A Continuing Discussion of the Bill Newman Show – April 28, 2022.

Instead of a mini-sermon this issue, I thought I would expand on a discussion I had on “The Rev and the Rabbi” portion of The Bill Newman Show I participated in this Thursday, April 28, 2022.  I am a guest with Rabbi Justin David of B’nai Israel every last Thursday of the month, and we discuss topics that vary from the Holocaust to our weekly sermons.

This week we touched on the topic of the war in Ukraine and what our respective religious traditions say about war.

Jesus, of course, was the ultimate Pacifist.  He implored us to love not only our friends but also our enemies (Matthew 5:43-47), a task which is difficult for even the kind-hearted among us.  When we are struck, he tells us to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39).  When Jesus was arrested on the Mount of Olives, he did not fight back, but instead healed one of the soldiers arresting him (Matthew 26:51).  When it would have been so easy to turn on Rome, the occupying force, Jesus told his disciples to give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar—meaning a Roman coin (Matthew 22:22), when so many were against Roman taxation.

As I said, Jesus time and time again proved himself the ultimate Pacifist.

In early Christianity, many of the early Christian martyrs emulated Jesus to the extreme.  They would not serve out their conscription in the Roman army, citing Jesus, and so were put to death for defying the great Roman Empire. 

This was a trend for many centuries and only ended when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity sometime between AD 313 and 325. 

Of course, a shift happened in Christianity, and by 1096 the First Crusade was underway to recapture the Holy Land for Christendom.  Obviously, a great shift in thought had taken place within seven hundred years.  While Jesus was still a pacifist, the evidence is in the New Testament, the belief that the Holy Land, that the places where Jesus lived and preached the Word of God should be in the hands of Christians and not nonbeilevers overtook pacifist tendencies.

The crusades were religious wars, wars that were believed to be sanctioned by God.  Any man who went on the crusades had all of his sins, throughout his life, committed and yet to be committed, instantly forgiven.  Whatever atrocities that were done in the name of the Lord—were just that—done in the name of the Lord.  It was right.  It was good.  It was holy.  But make no mistake, there were horrific atrocities committed throughout the crusades.

Time moved on and the Roman Empire became the Holy Roman Empire, which then broke down into individual nation states.  Each nation believed that it was beloved by God and whatever war it undertook, God looked favorably on them. 

If France went to war with Spain, for example, France knew that God was on their side.  Spain also knew that God was on their side.  Their causes were both believed to be good and just in the eyes of God.

As we march through the centuries, we come to the Revolutionary War that began in 1776.  The battle cry of the British Army was “For King and Country!”  The new Colonial Army, so recently having called themselves British Americans, could not claim to fight for King and Country as they were in open rebellion of King George III.  And so, in quite a clever change of words, the battle cry became “For God and Country!” for the American Colonists, who believed that God sanctioned their rebellion against an unjust king.

Flash forward to World War I and the Pacifism Movement actually sprang up once again, this time among the Quakers.  Quakers are Christian pacifists who refused to bear arms in both World Wars.  Many Conscientious Objectors were put in prison, while others were eventually placed in medical units.

This brings us full circle the question about the war in Ukraine.  Russia is clearly the aggressor, but what about Ukraine?  Should they bear arms?  It seems like a strange question because the answer seems obvious, a resounding yes, but in the light of Christianity, sometimes we should take a second look to better understand the question and answer.

The answer to that question is not found in the Gospels but instead in the Book of Revelation.  Revelation 21:1-4: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.  And there was no more sea.  […]. [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things will pass away.”

In a perfect world, there would be no war.  There would be no Russian aggression.  There would be no need to defend one’s own country.  However, we do not live in a perfect world, and so, in our unperfect world, Ukraine must defend herself.  And our perfect world will not exist until the Second Coming of Christ, when there is a new heaven, a perfect heaven, and a new perfect earth, where there is no longer any pain or death or killing or foreign aggression.

We have not reached that day, however, and we do not know when that day will come.  Christians have been waiting for two thousand years.  We may only have to wait another day, or we could have another two thousand years to wait.  But until then, we pray and do the best that we can.


Mini Sermon #64 Ash Wednesday

Mini Sermon #64 Ash Wednesday
Sermon Lesson: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 (NRSV)
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (NRSV)
Old Testament Lesson: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 (NRSV)
Psalm: Psalm 51:1-17 (NRSV)

Related Sermon(s): Mini Sermon #44 Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday kicks off the Season of Lent in the Christian Calendar, which itself is the forty days preceding the Christian holiday of Easter.  It is notable because the palms from the year’s previous Palm Sunday are burnt to ash and then placed ritually on a believer’s forehead with the words “Repent and Believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  In some congregations, oil is used instead of ash.

