church open to people of all ages, nations, races, and sinful backgrounds.
We will not be helped by those strained voices calling out their favorite targets as reasons for this tragedy. Abortion did not turn airplanes into bombs, neither did homosexuality or lack of sectarian prayer in schools.
When we remember our baptism we remember that it is possible to focus on healing not more hurting and living in community not garrisons.
I pray you will remember your baptism and be glad. I pray you will join me in doing our best to follow Jesus by putting down our swords and reaching out in healing.
This is a big task for those of us who are still dazed and confused and hurt and disappointed to find we are not as secure as we had dreamed we were. It will only be with GOD's help that we will know our sins forgiven and be able to forgive others their sins against us. I pray that GOD's help will soon be accepted by us.
Copyright 2001. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.