A Pastoral Letter

in the Time of National Disaster

The Rev. Ronald F. Marshall

September 16, 2001

Grace and Peace to you in the name of God the Father, Son (X) and Holy Spirit. Amen.

            I join with you in praying for help during these dark days of national calamity. A fierce foreign enemy has attacked the continental United States ! May God rescue us from them. We also pray that God would bless all those who have died in the horrors of those vicious attacks on New York City , Washington D. C. and the environs of Pittsburgh last Tuesday. May God mercifully help the injured, suffering and trapped; comfort the broken-hearted; and strengthen the rescue-workers and care-givers. May those who have killed so many and destroyed so much be brought to swift justice under God's almighty and righteous hand.

            Reeling from the shock of this disaster—watching the TV coverage of the World Trade towers crashing down in flames and the Pentagon burning for days—we cannot help but ask what it all means. Why did this happen to us?

            Lutherans will have a bracing explanation for all this horror. We daringly teach in our Confessions that "as a rule,...troubles are punishments for sin" and that "we sin daily and deserve nothing but punishment." This is because our "nature is enslaved and held prisoner by the devil" [The Book of Concord, (1580), 206, 347, 106]. So we cannot look down our noses at our enemies in self-righteousness. We cannot say they are bad and we are good. Giving ourselves the leg-up in this way would be a theological mistake. Supposing God's wrath would never come upon us is simply fool-hearty. See Psalm 30:5-7!

            [I noticed the Rev. Billy Graham's sermon at the National Cathedral on Friday said the origin of evil is mysterious—leaning on 1 Timothy 3:16 and Jeremiah 17:9. So he could not—and would not therefore—say that God was punishing us with this national disaster. But this was a mistake. What is mysterious is why people "love darkness" rather than the light (John 3:19). It is weird that we would go ahead and hurt ourselves even after being warned. But it is not mysterious why calamity actually comes our way. Remember Jesus' explanation: "Sin no more that nothing worse befall you" (John 5.14). Sin therefore is the origin of evil and calamity. That is no mystery. It is a fact. The Rev. Billy Graham missed that basic point in his momentous sermon.]

            But what could our sin be that would deserve such a horrible attack on our nation? In every time and place it is dangerous for Christians to try to answer that question. This is because the application of the Bible to the twists and turns of contemporary events is always uncertain. We just do not have the power of discernment to see all the connections clearly enough. Indeed we only see into the "mirror dimly" in this life (1 Corinthians 13.12). With that caveat said I venture to stand with St. Paul and say: "I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy" (1 Corinthians 7:25). Or so I would hope and pray.

            So first it looks like we have recklessly endangered ourselves by refusing to heed the warnings of what we had learned worldwide terrorists were planning to do to us. We doubted they could pull it off. We also figured our economic and military might would scare them away. We gambled and lost—and many died because of this crap-shoot we played. We chose to save money and keep our air travel more convenient than it should have been. And so we have been punished with this national disaster. We were caught off guard. We were not careful enough about who we trained to be pilots on commercial planes. We let people board planes with knives and razor blades. We were not suspicious enough of groups of people buying tickets at the last minute and boarding planes quickly.

            Secondly the morality of Americans is slipping and we are doing too little about it. Think of the crime and violence; political corruption; greed and sexual immorality; our chaotic public schools; drug addiction; racism; environmental destruction; the huge numbers of teenage suicides; and rampant self-indulgence of all kinds. Think of how we take advantage of cheap labor throughout the world. Think of the military damage we have done to children and innocent citizens throughout the world. We must never forget what President Eisenhower said about the "military-industrial complex" on January 17, 1961, just before the inauguration of President Kennedy:

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.... We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.... We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

 

Remember that this warning came from one of the greatest Army generals in our history. When our might goes to our head we unnecessarily hurt others. For this sin—and the other cultural ones noted above—we have been punished with this national disaster.

