How about a brief sermon today?
When I was in high school, I was part of a Christian group of students that met once a week at lunch time for a scripture study and occasional “testimony sharing” (for lack of a better term.) One friend continually referred to his Bible as “my sword.” As an RLDS lion-and-lamb-peace-seal-loving teen-ager, I wondered where this imagery came from. It originates from Ephesians 6:17: “Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” It concludes a series of verses that exhorts believers to “put on the whole armor of God” so as to “stand against the wiles of the devil.” (v.11) Further, “fasten the belt of truth around your waist and put on the breastplate of righteousness.” (v. 14) And “take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (v. 16)
In the online newsletter, “Sunday’s Coming,” (published by the “Christian Century” magazine) the writer Austin Crenshaw Shelley has written a piece titled, “Needing a Warrior God.” He describes being disturbed by biblical images of violence and bloodshed. He expressed to his seminary class, “’I tend to prefer the image of beating swords into plowshares and the vision of the wolf lying down with the lamb to those of waging war.’” In response a classmate, a Coptic Christian from Egypt, declared, “’You prefer verses about peace because you have never needed a warrior God.’” He then went on to share about his church being the target of a terrorist bombing and his need to pray for God to fight on his behalf and protect his family. Further, he shared about the “Egyptian Muslims who showed up on Christmas Eve to form a human shield around the sanctuary to defend the church from further acts of terror on a high holy day.”
In Community of Christ, we have been pursuing the God of Peace at least since the revelatory declaration that “The temple shall be dedicated to the pursuit of peace. It shall be for reconciliation and for healing of the spirit.” (Doctrine and Covenants, s. 156:5a). At the most recent World Conference we passed a motion on non-violence. In preparation for further discussion of the impact of that motion, we are encouraged to consider the question, “Are we moving towards Jesus, the Peaceful One?” Of course, most of us are still incredibly proud of, and inspired by, our nearly 160-year-old and incredibly prophetic lion-and-lamb church seal.
We are quite rightly (in my humble opinion) on the path of the peace of Jesus Christ. It is still important that in our quest for peace we do not ignore or just brush off the violence that is part of our world today. (See: any newspaper front page or many lead stories on television news.) We also must not brush off the frequent violence described in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (e.g., the murder of Abel; the drowning of the Egyptian army; the destruction of other enemies of Israel, to name but a few), and the occasional violence of the New Testament (e.g., beheading of John the Baptist). As a denomination there is violence in our past (see: “The Massacre at Haun’s Mill,” in The Journey of a People: The Era of Restoration, Mark A. Scherer, Community of Christ Seminary Press, p. 320-325) and we need to become more aware of the violence and racism expressed in our Book of Mormon.
Whether or not we have needed a “warrior God” in recent years, there is ample evidence that God has fulfilled that role in the past. I hope that we never need to call on the “warrior God” for protection. My personal pacifist nature trusts in Jesus, the Peaceful One. I continue to look to the Temple to inspire our pursuit of peace and seeking of reconciliation and healing of the spirit. And yet, to fully appreciate the significance of the pursuit of peace, of reconciliation, and of healing of the spirit, we need to understand and appreciate the circumstances that lead to those significant needs on our world.
May we acknowledge the violence in God’s world even as we pursue Jesus, the Peaceful One. In our support for, and pursuit of, non-violence, may we seek peace through tools of reconciling justice. The task is daunting and overwhelming. Perhaps some of that metaphorical “armor of God” from the Book of Ephesians might come in handy.
As always, I pray for you God’s blessings of joy, hope, love, and peace in these challenging times.
Canada West Mission Centre President
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