by Rev. Brendan Curran, Assoc. Minister         –          Nov 20, 2017

Dear good-hearted people,

It happened again. This time it happened in a church.  No sooner did we finish praying for Las Vegas than we heard of yet another atrocity in Texas.  It’s hard to process isn’t it?  I, like I imagine many of you are, am also experiencing a complicated mix of feelings.  In the wake of the recent church shooting several of us gathered with candles for prayer, song, and discussion.  The concerns we shared together have been on my mind. I would rather be writing my November blog about autumn leaves with a Wendell Berry poem attached.  With all we are being asked to process, it seems necessary to speak to the larger context and the events we are experiencing as a society.  It breaks my heart as a minister to hear people asking me how we can ensure their safety at church from someone who would want to do harm.  It breaks my heart that we see senseless and preventable violence being committed in places like movie theaters, and concerts, and malls, and dance halls, and schools, and even churches.  People are becoming too afraid of each other, afraid to gather.  It becomes necessary for us to devise “a plan” to deal with potential emergencies.  (We are currently developing one.) I find it heartbreaking that we are unable to truthfully guarantee that it won’t happen again or that we are ever 100% safe and secure.  We can’t offer that guarantee, but we can hold a space where we examine together why violence seems to be spreading, why these terrible events keep happening, and learn how to heal it together with God.  We can create a sacred space for community where at least our hearts are protected, kept whole, and nourished by the wisdom of Christ.  I can assure you that wisdom allows us to transcend fear and face the challenges of our time with unbroken souls.

As Christians, we are asked to believe that Peace is possible.  We have to believe that peace can be our reality as individuals, as communities, towns, nations, and as a world.  We must at least be able to imagine that. We have to help each other believe this so we can work to achieve it. In the gospel of Matthew, we hear the story of Jesus looking upon the large crowd of men with swords and clubs coming to take him away.  When Peter tries to defend Jesus with his sword, Jesus says, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take up the sword will perish by the sword.”  Christ calls us to disarmament and the practice of being vulnerable.  Christ demonstrates for us how our souls remain intact and come fully alive when we practice sacrificial love with the faith that Love is transforming the human spirit and cannot be destroyed by death.  Do we actually believe Jesus? Do we believe this?  In our culture, do we identify gentleness, vulnerability, and the act of meeting violence with non-violence as strengths?  Do we take this idea seriously or do we pass it off as a utopian pipe dream?  The statement, “All who take up the sword will perish by the sword,” remains today one of Jesus’ more straightforward nuggets of wisdom and continues to challenge us today to meet the violence of our current day with still more Love,  and still more community.  We are challenged to hold the faith that responding to a violent world with kindness, gentleness, and compassion remains more creative and transformative than giving into fear and participating in violence. If we respond to violence from a place of fear, we will only become more separated from one another and fall further entrenched in the cycle of violence begetting more violence.  As people of faith we must believe that peace is possible and take seriously Christ’s call to disarm our hearts and our hands.

We must take the call to disarm seriously in our current day because, as a society, we are living by the sword and it is killing us.  Our living by the sword is creating a culture of violence, devouring the human heart, sowing seeds of distrust, separating us from each other, and maintaining perpetual war as the status quo.  We are taught to see war as productive. I recently preached a sermon on the importance of naming unclean spirits and how we have power over our demons only when we name them.  The ideology of “Militarism,” our society’s belief that war and guns protect life, is another one of these unclean spirits.  Militarism is humanity’s faith in taking up the sword.

As a country, it’s an understatement to say that we are living by taking up the sword.  We hear a lot about the wealthiest “1%” in our economy who have accumulated the equivalent wealth of something like the bottom 80% of the population.  One staggering statistic shows that even among the wealthiest 1% of individuals in our economy, the wealthiest .001% among them, are the war contractors.  As Christians, it should insult our hearts that war has become the main industry and business of our society.  The CEOs of companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing earn salaries to the tune of 22 million a year because we as a society have come to place our faith in taking up the sword.  Every year, the ones who make war a business and profit from war, dump millions in lobbying cash on congress only to have that wealth diverted back into their private bank accounts.  4 trillion dollars of our tax money has gone to pay for war since 2001 all because we place our faith in living by the sword. 54 cents of every tax dollar goes to projects like expanding the nuclear arsenal in a time when we already have enough nuclear bombs to blow up God’s creation six or seven times over. A small fraction of this money could improve our schools, create infrastructure jobs, provide healthcare for women, children, the poor, and build an otherwise more civil society.  Our money is instead being used to build the so called, “mother of all bombs.”  This is all happening not because it could ever keep anyone, “safe,” but because of the bloated greed of those who profit from war and scare the rest of us into placing our faith in taking up the sword.  All those who claim they want America to be a “Christian nation,” would rightly be naming this situation as a moral crisis if they actually believed in following the way of Jesus.  Jesus’s call to disarm invites us today to identify the belief that violence leads to anything else but more violence, and mutually assured destruction, as a spiritual illness.  We must stop placing our faith in taking up the sword because the only thing that seems to be trickling down in our current war economy are instruments of carnage and death into the wrong hands… into too many hands.  In some cases, even certain small quiet towns throughout our country are now being militarized with the refuse military equipment of our on-going wars.  Ordinary citizens can easily acquire arsenals of weapons designed to take as many human lives as possible.  Is living by the sword working for us?  As a Christian educator I would like to suggest that we need to take Jesus’s call to disarmament far more seriously and place our faith in his truth that peace becomes possible when we do.

