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Saturday, 5 November 2011

John 15:12-17 We Will Remember

In 1930, a movie was made about World War I called “All Quiet on the Western Front”. In one scene, some American soldiers were talking. One soldier asked, “Where do wars come from anyway?” Another replied, “Well, one country gets mad at another country, and they start fighting.” The first soldier asked, “Do you mean that one piece of land gets mad at another piece of land?” “No,” the other replied, “the PEOPLE of one country get mad at the PEOPLE of the other” The first soldier picked up his rifle and started walking away. When asked where he was going, he said, “I’m going home. I’m not mad at anybody”.

Don’t you wish it was that easy? Don’t you wish we could just walk away from war? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. The Christian is the pacifist way. Pacifists claim to be peace-makers, but sometimes being a peace-maker means going to war. The great Roman Emperor Julius Caesar once said, “If you want peace, prepare for war”. 

How should we treat our enemies?

One day long ago, when things were looking darkest for the free world, Adolph Hitler was addressing a large audience in Germany. In the front row sat a man of pronounced Semitic appearance. Following his address, Hitler came down from the platform, walked up to this man and said, “While I was speaking, you were laughing. What were you laughing about?” The man replied, “I wasn’t laughing. I was thinking”. “What were you thinking about?” asked Hitler.

“I was thinking about my people, the Jews, and that you are not the first man who didn’t like us. A long time ago, there was another man who didn’t like us. His name was Pharaoh, and he put heavy burdens on us down there in Egypt. But for years we Jews have had a feast called Passover, and at that feast we have a little three-cornered cake and we eat that cake in memory of Pharaoh”.

“Years later there was another man who didn’t like us.  His name was Haman and he did his best to get rid of all the Jews throughout the realm of King Ahasuerus. But for years we Jews have had another feast called the feast of Purim and at that feast we have a little four-cornered cake and we eat that cake in memory of Haman”.

“And while you were up there speaking, sir, I was sitting here thinking and wondering what kind of a cake we were going to eat to remember you by”.

The Jewish man had a point. We must love our enemies if at all possible, but sometimes we need to heed the words of an old Irish blessing that goes like this. “May God bless those who love us, and those who do not love us, may He turn their hearts. If he does not turn their hearts, May he turn their ankles so we may know them by their limping.”

No one wants war. Pacifists believe that if we prepare for war, we will get war. In their view, the only way to achieve peace is to eliminate the causes of war, but sometimes this means going to war.  Sometimes war is the only way to get rid of dictators and terrorists like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Hussein and bin Laden. The goal of pacifists is admirable and in fact we must try to avoid war is possible, but sometimes war is necessary and inevitable. Sooner or later war destroys those who resort to it, especially with nuclear weapons.

True pacifists believe in fighting with the weapons of the Holy Spirit. The pacifist position has always been a respected minority position among Christians. Jesus was not a pacifist. Just look at what he did to the moneychangers in the temple! He even told his disciples to be armed with swords-not for fighting snakes, but for self-defense. That’s why Peter was able to cut off the soldier’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before Christ was crucified.

What does God have to say about Iraq, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban and el-Qaida? The Old Testament gives several examples of situations where war is necessary-even desirable. War is something that can be learned, just as peace can be learned. Peace comes when all sides experience the freedom to be whole, creative and participating in decisions that affect their destiny. Peacemaking does NOT mean obtaining security at someone else’s expense. One of the recent popes said it well. “If you want peace, work for justice”. On some occasions working for justice means literally fighting for justice.

The New Testament ethic for individuals differs from the mandate for national leaders. Individuals are called to “turn the other cheek”, but Romans 13:4 calls a national leader “God’s servant, an angel of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer”. If there were no enforcers of justice, chaos would prevail. War is always a tragedy, but occasionally the alternatives are worse than war .

A just was must follow St. Augustine’s guidelines:

1.      It must be declared by a legitimate authority

       2.    It must be carried out with the right intention

3.      It must be approved as a last resort

4.      It must be waged on the basis of proportionality. That is, the good to be accomplished must be greater than the suffering and killing that will be unleashed

5.      There must be a reasonable chance of success.

6.      It must be waged with all the moderation possible. In other words, it must follow the rules of The Hague and Geneva Conventions. Civilians and POWs are to be protected as much as possible.

War is hell. It might be necessary at times, but it is not “good”. It is evil. We find strength not in our weapons, but in our faith in God. War is a tragic fact of life in our world. God prefers peace, but he often sends his people into war. He does so under three conditions:

1.      To liberate oppressed people.

2.      To punish evildoers

3.      To defend themselves

 Is God against war and military people? No. Is pacifism the right way for Christians? Not necessarily. Is the violence of war ever acceptable? Yes. Is there a time to go to war that is right? Yes. As I mentioned earlier, on rare occasions the alternatives to war are worse than war. Surely no reasonable person believes the world would have been better if Hitler had not been defeated. In fact, many historians believe that if the British and French had intervened in 1936 when Hitler illegally occupied the Rhineland, World War II could have been prevented. The League of Nations was unwilling to enforce its own mandate, and the League died.

