Liturgy by TLW



Sermon: When War Breaks Out
A Service for Peace in a Time of War

by the Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel
Atonement Lutheran Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
14 October 2001

Ps.46 Jn.14:23-27

So it’s started. Many of us had not even gotten away from church last Sunday when the bombs started dropping on Kabul. If we weren’t sure what to call it before, it’s official: it’s war.

And what an emotional week as a result. A counsellor friend told me on Monday that it’s all really having an impact on people. “They’re lost, and unsure about what to do next,” he said. Another friend said on Wednesday, “I just get to the point where I’m ready to get on a plane and go somewhere, and boom, some new tragedy comes on the news that scares you half to death.” Yeah, like anthrax. Just when you get to the point of thinking that this is unrelated to terrorist actions, the FBI announces on Thursday, “Watch out for terrorist retaliation.” Like we’re supposed to know how to respond to that? Right! And the capper of the week, the newest case of anthrax in New York was actually mailed from St. Petersburg! Great! So we’re stock piling anthrax in St. Pete! Just great!

How are people supposed to deal with this?

And so we turn to the bible to try to find some comfort in our faith. And what do we find there? Jesus, saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Mt.5.9). “[I]f anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (Mt.5.39). “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor 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” (Mt.5.43-45). “[I]f you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt.6.14-15).

Is there no comfort for us? Is there no place of refuge when it comes at us from all sides? Is there no where to turn?

Well, yes, there is. I’ll explain Jesus’ words in a minute. But first look at that Psalm we just read together. “God IS our refuge and strength.” “The Lord of Hosts IS with us.” And even as regards war, any war, the promise is there too and it is true: “He makes wars to CEASE to the ends of the earth.” That’s a PROMISE! Remember that! And don’t let go of it! Faith needs those promises to get through times like we are experiencing now. God IS our refuge and strength. God’s desire for us truly IS peace. Those are both promises of faith that you can count on.

It’s difficult. I don’t want to minimize it at all. No war is pleasant or easy or without its costs -- from the person on the front lines to those of us back home praying, helping in whatever way we can, doing our part to be good citizens and good Christians. I must admit, though, that being BOTH good citizens and good Christians can be a challenge. Why? It’s not that we don’t support what our nation or government is doing. Certainly we do, and there is no conflict in our religion over that. But our faith often calls us to something higher than what the citizen without faith knows or believes.

In trying to dig into that a little bit, I did a bible study this week on war and peace. I want to share some of what I found in hopes that it will help you in your own faith journey during this trying time.

Clearly, the bible knows about war. In the Hebrew Testament, God is even called “a warrior” (NRSV), “a man of war” (KJV, Ex.15.3). But when we see the Hebrew people locked in battle against the Egyptians for their freedom (in the book of Exodus), or against the various nations in their Conquest of the Promised Land (in the book of Joshua), or trying to maintain their dominance in Canaan (in the book of Judges), there we see war as God’s war. Yeah, Holy War, to be sure. God called the war, God led the battle, God gave the victory (1 Sam.17.47; Deut.20.4). Why? Because he had promised way back at the time when he called Abraham, “I will bless you” (Gen.12.2) “and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen.12.3).

NO blessing is given without the assurance of peace to go with it. That’s a promise. That’s a promise that comes to us as sons and daughters of Abraham, sons and daughters in the faith. That’s why the Psalm for today says what it does. Because God promised it to Abraham, and to us.

The holiness of war changed, though, during the monarchy in Israel. The God who once was chief leader of his chosen people was somewhat outstripped by the people’s clamoring for a king (1 Sam.8.6-7). After all, they were a nation like other nations; and other nations had a king, so they wanted one too (1 Sam.8.19-20).

And in a nation with a king, who calls for war? The king does, not God (1 Sam.8.11-12). And why? For national policy. Or politics, that’s why. Peace by territorial expansion. Peace by conquest. Peace by treaty. Peace because it’s good business. Not peace by God, as such.

