Sunday, 10 November 2019

Remembrance Day Sunday


As you know, Remembrance Day is tomorrow. It is important to remember the suffering that is a part of the high cost of war- then and now. It is important to remember how fragile peace can be. It is important to remember that the monster of war lives just under the surface and seeks a way to be released into the world. It is important to remember the sacrifices many make to try to do something about the suffering because to sit back and do nothing is a worse evil. It is also a day to remember Jesus' words to us about violence and about how we are to treat our enemies.

Christians have always had a difficult time with violence. At the beginning Christians seemed to be pacifists. The words of Jesus telling them to love their enemies, and telling Peter to put away his sword, rang pretty loud in their ears. St. Paul taught them that they didn’t fight against flesh and blood. There are many stories about Early Christians being martyred. They were willing to die, but they didn’t seem willing to kill. … It wasn’t always easy though. There are stories about Roman soldiers becoming Christians. They remained as soldiers, but they were often not willing to kill. Soldiers who became Christians were sometimes considered disobedient and disloyal if they were unwilling to kill and would sometimes receive severe punishments.

The question became more difficult after the Roman Empire adopted Christianity in 380. Before this, Christians lived in the empire, but they really didn't have any power. Eventually, they had to deal with invading armies. Christians who had the power to command an army had to decide what to do while being consistent with their beliefs. Suddenly, there was a need for a Christian understanding of how a Christian empire can use violence.

Here is where St. Augustine put his mind to work. He imagines the parable of the Good Samaritan. There is a man travelling on the road who is attacked, robbed, and left for dead. A priest and a religious person pass by, not helping the man, but someone you wouldn’t expect to help is the one who helps the man bleeding and dying in the ditch. … Jesus uses this story to talk about loving your neighbour. St. Augustine wonders what would happen if the Good Samaritan came upon the man as he was getting attacked. How would the good neighbour respond? Surely the good neighbour wouldn’t look away and ignore the beating.

He came to the conclusion that we could separate outward actions from inward dispositions. So, in protecting the victim, I may actually kill the attacker, but inwardly my actual motivation was to protect the victim. I did not want to kill the attacker. It was a kind of accidental consequence that occurred as I was defending someone. So, to St. Augustine the sin in a war is really internal- it is to be found in motivation and inward disposition. If I killed someone by accident, it is not murder. For St. Augustine, if I ended up killing someone while defending someone else it would be something like an accident. It is the inward disposition that motivates the act that determines if the act is moral or not. If I am motivated by a desire to protect the innocent, rather than out of a desire for cruelty and violence, then I am justified in killing.

St. Augustine also believed that God created human beings to exist in a kind of natural order that includes rulers who were given a responsibility that included using violence, if necessary, to protect the innocent. He believed that God meant society to be organized under rulers. So, for example, we read in Romans 13:1, 4 that 
“…authorities that exist have been instituted by God… the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.”
 It is the duty of the ruler to maintain order and peace and at times this means war. … War in itself is not good. It is something that causes bloodshed and suffering, but it seems to be necessary (at times) to maintain the peace and order of the state.

This does not mean that St. Augustine was bloodthirsty. He put together a theory of Just War at a time when his people were being killed and raped by foreign armies. He spelled out principles, which are still used today, under which a nation can justly go to war. Augustine clearly saw it as a last resort to be used only when all other means have failed and when the other nation compels a defensive response. War is always used as the lesser of two evils. The suffering and evil of not defending and allowing the enemy to destroy at will with no opposition is seen as too great an evil to endure. The suffering of war would be less than the suffering of not going to war. Entering into war amounts to less evil overall.

It is a compelling argument that Augustine put together. It helped the empire to resolve the conflict. But, there are problems with it. I will give two examples. First, as theologian Stanley Hauerwas once said, "I just want to know when the Just War theory has led Christians to say 'no' to a war". Just War theory often provides a way of justifying wars, but doesn't really ever seem to have the power to prevent a nation from entering into war.

A second problem with the theory is that it separates our motivations from our actions. Jesus taught that our actions flow from our inward dispositions. Murder begins through the anger in our heart. If we love our enemy, our actions will flow from that disposition. Our actions will not contradict our inward disposition. Loving our enemy is turning the other cheek and doing good to those who hate us. It seems strange to see an act of inward love expressed through a fist swung at an enemy's nose.

Jesus' words about our enemies are pretty direct and challenging. Jesus says in Luke 6:27-29, 32-33- 
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, […] And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”

We are left wondering how we interpret this. Does this only apply to us as individuals? Does it apply at the level of government? Is this a law? Is this wisdom and guidance, but not to be applied in every circumstance of violence? … Is there any way of dividing a person so that inwardly they love their enemy, but outwardly they strike them across the cheek? … His words make us uncomfortable. His words don't seem realistic. He is asking too much of us. He's asking us for everything. He's asking for our very lives. … Maybe he is.

This makes us uncomfortable because we imagine ourselves during a war and we wonder what we would do. We have people we care about who we want to protect from an invading army. Sometimes there are atrocities being committed in the border of another country and we want to do something to stop it. … We might be in danger and we don't want to die. … As disciples of Christ we are called to be peacemakers and to turn the other cheek. What do we do?

Often the way of Christ is only made clear in the moment. We cannot be pacifists out of being cowards, or being unwilling to stand against evil. And we also have to avoid the other extreme, thinking that we can solve all the worlds problems with violence. If we engage the violence, and use it, we must do so out of a burning desire to protect the innocent, not to destroy the enemy.  We are called to live lives of courage in the midst of (what often seems like) a chaotic world. The way Jesus shows us will not always be predictable. It will not always be safe. It won't be a formula that can be applied to every violent situation. We have to rely on God through prayer to give us the right way.

Jesus' way of love led to his own death, but there are worse things than death for the Christian. His way may lead us to death, but it will also lead us to resurrection. We follow Jesus' way because we are disciples. We know that Jesus knows the way to live life best. Ultimately, peace and freedom do not come from war, but from God.

We don't know what lies in the future, but if human history is any indication of the future we can expect that war will continue to be a part of human reality for the time being. We have choices now. We are called to live Jesus' way right now. … The seeds of war lie dormant in each one of us. When someone offends us we are given the opportunity to practice peace by not shooting hurtful words back at them. When we see someone being hurt by someone else we are being given the opportunity to be a peacemaker. When we are cut off in traffic we are asked to notice and deal with the anger within us that can lead to murder.

Those who have gone before us had hard decisions to make. They should be remembered for not taking the easy way out, and for being willing to die to do something about the suffering they saw. … We also need to notice the contradiction of the belief that war leads to peace. The peaceful world will come about as God works through us- When the Sin that infects us and causes war is fully healed by the work of Jesus- and we are transformed into people who see each other as God's children. Amen.

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