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Overcoming Evil…

September 2, 2017

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While on our honeymoon in Ireland in 2014 Denise and I spent some time exploring the community of Ennis in County Clare. There were many fascinating statues and points of interest which we explored. This particular monument just outside of the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul. The following is a brief description of the monument:

Hands sculptured by Shane Gilmore

Hands of Welcome – acknowledging the presence of emigrants, asylum seekers, refugees and fellow EU citizens in our community.

Hands of Peace – marking a new era of peace on the Island of Ireland.

Hands of Co-operation – celebrating Ennis Ireland’s tidiest town in 2006.

Hands of Healing – remembering walk of reconciliation by Bishop Willie Walsh for Jubilee 2000.

Hands of Faith – recognizing the faithfulness of parents and grandparents for handing on the Christian faith to the next generation.

Also has quote from Bible:

“I will not forget you, I have carved your name on the palm of my hand” Isaiah 49:15  Link to explanation – Waymarking.Com

It was one of many monuments in Ireland that truly moved me. In a land that had known so much violence throughout the years (especially during the early to mid 1900’s as the Republic strove to gain independence from Britain) to see such a beautiful offering was quite overwhelming.

As we begin the Season of Peace (designated a number of years ago by the Presbyterian Church (USA) as a lead up to the Peacemaking and Global Witness Offering on World Communion Sunday) I thought it was an appropriate photo for this Sunday’s bulletin cover at Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies. It is somehow fitting that we enter into the Season of Peace when there is so much hatred, violence, oppression, and fearmongering going on in this country and this world.

Now Matthew’s Gospel for this Sunday isn’t exactly one I would call peaceful. First of all we have the confrontation with Peter, who had gone from getting a high five from the boss about his confession of Christ as Lord to the whoops moment of condemnation following his proclamation — “God forbid it, Lord! This (suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection) must never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22).

Jesus rebuked Peter quickly and soundly (his proclamation, not Peter himself, mind you) — “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16:23) If that wasn’t enough, he sternly warned the disciples that anyone who would follow him must deny themselves and take up their own cross and follow him.

Back in Jesus’ day, this was a very real and graphic call to discipleship. It is one that most American Christians have no clue about. In certain circles it is persecution to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas for heaven’s sake! The persecution was especially real in Jesus’ day and in the late 80’s Common Era when Matthew’s Gospel was likely written. To follow Christ in that day and place could easily end up with you hanging on a cross amongst countless hundreds of other followers of the Way. If you want to save your life, you will lose it. If you are willing to live on the edge as a Christ follower, you will quite possibly lose your life for the sake of Christ and in losing your life you will find it.

So how does one deal with this dire prediction as an American Christ-Follower in our world today? That is where our reading from Romans 12 comes into play. Paul was speaking in a time where the danger of being a follower of the Way could lead to torture and death (it happened to him, after all). His words strike close to home for me as I look at Paul through the lens of the 20th and 21st Century here.

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:9-10) Can you imagine if the church spent more time doing this than what much of the church is doing instead? Love one another with mutual affection… outdo one another in showing honor… There would be no room for hate-filled rhetoric such as the so-called Nashville Statement… there would be no room for Westboro or other groups who profane the name of the Lord by their words and their actions…

“Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.” (Romans 12:16) In this theology of life and worship there is no room for holier than thou attitudes or the abasement of the poor and the truly oppressed. When I was in the Air Force as a Chaplain, I was privileged to work with a variety of faith traditions and Chaplains. Did we always see eye to eye theologically? No. Did the teams I worked with show mutual respect? In the majority of cases, yes they did. I often found myself standing arm in arm with my Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Agnostic, Atheist, and Christian sisters and brothers in arms. We lived in harmony with one another and when some sought to bring in division, bigotry, and hate, I spoke out against such malice! Even before it was a hashtag, I tried my best to live out my faith and witness in such a way that Love Wins!

Tomorrow we will gather around the Table of the Lord to break bread together in the Lord’s Supper. We will come from the East and from the West. We will come from the North and from the South. We will sit at the table together and try to live out the admonition of Paul in Romans 12:18 — “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Perhaps, dear reader, we can make that effort together to overcome evil and share the peace of Christ with others instead of the judgmental and hate-filled rhetoric of so many who say they are christian (yes, lower case is intentional). May we live peaceably with all and thus offer an alternative which is actually the reality I believe Christ calls us to live as we share his cross and spread his love.

 

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