"If any become followers" – living the disarmed life

God promises fruitfulness

Second Sunday in Lent

  •  Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16  God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah of new life
  • Romans 4:13-25  Abraham’s faith remembered
  • Mark 8:31-38  Take up cross and give your life to have life


Loving and merciful God, we hear you call each us by name and call us “beloved.”
We come in faith to be made your disciples on The Way with Jesus.  You speak to us of Jesus’ suffering love and Jesus speaks to us of giving life to have life.  Show us how to be faithful vulnerable persevering people for living these days.  God it is our sincere
desire to embody Christ in our lives for your world today and for all eternity.  Amen


The Lord be with you.
  And also with you.

Something is Wrong

I don’t usually begin with a story, but today I cannot resist.  A young pastor was nervously preparing for his first Sunday worship with his new congregation.  He checked and double-checked everything to make sure every detail was in place.  As the worship was beginning he went to the pulpit for the call to worship and wouldn’t you know it the microphone wouldn’t work.  He began to panic and said, “Something is wrong with this microphone.”  And the people responded, “And also with you.”

Sisters and brothers, something is wrong – terribly wrong in our world.  There are those who think something is wrong with us or with me.  Why would anyone go to Iraq today?

The Apostle Paul unequivocally told the early Christians that they were called to be “fools for Christ’s sake” and that the wisdom of God exposed the foolishness of the world.  “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

To cut through the illusion and see what is wrong we must as always be rooted in Scripture.  We must be biblical people holding the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other hand.  Together as faithfully as we know how, we live a disarmed life in a world that best knows an armed life.  That’s how foolish Christ and the cross are to the world.

God leads Abraham and Sarah in Iraq

In the Genesis story, God made Abraham and Sarah fruitful and gave them new life, even in old age.  God names them and makes a covenant with them for all future generations.  God says, “Walk with me and I will make of you a great nation – a great people.”

And so they did – wherever God led.

In this land from Ur up toward Haran before going on to Canaan and Egypt, journeyed Abraham and Sarah led by God.  In this land God blessed Abraham and Sarah as the Mother and Father of this portion of God’s people.  In this land now live the only remaining people speaking Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

This land of Abraham and Sarah following God’s call is none other than the land we know as Iraq today.  Here in the land of Iraq we are rooted in the land of our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah.  We are connected to the Iraqi people and soil back to Abraham and Sarah as God’s covenant servant people.  Weare making a pilgrimage to this home of our ancestors and sisters and brothers.  In a few days I make that pilgrimage on our behalf.  We as this body of Christ called Seattle Mennonite Church are going to that land of our biblical forbearers. I happen to be the particular body who will go to Iraq this week with Christian Peacemaker Teams as this inevitable war begins.  

Jesus leads followers to the cross

The gospel for this second Sunday in Lent is the fulcrum of Mark’s gospel.  This center of Jesus’ life in chapters 8 to 10 (8:22-10:52) begins and ends with stories of Jesus healing a blind man.  These two stories of blindness and receiving sight become a paradigm for followers of Jesus. 

Between these two encounters of healing blind eyes, Jesus tells his hearers three times that ahead of them is a cross.  A cross!  Who would be fool enough to take up a cross? 

Yet here Jesus gives the first of three predictions of his death and resurrection to come.  Jesus’ Passion is as certain as we in the church will come to Holy Week and Good Friday by living this Lenten journey.  We cannot get to the resurrection without the cross.

Peter reacts like we do to Jesus foretelling his death and resurrection.  He rebukes Jesus for saying such a foolish and dangerous thing. 

But Jesus severely rebukes Peter.  “Get behind me, Satan!  You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”   Peter, says Jesus, you want to do it the world’s way.  But God has another way for me and for you.

The verb “to rebuke” used by Mark is a strong word meaning to confront and condemn.  Mark also reports Jesus “rebuking” demons to exorcise them. 

There is a great gap between who disciples want Jesus to be and who Jesus really is.  The good news is that Jesus confronts that gap and calls us on a Third Way.