            If this is so, should we then say that we are bad and our enemies are good? No. Even though our enemies may have been the instruments of the Lord in bringing punishment upon us that fact alone does not make them good. Just as God used Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon , to punish faithless Israel and then turned around and punished him back (Jeremiah 50:18), so the same must happen to the perpetrators of Tuesday's violence. This is because the Lord "loves justice" (Isaiah 61:8) and so the oppressor must be "crushed" (Psalm 72:4). God brings "wrath" upon the wicked (Romans 12:19).

            Sometimes God wreaks his vengeance all by himself. He kills his own followers, Ananias and Sapphira, that way (Acts 5.1-6). He does the same to his enemy Herod (Acts 12:23). Other times he uses armies as when he rescued St. Paul from his enemies (Acts 23:31). These are the two ways that God will help us in this time of calamity. He will help us miraculously and militarily. We must now pray that both will be done to his glory. 

            This means God will defend us because this evil must be struck down. He does not help us because we are the best people around. We must never let our pride get the better of us like that. We must never forget the stirring prophetic word: "Thus says the Lord God:

It is not for your sake, O house of Israel , that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name" (Ezekiel 36:22). Could it be that God will destroy our enemies because they flattened St. Nicholas Church across the street from the World Trade Center ?  That may be the clearest reason but God will also fight for us because of the violence suffered by all. 

            Let us pray for each other during this treacherous time that we might be found to be faithful in the eyes of the God and Father of us all. In Jesus' name I write to you my friends.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

American Pride

and the Punishment of God

Pastor Marshall

 This year was quite a doozie! February 27 all hell broke loose in Pioneer Square and a man was beaten to death in the mayhem. The next day, Ash Wednesday, we were hit with a huge earthquake causing damage all over the region. The pivotal Alaskan Way viaduct still is not up to par. Then on August 28 a young woman threatened to jump off the Ship Canal Bridge and passerbys—mad for the traffic congestion this spectacle caused—yelled for her to jump. Well, she did—but survived miraculously. Then on September 11 fire rained down from the skies in New York City , Washington D. C. and outside Pittsburgh causing untold damage and the deaths of many thousand unsuspecting citizens from over 70 different nations. On October 7 we along with a stunning coalition of previously unfriendly nations started bombing Afganistan in self-defense for those attacks. Thus has begun a world-wide war on terrorism promised to last a long time.

         What in the world has been going on? Has Seattle and the world gone mad? Or have we just been having a collective bad hair day? On the other hand, could it be that this is simply the result of the economic and political realignment of the world that has been taking place since the collapse of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991? Are we simply to expect wierd things for a while until the realignment is complete?

         But maybe something else has happened. Could it be that God has erupted like a volcano and is punishing us for our smug, unrepentant and sinful lives? Americans are arguing about this in the newspapers and magazines and on the radio, TV and internet. Some think God has struck and the worst is yet to come. Others think such an idea is just a bunch of hooey.

         On this entire matter I have been finding guidance in one of Martin Luther's 1532 house sermons on Luke 19:41-48 regarding the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem . Luther thought its destruction was punishment from God for the "gross sins of adultery, prostitution, profiteering, greed, theft, gluttony, drunkenness, moral degradation, and all the rest" (Luther's House Postils, 2.369). Because these sins are common enough among us to make what he said long ago applicable to us today, we would do well to pay extra attention to his thoughtful and faithful words.

         At the heart of his sermon is the following passage. I have numbered what I take to be its ten key points. First read it aloud to yourself and then go back over it pondering the numbered points. How would you have to change if you were to buy into what Luther is saying? Could you encourage others to ponder this passage too? What sort of reasons would you give for doing so? Well, regardless, take a deep breath now and jump in:  

