We live in an in-between time. The Church has lived its whole history in an in-between time. The Church came into existence after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and we yet wait for the return of Christ at the end of the age. Those are the bookends, the beginning and end of this in-between time.
A number of years ago there were some theologians who said that Jesus’ teachings were an interim ethic. They were an ethic for this in-between time. But these same theologians said that Jesus anticipated that this would be a fairly short time, so his ethic was a very demanding one. These theologians said since the time has stretched out to two thousand some years, surely Jesus could not have expected us to live by everything he taught us. Those who advocate an interim ethic have somehow disappeared and grown quiet. We can all be grateful for that.
We now live in another in-between time. The first date of this new in-between time was September 11, 2001, and the end date will be when the world has been eradicated of terrorism. This is the new in-between time. I ask you, how are we to live in this time? What is to mark us as citizens of this nation? How are we to live as Christians and citizens of this nation?
There have been many responses since September 11. There has been the response of anguish, which people of all faiths and all backgrounds have shared. There has been the response of anger at what took place. There is the response now of what I call “awesomeness.”
There are three dimensions that I can see about this awesomeness that is at large in our land. The first is the coming together of this nation in little over a week’s period of time like nothing else that has happened in our history. It is amazing, isn’t it? The greatest symbol of that is the coming together of Congress and the President. That truly is a miracle. But it is a widespread miracle. It has brought us all together, and we can be grateful. Another dimension to awesomeness is the response of the nations of the world to our nation, to our hurt, and to our need. They have pledged support, care, and love. That too is a rather miraculous happening. The third dimension of the awesomeness that we are experiencing in our midst today is the hundreds of thousands of people who are giving unselfishly of themselves in volunteer service to others in this country. It is truly overwhelming to see all the ways that people have found to help one another. It is truly awesome.
But what are the rest of us to do who aren’t involved in those things, or who aren’t involved yet? What are the attitudes that we are to have? There ’s an old adage that says, “All is fair in love and war.” There is one interpretation of that adage that says, “In love any deceit is fair; in war any violence is fair.” But anyone who knows anything about human psychology and faith has long ago dismissed that any deceit is appropriate in love. In fact we would say no deceit is appropriate in love. If you truly love another, you will never deceive that person, no matter what.
For hundreds of years thinking people of all traditions around the world have grown to try and limit our understanding of war and the violence that we use in war. It goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks of the 5th and 6th centuries B.C., where the idea of a just war was first voiced. To the Greeks, a just war was a war fought for the purpose of establishing justice and peace in the world, and using a minimum amount of violence to bring that about. No less a spokesman for the Greeks than Plato himself said that if you are in conflict with someone else, you may not damage their wells or damage their orchards. Plato also said that when you look at the enemy population, differentiate between combatants and non-combatants, between the guilty and the innocent.
In the Law of Moses, in Exodus 21, we have what has come to be known as lex talionis, the law of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. We look upon that as pretty crude, but it was a great humanizing movement of law in that time. Remember the story of Lamech in Genesis 4. Lamech was wounded in one of his limbs, but his revenge upon the one who wounded him was to take the other person’s life. It wasn’t wound for wound, but it was life for wound. The Law of Moses humanized that to an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, wound for a wound. There is also a sense of justice, here someone who injures someone else cannot get off scot-free, but they also must face a consequence.
Michael Walzer in his book Just and Unjust Wars says that even in war there is a definition of murder. Murder is when you aim to kill anyone who is a non-combatant: a civilian, or a soldier who has been wounded, disarmed, or is trying to surrender.
We have through the years of human development come to an understanding that we are entirely too violent to just react at will. Even in the midst of war we put limits upon ourselves. So how is it that we are to act in this time? How is it that we are to react against this gross injustice, this heinous evil that has been committed? How are we to be Christians and citizens together?
I ask you if you will think with me for a moment about the great tradition that comes to us from our Christian faith, of seeing everyone as brother and sister, not just those who share our viewpoints, but all people. It is at the very foundation of the Judeo-Christian tradition; it is at the foundation of Islam, that all are brothers and sisters in God. That is the very basis from which we need to operate. Where do we move from there? How do we begin to think past that?
There is an understanding that comes out of the Judeo-Christian tradition that we in our relationships with one another must somehow reflect the will of God in all that we do. What is God’s will for us? What does God want to have come out of this? Friends, I submit to you that from the prophet Amos in the Old Testament, we hear the words “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Justice comes first, and right relationships with God and with each other spring out of that.
But how do we define justice? Again it is the ancient Greek philosophers and our Christian theologians who help us. Socrates says it is unjust for anyone to harm another without cause, especially if the other is innocent of doing harm to you. Aquinas said justice is seeking the common good of all peoples, not harming any individual, and seeing that everyone gets their just desserts. The founder of our Methodist movement, John Wesley, in his sermon “God’s Vineyard,” said there are three evidences of faith. The first is do no harm. (It sounds like the Hippocratic oath of our doctors, doesn’t it?) First do no harm, then do good, and then follow the ordinances of God. The best thinkers the world has ever produced, Christian theologians, and our own founder, are all in unison about our understanding of justice and injustice. What has happened has been unjust, but our response must be just. What does that mean? How do we do that?