That’s not to say that God was not on Israel’s side. It IS to say, however, that there were times that prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah really saw the warfare that came upon Israel as God’s judgment for abandoning him (Is.31.1). Why judgment? Israel had become TOO great. People had come to think that their prosperity and peace had come from their status among nations, from their king and their government, from their military might, from the sweat of their own brows -- forgetting, as people are prone to do, that the true Giver of peace and prosperity is none other than God.

Israel paid a large price for forgetting that one. I suppose all people do. But what’s always most interesting is to note what God does after judgment of that sort. He gives people peace (Is.32.18). The Israelites surely were defeated and taken into exile, but God restored them to their homeland (Ezra). God gave them prosperity again. God ALWAYS takes care of his own.

Something happened, though, with that particular change during the monarchy and it’s aftermath. People began to realize that the peace that God desires for us goes beyond national boundaries and citizenship (Is.26.12-13). As prophets like Micah started telling of a Messiah who would come, they also spoke of a peace that he would bring with him, one that would last forever (Is.9.6-7).

It should not be surprising, therefore, that when Jesus began his ministry, he was a preacher and bringer of peace, speaking in ways that I quoted from the Sermon on the Mount earlier. The true war, for Jesus, was against the powers of this world -- not governments, as such. No, support of government was what he advised (Mk.12.17). The true robbers of peace were the powers of darkness, the powers of the true ruler of this world (Jn.12.31), who from the beginning had tempted Jesus every step of the way by just those kinds of things that tempt us: comfort, even basics like bread, but also glory, power -- those things that LOOK good, but don’t really give peace at all (Lk.14.1-13).

To be sure, Jesus waged war while he was on this earth. But his war was over sin and death, and he waged it on a cross. This war was FAR bigger than any nation or army or band of terrorists could bring to anybody at anytime.

And the absolute Good News of it all is that in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, God WON the decisive battle against the demonic, war-making powers. God broke their control over all humanity, guaranteeing their ultimate overthrow.

Yes, I am here to say with absolute confidence: the resurrection has power for us in the midst of this new war against terrorism! Yes, the resurrection has power over all that would rob us of our peace. See? God did it again! Just like he did for the Israelites. He did it through the cross and grave! He did it for us in Jesus Christ! He did it for OUR PEACE! Just like he promised to Abraham! Just like he continues to promise to us!

As disciples of Jesus, we are disciples of peace. We can’t help but be. That doesn’t mean we can’t be a good soldier, a dutiful citizen, a protector of our country’s rights to life, liberty and justice. It means we MUST be that. But we must be more. If we must go to war -- as surely as we didn’t ask for this, it came to us -- then let it BE for peace. And not just OUR peace. But the peace of the whole world.

As Christians, we must always recognize where we and our nation fail, and be willing to ask forgiveness for those failings. We have to admit it. We haven’t always shared our prosperity with the whole world. We haven’t always been just, when the choice is between me and my own and the victims of injustice I cannot see half way across the world. As Christians, we know we can seek forgiveness and are called to give forgiveness. We are called as peacemakers and reconcilers. We can be that for our nation. We can hold these things up, even as we support our troops, pray for our leaders, and pray for peace. Oh yes, above all, we MUST pray for peace. In these kinds of ways, we can be both good citizens and good Christians.

And when it comes to ourselves, well, I know it helps me a whole lot to know that I have a God who desires peace for me, from my head to my toes, from my inner spirit to the world around me. I have a God who works SO HARD to give me that peace. And calls me to it again and again.

And in my faith, I find that peace. It’s there when I go to church. It’s there when I pray. It’s there when I say grace. It’s there when I read the bible. It’s there when I sing a hymn. It’s there when I look at that cross. Yes, that cross! Where Jesus died that I might have peace with God and peace with the world! How can I be defeated with the peace that brings?!!

Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” I can’t say it better than that. God is going to take care of you.