Experience teaches us the truth of the old adage: 'A jug keeps on going to the well till it finally breaks.' Therefore, beware, [1] be not deceived! Though punishment may be delayed, it is nevertheless inevitable. As the pagans learned from experience and said, 'When the Lord God comes to punish, he puts on [2] woolen socks, so he can walk without a sound and approach without being heard.' Remember that, and don't be lulled into [3] a false sense of security just because God doesn't punish instantly. [4] Fear him, and beware! For he has [5] so many lions, so many diseases, war, hunger, and plagues, that it will be no trick at all for him to smite you. He can fill the air with fire and burn you up alive; he can drown you with rain; he can kill you with the poison of unripe fruit, or with apples, pears, and nuts that are poisonous for some other reason. In short, God has at his disposal thousands upon thousands of ways and means to catch [6] wicked and impenitent sinners. That is why our dear Lord Jesus warns Jerusalem so earnestly, weeps, and says to her, 'Beware, Jerusalem ! You think that because God has not punished you till now, he will never do so. But you are dead wrong. The punishment has been delayed, not because there won't be any, but so that [7] you will be punished all the more severely, because you refuse to accept his personal visit to warn you. Now, if you want to [8] take advantage of this opportunity, then [9] stop your sinning immediately, obey his Word, and change your ways, and you can still be saved. But if you don't do that, [10] God will have to utterly destroy you' (LHP, 2.371-372).

          Luther believed in a hard-hitting yet merciful God and so should we. We should fear God and know that he punishes sin. We should take advantage of this time of awakening the calamities of 2001 has given and repent. We should rededicate our lives to God's service. As I wrote in "Kierkegaard's Tea Bags" (The Messenger, November 2001), we should "pray more, read the Bible more, repent more, witness more, give more money away, fast more, help more, worship more, and...be more diligent students of the Lutheran Confessions."

         What if we refuse to do this? Luther says "God will shut his ears to our pleas and cries" when his punishments hit. When he finally unleashes his terror and we can no longer deny it—following Hosea 5:6—God will hide himself and not let us find him for help (LHP, 2.373). All protection will be gone. He will put his mercy behind him.

         Many think this will never happen to us because America is so wonderful. True, God has let his grace shine down on us. Our freedom, prosperity and generosity are legend. More people in the world want to live here than anywhere else. But listen carefully, my friends in Christ: If God let his holy Temple burn down, it could happen here too! If God let his holy Temple fall, nowhere is automatically immune.

         Don't say what the ancient Jews said: "Oh, there is no danger! You don't really think God would destroy this city, the city where he has made his home, the only place he wants us to worship him, do you? No, God wouldn't do any such thing!" (LHP, 2.374). But, lo and behold, God flattened it. The same could happen here. We have no divine buffer zone around us to guard us so that our sinful ways will not jeopardize us.

         Instead of this illusory smugness let us pray Luther's prayer: "O dear Father, you cannot let sins go unpunished; therefore grant me your grace and Holy Spirit, enabling me to change my ways, and so escape the punishment I so richly deserve" (LHP, 2.373).

         During 2002 encourage as many as you can to pray this prayer with you.

(reprinted from the 2001 Annual Report, January 27,  2002)

 

 

Three Ways to Peace

Pastor Marshall

 

Grace and peace to you in the Name of God the Father, Son (X) and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

     In times of violent upheaval we do more than lament the terrible loss of human lives.  We also pray for peace. 

     We pray for peace because Matthew 5:19 says God will bless the peacemakers.  That means God will favor us if we work for peace.  We want such favor so we may be protected from any further calamity.

     But we also learn from Luke 19:42 that we don’t know how to bring about peace.  How do we, after all, make our times more peaceful?  Can you, for instance, bring peace out of chaos and violence, panic and destruction, hatred and fear?  If so, how do you do it?  More often than not we are at a loss.  We do not know how to calm the waters. 

     In our bafflement the Bible sheds light.  It proposes three ways to peace. 

     The first and most familiar is through negotiation.  James 4:3 says we get into fights because we don’t ask for what we need in the right way.  We make unreasonable demands and lose control and attack each other.  In the place of this commotion, we need to sit down, calmly talk to each other, and strike a compromise.  In Exodus 33:17 we learn that God even used this method to settle his differences with Israel . 

     But in Matthew 5:39 we have a more daring way to peace.  It says if someone hits you, you should not strike back but let them hit you again.  By so doing violence will run out.  It cannot keep going unless it is returned.  This is because war and chaos, panic and destruction feed on violence.  But if none is returned, then violence eventually dries up and is replaced by peace and calm.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi successfully did this.  Their honored examples emboldened us.  In addition Colossians 1:20 tells us that Jesus could only bring about his peace by the blood of the cross.  Isaiah 53:4-5, from the Good Friday liturgy, explains further that he was smitten by God and stricken for our sins “and with his stripes we are healed.”  All these examples inspire us to follow this dangerous way to peace. 

