Friday, August 30, 2013

A Kyrie for Today

In peace, in peace, let us pray to the Lord
Kyrie Eleison
For peace from above, and for our salvation, let us pray to the Lord
Kyrie Eleison
For the peace of the whole world…

For the peace of the whole world.
Not the stillness of children killed with chemicals.
But peace.
Not the slaughter of civilians or the rise of radical rebels
But peace
Not cruise missiles with their GPSes saying “recalculating.”
But peace
Not “kinetic military actions”
But peace

Kyrie Eleison
Knee-jerk politicians and pundits
A count down clock to a new ratings bonanza
Partisanship and cable channel loyalty informing the flock more than our faith

And our faith has things to say about this, you know!
For 2000 years we’ve struggled with being faithful in the world as it is
Faithful in times of persecution, famine, feast, power.
Kinetic military action, and yes, even war.
The line that sticks in my soul
From my tradition
Is this:
"Any decision for war must be a mournful one."

Kyrie/Christe/Kyrie Eleison--Amen

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Pastoral Letter on the Eve of an American Led Attack on Syria

            This morning I received a pastoral missive from my internship supervisor, Pastor Gregg Knepp formerly of St. John’s Pimlico, now of St. Peter’s Ocean City, on the subject of the likely upcoming attack by our country on Syria. It is entitled “A Kyrie for Today.”
            Kyrie, as in “Kyrie Eleison” “Lord, have mercy.” The start of our opening prayer to God at every service—the start of the prayer, in which we pray for peace from above and for our salvation—peace for the whole world…
            Peace for the whole world.
            Peace for the whole world while a regime who has killed tens of thousands of its citizens commits crimes against humanity in the context of a civil war.
            Peace for the whole world while we in the West, along with a few Arab States, prepare for some sort of limited war.

            I have to admit the whole situation breaks my heart. I have friends with ties to the Syrian people. I am of the generation for whom the shadow of Iraq looms especially large. I have a mother who works for the Veterans Administration and has seen the long term results of nations choosing to go to war.
            And I know there are no easy answers.

            But I also know our faith means something, the Church has something to say.
            “Kyrie Eleison.”
            We pray first for those who have died, and for those who will die. We pray for our leaders, that they might act as rightly as our world allows.
            We pray: “Gracious God, grant peace among nations. Cleanse from our own hearts the seeds of strife: greed and envy, harsh misunderstandings and ill will, fear and desire for revenge. Make us quick to welcome ventures in cooperation among the peoples of the world, so that there may be woven the fabric of a common good too strong to be torn by the evil hands of war. In the time of opportunity, make us be diligent; and in the time of peril, let not our courage fail; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

            We also remember that our faith is not something limited to Sunday mornings and hospital visits. For two thousand years we Christians have been struggling with being faithful in the world as it is, in situations of persecution, famine, feast, might, and war. And those struggles have given us a rich tradition of thought and action, something much deeper than the knee-jerk reactions of TV pundits, or even the careful and vigorous debates currently going on in the UK’s House of Commons.
            The Lutheran tradition follows in this rich tradition—a tradition that includes Just War Theory, “which requires certain conditions to be met before the use of military force is considered morally right.  These principles are:
  1. A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
  2. A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
  3. A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient--see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with "right" intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
  4. A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
  5. The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
  6. The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
  7. The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.”
            Additionally, this Church, the ELCA, in 1995, created a document “For Peace in God’s World” which particularized our understanding of Just War Theory to the challenges of the 20th and 21st century. Here are a few stand out statements:
            “Wars, both between and within states, represent a horrendous failure of politics. The evil of war is especially evident in the number of children and other noncombatants who suffer and die.”
            “Helping the neighbor in need may require protecting innocent people from injustice and aggression. While we support the use of nonviolent measures, there may be no other way to offer protection in some circumstances than by restraining forcibly those harming the innocent. We do not, then--for the sake of the neighbor--rule out possible support for the use of military force. We must determine in particular circumstances whether or not military action is the lesser evil.”
            “From the posture of the just/unjust war tradition, the aim of all politics is peace. Any political activity that involves coercion should be held accountable to just/unjust war principles. They are important for evaluating movements, sanctions, embargoes, boycotts, trade policies to reward or punish, and other coercive but nonviolent measures.”
            “We give priority to treaties to ban the production, sale, and use of biological and chemical weapons.”
            And finally, and most solemn, "Any decision for war must be a mournful one."
            And so, I conclude this letter as it began, Kyrie Eleison.
In Christ’s Peace,

