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Archive for December 2011

Advent 4 Sermon: The phone is for you, it’s God calling…

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Advent 4 Year B Preached 18 Dec 11 at SJE Edmonton
Luke 1:26-38, Romans 16:25-27

May all of my words be only the words of Christ, and all of our thoughts be only the thoughts of Christ, for now and for ever. Amen. Today we’re going to talk a bit about vocation – when God calls you. The model for our own vocational calls, and our response to those calls, comes to us through today’s narrative about a young girl named Mary. We’ll talk about that model first, and then spend some time talking about what is happening to Mary, as she is our model for vocation.

The first thing is to be clear as to what I mean by vocation – and to draw that term wide. Usually when we talk “vocation” in church, we’re talking about people becoming ministers. The proper context for that word rests outside the church in the mission field…that is, the greater world. Each one of us is called into God’s service, and a part of our role as Christians is to listen for those calls, to discern what they mean, and then to act. We’re not just talking about employment here – God’s vocations can call us to any role, to raise a family, to a life of singleness, to work to support our family, or to support other families. God calls his people, young and old, into all forms of vocation – and this is one great leveller in the community of God’s people, for the one thing that distinguishes us is that the glory and honour in responding to a call from God eclipses anything that the world may connect in terms of value. What do I mean? You may be a well-lettered physicist working at the Large Hadron Collider plumbing the depths of the sub-atomic world, and perhaps turning several hundred years of science on its head…or you might be the cleaner at a local office building or a stay-at-home parent. The world sees those jobs in very different ways. To the Christian, our first question is not how much do you make, or how much power do you have, but rather are you obediently answering God’s vocational call? If you are, the job or role associated with that call is made glorious because you are doing God’s work. Just one more way that God raises up the meek and brings kings off their thrones.

If we look at the text in Luke’s gospel, I see four steps in the calling of Mary, that are instructive to us as we consider God’s call. So, four steps:

1. God calls. “Greetings, favoured one!” Not all of us are as fortunate to have an angelic encounter, as most of our calling falls into the ‘still, small voice of God’ category. Sometimes the call from God is an inner yearning for something else, or perhaps a sense that all is not as it should be in your life, a sense of unease that motivates you to change. All things are possible in God.
2. Pondering. Mary’s immediate reaction to the greeting of the angel is to ponder the meaning of the words. When you think God might be calling you, our first response is to turn to prayer and contemplation, to ponder what sort of call it might be, and to ask the question of trusted friends in Christ.
3. The Call. Once we’ve finished pondering, there will be a confirmation of the call. Confirmation sometimes comes only when we express our willingness to follow God in what he is inviting us into. What will happen afterwards is the presentation of an opportunity which previously had been unavailable, a door will open, or an invitation will come, that provides the means to answer that calling.
4. Our Choice. Mary’s response, “Here am I” offers her willingness to accept the call – we always have choice. God always waits on our response, and if we fail to respond, the call will come in a different form, or at a different time. There is no such thing as a missed call, for God will continue to knock.

This process is set out beautifully in a song by Regina Spektor, “The Call”, which was the closing anthem in the Narnia movie, Prince Caspian. It is a beautiful rendering of the idea of a call from God. Her opening stanza sets it out:

It started out as a feeling / Which then grew into a hope / Which then turned into a quiet thought / Which then turned into a quiet word /
And then that word grew louder and louder, ‘Til it was a battle cry

For those of us who do not have the angelic encounter that sequence: a feeling, to a hope, to a quiet thought, to a quiet word (for Mary: Here am I) and then once we have accepted, that word turns into a battle cry, all consuming, and full of joy.

Let’s consider Mary in a bit more detail. In the poem, The Journey of the Magi, T.S. Eliot describes a tiring, seemingly foolish trip made by the Magi following, well following an idea. The Magi left their homes and their comforts to seek confirmation of an idea (as with most calls from God, the initial path can sometimes be unclear, and only becomes clearer once you have started on the journey). As they journey through the cold they recall all of the good times behind them, the summer palaces, silken girls bringing food and I’m sure many other things that were far more comfortable than what they faced ahead. The Magi arrive, just in time, and pass into that town of Bethlehem: At the Inn where it is written, there was no room, they find the manger. Now, as Eliot writes, one of the Magi looks back on this experience and says something profound:

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
The Magi witness something in that stable that changes them forever. These were wise men, scholars, sages, astronomers, priests perhaps, who had seen many things and much birth and much death. They found what they expected – a usual birth in a not terribly unusual place but this birth was also entirely different. This birth, this seemingly minor event in a rumbling world full of bigger, more glamorous things, was bitter and hard and was in fact a form of death in itself. The Magi return to their good lives in their comfortable palaces…but it all seems somehow thin and unsatisfactory. They were no longer at ease in these old places, and would be glad of another death.

