Preaching Peace Lectionary

Trinity Sunday, Year A

Gospel Anthropological Reading

Example 1

Marine 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano is on trial for the alleged killing of two Iraqis. Whether he is guilty or not is up to the military courts to decide. But as to why he was in Iraq is far clearer. After 9/11, Pantano would say that it was the responsibility of America “to export violence to the four corners of the world so this doesn’t happen again.” Most illuminating is that Pantano acknowledges what most Americans prefer to deny: that our greatest export is violence.

2,000 years ago another solider in a different army sought to export something else to the four corners of the globe: non-violence. This one fought not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. Of course, we speak of Jesus.

The Great Commission in Matthew’s Gospel has been used throughout Christian history to export the gospel but along with the gospel also came something else, the exportation of violence in the name of the Prince of Peace. Christianity has its pogroms, inquisitions, death chambers all exported ‘for the benefit of humankind.” Today, there are those who would also evangelize others in the name of this Prince of Peace; yet they are evangelized at the end of a gun, or a pen or violent rhetoric. Infidels, non-believers, atheists all are to be brought to submission in the name of a “Christian culture.” Shall we suppose that this is what Jesus was seeking as he gave this ‘great commission?’

Example 2

“The U.S. Air Force said Tuesday it will appoint a task force to investigate allegations of religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy [in Colorado].”

Among the allegations are that cadets are frequently pressured to attend chapel and take religious instruction, particularly in the evangelical Christian faith; that prayer is a part of mandatory events at the academy; and that in at least one case a teacher ordered students to pray before beginning their final examination.

The report said it found that non-Christian cadets are subjected to “proselytization or religious harassment” by more senior cadets; and that cadets of other religions are subject to discrimination, such as being denied passes off-campus to attend religious services.” (from CNN.com, May 4, 2005)

Christian belief in America has become synonymous with “Faith in America.” The evangelization being practiced by ‘Christians’ at the Air Force academy does not to promote faith in Jesus the crucified but belief in the ultimate American Idol, Jesus the mighty warrior, the divine avenger. When Jesus commanded the church to make disciples, he was explicitly commanding us to teach people to follow him and following Jesus means practicing peace, non-violence and love.

Fundamental to certain types of Christian expression is the belief that God is violent and thus, following God, we can and may use violence to achieve divine ends. Miroslav Wolf (Exclusion and Embrace, Nashville: Abingdon, 1996) has proffered justification for this by asserting that while Jesus may be non-violent, “God has a monopoly on violence.” As J Denny Weaver has pointed out, “the Christian tradition has a long history of accommodating violence via the doctrine of supposedly justifiable war, and the idea that doing justice means punishment is the hallmark of United States criminal justice procedures. I submit that [this] is very much a problem of the Christian faith. The classic orthodox formulation of the Trinity emphasizes that each person of the Trinity participates in all the attributes of God. According to this doctrine, it would be heretical to develop attributes in one person of the Trinity that were different from the other persons of the Trinity…Jesus as the revelation of God reveals the very being and character of God.” Do you suppose they teach this at the Air Force Academy?

Example 3

The worst and most dangerous weapon developed in world history is the nuclear weapon. Yet J. Robert Oppenheimer would call this project “Trinity.” Why? Oppenheimer said he was influenced by a line from a poem by Donne. But to invoke the name of the God of peace for the worst imaginable violence is nothing short of blasphemy.

Which God is Christianity in America exporting to the world? Which vision of the divine being are preaching and teaching? Are we creating followers of Jesus, imitators of Jesus or have we become blind to the fact that we are in fact creating disciples of Satan in the name of Jesus? Is not this Jesus in fact, the anti-Christ? Have we not yet learned that “violence is not an attribute of God?” (Epistle to Diognetus)

I am always astonished when I read in the press, “Islam has been hijacked by fanatics.” Cannot the same be said of Christianity in America? This Sunday pulpit after pulpit is going to be filled with evangelistic sermons extolling the virtues of saving the world, of the need to send out missionaries. Yet, what is it we are really preaching? Has not the name Trinity become synonymous with violence in the eyes of many across the globe?