Pastor Christopher Lee Halverson

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sermon: Our Bad Religion

Jesus often gets in fights with religious authorities—the scribes, the leaders of the Synagogue, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
In fact, if you’re a religious leader you can almost be guaranteed to get in a fight with Jesus.
         Think of that for a second—God shows up in human form and the people who pick a fight with God are the religious ones.
         That’s because Jesus reveals bad religion.
         And it’s worth remembering that.
         It’s worth remembering that, because we too are religious people.
         One of the dangers of reading about the conflicts Jesus had in his time, is we keep them there.
         We spend needless time railing against those religious hypocrites without checking ourselves.
         The danger is, it becomes a religious leader of a church—the pastor—and the religious people of the church—the assembly—reading about the religious leaders and religious people of Jesus times, without reflecting on our own sin.
         For that reason, this week and next week, as we read about two particular conflicts Jesus gets into with particular religious people—I want us to reflect explicitly on what these conflicts might say about our own misuse of the faith.
         I want us to reflect upon “Our Bad Religion.”
         Yes, Jesus reveals bad religion, and it would be foolishness on our part if we didn’t include our own simultaneously saintly and sinful faith in this revelation.
         Our Bad Religion.
         Jesus is teaching in the Synagogue on Saturday, as a good Jewish religious figure is want to do.
And there is this woman, who for 18 years was crippled,
was curved in upon herself… her body was so fully twisted that in the Greek the description of her infirmity itself is twisted and convoluted—a pretzel of grammar—warped words.
         And Jesus takes that pretzel, and changes it into praise.
         A hunched over question mark, and makes it an exclamation point.
         She praises God for her healing—for 18 years of slavery becoming liberation.
         And an argument erupts!
         The religious folk, want to fight about Sabbath rules, about Blue Laws, about what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath!

         And the argument that follows is actually quite interesting, something religious folk of the time debated.
In fact, it’s an argument we find right in the Old Testament, when it tells of the 10 Commandments.
         In the book of Exodus the 3rd commandment—keep the Sabbath Holy—is justified by a description of God creating the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. That’s the starting point for the leader of the synagogue’s argument.
         God worked for 6 days, and rested for one. If that’s good enough for God it’s good enough for us!
         In the book of Deuteronomy, however, the 3rd commandment is justified differently. It is justified in this way
—you were slaves in Egypt, and didn’t get to rest then—you know what it’s like to be worked to death and you’ve been liberated from that bondage to slavery in Egypt. Act like it.
         This is Jesus’ response to the religious folk’s attack—there is no better day to release this woman from her bondage of 18 years than the day in which we rest from the bondage of slavery in Egypt.
         Additionally, Jesus brings up a common rabbinic debate about whether you can untie donkeys and oxen on the Sabbath. He seems to know what side the Synagogue’s leadership falls on, that they are on the more liberal side that allows for sustaining lives of livestock on the Sabbath.
         To make it plain, it’s okay to liberate livestock from their stockades on Saturday.
         Then he argues from small to large—if a cow can be freed from it’s fence, how much more can this woman be freed from her bondage and bending and oppression by the devil!?!

         But, as fascinating as this argument is, between Jesus and the Leaders of the Synagogue—how rooted it is in arguments of the time—how Jesus skillfully argues in favor of this woman he’s healed—focusing on the argument is the very problem Jesus has revealed.
This is an example of Our Bad Religion.
         They have before them a concrete example of God’s goodness, that God has freed this woman from 18 years of horrible disfigurement.
Yet they prefer to debate religion.
They prefer to use it as a way to get one over on their opponent—in this moment Jesus.
In short, they are too busy fighting to see the Goodness of God right in front of them and praise God for it.
         Praise God like this woman is doing.

         In a way, it’s like reading comments in an online news article.
         For example, I was reading a news article online about Antoinette Tuff,
the lady who talked down, and prayed for, a gunman who was intent on murdering children at an Atlanta elementary school this last Wednesday.
         It was a fine article—very uplifting—a story worth praising God about.

         But then I got to the comments section at the bottom.
         People were arguing guns. Arguing politics—even politics from 2 decades ago. Arguing Race. Arguing Religion. Arguing Divorce. Arguing about EVERYTHING. Because they just wanted to argue.
         They could have been so overjoyed that those 500 rounds of ammunition didn’t find 500 targets—but instead, they argue.

         And, that’s just what these leaders of the Synagogues wanted to do—argue instead of praise God.
         That’s what Jesus ends up calling them out for, even as they argue. That they ignore God’s loving action even as they fight.
         And that’s their bad religion and it can be Our Bad Religion too.
         Take a moment—think of a time you’ve done such a thing?—Arguing Religion instead of praising God.
         I’m guessing you have—I know I have.
         To these leaders of Synagogues, and to us here today, I want to say.
 Praise God.
         Praise God for finding us when we’re bent-in-on-ourselves—sinners that we are—paralyzed by our own self-centered nature.
         Praise God who is the salve for our scars of cynicism and self-righteousness.
         Praise God for straightening us out when we get bent up.
         Praise God for Jesus’ miraculous healing on the Sabbath and for the faith of Antoinette Tuff on Wednesday.
         Praise God who hears not our babble and our noise—our sound and our fury, but instead the clear voice of His beloved Son.
         Praise God who is faithful to us despite our bad religion.