A more modern example occurred in 1991 when Europeans tried to solve the problems in Yugoslavia without American help. But when the situation in Kosovo degenerated into genocide, no other nation was willing to act without American help. The U.S.-led coalition stopped the genocide and brought war criminals to justice.

The great German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer was a pacifist at the beginning of World War II, but before the war ended, he was part of a failed plot to assassinate Hitler. The Gestapo imprisoned him. He died at age 39 on a Nazi gallows at the Flossenberg concentration camp, stripped of clothes and dignity. His close friend and biographer, Eberhard Bethge, said this about Bonheoffer’s decision to try to kill Hitler: “A Christian should not kill…but there are times when you are responsible for human beings around you, and you have to think about all means to stop that man who is killing.”

Today, we live in a society which teaches us in so many ways to love ourselves and to “look out for number one”. Well, that’s not what Jesus taught, and that’s not what people learn in the military either. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends”. Countless soldiers have done that over the years, and we remember their sacrifices every Remembrance Day. They threw themselves on top of grenades or covered the flank on a dangerous mission, or in some other way paid the highest price. They died young, on fields of battle all over the world. Their example of courage and self-sacrifice could be well learned by many Christians today who live their faith somewhere between comfort and commitment.

For those who say they are human shields, if you want to see the real human shields, look up the names of the emergency workers and public servants who died on 9/11; look at the soldiers, sailors and emergency workers who put their lives on the line every day for our safety and security; look at the names on the cenotaphs in communities throughout this country; walk the rows of crosses and see the Stars of David at Normandy, Pusan and thousands of other cemeteries in this nation and around the world and see the people who hated war but made the Supreme Sacrifice.

War is simply enforcing a law by protecting yourself, your fellow citizens and all freedom-loving people with great numbers from those who would destroy you and them. An enemy will destroy us unless we defend ourselves. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest thing. We must pray that God will use war to bring salvation and freedom to many. We have been at war against tyranny and evil for a long time, but in our complacency, we have bought into the notion that if we ignore the problem long enough, it will go away. Osama bin Laden declared war on the free world on 9/11, but he merely put into practice what he had been preaching since 1983-we simply failed to get the message before 9/11. Problems do NOT go away if they are ignored. In fact, they only get worse unless they are dealt with.

War is righteous when we preserve freedom. When we fight to free innocent people, we are fighting a righteous war and for a righteous cause. We can’t lose if we pray and ask God for a revival. We need to lift up those whose families are touched by war. We are to resist evil in ALL of its forms. We are to go on the attack. That’s why we fight people like Hitler and bin Laden. Behind every evil dictator who would destroy freedom, behind every evil force that would bring fear into the hearts of people is the evil one- SATAN. Peace at any price is not peace-it is appeasement.

Those whom God loves as a father may despise all the hatred of the entire world. As we abide in Christ-finding strength through his enabling grace to be conformed to his image, we find the ability to do as he commands, including fighting in wars for our country. If we love one another as Christ loves us, we will willingly give up our lives for our friends. Martyrdom is a daily part of the Christian life, just like many of our veterans were prepared to die for their country.

We all need friends and they need us. Friends are necessary, not just for emotional support, but also because there are some responsibilities we simply cannot handle alone-like fighting alongside your buddies in a war for a just cause. Sometimes you just get so desperate that all you want is to have a flesh and blood just like you next to you. He doesn’t have to understand everything that’s going on in you. You just want him there, next to you, because he cares, listening, feeling, his hands clasping yours, his eyebrows rising and falling with your stories, his sighs answering your sobbing, and who is willing to go down with you, a friend ready to take the last plunge with you.

There can be no greater love for one’s friends than to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, even to the point of death. Every human institution works best when relationships are firmly based on mutual respect and human values, at the root of which is love. As we move toward a global civilization no other value system will prove worthwhile. Laying down one’s life for his friends, like Christ laid down his life, is no accident or suddenly-pressed decision with no time to think. It is a committed, deliberate, calculated action of friendship for all.

They say it takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love them, but it takes an entire lifetime to forget them. At every Remembrance Day service we hear the line, “At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them”. We must remember them, and the supreme sacrifice they made, so we can enjoy the freedoms we have today. True love is costly. A true lover gives the best he can offer and is willing to sacrifice everything he has for the beloved. True friends-like veterans, armed forces personnel and emergency services personnel- will lay down their lives for each other and those they are trying to rescue and protect.

The friendship of Jesus had no motive other than sheer goodness and love. He asked nothing of his friends except to stand by him in his final hours of anguish and decision in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus defined the crucial test when he said on the night before he was crucified, “Greater love has no man than this, but that he lay down his life for his friends”.

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