Sunday, June 21, 2009

Don't Celebrate the Fourth of July!

The claims I will make in this note will be bold. You will probably be offended, but I am about a life of transparency.

Over and over again we hear about how Christians are called to be "set apart". But lately, myself, as well as others, are realizing that being "set apart" holds a much deeper meaning than what we previously thought.

What does it mean to truly love our enemies? In the sermon on the mount, Jesus speaks about enemy love and he also speaks about retaliation back to back. He tells us that we shouldn't resist the evildoer and that we should love our enemies. We see several examples of this enemy love from the life of Jesus. One of the most profound examples (to me) is when Jesus is in the garden and the soldiers come to arrest him. Peter reacts by chopping one of the soldiers ear off. Jesus then picks up the soldiers ear and puts it back onto the soldier. Can you imagine this mans thoughts?!?! How do you arrest someone that just put your ear back onto your head?

[This is where things will get controversial]
Let's look at the story of the crucifixion. Jesus was hated by Caesar because, back then, the political rulers were seen as messiahs and son's of God. So naturally, when a baby was born that people were calling the messiah and son of God, there was tension. Eventually, it came down to a struggle of power. Jesus was living as a homeless man with a lifestyle that transcended the oppressive lifestyle of the empire. People begin to see that his way of life offered more (to everyone) than the empire's. As his popularity grew, Rome knew something needed to be done. This something (obviously) was death. Jesus was hung on a cross beside two criminals to die. The word used for these two men, back then, was "lestes". When this is translated it means "terrorist" or "insurrectionist". We see two acts of tremendous enemy love happen on this day. First, Jesus forgives one of the "terrorists" and tells him that today he will be with his father in heaven. Secondly, in possibly the greatest act of enemy love ever to be shown to us, Jesus, in his final breath's, begs for the forgiveness of those killing him. "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Now lets step back to the words of the prophet Isaiah and see what he says about Jesus and the crucifixion. In Isaiah 53:7 it says, "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before it's shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth".

The definition of Christian would be a lifestyle that is Christ-like. But Jesus was a homeless man that was nomadic (moved from place to place). Obviously we aren't all called to replicate the lifestyle of Jesus exactly (If you are homeless and checking your facebook, you have issues). The part we are called to, according to scripture, is taking up our cross and following him. What does this mean? Overcoming through suffering. This is what Jesus accomplished with the cross. Prior to the way many people see this historical event, it was very untriumphant. But here, Jesus showed that not even death can contain him. Martin Luther King Jr. really understood this when he said, "To our most bitter opponents we say: 'Throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our houses and threaten our children and we will still love you. Beat us and leave us half dead, and we will still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.'"

Brothers and Sisters, there is no such thing as redemptive violence. It is impossible to love your enemies and kill them too. The way of the empire is oppressive. People are dying from poverty, people are dying from war, people are being enslaved everyday and our nations continue to draw lines in the sand dividing us even further from our brothers and sisters in other nations. I'm proclaiming that the life of Jesus is a very relevant one. We are commanded to love our enemies, not destroy them. To rely on war and military power to protect us is to call Jesus naive and unrealistic.

I am not celebrating the fourth of July because I realize that this holiday represents nothing but empire. I realize that I serve a God of peace and scandalous grace. Afterall, half of the bible is written by a converted terrorist (Paul). I respect the men and women who are fighting or have fought in our military, but this respect only furthers my beliefs of peace and non-violence. In 2005, 17 war veterans a day were committing suicide. Furthermore, every tragedy in our nation for the past several years that involved mass killings resulted in suicide. This is because we are created to love and be loved and when we begin to live outside of that, we lose purpose.

I am calling everyone to abandon hope in the empire and to come follow the ways of Jesus, who lived a lifestyle that was "set apart" from the nations. I am calling everyone to a lifestyle of suffering with those who are oppressed. If there are people in this world without food, may we fast until they they are fed. If there are people who are struggling financially, may we sell all that we know as wealth so that we may meet their needs (We see both of these examples in the early church of the book of Acts).

Finally, may we not only live this lifestyle on days such as the fourth of July, but may we live indifferently to the politics of this world forever. May we learn that being pro-life means more than wearing shirts proclaiming that abortion is murder. Life begins at conception, but it doesn't end at birth. May we continue to beat our swords into plowshares (or guns into gardening tools), and learn the peaceful way's of Jesus (Isaiah 2:4). May we refuse to pledge allegiance to a nation who has never exemplified Jesus but rather pledge allegiance to Jesus himself.

Long live the slaughtered lamb!

Don't celebrate the fourth of July!