Sunday, November 11, 2018

Remembrance Day - Reconciling Justice and Peace

Micah 4:1-4; Psalm 46; 1 Cor 15:50-56; Matthew 5:1-14

I don’t know how to feel today. I never know how to feel on Remembrance Day maybe because I feel so much. I feel gratitude for the Allied soldiers who went to Germany and fought and killed enemy soldiers, so that my children, who have a Jewish father, are free to go to synagogue, and are even able to live. I feel pride that my husband’s Jewish grandfather was an American pilot who flew troops back and forth between the States and Europe. I feel indebted to all of the young soldiers, teenagers really, who signed up to protect Canada against the Germans in both WWI and WWII, who gave their lives to end those wars and ensured that we could be worshipping here this morning, in a truly free and democratic country.

I also feel sorrow for all of the young soldiers who died, on both sides, including my grandfather’s brother in the German army. I feel distraught that the women on both sides of my family feared being violently raped by their enemies––our allies––at the end of WWII. I feel horror that my mother’s aunt died at the age of fifteen when she was hit by a bomb dropped on Japan by the Americans. I feel outrage that Japan, the country of my mother viciously attacked other countries in the Pacific, including the United States, and I feel devastated that they had atomic bombs dropped on them, wiping out two entire cities.

I feel all of these things, and underneath them all, I feel a deep sense of guilt and lamentation that war is the result of our failure as a human race to find a way to achieve both justice and peace.
Whether it is because we are unwilling or unable, I don’t know, but I do know that as humans, we struggle to reconcile justice and peace. There have been times in our world’s history––we are again in a time in our world history––where we have felt called to fight for justice. To rise up to protect the vulnerable from those who would harm them, to stand up against bullies and dictators and draw the line and say, no more. We know that without those justice fighters of the past, without the soldiers of so many of our wars, past and recent, many of us would not be here today. We would not be able to freely worship God in church, in a democratic country where we truly value people of all races and religions. We give thanks for the courage and self-sacrifice of those who died, and killed, to defeat the enemy in order to create a world that is just. Jesus said, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and so we say, blessed are those who fight for justice, for what is right, to protect what is good, to overcome evil.

But Jesus also said, “Blessed are the meek.” And there have been times in our world’s history––we are again in a time in our world history––where we have felt called to turn the other cheek. To pray for our enemy, to see them as our neighbours, to have compassion for their circumstances and for how awful it must be to live with hearts full of hate. We know that without the peacemakers of the past, without those willing to lay down their arms, without those who committed their lives and died for nonviolence, many of us would not be here today. We give thanks for those who work tirelessly for nonviolent ends to peace, and who die for it, and who end hate through acts of love. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and so we also say, blessed are those who refuse to bear arms and kill others, who seek peaceful means to protect what is good, to overcome evil.

And so we sit today in this tension. And I am unable to resolve it. Because as much as we give thanks for those who fight for justice and for those who work for peace, we know that there is a cost to all of this, a cost that we ourselves rarely pay. We know that our attempts at both justice and peace depend on the deaths of others.

Many of those deaths are those of our enemies. Those who die in war are often those who would just as quickly wish us dead, and who would, if not killed, kill those whom we love. And yet we are realistic enough, and compassionate enough, to know that those enemy dead were once someone’s baby, beloved toddler, gawky teenager. Their parents grieved their loss as much as we do our own. They, too, were made in the image of God as we are, and God wept at their deaths. 
We know that the trauma of war becomes genetically encoded and passed down through subsequent generations, resulting in heightened anxiety and aggression in children and grandchildren who never experienced the original war, but nevertheless leading them into new ones. 

We know that those whom we ask to kill for us, our soldiers, come back from deployment with deeply wounded souls. A Marine captain in Iraq and Afghanistan, Timothy Kudo, wrote that: “War makes us killers. We must confront this horror directly if we’re honest about the true costs of war …. I’m no longer the ‘good’ person I once thought I was. There’s nothing that can change that; it’s impossible to forget what happened, and the only people who can forgive me are dead.” [] One of the costs of war is that in defense of us, in the name of justice, our soldiers have witnessed or committed acts that violate the ideals of justice, and they return to us with fractures in their souls that we simply don’t understand, fractures that sometimes lead them to end their own lives. In our attempts to establish justice and peace, yes, the guilty are punished and suffer, but so does everyone else. There is no reconciliation here.

And yet. “In the days to come ... [the Lord] shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
The prophet Micah knew, and we know it too, deep in our hearts, that true justice and complete peace are possible, but only in the hands of God. Call it intergenerational PTSD, call it national trauma, call it original sin––we humans are far too entangled in the consequences of war to be able to truly reconcile the tension between justice and peace. But God can. God does. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” God brings about justice and peace together, for the innocent and guilty alike, for those who have killed and for those who have refused to kill. God establishes justice, and gives us a peace that we can’t achieve on our own. I don’t know how. I only know that God calls us all to God’s mountain, God invites us all to God’s table, side-by-side with our enemies, to receive it.

During WWII, the great-grandparents of my children were fighting for countries that were fighting each other. Japanese, German, Jewish American––for all I know, theirs paths may have actually crossed during the war. My children’s great-grandparents have been at war.
But let me put it another way. My children’s warring great-grandparents today are one family. Despite their history, God worked in their hearts and called them to peace. God is constantly calling us to participate in true justice and peace and God is constantly at work, in all of our hearts, to achieve this. We see this in Germany’s deep commitment to combatting the rise of neo-Nazi ideologies. We see it in the people that live side-by-side in the former Yugoslavia. We see it in the resolution of apartheid in South Africa, where both justice and peace prevailed. We see it in Israeli and Palestinian mothers supporting each other in the mutual loss of their children. We see it here, in Canada, where the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of former warring countries have come together to live in peace, and to love their neighbours as themselves. This is God’s work, and God calls us into it.