     Finally we learn that soldiers even can bring about peace.  Believe it or not, when the armies of Ehud killed 10,000 mighty warriors from Moab , Judges 3:30 says there was peace in Israel for eighty years.  Who wouldn’t settle for that even today!  On this account, violence strangely does not beget violence.  We learn the same in Acts 23:27.  There the armies of Claudius Lysias fight off St. Paul ’s enemies and free him from prison.  No wonder Jesus said in Luke 3:14 that soldiers were not excluded from the kingdom of God .  I John 3:8 even has it that Jesus himself was a soldier – fighting against the ways of darkness. 

     So when we pray for peace let us ask that God would bless alike negotiators, sufferers and soldiers.  May God through them make our world a more peaceful place.  And may God bless each one of us through our faith in Christ Jesus, that we would play our part as negotiators, sufferers, or soldiers with grace and confidence.  Amen.

 

(This sermon was preached on September 11, 2002 at Providence Mount St. Vincent, 

a  Roman Catholic retirement center in Seattle, Washington.)

 

 

 

Going to War

Pastor Marshall

 Sometimes even Christians have to go to war.  When the war is just we have to kill in order to protect the innocent.  We who believe in “loving our enemy” (Matthew 5.44), Luther wrote, must fight when attacked but without any “lust for war.”  Before God a Christian soldier “should be discouraged, fearful, and humble, and commit his cause to him that he may dispose things not according to our understanding of what is right and just, but according to his kindness and grace.... Toward men he should be bold, free, and confident because they are in the wrong, and smite them with a confident and untroubled spirit.” So the “small lack of peace called war or the sword must set the limit to [that] universal, world-wide lack of peace which would destroy everyone” (Luther’s Works, 46.118, 124, 96).

     Now how shall we keep this right balance in light of New York City and Washington D.C. being bombed on September 11, 2001?  Remembering-by-reading would help.  First remember that war is hell – pure and simple.  On this read War Letters (2001) by Andrew Carroll, War So Terrible: Sherman and Atlanta (1987) by McDonough & Jones, We Were Soldiers Once... And Young: Ia Drang – The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam (1992) by Moore & Galloway, Achilles in Vietnam : Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1994) by Jonathan Shay and Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War (2000) by Mark Bowden. 

     Remember also that our government has lied to us before about why we are fighting.  On this read So Far From God: The U. S. War With Mexico 1846-1848 (1989) by John D. Eisenhower, Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath (1983) by John Toland, Vietnam on Trial: Westmoreland vs. CBS (1987) by Brewin & Shaw, A Bright and Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (1988) by Neil Sheehan, The U.S. Invasion of Panama: The Truth Behind Operation ‘Just Cause’ (1991), and Winning the War, Losing Our Souls: Editorials on the Persian Gulf War (1991) by James M. Wall. 

     Finally remember how our government has abandoned her own soldiers in battle and afterwards.  On this shameful history read Abandon Ship! The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, the Navy’s Greatest Sea Disaster (1958, 2001) by Richard F. Newcomb, Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic (1996) by Paul Fussell, Before Their Time: A Memoir (1997) by Robert Kotlowitz and Long Time Passing: Vietnam & The Haunted Generation (1984) by Myra MacPherson. 

     So if we have to go to war, pray that it is just and ends quickly.  Lord have mercy on us all.

(reprinted from The Messenger, October 2001)

 

 

 

Wars Galore

Pastor Marshall

 Right now there are 38 major wars (those with over 1,000 casualties, both military and civilian) in the world [“The World At War,” The Defense Monitor 31 (January 2002) 1-8].  This includes Israel , Iraq , Afghanistan , Somalia , Indonesia , India , Algeria , and Columbia . 

