A Lenten Reflection

Posted: February 23, 2012 in Theology, Things of Faith
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A late life friendship for each, Mark Twain an...

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As I began reflecting upon the lectionary passage for this week, the first week of the Lenten season, I was reminded of reading in Sider and Keefer’s A Peace Reader.  The title of the chapter was, “Teaching Peace to Children Who Play War.”[1] Not growing up in a “Peace Church” I remember quite clearly playing war with my brother and the other neighborhood kids when I was young. Stark images of Audey Murphy’s movie To Hell and Back and the way in which his actions were portrayed in such a virtuous manner that anyone who would do anything other than what he did was a “coward” were grafted into my psyche. We all wanted to emulate such a life. I often think of the ways in which my imaginary were shaped along the lines of patriotic heroics. What are the odds of me one day serving as a pastor in the Church of the Brethren and holding to such strong convictions concerning Jesus’ command to love my enemies? I believe that it bears witness to the transforming power of God’s Spirit reshaping, not only my identity, but my entire hermeneutical perspective.

I began my day yesterday reading Genesis 9. The story of Noah is both disturbing and exhilarating. It focuses upon the application of God’s justice and as a consequence his determination to be in covenant relationship with all living creatures. It’s not just any covenant, but the precursor to his covenant of life through the grace of his willingness to accept the pain of sinful humanity in order to reconcile it to himself (culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah). Jesus, as an extension of this covenant, redefines the virtuous life. Rather than law he provides relationship. Instead of condemnation he offers grace and mercy through his reconciling love. Even as human beings are participants in the causation of his suffering, he lovingly sacrifices himself for us. What greater demonstration of God’s determined love that sets out to redeem and reconcile human beings so that all creation can share in the loving relationship with God, the source of real life. The effects of this vertical reconciliation is the empowerment of the covenant participants to express this new relational standing with the God of life to live lives of reconciliation, that is living out this covenant with all creation.

Sider and Keefer’s text was published just after 9/11 in response to the heightened emphasis upon nationalism within the US. This text includes Mark Twain’s essay, “The War Prayer.”[2] If you’ve never read this piece, I would highly recommend it. In it Twain tells the story of a community worked up into a frenzy for war to such an extent that it is preached from the pulpit. During the pastor’s prayer for both the protection of their soldiers and for victory a visitor appears and walks down the aisle to stand beside the pastor. As the pastor closes his beautifully articulated prayer, the visitor reveals that he is none other than a messenger from God. He asks if the congregation and community really want the prayer answered because in it is not just the prayer the pastor spoke but also the one left unspoken. In what follows the messenger, at the direction of God, recites the unspoken prayer that reveals the brutal violence, suffering, hatred and the forthcoming consequences of such a prayer would cause if answered. The essay is a stark reminder that God is the God of all creation and equally loves and desires all people. It also reminds us that in war there are no winners only varying degrees of woundedness, if not from the physical effects from receiving defeat, then the spiritual wounds caused by the cost of victory through violence.

There is no more appropriate time than that of Lent to acknowledge and confess the violence that exists in each of our hearts. Even as God determined not to address human sinfulness through violence and destruction any longer, perhaps we too should follow God’s example. The passion of Christ represents the violent effects of human sinfulness. Ironically it is through Jesus’ willingness to bear this undeserved suffering that human beings are forgiven for being perpetrators of this same violence. And it is in the resurrection that Jesus is proven victorious over the immanent death and eternal separation from the source of life that would have been the destiny of such perpetrators. Instead we are offered the God’s shalom and thus life.

[1] Harriet Bicksler, “Teaching Peace to Children Who Play War,” A Peace Reader, E. Morris Sider and Luke Keefer, Jr., editors. (Nappanee: Evangel Publishing House, 2002), 130-139.

[2] Ibid., 195-197.


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