What is that way?  It is the way of the disarmed life which is the way of the cross.
If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 
For those who want to save their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake,
and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

That word at the heart of Jesus’ life disturbs us as much as it did Peter.  We do not want a cross and we do not want to die. We only want life – the good life.

Sisters and brothers, Jesus is not speaking about death, he is speaking about the only way to have true life.   This is not the way of death.  It is the way of life.  We do not take life, we give life.  It is the disarmed life.

It is providential that this very morning in our adult study of Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be, we face chapter 4, “Breaking the Spiral of Violence.”  This chapter is the heart of the book and Wink’s work.  It is summed up in the opening and closing sentences of the chapter.
When the  Powers that Be catch the merest whiff of God’s new order, they automatically mobilize all their might to crush it….When Jesus said, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it” (Luke 17:33), he drew a line in the sand and asked if we would step across – step out of one entire world, where violence is always the ultimate solution, into another world, where the spiral of violence is finally broken by those willing to absorb its impact with their own flesh.  That new approach to living is nonviolence, Jesus’ “third way” (pp. 82, 97).

We stand at that cross and crossroad of decision this very day. We do so perhaps as starkly as we have ever known.  But it is not an unknown place to our ancestors in the faith.

Something is wrong

Yes, there is something gravely wrong in our country and church and world.  But it is much deeper than Iraq. It is much deeper than terrorism. It is a deep spiritual sickness and sin.  It is our desperate attempt to attain a security that somehow erases our vulnerability whatever the cost in blood and dollars. 

Gandhi identified our spiritual sickness as Seven Deadly Sins:  

Politics without Principle
Wealth without Work
Commerce without Morality
Pleasure without Conscience
Education without Character
Science without Humanity
Worship without Sacrifice

These 7 deadly sins are the American way of life.   We in this country, even more, we in the Church should not need Gandhi to tell us what we still don’t see as the spiritual sickness and sin in our culture. 

We should not be surprised, especially as followers of Christ, that this way of living creates enormous disparity of rich and poor and of power and powerlessness.  Our way of life generates a tragic imbalance and injustice in the world which in turn generates tension and resentment and reaction in God’s world.  Why are we shocked when out of this comes chaos, anger and violence?

We live in a nation of fear.  What September 11 did was to make Americans feel vulnerable and our vulnerability has turned to fear.  And our fear demands revenge.

Anglican Archbishop Carey said recently, “When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.” We live under an administration that has in their hands the biggest hammer the world has ever known.   Iraq is now the targeted nail to be hammered to allay our fears and extract our revenge.   We will go to war for our fears and blame it on terrorism.

Thomas Merton named it for us when he said that “the root of war is fear.”

I don’t know of anyone who has said it better than Jim Wallis. 
It is not poverty that causes terrorism, as some claim.  It is more complex than that.  But poverty and hopelessness are the best recruiters for terrorism.  Until we begin talking about draining the swamps of injustice in which the mosquitoes of terrorism breed, we will never find either a moral or practical response to terrorism (Jim Wallis, “A Moral Response to Terrorism,” 2003 Religious Education Congress).

We must not underestimate the threat of terrorism.  But we cannot eradicate terrorism by ignoring these 7 deadly sins and hammering the children of Iraq over the head with the “shock and awe” of the world’s greatest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. 

It is not that war is too strong a response to the evils of Saddam Hussein, it is that war is too weak a response.  It is weak because it is a response of fear and force that leaves in its wake more suffering, more disparity, more anger, all leading to more terrorism.  It is not hard to guess where future targets of terrorism will be directed. 

Whether or not bombing the hell out of Iraq ever destroys Saddam Hussein, we can expect that in its wake will come waves of more hatred and more terrorism and more fear and more insecurity and more madness.

We must STOP FURTHER VIOLENCE AGAINST INNOCENCE.  We must abandon the illusion that our weapons and war will ever make us more secure.  We need to fight terrorism.  But we cannot fight terrorism in ways that take out other people’s children. 

When MCCers Bruce and Ann Huntworks were in Seattle in January, Ann was wearing a t-shirt with the clear message: “I will not send my son to kill your son.” Or as Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”  

Again as Jim Wallis said recently, “We can’t just name our objections to war with Iraq.  We can’t just say this would not be a just war.  The objections are real. This would not be a just war.  We must deal with the deeper issues and with the nation’s fear.” 