     So there is good reason to pray for peace (Psalm 122.6).  The world needs it.  It seems there is no end to killing.  What the prophet Hanani said to King Asa still rings true: “From now on you will have wars” (2 Chronicles 16.9).  So get used to it! we’re told.

     Our Lord Jesus even said we should not look to him to put an end to war (Matthew 10.34).  They’re going to keep raging on.  “In the world you have tribulation” (John 16.33), he warned.  But he also promised a peculiar peace (John 14.27).  But what was it like and why is it so unusual? 

     Martin Luther knew.  “The world [thinks] peace means the removal of trouble or affliction.  For instance, when... one who feels death near he thinks: ‘If I could live, and vanquish death, I would have peace.’  Such peace, however, Christ does not give.  He allows the affliction to remain and to oppress; yet he employs different tactics to bestow peace: he changes the heart, removing it from affliction, not the affliction from the heart” (Sermons of Martin Luther, 3.284-285).  This peace, however, passes “all understanding and all the senses.  For reason cannot grasp any peace except worldly or external peace, for it cannot reconcile itself to it nor understand how to satisfy and comfort a person” (SML, 2.356-357).  Luther imagines Christ saying: “I want to attach you to Me and Myself, in turn, to you; then, you can take comfort in and rely on Me.  I have already overcome the world.  Thus the great and the small, the rich and the poor, will join hands and be a match for the great monster Behemoth.  If he tries to swallow... you..., I will become a big camel in his throat and rear My way through his belly until he bursts and has to return you in one piece, whether he wants to or not.”  This vision enables Christians “to disregard the terrible spectacle and outward appearance of death..., and to see Him who sits on high” (Luther’s Works, 24.417).  Alleluia!

(reprinted from The Messenger, May 2002)

 

 

 

Lincoln ’s Greatest Speech

Pastor Marshall

 The best speech of our most beloved president, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), was not his famous Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863), but rather his Second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1865), made just 37 days before the end of The Civil War and 43 days before his own assassination and death (see Ronald C. White, Jr., Lincoln’s Greatest Speech, 2002). 

     Eleven days later he wrote to the New York Republican boss, Thurlow Weed, that he did not expect his speech to be popular because most would not be flattered by his thesis that “there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them.”

     Both the Union and the Confederacy thought God was on their side.  But Lincoln held the contrary that God was against both North and South for the offense of slavery.  So he thundered:

If God... gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him?  Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.  Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the last shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

     These breathtaking words need to be heard and pondered and believed today as well.  We need to embrace those same attributes of God again today, namely, that he is gracious and merciful yet “most just and terrible in his judgments” (White, 148).  It is precisely that second attribute that is missing today but firmly present in Lincoln ’s dazzling address. 

     The Bible teaches the God punishes the disobedient (Isaiah 13.11) but we today imagine it is not so.  Let us abandon all such wishful thinking.  Let us admit our guilt and fear the Lord God Almighty.  Let us also believe that his mercy is found only in that he made Christ “to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5.21).

(reprinted from The Messenger, Summer 2002)

 

 

 

Shaking Hands With the Devil:

The Rwanda Massacre

Pastor Marshall

 

The United States didn't get involved in stopping the one hundred day blood bath that started in Rwanda in April 1994, largely because of those US soldiers who died and were desecrated in Mogadishu , Somalia , in October 1993. The Clinton administration couldn't risk another foreign policy failure. On that 1993 disaster, the best book is still Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War (NY: Penguin, 1999, 2000). The West Point Military Academy even includes it now as required reading.

            As for the horrors in Rwanda , there is the new memoir by Roméo Dallaire entitled Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda ( Toronto : Random House Canada, 2003). It is a grizzly and exhaustive account by one Canadian general who witnessed it all. It's well worth reading – if you have the stomach for it. It's the graphic story of a hundred day civil war where factions of the Hutu tribe killed the Tutsi people and certain Hutus as well – some 800,000 men, women and children in all.