One of the greatest Christians of the 20th century, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  once said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”  At the time Dr. King died he was organizing what he called, “The poor peoples campaign.”  Rev. William Barber and many diverse faith communities and leaders across the country are currently seeking to continue Dr. King’s work today with what they call, “a new poor people’s campaign.”  Rev. Barber spoke to a packed Trinity Church in Boston’s Copley Square this past October and some from our church attended.  His group is hosting what they call, “moral revival meetings” throughout the country to help us remember the core values of our faith traditions that call us to serve the poor and work for peace.  Rev. Barber spoke of our current, “war economy,” and how in this context, as people of faith, “We must no longer act as chaplains to empire but prophets to the nation.”  One way we can be prophets to the nation is by acting as whistle-blowers in regard to the war economy and how it maintains perpetual war as the status quo.  As followers of Jesus and prophets to the nation we need to be whistle-blowers today in regard to all the ways we are dying by the sword when we think we are actually living by it.

Jesus and Dr. King both warned us of the valley of spiritual death we find ourselves in when we, “live by the sword,” and when we believe violence keeps us safe.  We need to blow the whistle when we see signs of this false belief prevailing. As an educator I have heard young people say, “Our generation has never known a time of peace, we have only ever known a world at war.”  When we hear such things from our young people we need to blow the whistle and acknowledge how we are walking through the valley of spiritual death.  When gun stocks go up after a mass shooting we need to blow our whistles and acknowledge that we are walking through the valley of spiritual death. When we witness it being taught to associate guns with freedom and violence with masculinity while love, vulnerability, and Christ-like virtues are associated with weakness, we need to act as whistleblowers.  We live in times when we are watching men take human life as a form of self expression. It seems the spiritual death we were warned against surrounds us, yet, even in this place, Christ guides our way.

It would seem we are currently dying by the sword but as people of faith we know that Christ’s wisdom has the power to lead us into resurrection and new life.  As followers of Jesus, as people of faith, we are asked to don what St. Paul calls, “The armor of light,” even in the face of death.  If life by the sword leads to death then our life and our spiritual resurrection must begin when we put down the sword and stand disarmed before the world, clothed in the armor of light, of love, and grace.  Disarmed, our souls remain safe, secure, and whole in the faith that Jesus’ way of open-handedness, reconciliation, and sacrificial love transform even death into life.  Disarmed, our souls and hearts remain intact with the faith that working to build stronger communities, getting to know and love our neighbors and people different from ourselves, are all the best ways to ensure our safety and security.  Disarmed, we face the world clothed in the armor of light and through our humble efforts we hope to welcome God’s realm of justice and peace even in small simple ways.  In the wake of the most recent tragedy we did what we could do in that moment as a church.  We opened the doors of the church for a vigil.  We gathered in the light of 26 candles representing those who had been killed.  In the quiet of the sanctuary, several of us gathered in the warm glow of that light, in the warmth of songs for peace, prayers, and the Spirit present when we gather.  We helped each other imagine what actions we could take to work for a more peaceful world.  At a recent community dinner fundraiser for our 2018 service trip with the Navajo Nation, I met a neighbor from the community who said as they were leaving, “Thank you for the beautiful dinner.  This really was so special.  At least in this small corner, in this church, the world feels more peaceful.”  In these times we have to remember that our coming together matters, our humble efforts are blessed, and peace is possible.  Though armed only with light we are sent out like sheep among wolves, we have to remember that Jesus assures us that as the church, “even the gates of hell will not prevail against us.”  We are here to help each other not give in to fear.  As ones who follow Jesus, we have a sacred responsibility in the present time to help each other remember that although we see our society dying by the sword, our life, spiritual healing, and resurrection begin when we put down the gun.  Resurrection and life begin when we imagine together what we can do to demilitarize, disarm, and work for peace.  Now is as good a time as any to beat the swords into ploughshares.  Let’s keep building beloved community, imagining, and gathering. The Love and light of Christ is our refuge, our strength, and our armor.  Let’s put it on, blow our whistles, and have no fear.

In Grace, peace, and power, Brendan