Today is a day to remember, but in the church it is also a day to hope. One day, it may be that our grandchildren and the grandchildren of our enemies, whomever they might be, might come together in one family. God does indeed bring justice and peace together. God brings all nations into one, and God gives new life to all. Today, as much as we remember that we are all implicated in the costs of war, we remember that we are all also invited to participate in God’s work of justice and peace. It is not our work to start, or to finish, but it is our work to join. And so, as we remember, let us also honour today by reaching out to someone who is different from us. As we pray for justice for the aggrieved, may we also pray for our enemies to receive as much grace and love and compassion as we wish for ourselves. As we pray for peace, may we engage in reconciliation, not revenge. May we lament, acknowledge our collective guilt, and then take a new step into the light. And may our God, who, as the Creator bringing light into the darkness, as the Redeemer healing us with new life, and as the Sanctifier making us whole, continue to lead us forward. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Lord, If You Had Been Here - All Saints Sunday 2018

Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Both Mary and Martha uttered these words to Jesus, words that perhaps we’ve found ourselves thinking in times of grief and loss. “Lord, if you had been here....” my brother would not have died, my child would not have died, the cancer would not have come back, I would not have lost my job, the country would not have descended into chaos, the church would not have strayed. Lord, if you had been here, we would not have suffered the loss of people, or relationships, or dreams, or hope. 

Of all the things that are awful about loss, one of the big ones is the feeling of being completely alone in our grief. Even if we’re grieving with others, our experience is uniquely our own. We might find comfort in the company of someone else who has suffered a similar loss, but in the end, they simply can’t feel what we’re feeling. Each of us enters our own land of grief. Each one of us will experience loss and grief in our lifetime, more than once, and each of us will feel as Mary and Martha did, even if only for a moment, “Lord, if you had been here,” my brother, my mother, my father, my child would not have died. We will feel alone, abandoned, lost at sea.

Have you ever been at sea? In a boat in the middle of the ocean with a giant circle of water all around that ends only where it meets the sky, far off at the horizon? It’s both expansive and overwhelming, and it makes us feel very, very small. It’s similar, actually to standing in the middle of the prairies, with the land stretching off into the distance. With a horizon out there, a place that logically you know you will cross if you keep travelling in one direction, but which, at the same time, seems uncrossable because we can never see past it. This is what grief can be like––expansive and overwhelming, with a horizon we can’t see past, leaving us feeling insignificant and powerless and alone.

Except that we are not alone. In this respect, death and grief lie to us. The truth is that we are not alone in our grief. We say, “Lord, if you had been here,” as if the Lord was not. But the Lord is. The Lord does not abandon us, not ever, not even for a second. I was reminded of this on Tuesday night, at the vigil for the victims of Pittsburgh’s synagogue murders, when Reverend John Pentland, from Hillhurst United Church here in Calgary, said that in the very moment when those eleven people died, “God was the first to weep.” At the moment of our loss, even before we realize what has just happened, God is there. God is the first to weep. Like a mother in the face of her child’s pain, God weeps for our loss, God weeps for us, God weeps for the grief we are about to endure.

We hear this in the story of Lazarus, “When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. ... Jesus began to weep.” Jesus weeps with us in our loss, Jesus sits with us in the darkness, Jesus is there. Jesus is here. We are not alone in our grief.

More importantly, the One who keeps us company is one who has been through what we are going through. All the way through. This is the difference between Jesus Christ and the rest of us. While we might keep one another company in grief, not one of us has been all the way through this grief. We have not crossed the horizon. None of us has actually seen past death into new life. But Jesus has. This is our Easter proclamation, this is our baptismal story, that Jesus lived the life we have lived, and then Jesus died, crossing over that horizon, passing through death to new life. And then Jesus returned to walk with us as we move towards that horizon ourselves.

This is the promise we are given in Scripture. Throughout the Bible, from beginning to end, God promises that there is new life beyond the horizon. More than that, God promises to bring that new life over the horizon to us. Both Isaiah and the Book of Revelation tell us this––that God, after weeping with us, will reach out that divine hand and tenderly wipe our tears away. And they will be gone for good, never to return, because death and mourning will be no more.

Because God is bringing that new life from beyond the horizon into our midst. Did you notice that in our reading from Revelation? The holy city comes down out of heaven, down to us, and the home of God is among mortals. Because God knows that in this life, we will always be chasing that horizon and never actually crossing it, which you’ll know if you’ve ever driven on an endless prairie highway. And so God brings that new life to us. God sends God’s son, Jesus Christ, the Alpha and, more importantly, the Omega, the beginning and the end that is new life, to be with us. To bring new life to where we are. Into our midst.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” The Lord is here, and yes, death will still happen, but death is not the end. The sun/Son rises over the horizon and shines on us in our loss and our grief. This is, actually, one of the reasons we will light candles later this morning, in remembrance of our losses, as a gesture that we are trusting in the fuller light to come. We will light candles as a reminder that we are not alone in our grief because the Lord weeps with us. We will light candles as a defiant proclamation that Jesus Christ, the light that shines in the darkness, is here with us, no matter how dark things might feel. And we will light candles in thanks, for all of these things, and in gratitude to the one who brings to us the new life to come. Thanks be to God. Amen.