ďLook Upon the CrossĒ
March 30, 2003
Reformed theologian, Karl Barth, once said that a preacher ought to have an open Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.† We preachers take very seriously the fact that national and international events not only impact our lives, but also help to shape our lives.† And yet at the same time we also take seriously that the final authority for our faith and life is Godís word for us in Scripture.† And so for the past week two weeks, preachers all over this country have been faced with a dilemma, a rather difficult dilemma, about what to say about the war and what not to say about the war.
Lectionary websites, pastor forums, Presbytery letters, and denominational publications have all been inundated with differing views both theologically and politically about the war, just as you have your own differing views both theologically and politically.† This is because all of us hold deep convictions about what we believe, and some of us are more outspoken than others.† Some of us believe this war is the right and necessary thing for this country to be doing; others of us believe it is the wrong thing to be doing.† Preachers are no different.† We too have our own thoughts and opinions, and I will tell you that not all preachers are in agreement.† Given what I have read from this particular denomination, Iím in the minority.†
Throughout history, preachers have taken to the pulpit to go on record about national and international issues with masterfully crafted sermons addressed to political or religious leaders, but unfortunately those political and religious leaders are not the ones sitting in the pews on Sunday morning, you are.† You are a people with different opinions, different political priorities, and different theological convictions about what is on the public agenda at the time.†
Preachers know that people are looking for words of support from the pulpit in times of crisis, whether it be support for their own views or just spiritual support. †There is a real temptation for preachers, as there is for all of us, to confuse our own personal theological and political convictions with Godís truth, and for preachers to use the pulpit as the means to convey our own convictions.† I try very hard to not fall for that temptation, because I do not want this pulpit to become a bully pulpit where I stand up here and tell you what to think and feel.† I strongly believe this pulpit should be a pulpit of unity and reconciliation, and not a pulpit of division and separation.†††
Does this mean that I just give you the textbook answers to scripture?† No, I give you what I believe and what I think but it is always in response to Godís word to us and in the context of faith.† What I say in the pulpit is not meant to be a monologue, but a dialogue, a dialogue with you, with the people who wrote the Bible, and most importantly with God.†
Each Sunday you come to this church to hear a portion of Godís word to you, as well as what I have to say about it, but my words are only part of the conversation, a part of the dialogue.† My calling as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament is to, in some way, be a prophetic voice that articulates Godís Word and Godís vision for humanity both in good times and in bad times.† My calling is to speak to you about God, not what I believe about current events, because I believe Godís word speaks to all of us, to those who are for what this country is doing and to those who are against it.†
I believe Godís word calls all of us, liberal and conservative, democrat and republican, pro-action and anti-war, to take a long, hard look at ourselves and what we believe.† Godís word challenges every one of us, and it calls into question our own preconceived notions about our own faith, our society, and our world, so that we might be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit to discover through the whole Biblical witness what Godís truth is, not what we think the truth should be.† This is why faith is a life-long journey and not a short trip.†††††
Does this mean that I donít have an opinion or a conviction about the war in Iraq?† Of course not.† Trust me when I tell you that I have an opinion.† Trust me when I tell you that I have convictions, and if you ask me what they are, I will gladly tell you, and I will also welcome your agreement or disagreement.† But for now, for all of us, we need to focus our attention, not on the pros and cons of the war, but upon the one who stands above all powers and principalities, upon the one who reigns over every nation and every land, upon the one who demonstrated true power and unconditional love in the cross and resurrection of Christ, upon the one who brings eternal life to the world.
For the last 10 days, our lives have been consumed with the war.† No matter where we turn, no matter where we look, news and images of the war fill our newspapers, television screens, and radios.† We live in an unprecedented time in human history when we can watch the war as it unfolds right before our eyes.† Instead of waiting weeks or months for news from the front, we get it immediately.†
As much as we try to carry on with our normal lives, our thoughts and feelings about the war, and about our loved ones in harms way, are a constant reminder that things are not normal for us, for this country, or for this world, and that is difficult for us to deal with.†
We are a people who crave normalcy, who yearn to return to the good olí days, who want very much for things to be the way they used to be.† And now because of the war, we have again become acutely aware of the reality that life in this world is never normal.† We all know that the pendulum of life swings both ways.† There are times when it swings to the good side as we experience the most wonderful times in our lives, but there are other times when it swings to the bad side and we have to withstand the burden of the most tragic events of life.† The reality of war is a stark reminder of just how far the pendulum can swing.† Yet, it is the midst of tragedy, whether it be in the chaos and confusion in our personal lives or in world events, there is hope.
There is always hope, because we are not alone in these times of sorrow and pain, for our God is a God who knows what it means to be human, who knows what it means to hurt physically and spiritually, who knows what it means to laugh and experience joy and passion, and who knows what it means to weep with us and sometimes for us.†
To some people, there are very clear, uncomplicated answers when it comes to the war.† Sometimes I am one of these people, other times my answers only lead to more questions.† But there is one thing that I do know.† There is one thing I am sure about.† One thing that I know and believe with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, that God will be lovingly and powerfully present in the days ahead, not because of what the newspaper says in my one hand, but because of what the Bible says in my other hand, because it is the Bible that tells us God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Whatever personal conclusions we reach about this war, all of us can know and believe that God is not absent in it, that God is right in the middle of it, that God is at work even now to bring about liberation, reconciliation, and redemption, because Godís Son laid down his own life to demonstrate the lengths and depths of Godís love for the us and for the world.† It is in this good news that we can have hope that the pendulum of life, will not only once again swing the other way, but that the pendulum of life will one day swing no more.† One day, life will not just return to the way it used to be, but that it will finally and fully become the way it is supposed to be and there will be no more war, no more oppression, no more hunger, no more death.
During this season of Lent, as we not only contemplate our personal and communal relationship with God, but also as we continue to live in a world divided and walk in the wilderness and fog of war, let us always look upon the cross as the sign of Godís presence with us and for us, for it is only when we look upon the cross that we can know the true power of Godís healing and redeeming love for the world, and hope for humankind.