Acts 6:8-15; 7:1
Acts 7:44-60; 8:1
Rev. Kit Billings
March 23, 2003
This past week, President George Bush ordered our military forces to wage war on Iraq, against the regime headed by Saddam Hussein. As you may know, on Friday I flew home from Berkeley after participating in many meetings with the students of our seminary, as well as the faculty and administration. I'm a member of CAM (Committee on Admission to The Ministry) and so I and four other representatives from our denominational body volunteer our time to oversee the education and development of our seminarians, offering support and guidance, and evaluation as well. I was in Berkeley when war began and so you can imagine the immense opposition to President Bush and his Administration from that part of the country.
Honestly, there are some Americans who feel that he's not much better than Saddam Hussein. At this point, there's more information coming in that will perhaps help us all to better judge whether our country's military is doing something good or evil in Iraq. From what I'm hearing on the news, there may be at least a fair amount of legitimacy to what the White House is doing against Hussein's regime.
I've never believed that the church or individual ministers should make bold statements in politics, unless the issue in question is totally clear, unless the horror and evil are without question. One of our denomination's Standing Resolutions adopted by our church, the General Convention of Swedenborgian Churches, back in July, 1982 reads:
“It is recognized that it is the responsibility of the church to voice its conviction on ethical and moral issues that arise from time to time in our nation and in our world….where the issue is one of long-term relevance.”
There are some, including ministers, who appear to abhor war almost unilaterally. Swedenborg had a lot to say about war, and I won't go into it all with you this morning. In short, he believed that going to war is acceptable in the case of defense, and that in general killing others for any reason draws a person away from the Lord in order to carry out such aggression. He noted the horror of such violence, but he understood the seriousness of protecting nations and people who are basically good from those that are evil and dangerous.
I'm not going to stand here and tell you what to believe about what is happening in Iraq…that would run against the heart and soul of our religion, of this brand of Christianity, which we call the Swedenborgian Church. I honor your freedom of thought and freedom of choice with utmost passion and I encourage you to try and find the truth as best you see it. Instead, I would like to take a more pastoral approach with you this morning, rather than a more prophetic one. I want to lift up with you that some of us here this morning may be feeling frightened. Some may have been feeling sad when our bombs began to drop. Personally, I've been feeling and sensing a number of different feelings and reactions in Americans, certainly within myself and around the world. I've felt waves of sadness, also fear. And then, too, feelings of celebration and joy in those who are oppressed under the eye and cruelty of Saddam Hussein being liberated from that kind of evil.
What are you feeling today?
How are you doing with it all?
It is from concern about such feelings and our human need to be able to find peace that after consultation with the heads of all communions in the National Council of Churches, which we have been a member since the late 1960's, that the President of our denomination, the Rev. Ronald Brugler, sent out an email this week asking all churches to please consider making certain that our doors are open for at least one hour every day to those in search of peace until our war with Iraq concludes. Truly, one never knows when the Spirit will call out deeply for a man or woman to find a sanctuary where they might find solace and peace away from the harshness and pain of life—a place to pray or sit in peace. And so this morning, I want to urge with all of you that we make sure to do this. I would imagine that the real issue for us as a church, given the work schedules of our staff and volunteers, that Mondays and Tuesdays be discussed again in regard to the Noon to 1:00pm time period, when workers may have time during lunch to find our church.
In addition to this issue, I want to talk with you briefly about two important truths regarding the Lord our God, which is that we're in His good and faithful hands. And related to this is another truth. That throughout time, certainly throughout Biblical history, God is Lord over the messiness of life, especially over the worst and most horrible situations we humans produce. The truth is that when we examine God's Word, as well as our theology in the New Church, we see that the Lord God is everywhere at all times and carefully works through life to bring about what is good and help change that which needs transformation and rebirth.