Justice is the eradication of evil in the world. It is the very movement of God in human history to bring about justice. We see that in the passage from Psalm 89. God is praised by all of creation, because God rules over the raging of the chaos of the waters and defeats the sea monsters. Chaos symbolized by the raging waters and sea monsters was the worst that people could imagine in that day. God’s character is described as being righteousness and justice, steadfast love and faithfulness. Then God’s high, right hand, the hand by which God does good, the hand by which God brings healing, is described as a hand of justice. God’s actions in our midst, God’s will for us, is that justice prevail.
In the passage from John, in wonderful poetic images, John reminds us that Christ was a gift to us from the heart of God. God, the Divine Self, came into our midst to be with us. God did not come to condemn us or to judge us, but to save us. We are judged by our own actions. We are judged by the way we treat each other, so we have brought judgment upon ourselves.
What are we to do? How do we live out this justice to which we have been called? Let me suggest three things. First of all, we must continue to work for healing in our midst. We must continue in our prayers, our actions, and in our words, to support those who have been injured, harmed, and are grieving from the injustice that has been done. We must reach out to our brothers and sisters in Washington, New York, and Pennsylvania, and the extended families that stretch across the world, even into San Diego, and support those people. We need to reach out to not only those directly affected, we must seek the healing of our nation. The way we will do that is to get back to the original ideals and values upon which this nation was founded. Not just remember them, but also begin to live those values. We must seek the healing of the world, because the world now lives in fear, and fear never produces anything good. We must seek the healing of the world.
We also must work against hate, hate against Muslim people, hate against Arabs, hate against Arab-Americans, and anyone else that we might remotely associate with those who have perpetrated the evil. Remember, this most likely is a very small band of militants. We cannot spread our response out beyond those people who are directly responsible or are co-conspirators. To spread it is to succumb to their tactics, to become like they are. We cannot do that. We must work against hate. That means we need to call and visit with our Arab friends and acquaintances in our community. We may even need to go shopping with them, to show others we are all children of God.
To date there have been two killings across our country that most likely have been associated with hate crimes. There has been a damaged mosque in Cleveland, Ohio, where a car was run into the mosque. There have been six other mosques across the country that have been damaged. There have been over seventy hate crimes reported in California alone, against people of all religious backgrounds. Someone thought an individual looked like an Arab or Muslim, so they attacked. We must work against hate.
Thirdly, we must work for justice. Our response cannot be just vocal, we must put all our energies into seeking justice. We must encourage our leaders to seek justice. Our President very rightly and appropriately has spoken time and again about seeking justice and not revenge. That is so right. Revenge and justice are so far apart. Revenge comes out of the heart of hatred. It seeks not only violence against the other, but it brings violence into the soul of the one who seeks the revenge. Justice comes out of the heart of love and seeks justice in love for those innocents who have been killed, and those who may be killed if terrorism is allowed to continue. Let us operate out of love, but let us hold those responsible accountable. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” We certainly need to pray for those who have done these terrible things, and we need to love them. To love them does not mean that we lie down and are passive. It does mean that we seek to bring them to trial, either in this nation, or in some world court setting, so that justice can prevail. We need to practice a form of tough love. We cannot stop at anything less. We cannot let our leaders stop at anything less. To love means to will the well being of the whole being of every being, not just a few. Justice is a strong part of love.
Let me leave you with an alternate image, an image that stands in contrast to Tuesday, September 11. On June 17, 1998, a little over three years ago, Robert Kupferschmid was invited on his 81st birthday to take an airplane flight. He had never been in a plane before, and especially a small plane. His friend was Wesley Sickle, who was fifty-two, and a pilot of a Cessna 172, a single-engine plane.
They went up in the plane, flying from Indianapolis to Muncie, Indiana. In the midst of the flight, Wesley Sickle, the fifty-two year old, had a heart attack and slumped over the controls dead. This eighty-one year old, who had never been in a plane before, grabbed the controls, then grabbed the radio, and began to shout for help. Almost immediately two other small planes came, one on each side of him. They began to give him instructions. They told him about the dials and gauges and levers in front of him, and how to use them. They told him where they were going to lead him and how he was to follow. They gave him step-by-step instruction in everything he was to do. They led him to an airport where there was ground support and emergency personnel available. The name of that airport was Mount Comfort. Isn’t that wonderful?
These three planes flying in formation took two attempts at the runway. On the third attempt Robert Kupferschmid, at eighty-one years of age, took the Cessna 172 down. He actually touched the nose to the ground. The plane bounced a couple of times. When he stopped he was off the runway in some soggy grass, but he stepped out of the plane unscratched.
That’s the image we want to hold on to of what it means to fly in the world today. When we are in need, people come along side us to support us. They give us a stream of instruction that is helpful. They help us get our feet on the ground so we can soar in the grace of God. That is what we need for our world today. Those are the steps that are necessary from Christian people. Let us rise up and do it.
Thanks be to God. Amen.