Answering a vocation to God is in itself a form of rebirth, and that rebirth is preceded with a form of death. Our baptism itself is a death to sin in water and a rebirth to new life. This is the life of the Christian: a constant cycle of death followed by new growth and rebirth (Steve Bell, “Old Sage” as a further example, “cause when you’re following a star, you have to walk at night, sounds crazy even now” – this is vocation). God’s call is something that should leave us all uncomfortable. Like the Magi we are witnessing a birth, but also a death. This experience should leave us challenged and thoughtful and uncomfortable in our old dispensation. Each of us has been called into our own particular vocation in the Lord. What does this mean? What does this mean to follow this idea of God’s calling to each of us?

The answer to that question is at least partly contained in the call of Mary. Imagine what has just happened, you’re a teenaged girl sitting quietly at home. You’re alone for the rest of the family is out shopping at Wal-Mart, for unblemished lambs or turtle doves. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appears in the room before you and says, “Hello, blessed one. The Lord is with you! Fear not for you will bear a child who you will name Jesus. He will be the son of the Most High and will sit on the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever.” Mary’s answer is not, ‘get out or I’ll call 911’, or ‘what does this mean in the long term for me?’ Or, ‘do you understand the trouble that this is going to cause my family and I?’ But the very practical statement – I’m not married, so how can this happen? Gabriel’s answer? All things are possible for God. Mary’s final words, and the answer to our question about what vocation means for the rest of us, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word”. “Let it be as you have said”.

It always amazes me that Mary answers the way she does…there is no questioning about the bigger issues, about patrimony issues, who will pay to feed this child, what will people think of a pregnant teenager, just a simple question born of innocence: how can this be since I have not known a man? When given the question, which was more implicit than asked, Mary responds in that near-perfect model of obedience that I struggle to model in my own life, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”

Mary saying yes is the end of our encounter today. In fact, Mary says ‘yes’ in verse 38, and in verse 39 she is on her way to see Elizabeth already pregnant. Perhaps this contains a lesson for all of us on answering God’s call – the scary part is getting the call and saying yes. After you say yes things just start happening. Perhaps a last question is – how do you know when you’ve answered the call in the right way? For most of us will not be blessed with a personal interchange with Gabriel to tell us which road to take.

In the finding of a vocation from God, there is a great sense of homecoming. C.S. Lewis, in the last book of the Narnia series The Last Battle, describes the experience of the main characters as they come into the New Jerusalem after the apocalypse. As they move deeper into this new world they realize that it is the old world, but somehow “More like the real thing”. “The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more and it was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore hoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried: “I have come at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.”

This is what finding a true vocation is all about…it is coming home to the land you have been looking for all your life, but never knew it.

Don’t be afraid to be in that place of uncertainty, for uncertainty in God is a Holy place, for it is the place of Mary, of Jesus and of all the saints. A place of God.

And a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel which means, God with us.


Regina Spektor, The Call

It started out as a feeling
Which then grew into a hope
Which then turned into a quiet thought
Which then turned into a quiet word

And then that word grew louder and louder
‘Til it was a battle cry

I’ll come back
When you call me
No need to say goodbye

Just because everything’s changing
Doesn’t mean it’s never
Been this way before

All you can do is try to know
Who your friends are
As you head off to the war

Pick a star on the dark horizon
And follow the light

You’ll come back
When it’s over
No need to say good bye

You’ll come back
When it’s over
No need to say good bye

Now we’re back to the beginning
It’s just a feeling and no one knows yet
But just because they can’t feel it too
Doesn’t mean that you have to forget

Let your memories grow stronger and stronger
‘Til they’re before your eyes

You’ll come back
When they call you
No need to say good bye

You’ll come back
When they call you
No need to say good bye

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Written by sameo416

December 20, 2011 at 3:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Remembering Ortona – An Advent Sermon

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A sermon I gave several years back at a service attended by the Loyal Edmonton Regiment at our Cathedral (their parish church). I was honoured to be asked if I would consider serving as their chaplain…but unfortunately, my continuing back problems made that impossible. I was sorry, for they are a fine regiment, but it seems that my days of military service were truly at an end.

Ortona, A West Canadian Town.