It is time for followers of Jesus to reclaim their heritage. It is time for those who desire peace, who desire to follow the Prince of Peace to rise up and shout from the rooftops that God is not violent, that God has reconciled the world, that God does not war. Then we shall know that Jesus is indeed the One with us ‘to the end of the age.”

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Gospel Historical/Cultural Questions

No significant issues occupy us today.

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Gospel So What?

What can you do? First, consider becoming a peace church. Every Church A Peace Church (www.ecapc.org) has information on their website on how individual congregations can join together in announcing that they choose peace. If there is to be a peace movement in the 21st century it will begin in the churches.

Second, consider joining a study group around Jim Wallis’ book God and Politics (Jeff will be posting his review soon). Details are available at the Sojourners website (www.sojo.net). Jim has rightly said, “It is now clear there are some who will fight this religious war by any means necessary. So we will fight, but not the way they do. We must never lie or misrepresent the facts or the truth. We must not demonize or vilify those who are our opponents. We must claim that those who disagree with our judgments are still real people of faith. We must not fight the way they do, but fight we must. A great deal is at stake in this battle for the heart and soul of faith in America and for the nation’s future itself. We will not allow faith to be put into the service of one political agenda.

This is a call for the rest of the churches to wake up. This is a call for people of faith everywhere to stand up and let their faith be heard. This is not a call to be just concerned, or just a little worried, or even just alarmed. This is a call for clear speech and courageous action, and in the words of the prophet Micah, ‘to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.’”

Third, renew your own personal commitment to walk with Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to find the peace that passes understanding. Maybe this should be first but the personal, political and ecclesiological all run together in the long run anyway.

Some Sermon Thoughts

Quoting from a sermon I preached last month, “The teaching of the Trinity, the true Trinity, has preserved the apostolic faith at several points in the Church’s history. This moment is no less important than the council of Nicaea.” American “Evangelicalism” may not have the following that Rome does, but it wields a much larger sword in the name of its version of Jesus. What needs to be said is that the teachings in many churches that Jesus does not fully reveal the Father is not Christian teaching. It isn’t even “biblical.” When Jesus said, “The Father and I are one,” he meant it. When he grew exasperated with Philip because he’d asked Jesus to “show us the Father,” it was because there was nothing left of the Father to be seen beyond that which was revealed in Jesus. Nothing more to show. We can resist this current distortion of the Gospel by resting on the Trinity.

As I read Michael’s examples in the Anthropological segment, I was reminded of another illustration that might work into your sermon. The movie “Kingdom of Heaven,” which I haven’t seen yet, has been roundly criticized by evangelical reviewers because of it’s “anti-Christian” stance. One reviewer I read criticized the film because one “relatively noble Christian” says “we have no need of a perfect knight.” This, apparently, is evidence of the director’s “anti-Christian” bias, because, as the reviewer and his readers all know, “Christ is the perfect knight.” Jesus the mighty warrior indeed! (Click here to open a new window with the review.)

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Epistle Anthropological Reading

This section of this particular page is not yet completed, but will be done a few weeks before the Sunday in question. It will be the heart of the discussion, offering an anthropological (“Girardian”) reflection on the lectionary texts. It will be complemmented by the other sections, but this will be the primary material.Back to top

 

Epistle Historical/Cultural Questions

This section of this particular page is not yet complete. In it, there will be materials pertinent to the historical/cultural setting of the texts under consideration, to the extent that they contribute to a non-violent understanding of the text. (We won’t re-hash historical/cultural materials that are well known and add nothing to the “peace” discussion.)Back to top

 

Epistle So What?

The “so what” section for each week will go here. Less scholarly, more reflective. In this section, we’ll try to give our answer to the questions, “Okay, that anthropological stuff is nice, but “so what?” How do I use this in a sermon? How do I relate this to my congregation’s world?”Back to top