            As Dallaire writes, "I sometimes let myself think about the evil that men...wrought – how Hutu extremists,... even ordinary mothers with babies on their backs, had become so drunk with the sight and smell of blood and the hysteria, that they could murder their neighbors. What did they think as they were... stepping through blood-soaked killing fields and over corpses rotting into heaps of rags and bone? I rejected the picture of them as ordinary human beings who had performed evil acts. To my mind, their crimes had made them inhuman, turned them into machines made of flesh that imitated the motions of being human" (456-457). "With almost ten percent of the pre-war population murdered in a hundred days there were very few families who did not lose at least one member.... It has been estimated that ninety percent of the children who survived in Rwanda saw someone they knew die a violent death during that time" (478). Where, you might ask, would these children when they grow up "find the necessary love to give their babies when they could not remember ever having received it themselves?" (512). And so, Lt. Gen. Dallaire called what he saw "cataclysm" (214), "the abyss" (220), "catastrophe" (260), "genocide" (262), "slaughterhouse" (281), "hell" (285), "Dante's Inferno" (286), "apocalypse" (291), "holocaust" (305), " Hiroshima " (361) and "grotesque" (495). This is what happened to a country that, prior to the mayhem, was "a tiny paradise on earth" (509)! But once the killing started, paradise was over and "the devil was... afoot" (79)! "Children between the ages of 10 to 12 years old killed children. Mothers with babies on their backs killed mothers with babies on their backs. They threw babies into the air and mashed them on the ground" (314)!

            What caused all of this? "Never in living history has such wanton brutality been inflicted by human beings on their fellow creatures as in Rwanda . Even the killing fields of Cambodia and Bosnia pale before the gruesome, awful depravity of massacres in Rwanda " (462)! Dallaire says the hatred was "built from colonial discrimination and exclusion, personal vendettas, refugee life, envy, racism, power plays... and the deep rifts of civil war" (513). He also adds "a heightened tribalism, the absence of human rights, economic collapses, brutal and corrupt military dictatorships, the AIDS pandemic, the effect of debt on nations, environmental degradation, overpopulation, poverty, hunger: the list goes on and on" (521-522).

            One of the more gruesome reports was when Dallaire came upon murdered children in the city of Kigali . "They came to a place," he writes, "where a boy of eight and five girls between six and fourteen had been strangled to death. Deep violet rope burns cut into their necks. All of them had also suffered head wounds and the girls had clearly been gang-raped before they were murdered." When trying to take the bodies away, they asked their relatives for help. "Eyes wide with fear, they shook their heads, refusing to touch the dead children... [We thought this was] out of reverence for their spirits or for some other religious reason. [But later we] found out that the families thought the bodies had been booby-trapped, and preferred that someone else touch them first" (116-117).

            Another terrible sight was the horrible camp outside of Kigali . "We smelled the camp before we saw it," he writes, "a toxic mixture of feces, urine, vomit and death. A forest of blue plastic tarps covered an entire hillside where 60,000 displaced persons from the demilitarized zone... were tightly packed into a few square kilometers. When we stopped and got out of our vehicles, we were swarmed by a thick cloud of flies, which stuck to our eyes and mouths and crawled into our ears and noses. It was hard not to gag with the smell, but breathing through the mouth was difficult with the flies" (63).

            Dallaire also tells of the many murdered and raped women he saw. "They died in a position of total vulnerability," he writes, "flat on their backs, with their legs bent and knees wide apart. It was the expressions on their faces that assaulted me the most, a frieze of shock, pain and humiliation. For many years after I came home, I banished the memories of those faces from my mind, but they have come back, all too clearly" (430). He also tells of the haunting scene he came upon at the Gikondo Parish Church where many hiding, fearful people were discovered and massacred anyway. In the bloody mess "a baby cried," he writes, "as it tried to feed on the breast of its dead mother, a sight... never forgotten" (279)! So one missionary rightly cried out: "There are no devils left in Hell. They are all in Rwanda " [quoted in Keith B. Richburg's disturbing book, Out of Africa: A Black Man Confronts Africa (NY: Harcourt Brace, 1997, 1998) p. 90].