Our national leaders feed the fear of a frightened nation.  Our national policy says that pouring endlessly more tax dollars into weapons of mass destruction and the pockets of the wealthy will make us more secure. 

Budgets are moral documents.  Budgets tell us where our priorities are and in whom we place our security.   The United States military budget is now some 360 billion dollars and growing.  This defense budget will leave no defense contractor behind.  That is a clear sign of the moral bankruptcy of the nation.  Our national budget is not a budget for both guns and butter as President Johnson tried to do in the 1960’s.  This is a budget, as pundit Mark Shields said so well, is a budget for both missiles and caviar. 

It is a moral and spiritual matter when we prepare for war at any cost by tightening the belts around the stomachs of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens.  It is sin.  And it is the principalities and powers at work “in our name.”

We are in need of healing.  All of us are in need of healing.  That’s what the gospels of the past Sundays have been telling us and preparing us for.  But there is a common sickness in need of healing in the land today.  It is deeper than politics and deeper than national pride. 

A tragic-irony last fall had our leaders boasting of reconfiguring the Middle East all the while John Allen and his young companion turned Washington into helpless fear with a sniper rifle. 

The President, in the State of the Union address was very effective in telling the nation that we should be afraid and the answer to our fear is an attack on Iraq. 

Do we really believe that we can defeat terrorism and allay our fears by bombing Baghdad and buying duct tape?  That is madness as well as immoral.

The politics of our nation is no longer problem-solving.  We no longer ask, “What is the problem and how can we address it?”  It is a politics of fear in which most politicians make people afraid of the problem and then blaming the problem on your opponent

Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda do pose a great danger to the world.  In the face of this great danger we must be prudent.  Or, in biblical language, we must be “as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves.” 

In the face of this great danger, the president and many Americans, including many Christians, want something that is impossible to attain.  In the shadow of September 11, Americans want somebody to erase our vulnerability. 

Americans want to make our vulnerability go away.  If bombing Baghdad promises to do that, we will bomb Baghdad no matter what the world says.  If suspension of our civil liberties promises to do that, the people of this nation will willingly give up civil liberties.  If more tax dollars to buy more weapons of mass destruction promises to do that we will spend however many tax dollars the President demands from us. 

Beloved sisters and brothers, our greatest task in the face of such danger and such frantic self-defeating response is at its deepest not a political task but a spiritual task.  The great spiritual task today is to remind ourselves in the Church and country that we can never eliminate our vulnerability.  Not in this world.  Not in our human condition.  Human vulnerability is part of the human condition.   Our vulnerability is part of our greatest potential for creating a more livable just world. 

The prophet Micah and the Martin Luther King spoke the truth when they proclaim for our hearing that there is no security apart from common security which is a global security.  That is a spiritual reality that under girds our political crisis.  Our nation’s weapons simply cannot protect us.  Only a world where all people feel secure will bring us greater security.

Jesus and the Eucharist – Becoming Eucharistic Communities of Peace

Jesus tells us that erasing our human vulnerability is impossible and is an illusion. 

How can any Christian not know that vulnerability was the demonstrated way of Jesus to overcome sin and death in the world?  What in the world does the Eucharist mean if it isn’t to teach us how to live with Jesus’ way of nonviolent vulnerability?

Amidst our national obsession to wage war on Iraq, we as the Body of Christ come to worship. This very Sunday in Lent we come here to worship God together as one body. We come to break open the Word and to break bread.  Today even now, Jesus is saying, “This is my body broken for you.”  This is me.  This is the way that God has chosen to overcome sin and violence and death in the world.  There is no other Way!

Not by being the greatest military power on earth.  Not by being the wealthiest people in the world.  Not by living in fear.  Not even by bombing the hell out of Iragi children.

Jesus is saying to us today, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  Do this so that you remember me and my way.  It is the only thing Jesus asks us to do over and over again so that we remember that this is Jesus’ Third Way.  Broken Bread.  Blood out-poured.  This is the way God overcomes evil and sin and death.