To the Text (2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:2)

The Christian’s proud privilege is also his terrifying responsibility: the honor of the Church herself.  Paul begins his message with a universal message, we must be reconciled with God.  This message is particularly poignant as we begin our forty-day journey toward Easter—the day when we celebrate the forgiveness of our sins and the reconciliation with Christ Jesus.

It is important to note that humankind needs to be reconciled to God.  It is not the other way around.  God is already reconciled to humankind. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.  God is, therefore, fully reconciled to us.  God fully knows us and understands us as we are.  Any breach of closeness between us and the divine is our fault, not God’s.  Paul’s message, that he brings in 2 Corinthians, is a message of love from God the Father.

We must remember that God gave Jesus so that our reconciliation to him could happen.  With the words, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,” Paul refers to Jesus Christ, who himself was sinless, but took upon himself the sins of the world at the time of his crucifixion.  At this point, reconciliation became possible because Jesus and humankind became one.

Furthermore, we must accept God in full knowledge of this divine gift—of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice—otherwise our reconciliation would be hollow and meaningless. 

How would it be hollow?

How would it be meaningless?

Without the sacrifice of Jesus, we do not fully appreciate the full love and caring that God the Father has for us.  We do not know the lengths he will go for full reconciliation and for our love.

Moreover, the time for reconciliation is Now.  It is present.  It is here.  Salvation is upon us and it is imminent.

Continuing (2 Corinthians 6:3-10)

The next part of the passage is a series of lists involving early Christianity—what must be endured and what a Christian should be.  Paul is describing the world as he sees it, and is telling the Corinthians (or the Christians of the City of Corinth) what they should expect as Christians. 

Christians should not place obstacles in other people’s ways.  To do such would be to hinder them.

They should show endurance in adversity, including afflictions (physical and spiritual), hardships, calamities, beatings, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger.  Later he notes that Christians are treated as impostors.  Early Christians were often persecuted for their faith and would face such tests and difficulties.  In Florence, MA, we exist in relative comfort.  No one stops us on the street and arrests us for being Christian.  We’re not thrown into prison without trials or denied food on the basis of religion.  We may have our difficulties, our own trials of the 21st-century, of course we do, I do not deny it, but the state is not actively persecuting us by beating us in the street.

Paul next lists the virtues by which Christians may be known—purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love (agape, for those who heard my sermon last month on Sunday, February 20th), truthful speech, and the power of God.  He speaks of the power of righteousness.

He maps out how Christians live, in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute, as unknown and yet well known.  Christians are in a state of limbo.

Christianity in Limbo

At this time, there was a bit of a legal dispute as to the status of Christianity.  I mentioned earlier that Christianity was persecuted, and this is true.  It was persecuted based on the fact that it was a religion that had no protected status within the Roman Empire and was clearly not the approved state religion of Emperor Worship.  As such, all Christians were heretics (according to Rome) and also criminals.

However, when Christianity first started to spring up in Israel and various Jewish diaspora, some viewed it as a Jewish sect.  After all, Jesus was a Jew.  The first Christians were converts of Judaism (and wouldn’t that make them Jewish?).  Was Christianity, then, not a form of Judaism?  Never mind the Greek converts, they were just converting to a new Jewish sect—strange as it was.  If this was the case, then Christianity, as a Jewish sect, would have had protection under Roman law.  Its practitioners would be free to worship as they pleased.

The problem, however, was that Christians proclaimed that they were not Jews.  They were, instead, something else entirely, and because of this they quickly lost their protected status.

That doesn’t mean that Christianity wasn’t in limbo just because they knew they were separate from Judaism.  There was a Jewish variant of Christianity in 1st– and 2nd-century Palestine and then there were the Greek cities that began to practice Christianity.  Which was right?  Paul and his converts of Greeks? Or Peter, a Disciple of Christ, with closer roots to Judaism?

As I said, the early days of Christianity were in limbo and it didn’t sort itself out for centuries, arguably until the Council of Nicaea in 325.

Back to Ash Wednesday

Many view Ash Wednesday as a day to repent their sins.  It marks the first day of Lent, where there is a common practice to give something up (such as chocolate or wine) so that we might deprive ourselves the way that Jesus did the 40 days and 40 nights he was in the desert being tempted by Satan.

However, repenting our sins is just a stepping stone.  It’s not meant to be an end game.  We’re not supposed to self-flagellate until our souls are bloodied and bruised from excessive repentance.

Instead, repentance is a step towards our reconciliation with God.  That’s where we’re going.  We’re traversing the forty days of Lent so that at the end of it, our sins may be forgiven, and we may rise again with Jesus Christ in the resurrection, new and whole and complete.

Think on that this Ash Wednesday, if you choose to have ashes placed on your forehead.  Be repentant, but know that its meant to bring you one step closer to joyful union with the Lord our God.