            Throughout this book, Lt. Gen. Dallaire, a Christian man, asks about God. "Where was God in all this horror? Where was God in the world's response?" (289). Again and again he says the world just didn't care about Rwanda (79, 220, 290, 342, 426)! "I think," he writes, "of all those who died an agonizing death from machete wounds inside the hundreds of sweltering churches, chapels and missions where they'd gone to seek God's protection and ended instead in the arms of Lucifer. I think of the more than 300,000 children who were killed, and of those children who became killers in a perversion of any culture's idea of childhood" (510). And since then there has been "a continuing regional war.... in the Congo and... Great Lakes region.... where five times the number murdered in Rwanda in 1994 have died" (518-519)!

            In order to do the will of God in Africa , Dallaire concludes "we are in desperate need of a transfusion of humanity. If we believe that all humans are human, then... we must...move beyond national self-interest to spend our resources and spill our blood for humanity" (522). But will that do it? A transformation of humanity through Christian faith and life is what's really needed! Ephesians 2:16 says our hostility toward each other comes to an end through faith in Christ's cross. Why wait any longer?

(reprinted from The Messenger, April 2004)

 

 

Christmas Peace

Pastor Marshall

 Merry Christmas!  Now this means: May the peace of Christ be with you (Luke 2.14).  But this peace is unlike any other peace (John 14.27).  Luther explains the difference in his 1532 Christmas sermon (Luther’s House Postils, ed. E. Klug, 1.103).  Ponder his words as you give thanks to God for the birth of the Savior Christ Jesus and the peace he brings:

A Christian’s end purpose is not his life on earth, to marry and be given in marriage, eat, drink, be clothed, rejoice, buy and sell – though like a guest for an hour or two these things satisfy life’s need – but he pursues another goal which endures once this all ceases.  This distinction must be carefully noted: the end purpose of the government is temporal peace, while the ultimate end of the church is not peace and comfort on earth, nice homes, wealth, power and honor, but everlasting peace.  Caesar does not care whether I die a blessed death and come to everlasting life, nor can he be of help against death, but must himself die just like me.  Death comes to him as to the lowliest beggar.  Caesar’s jurisdiction pertains to this temporal, transitory life; but where this temporal life ceases, there the rule of the Christian church intervenes.  Let this be the goal and purpose for which the Christian realm strives and aims: to proclaim the treasure for troubled and anguished consciences which Christ has earned for and committed to his church, namely, the forgiveness of sins and everlasting peace. 

(reprinted from The Messenger, January 2005)

 

 

 

Calm Your Restless Heart

Pastor Marshall

Christianity provides a peace quite unlike what the world has to offer (John 14.27). It offers economic, political and biological peace. The first in based in money and fun, the second in brute force and social security, and the third in surgery and pharmaceuticals.

But these all prove to be short-lived. The human soul longs for something more enduring (Hebrews 11. 14-16, 13.14) than what the world offers. It longs for a peace unspoiled by death and everlasting punishment (1 Corinthians 15.26; Hebrews 2.14). This is a peace based in the knowledge of God and his ways for us (1 Corinthians 1.5). This is the peace Christianity offers.

It answers four questions. [1] Who Am I? I am a forgiven sinner. This means I can’t expect to be perfect (Philippians 3.12). I’m a sinner after all and this can’t ever be erased. But neither do I have to fear being damned forever for the mistakes I’ve made. This is what forgiveness erases. It breaks the back of guilt and the fear of failure. [2] To Whom Do I Belong? God is my creator and redeemer. I therefore am his. So I don’t have to put all my eggs in the family basket (Mark 3.32-35; Psalm 27.10), nor in the national one (Philippians 3.20), nor in my work basket (Luke 12.15). This sets me free (John 8.32; Galatians 5.1). [3] What Is Expected of Me? I am to love God above all else and my neighbor instead of myself (Matthew 22.36-40). This assignment gets me off the self-esteem treadmill (John 12.25). Hurrah! Good riddance to bad rubbish (Philippians 3.8)! [4] What Will Happen to Me? I will have to suffer now (John 16.33), but in the end, after I die and heaven and earth are replaced, I will know only uninterrupted joy and freedom (Romans 8.18). This means I can tough out anything that happens to me now in this life (1 Corinthians 10.13; 1 Peter 2.20-21).