America is not only committing a political and moral tragedy in our war with Iraq and war with terrorism.  It is much deeper than that.  It is a spiritual tragedy and it is sin to believe that somehow weapons of war will erase our vulnerability.

Beloved sisters and brothers, I have been in ministry for 30 years and a pastor for 19 years to get to the place we are this very day.  It is embodied in our peacemaking efforts and in our Vision process in which one of the most profound and surprising and gratifying things to emerge is a struggle with what “Becoming a Eucharistic Community of Peace” means for us as a Church nourished by the bread and wine of Jesus Christ.

In the middle of one night this week, I awoke with an overpowering urge to celebrate the communion together this Sunday. I know it is the middle of Lent and a most unusual time to celebrate communion. So when I came to my senses in the morning I set aside the possibility of celebrating communion today.  But God wouldn’t let it go. That very day two of you called me and told me you thought that we should celebrate communion this Sunday.  And so we come to the Lord’s Table today at Jesus’ invitation in this unusual and important time for us.

Here at the Lord’s Table we are disarmed by Jesus and fed the bread of life.  I have long longed to celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday precisely because I passionately believe that it is the central way to be nourished in the way of Jesus to become what we are — the Body of Christ and God’s people of peace.

When Jesus calls, Jesus bids us come and die.  Come and die to the armed life.  Come and live the disarmed life.  Come to the Table of Life.  Come so that your fears can be transformed.  Come so that you can let go of all revenge and violence.  Come so that we have the strength and the courage to go to our sisters and brothers in Iraq.  It is not I alone who go to Iraq.  It is you and it is the Body of Christ who goes to Iraq.  Apart from you as my beloved family and church I could not go to Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams with the threat of war hanging over all our heads.  Our going says that we know and care that this unconscionable threat hangs even greater over the heads of Iraqi children.

We go in the peace of Christ

And so I go disarmed.  I go in peace.  I go at peace.  I go with peace. I go with the only true peace there is – the peace of Christ.  

In the middle of last night I awoke with a song on my heart that I haven’t heard in some years.  Yet it has been a great inspiration to me over many years in the peace movement.  It was sung by a Saint Louis Jesuits group.  It is “Be Not Afraid.”  The refrain, as I remember it, is:

Be not afraid,
I go before you always.
Come follow me,
and I will give you rest.

I think the first verse is: (* See below for words to song added later)

Though you cross the barren desert,
You shall not be alone….

This song is on my heart.  It is Jesus’ Gospel for all of us today.  Thanks be to God!

Benediction/Blessing at the end of worship

Rejoice in God always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. God is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,
whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence and  if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these  things.
Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen…,
and the God of peace will be with  you.

Amen.  Go in peace to love and serve God.

*Be Not Afraid
Robert J. Duffy, SJ
1975 New Dawn Music

You shall cross the barren desert,
but you shall not thirst.
You shall wander far in safety
though you do not know the way.
You shall speak your words in foreign lands
And all will understand.
You shall see the face of God and live.

Be not afraid,
I go before you always,
come follow me,
and I will give you rest.

Blessed are your poor,
For the kingdom shall be theirs.
Blest are you that weep and mourn,
For one day you shall laugh.
And if wicked tongues insult and hate you
All because of me,
Blessed, blessed are you.


Personal Endnote:  My deepest gratitude to Jim Wallis of Sojourners for his friendship, vision, and passion in the 30 years I have known him.  In part this sermon was inspired by Jim, especially his prophetic word, “A Moral Response To Terrorism” to the Catholic Religious Educators Conference in Los Angeles in February 2003.
After my sermon, Bridgefolk and SMC member, Brenda Bellamy, ran a few blocks to her home and brought back the Saint Louis Jesuits CD with “Be Not Afraid” on it. At the very end of worship after the benediction, we stood in silence as we listened to this beautiful song, “Be not Afraid” and knew that we all are in God’s hands!
There’s so much more that is on my heart to say but it is not really necessary.  We are in God’s hands. Two days later I was on the way to Iraq to join the Christian Peacemaker Team presence in Baghdad as our nation’s bombs were unleashed upon the Iraqi people. The story will be continued……