"Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony?" (Job 28:29)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Violence Driving Us to Christ...

GREAT UPHEAVAL break out in headlines with continued terrorist assaults. In the ongoing fray, the world has been shocked. Many prayers have been spoken. And now… as expressed on US news outlets, fears yet arise in the face of greater, growing violence created by such demented forces.
 Amid this desolation, many voices express fear for various religious entities including synagogues and churches around the world. At the same time, moderate and peaceful Muslims cringe worriedly at the possibilities of hate-filled backlash. World-wide religious war has seemingly commenced, whether or not any government or its representatives foolishly deny its presence and importance. These include some foolhardy leaders of our own land.
 As we ponder our future, we are called to look at the past to see where we are and where we shall be going. 
 “How did we get this way? What is the source for all this hate?” Many blame religious powers. We know that religious error has caused many past atrocities. History teaches us that these struggles have come from all faith traditions.
 I ask then, “Does this mean all religious faiths are harmful?”
 Some sociologists have argued as such. We learn that strife occurs as religious and secular powers reach for domination, and I fear that even Christianity suffered from such sin during the Crusades.
 We must ask our learned, “Where did this start? How far back does this penchant go?”
 The historical roots for our present hatreds go clear back in history to that high and shrouded mountain where it is described that Abraham, as a friend of God, answered sacrificial instructions. The event occurred in scripture after the jealousy of Sarah had sent his first son Ismael away. It is in the story concerning Abraham’s taking of his second son, Isaac to be a sacrifice. He led him up the appointed mountain...

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
                                                                                                   (Genesis 22:6-12)

 In the Hebrew mindset then, the prophetic future was pardoned as God, seeing that Abraham trusted him with his present day and his future, then substituted a goat for the life of Isaac. Thus in the Hebrew scripture great inheritance belonged to Isaac, as the ancestor of the Israeli nation. The animal sacrifice system was thus continued.
 However, we also hear that the Muslim faith which recalls the same event, offers also that this latter privilege rightly belongs not to Isaac, but to Ishmael… given that he was Abraham’s first born son. They contend that the Israeli mountaintop experience recorded is moot since the rightful inheritor Ishmael had not been banished, but was really the one taken to the mountain. Therefore, the differing interpretations of this religious record has set up an enmity between the Hebrew and Muslim faiths. The deep chasm has persisted between these two great belief systems and thus we inherit a near timeless dilemma. Strong adherents to being the “chosen” people wrestle violently and militarily, even in today’s time. The strife from this dilemma has caused persons of atheistic view to demean any religious discourse. 
 As time passed in history, however, we Christians believe that God offered his own “Chosen One”. You see, each of these two religious systems performed various prayers, blood offerings and lifestyles to justify sinful participants before God... and to lesser or greater degree... they still do. Their traditional practices have changed little over past centuries, though try as they might… their purity of sacrifice cannot be found as everlasting for them. Both religious strains have offered much, including the lives of other human beings and their own as martyrs… to please our Creator. Therefore these zealous and jealous offerings track down through history from way back in time.
 But you see… for both Hebrews and Muslims, the tendency for violence precedes even the faith history of Abraham. Violence is part of our very nature. In Genesis we find the telling story of Cain and Able recorded. The two brothers, as children of Adam and Eve, in order to appease God whom they had offended, built up sin offerings before God, Able offered the carcasses of animals burnt on an altar of stones. In different fashion, Cain offered the produce of the land. Without explanation, God accepted the blood offerings of Able and did not find Cain’s offering as pleasing. In rage Cain then murdered Able.
 Now, some say that God set us up and blame our Lord, But you can see, from this we clearly understand that so deep is the offense of human sin... and pride... that only the blood of life poured out can rightly satisfy our God's divine and perfect judgment. Therefore the slaying, blood offering for offenses became self-perpetuating in the lives of God’s children. We note that the scripture-attested Hebrew “Wars of YHWH” and the campaigns of Mohammed give evidence of the ongoing chasm between mankind. Therein we find the faith walk of both Hebrew and Muslim cultures trapped, recycling thoughout history.
 Then entered Christians into the flow of history. Jesus lived, taught, healed, and died to pay the penalty of human sin. Being offered up on a cross to be the blood offering made for everyone who would believe in him…Jesus freed us from the penalty of sin.
 Yous see, only the "perfect" sacrifice would forever satisfy God, therefore God offered his own. Thus as Christians, we need not make necessary the expression of self-justifying violence. Jesus, the Risen Christ, the Prince of Peace, reconciles with God those who are baptized in his name. Jesus restores our relationship to God the Father, who is the Creator of all.
 I fear however that the centuries since the crucifixion and Resurrection reveal that the church of Christ can also possess a penchant for violence. The Church, though called forward in peace, has too often made war with entities from arenas both within and without its sanctuaries. So true therefore are the words that Saint Paul noted… “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death”.
 Subsequently, given this checkered history, let those of us within the Christian church not rain judgment and eternal condemnation upon either Hebrew or Muslim, without truthfully looking in the mirror. Let us only be thankful that we have received grace upon grace through forgiveness made available in Christ Jesus.
 But know with certainty! It is in the very receiving of this grace-filled guarantee that we Christians are set free to work for good amid this sinful and turbulent world. And though forceful resistance of arms against evil powers in this modern society may also be needed from us at times, we are called to work hard in order to keep the peaceful precepts of God’s immutable Law.
 Remember, the keeping of the Law is not that we may fulfill the Law... or progressively structure a new, grand society! Minions such as Adolf Hitler tried the latter. The Commandments… the Law…  simply condemns us. The Law rightly stated drives us to know our need for salvation. It is through our inability to obey the Law and our hard striving toward its fulfillment that we show all humanity our collective need for salvation. Let it be known, we sinners cannot meet the perfect Law! The Law thus drives us to seek salvation in Jesus, as provided by God, the Father Almighty.
 We might ask in prayer then, “Since Christ is the answer, when shall all this striving and death end?” The answer is found in our scriptural Christian inheritance, The witness made by John of Patmos comes to us from the book of Revelation. He told us truly. God related to us Truth through his lowly servant as he strengthened the church laboring beneath the powers of ancient Rome. John said that we shall see eternal heavenly peace only when evil powers are defeated at the last by Jesus Christ. We read…

“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, “To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Revelation 5:11-14)

 The key lay in the words, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain…” Though we certainly know that this book and its contents are yet debated by many people, as to when all things shall unfold… we are called by the Holy Spirit to agree that our ultimate answer to this present violence lay not in bullets, bombs or any clandestine monitoring of evil powers. Instead, since these finite human efforts shall only work to curb horrid events temporarily. we shall find absolute Truth only in knowing that when the last trumpet sounds we shall be rescued from the powers of sin, death and the Satanic by our Lord Jesus Christ alone.
 Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, I exhort you to not blanch from facing evil in this world. Let us work tirelessly within the present turmoil to protect the threatened, feed the hungry, heal the sick, and free those who are imprisoned or harmed by sin and evil. Let us thus be witnesses to the love of God made available through Jesus Christ. Most of all, let us keep our eyes on the cross, looking prayerfully and witnessing for the coming day of our Lord. In this way we shall find ourselves working in league with angels and heavenly hosts on that final day. So it is written, and so it will be.