So St. Augustine was right when he wrote in his highly esteemed Confessions over 1,600 years ago: Inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te! "Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O God!" 

(reprinted from The Messenger, October 2006)

 

 

Why Bombing Iraq Might Be Right  

Ten Rules for Making Wars Just

Pastor Marshall

 

Did President Clinton bomb Iraq the first week of September to increase his chances of winning the election in November?  Did he flex his military muscle to show worried voters that this Vietnam War protesting president could be a commanding international leader? 

     Did President Clinton hope this attack would even make supporters of Senator Dole switch over to his side in deference to the president during wartime?

     Such suspicious thoughts are not disrespectful and mean, but simply realistic.  Christians long ago were taught this by Jesus himself in Luke 13:32.  There he showed how politicians – like Herod the Tetrarch – could be as sly as a fox.  Because of this possibility it is right to be suspicious of our leaders.

     So how shall we know whether our president bombed Iraq for a good and compelling reason or not? 

     Over the years Christians have sought ways to judge these governmental decisions.  Beginning with Ambrose, bishop of Milan (340-397) and Augustine, bishop of Hippo (354-430), and culminating with the 1557 treatise De Jure Belli, by the Spanish theologian Francisco de Vitoria, a theory for “just war” has been formulated. 

     This theory has 10 rules.  If any one of them is broken, then the decision to fight is wrong. 

     First, the decision to fight must be duly authorized.  It can be made only by one who has been officially given the proper authority to do so. 

     Second, the cause being fought for must be of great worth.  Wars must not be fought over stupid things. 

     Third, the only justifiable reason for fighting is to establish peace.  Fighting to develop new weapons, build national prestige or just wreak havoc is wrong. 

     Fourth, the only motive for fighting is humanitarian.  Fighting is good only when we do it to help the innocent.  Wanting to bash in your enemy’s head is wrong.  Hatred and vengeance must be set aside. 

     Fifth, the decision to fight must be made only after all peaceful solutions have been earnestly tried and failed.  Going to war too quickly is wrong. 

     Sixth, the decision to fight must include strong evidence that the war can be won.  Otherwise neutrality, diplomacy, retreat or surrender are better. 

     Seventh, the damage done when fighting must be necessary for winning.  If any extra damage is done, the war is wrong.

     Eighth, the damage done to win the war must not be worse than the damage done by the enemy.  The cure must not be worse than the disease.

     Ninth, the damage done to win the war must be inflicted only on military targets.  Terrorizing and killing ordinary citizens, demolishing homes and businesses, and ruining the environment cannot be part of a just war.

     Tenth, the decision to fight must follow international agreements, such as not torturing prisoners of war.  If such brutality is even planned, then the war to be fought would be wrong. 

     With these rules in hand, what are we to make of President Clinton’s decision to bomb Iraq ?

     Some think the second rule was broken because defending the Kurds in northern Iraq is not a good enough reason for the attack.  But our prior commitment from the 1991 Gulf War to help these people obliges us to do so. 

     Others think the fourth rule was broken because of our hatred for Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein.  President Clinton did not say, however, that we bombed Iraq in order to assassinate Hussein.

     Still others say the ninth rule was broken because our bombing has caused collateral damage.  But the reason for only bombing military targets in southern Iraq was to avoid just this problem. 

     Finally, some think the sixth rule was broken because bombing targets in the south to help people in the north is farfetched.  But this misses the importance of logistics in war.  If the invading troops in the north cannot be supplied from the south because of our bombing there, then this strategy is good. 

     I therefore conclude that President Clinton’s decision to bomb Iraq could well have been done for good and compelling reasons.  At the most this conclusion means his decision was not obviously bad. 

     As the complete details of this bombing become known, we are not now obliged because of our conclusion to become sycophants of President Clinton.

     No, we instead should follow the advice of Martin Luther in 1523:

     “You will certainly have to entrust duties,” he wrote, “to somebody else and take a chance on him, but you should trust him only as one who might fail you, whom you must continue to watch with unceasing vigilance.”

(reprinted by permission from the West Seattle Herald, September 18, 1996)

 

 

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