Richard Maxwell

Easter 4 C
21 April 2013
Grace Episcopal Church

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

What a week it’s been!  I’m sure we’ve all been paying attention to the unfolding drama in Boston.  And, if you’re like me, you’ve been assailed by all sorts of different emotions and thoughts.  Sorrow for those who have died, and for their families.  Sorrow, too, for those who were wounded in the bombings . . . and other emotions as well . . . I’m not certain that I can even name them.  The thought that a vibrant, active young person might awaken to the news that he or she no longer has legs to stand on . . . well, I can’t quite wrap my head around it.

I flashed back to 9/11 and the tumult and horror of that day . . . but the bombings in Boston feel different to me.  The scale is different.  The events on 9/11 involved huge airplanes and enormous buildings, while the bombings in Boston involved a couple of backpacks dropped in the middle of cheering crowds.  I’m not saying that one is more or less worse than the other . . . by no means . . . I don’t know that horror can be quantified.  But they feel different to me.  And I find the recent events in Boston rather more unsettling . . . because they have a simpler, more “everyday” feel to them.  They drive home the fact that what happened in Boston could happen anywhere at any time.  At least, that’s the way it seems to me.

Another thought then occurred to me:  what about the people of Syria, and Iraq, and Afghanistan?  Good Lord, every day they live with the fear of a bomb going off while they’re shopping, or going to school, playing a game or running a race.  On Thursday I noticed a rather brief article on an inside page of the New York Times.  It began like this: “A suicide bomber detonated explosives at a Baghdad cafe crowded with young people late Thursday, killing at least 26 people.”  Twenty-six young people out to have a good time.  My God.

All right . . . while I’m sharing my stream of consciousness with you, I’ll share with you one last thought that occurred to me.  It’s my reaction to a verse from the second book of Samuel.  I think you’re all aware that some of us have taken on the project of reading the Bible in a year.  Well, a couple of months ago when I reread this part of Samuel, a verse grabbed me and I’ve not been able to shake it.  Here’s the verse:  “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah” (11:1).  Did you catch the beginning of the verse?  “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle…”.  There’s a lot of fighting in the Bible, and this verse makes it sound like much of the fighting was for fighting’s sake.  “Oh my, April already? Time to start a war.”

Violence, so much violence . . . and we don’t seem to have changed much over the millennia.  What then should we do?

I suppose we could just give up and hide.  But that’s certainly not any way to live, and it’s certainly not a good Christian response.

Our Scripture readings today contain beautiful promises for eternal life.  And indeed, that is one of the bedrock tenets of our faith.  We are promised a glorious life eternal by our savior, Jesus Christ.  And while that knowledge offers real comfort and peace, sometimes . . . sometimes . . . we need some inspiration for our life in this world.  Certainly, all those people who ran TOWARD the injured and maimed in Boston, rather than running for safety, offer us fine models of behavior.  And Jesus, of course, our good shepherd, gave us many lessons about how to live in this world:  to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to give our coat away when our shirt is stolen.  We’ve heard these lessons many times; we KNOW them.  Perhaps we’ve heard them too much, and not tried to live them enough, because when confronted with senseless violence and brutality Jesus’ teachings are not usually the guide we follow . . . even though they should be.

Thinking about all of this, I found myself re-reading Martin Luther King’s speech when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.  I’m gonna share a portion of it with you because it offers a beautiful vision of the future, a vision that I would also describe as Christian, a vision that I believe we should all strive to make reality.  But before I read to you, I want to place the speech in context:  the day before Dr. King gave this speech in Oslo, Norway – the day before – a few things happened back in the United States.  In Birmingham, Alabama, people demonstrating for equality were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs, and even death.  In Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking the right to vote were brutalized and murdered.  And also, the day before . . . the day before Dr. King accepted the Peace Prize, 40 houses of worship in the State of Mississippi were bombed or burned because they offered a sanctuary to those who would not accept segregation.

With all of that, and so very much more in the background, Dr. King offered these words:

“I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind.  I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.  I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him.  I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.  I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.  I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.  This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.  I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.  I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.  I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.  I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up.  I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. ‘And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.’ I still believe that We Shall Overcome!”

Amen.

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