Our local ministerial association is hosting an ecumenical service of prayer for world peace tonight. I've been asked to offer the homily. What follows is a couple of ideas that some will recognize as a reworking of previous reflections that I have woven together to form tonight's message:
On this day, five years ago, our world changed. Never again would we ever feel as safe and secure as we did on September 10, 2001. We have been forced to face how fragile our safety, our security really is. We were forced to admit that humanity is broken, and we can’t fix it.
How do we respond to this new world? How do we keep from giving into the very human responses based on fear and a need for revenge? We avoid these temptations by remembering who we are and whose we are. We avoid these temptations by embracing our Christian faith.
In the 15th chapter of John, Jesus tells us; “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me, and I in them, bear much fruit; because apart from me, you can do nothing.” Apart from me, you can do nothing.
I know that is something I need to hear. Without Christ, I can do nothing. Sometimes I get caught up into the thinking that if humanity could just find the right social program, or the right economic model, we could save ourselves. Or if we had a big enough army, my nation could whip the rest of the world into shape. Or if everyone would just listen to me, I could fix the wounds of this world. But I can’t fix it, and you can’t fix it. History is full of attempts by humanity to pull itself up by its bootstraps and get on with it. And it doesn’t work.
The truth is, whether we like it or not, that we are powerless. There’s a book by Keith Miller that I want to recommend to you, as some may find it helpful. The title is “A Hunger for Healing.” He takes the 12 steps made famous by AA and fashions them into a program for spiritual growth. In the places where the 12 steps mention alcohol, he replaces it with the word sin. So, the first step becomes, “I am powerless over sin, and my life has become unmanageable.” I think that is the truth for each of us.
Maybe you don’t feel it is true for you. Maybe your life doesn’t seem unmanageable. Maybe you do feel safe and secure. Let me simply remind you of your feelings on September 11, 2001. Is our safety and security an illusion? “I am powerless over sin, my own sin, and the sins of others, and my life has become unmanageable.” Even if it makes us feel uncomfortable, I think it is important that we see the truth in that statement.
And what is sin? I think at the root of many occasions for sin is forgetting that God is God and we are not. We cannot stop our sinful ways on our own. Paul cries out, “I do that thing which I don’t want to do!” We cannot stop the sin in this world with social programs, or large armies. We are powerless over sin, and our world is falling apart. We need, we desperately need, a Savior, because we can’t fix it.
I am the vine, Jesus tells us. Apart from me, you can do nothing. If we are connected with Jesus, if we are in relationship with God, if we abide in Christ, we find a hand offered to lift us out of our sinful preoccupations. Then we can see what our true nature, what our true calling has always been. We are the branches. We receive the essence of life itself from the vine. If we desire to truly live, we will abide in Christ, and he in us.
We will abide in Christ. But what about the world outside the walls of the Church? As followers of Christ, it is not just for our own ticket to heaven that we exist. It is not just about us. The Church serves for the sake of the world. What can we offer a world trapped in a never ending cycle of violence?
We can offer them the example of Jesus Christ. We can offer them an alternative to the way the world responds to violence.
Our world is bound by a circular chain of violence. We are taught very early in life never to allow ourselves to become a victim. What happens when some bully picks on us at school? We go home with that awful feeling of being vulnerable and powerless. We need to be free of this feeling of dread. As we walk into our yard, we tease our little sister, and suddenly feel much better. Our boss at work is demanding and demeaning. We go home feeling that we have been treated unfairly. We raise our voice when disciplining the children, and walk away feeling more confident, more in control. We have learned our lessons well. The way to escape the role of victim is to become an oppressor. Our children are learning the same lessons from us. The violence continues.
An oppressor makes a victim, who then becomes an oppressor to escape the role of victim, and so makes new victims who become oppressors, and on and on until the entire planet finds itself bound by chains of violence. How can we break these chains?
People of faith believe that there is a way. It involves believing that humanity has been called to a higher purpose than getting and spending. It involves believing in a God of mercy and grace who desires that we become more than a violent mob seeking personal gain. My faith tradition teaches that the way to break these chains of violence is to become reconciled with our own victims. We believe that when we make peace with the victims we have made, we encounter the One Pure Victim, Jesus Christ. Instead of responding with violence, we seek to heal the wounds we have made. Our link in the chain of violence has been broken, and the circle that binds us becomes weaker.
Criminal acts must be controlled in a civilized society. There is a place for force when faced with human evil. Today, the oppressive use of force seems to be often the first response instead of a last resort. Is violence the only response to becoming a victim? Jesus taught another way; make no new victims.
We can no longer think of the people of the world in categories of "us" and "them." Technology has connected us as never before. We are all in the same boat. Together we can break this chain of violence by refusing to respond to oppression with oppression and choosing to become instruments of peace and reconciliation to the wounded victims of this world.
As we engage the world as instruments of peace, and break the chain of violence that binds us, it is important that we always keep in mind that healing will not come from our efforts alone. Humanity is broken, and we can’t fix ourselves. To keep from repeating the mistakes of the past, we must etch on our hearts the words of Jesus, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
There is a story told by a veteran of WWII who was in Italy. He passed a statue of Christ that had had its hands blown off by an exploding shell. Someone had penciled a sign and hung it around the neck of this statue...the sign read; “No hands but yours.” Just as we were offered the hand of love by Christ to lift us up to a new life, so we are called to be the hands of Christ in the world today. Let us be the Church, the living hands of Christ, and offer the love of God to a world hungry for healing and desperate for peace.