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

Monday, June 20, 2016

Shepherds of Sheep?

RECENT TRAGEDY has struck America again from radical Muslim terrorism, but this time it was home-brewed. Regardless, the message brought said “death for the infidel”, and was yet issued to those persons who do not hold to their blasphemous stance. The most recent horror of note is the killing and maiming of many persons in a night club in the city of Orlando, FL.
 As our modern society attempts to make sense of this chaos, many prominent personalities have raised their voices. Some persons blame all religion. Others point to an American lack of sexual morality. Some pundits and politicians say that this occurred because guns can be gotten too easily, and we cannot ward off  future events because of inadequate gun laws. These last vocalize that we need to clamp down on what type guns the public can buy.
 Other voices herald opposition to this anti-gun position. They fear the loss of public defense if Second Amendment rights are further infringed, with questionable reliance on overburdened law enforcement being cited. These persons usually point blame instead at our insufficient anti-terror work, poor immigration policies, and lack of adequate border defenses as cause for alarm. Many talk radio and TV personalities have now jumped into the conversation, to the point of nausea.
 While some of these options do sound like a possible solutions to keep the number of assault deaths below the magic mass of  “four" persons... I criticize the policy that enumerates the number of “four” dead as to whether an event should even be called a “mass” terrorism. It is for sure that preventing any death of a solitary person by terrorism is the mass upon which we need to focus.
 We know that the carrying of personal armament may be the first candidate for the lessening of such as the event in Orlando. However, gun laws will not stop such horrors as the bombing that occurred at the Boston Marathon. Sure... we can more closely regulate gun permits, restrict the type of guns sold, and monitor some common bomb making materials... but both foreign and domestic terrorists know full well that effective bombs may be made from many and various household chemicals. We need to remember the lesson of scripture here! Even a small rock thrown or primitive club swung can be lethal. From the ancient ages we hear

“Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.” (Genesis 4:8)

 In a radio discussion of this recent Orlando event, host Howard Stern spoke of the recent murders. During the talk, he used the image of sheep that were trapped by wolves… and slaughtered. He raised the question of why some of the group being attacked did not charge their attacker, such as what was done quite unsuccessfully on the ill-fated airline flight on 9/11 in SW Pennsylvania.
 "Why indeed?" I echoed the same in thought. My initial reaction was that those entrapped were primarily of the LBGTQ community, and were thus thought by me to be not sufficiently masculine. This knee-jerk, unfair and incorrect conclusion insults both male and female persons, and was immediately trashed by the knowledge that it imposes a nasty stereo-type. My thoughts are now that it would be easier-said-than-done for any person when confronted with such massacre or even the possibilities of such. For this reason, the flight on 9/11 crashed and the night club attendees were slaughtered. I agree most certainly that we should not blame the victims.
 Stern’s use of biblical imagery of sheep and wolves, however, caused me to identify somewhat with his conversation. In my own mind as a pastor of a Lutheran church, his talk brought the remembrance of the killings in a Bible Study located in Charleston SC last year. Apparently their being murdered not by a terrorist, but a racist bigot, caused me to ponder deeply whether Christian congregations including my own need now to appoint armed guards.
"Do we really need to secure those that attend worship, prayers and biblical studies?" I am certain that discussions across the land on both social media and in many clergy meetings have had opinions voiced on this matter.
 While this thought does have some merit, for indeed the nation of Israel when besieged by war… posted armed guards to keep the enemy at bay... the tragedy brings me to tell of a fireside conversation that was held between a man and his son as they were attending a flock of sheep. They sat worriedly just before the outbreak of the U.S. Revolutionary War. The two men, who were Scottish by descent, were creek side while discussing the safety of their sheep.
 You see, for several weeks their flock had been blessed by the birth of many lambs. The problem had arisen, however, that wolves had smelled the blood of birth from afar. As a pack they then raided the flock both day and night. Sometimes the pack would just take a newly born lamb or two, at other times the wolves would also kill and carry off the carcass of a defending ewe.
 As the two men sat by that fire in the evening, the son asked what they should do. Firing a single-shot from a musket seemed to no avail. Even if the shot was true, the remaining wolves would often still kill before fleeing. 
 The father thought deeply… and then told of a method he'd remembered from an ancient story. He said, “Son, look at the stones around the fire. They are both round and flat… which should be used as a weapon?”
 The son looked at his father... and then the stones. He answered, “The largest round one. I could throw it using a sling... like old King David… it could injure or maybe even kill a wolf.”
 His father, after taking a puff from his pipe, said, “No son, being very heavy… the large one could not reach out far enough without putting you in great danger. He then bent over and picked up a smaller flat rock.
 "You want a flat one… like this jagged stone. Take it now and practice throwing it with your sling... but as before you do... rub it on the larger stones until its edge is sharp. That is the stone that will sail with a whisper and harm the strongest wolf.”
 The boy did as instructed. He sharpened and practiced. The day came too soon when another attack occurred, Then, as I recall this tale, from the slingshot the boy launched the sharp flat stone. The rock sailed fast… like a small rotating discus tossed by an ancient Greek Olympic contestant. The sharp edge had drawn blood from the young shepherd's finger, but the rock soared and struck the throat of the lead wolf. The rock killed the wolf dead in its tracks, just before the predator reached the quarry.
 Immediately the boy grabbed more sharpened stones from his sheepskin bag as the remaining wolves attacked the leader because of their blood lust. Several more wolves were thus killed by sharpened rocks and his father’s musket ball. Within minutes the melee was over and the shepherd’s flock was greatly spared.
 For many nights and years afterward, as the story is told, the young man would sit by habit near the fire at night with his aging father toking a sweet smelling pipe… and he idly sharpened flat rocks.
 As I consider this story, I now wonder why the church fired up by the Holy Spirit, hasn’t attacked the wolves of this world with the one prized, plain, jagged flat rock that it has been gracefully given. You see, the rock that is Christ Jesus has been with us from before the day of his Resurrection. Somewhat jagged because his message strikes deep at the jugular of human sin, we in His church have let our throwing practice become dull. Our effect has become blunt.
 You see, we ourselves have become too round and sluggish. We sit warmed by the fires of modernity, busy rolling donuts as we talk of liberal and progressive theology. We sit too heavily and inaccurately throw stones at one another. The wolves which attack the sheep, fear not the hands so soft that we bleed profusely when we try to throw against terrorism and theological error.
 For surely, as headlines and TV celebrities now show us clearly, packs of wolves grow bolder in the field. They use terror tactics developed from ignorance and hate. They prey on the weak minded and and enlist them after both sheep and lambs. These wolves care not whether their targets are black or white, male or female, gay or straight, docile or boisterous, Christian, Muslim, Jew or otherwise. In their quest for dominance, they wish to carry them all off by using murder or enslavement. I say to you then, "Arm yourself with the tools of defense in firearms and enter the battle warmed by the fire of the Holy Spirit."
 I say to you that gospel proclamation is the ancient gift given to the church at Pentecost. You see, I believe that for Christians, our most powerful weapon is the Word of God. Let the church arise from the fire and throw the mantle of God widely about ourselves like a protective fleece. Let us cast the Rock of our Salvation accurately against the evil One. Let us sharpen these our gospel gifts, and finally... pray fervently that our Lord shall look with grace upon our efforts.