Humanity, to be sure, loves to choose genuine evil at times, even though at times it's wedded deeply within psychological neurosis. The evil I'm talking about shows itself in various ways, such as selfishness, hard-heartedness, a love of domination and control (or rather power over others), as well as hatred and a passion to kill. Why even Saul of Tarsus, later renamed Paul after his conversion on the road to Damascus, enjoyed persecuting and hating Christians as a Jewish leader.
The evil, cruelty, violence and hatred we see in the world, or in ourselves, is actually a very important sign of God's existence inside of us. For you see, it's vitally important that we, God's children, are not forced to love one another—that we are free to either love each other or not—as well as either love and connect with God or not. The Lord, being Love Itself, simply cannot create life in any other way given that He will only desire love back that is given freely. Human beings began to turn away from love toward evil a very long time ago, and it is human evil, which often works its way through very hurt and wounded hearts and minds, that is the cause of most of the world's suffering and killing. People choose to make life messy, and very messy it can get to be for sure.
But our worst and most bloody messes are no match for the Lord, and this is where the picture gets a whole lot brighter! God governs the hells in fact, which are the source of all evil and hatred, and the Lord allows a certain degree of evil and maliciousness, and then curtails it from going beyond His limits. But the outer reaches of God's limits, what He must allow to maintain spiritual freedom, are enormously terrible, as we know from the stories of what happens not only in the extremes of Iraq's government, but also in some of the things America has done, such as our love of slavery for a long time before the Civil War. Also, the truth that Robert MacNamera tells in his real life story about how we had several chances in Vietnam to end all that bloodshed, but due to our national ego, our Generals kept on sending in more troops. But the Lord's Spirit inspires people after the fact to come out and tell their stories, helping some good to come from it all.
The ancient Jews who became too comfortable in Egypt before Moses was born, felt terrible oppression and evil upon them too. But God heard their cries and liberated them from that oppression. God heard the universal outcry of humanity before the Lord entered our world as our Savior and Redeemer, when people suffered from evil (spiritual oppression beyond the limits of internal freedom), indifference, sexism, religious oppression and control, and shallowness where it really hurt. God came and helped when we needed Him most, and He took care of the problem by Redeeming us and giving us back our freedom to choose. In part by enabling us to take part in the growth of the solution—the growth and development of saving, spiritual love and the wisdom and faith in the Lord that come with it after Redemption was effected.
The Lord handles our worst messes, and He works expertly through them, bringing surprising increases in things like internal peace, joy, faith and love. But the natural or physical price people pay is horrific, to be sure. People are killed needlessly, even those highly gifted with God's power and strength. The apostle Stephen is one such example. Stephen was a truly good man, but his gutsy forthrightness came out of him at a moment when it would cost him his life. This terrible mess and confrontation between Stephen, representing the Lord's early Christian church that was growing in leaps and bounds, and the staid, closed-minded Jewish leaders.
The Jewish leaders managed to do away with him first by planting liars in the group during his trial. And then, they stoned him to death. Yet even within this kind of horrible human mess, look how the Lord was able to help Stephen in his moment of tribulation. He was there with Stephen when he was dying, and in so doing enabled this powerful man to have an eternal, positive impact on the lives of Christians for all time.
The truth is, that the hells like to beat God, and when it comes to matters in life of the outermost degree, sometimes they do win, such as when innocent people die. But the Lord always takes over and inspires good people to rise up and pick up the torch of love and wisdom, which helps our planet grow and prosper. And what matters even more is how God never lets anyone bent on hurting and killing to have dominion over what matters most of all in life—our own, personal love and relationship with the Lord Himself, as well as our spiritual livelihood, which inevitably lives on forever!!
Life gets very messy for sure, due to the necessity of freedom of choice in life. But we may take heart that the Lord is God over our messiness, over our human tendency to hurt and destroy. God, in fact, brings miracles of love and peace. He's ALWAYS able to save each and every one of us, since He's always with us and brings His saving love and truth with Him to all the hearts who are brave enough to believe in Him.
May the strength of your faith in the Lord continue to rise up and meet the challenges of each day. And may God's peace live and grow in your heart now and evermore.