We gather today as a community to worship and to welcome to our midst the men and women of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment. This is the unit that the historian of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment said, reporting on the arrival of reinforcements in Italy in December 1944, “that most welcome sight – the marching infantry of the Loyal Edmontons – the only outfit in the Army that we ever considered might be as good, or better than ourselves.” As we work through this last Sunday in the season of Advent, our last time together to prepare ourselves as a community for Christmas, to recall the birth of Christ, we gather for another reason….to commemorate with these men and women of the Queen’s Canadian Forces a short-lived battle that took place just before Christmas 1943. This battle, the Battle for Ortona, was an event that took place over a short period, about 21 days all told of which seven were in the town proper, but it was to be a battle that rivalled almost all others of the Second World War in terms of intensity and ferocity. Ortona became known as a “miniature Stalingrad” as it seemed to be a similar engagement to the battle for Stalingrad.

Matthew Halton, a war correspondent for the CBC, reported this impression of Ortona, “For seven days and seven nights the Canadians have been trying to clear the town and the action is as fierce as perhaps modern man has ever fought…Canadian and German seem to be both beyond exhaustion and beyond fear. The battle has the quality of a nightmare. It has a special quality of its own, like…the fight at Stalingrad…the same apocalyptic pall of smoke and fire and maniacal determination…For seven days and seven nights the Canadians have been attacking in Ortona, yard by yard, building by building, window by window…It wasn’t hell. It was the courtyard of hell. It was a maelstrom of noise and hot, splitting steel…the rattling of machine guns never stops … wounded men refuse to leave, and the men don’t want to be relieved after seven days and seven nights… the battlefield is still an appalling thing to see, in its mud, ruin, dead, and its blight and desolation.”

So we again find ourselves in a place of some tension. On this Sunday our readings recall the role of Mary in bringing Christ to earth…a role that has resulted in her receiving the title “theotokos” or “God-bearer”. At the same time we’re bringing back into the forefront of our memories a horrible battle that cost the lives of many Canadian soldiers. This day brings a very real challenge to each of us as we sit here in our comfortable lives, in our reasonably comfortable pews: Mary embarked on a completely unknown path with only faith in God as her guide; 93,000 Canadians entered a similar path to the unknown as they fought in the Italian campaign, standing for their friends in defence of things that they felt strongly enough about that they were willing to die for. So today we are each faced with a challenging question: what is there in our lives, in our beliefs, that we follow so strongly that we would willing to give up everything in order to follow it, to hold it, to maintain it?
And the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son. . . For with God nothing will be impossible.” As the millennium turns, this Christmastide will be another blessed opportunity for bearing witness unashamedly to the church’s ancient faith that very God of very God really happened here, on this planet, to people that really weren’t that different from you and I. The formal name for this coming of God to earth is called ‘The Incarnation’. It was a universe-altering event. “The Incarnation is like a dagger thrust into the weft of human history” (Edwyn Hoskyns). We can not let this truth lie hidden as a simply literary device: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
God broke through into our world through the obedience and willingness of a peasant girl from Nazareth. God’s entry into this world, to depart from that heavenly realm which is completely un-worldly, to become one of us brought holiness to the entire creation. This singular act, the birth of Emmanuel, which means God with us, brought the transcendent holy into physical being, and nothing else would ever be the same. // //

First World War British soldier and poet, Rupert Brooke, wrote these words spoken by a dead British soldier,

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home. (Repeat first line to period)

Brooke passes on a timeless truth about those who die in war. Those who make the supreme sacrifice in a distant land consecrate the ground where they lie so that it is forever a piece of their homeland, and you can hear in Brooke’s words easily the western Canadian equivalent with wheat fields and the lakes and rivers of the north. So Ortona, that place of great conflict, is forever linked to Canada by the blood of our war dead that was spilled there. This is the reason why, after Ortona was won, the Loyal Edmonton’s and the Seaforth Highlander’s placed a sign at the entrance to Ortona: This is Ortona, A West Canadian Town.

You can see those soldiers, some of whom had not slept properly in weeks, blood, sweat and mud staining their dishevelled uniforms, exhaustion like a cloud hanging over them, their joy at accomplishing a hard-won mission tempered by the too-present knowledge of all those friends who had died. And their action was to recognize this blood-purchase of Ortona with that small wooden sign, a sign that had huge worth and importance as it proclaimed the place bought with Canadian blood and sweat: “This is Ortona. A West Canadian Town”.

There is a link here between these young soldiers and the mother of our Lord, Mary. As the ground upon which they died is forever consecrated to Canada, so God, by entering our world through Mary, forever consecrated all of the creation to Him. In fact this image of Rupert Brooke’s poetry, and the meaning behind that sign, that the blood of those slain in pursuit of freedom purchases the land, will also be relevant to we Christians. It was, and it is, through the blood of Jesus that we are all purchased and redeemed from all of our struggles and despair and all of our failures and shattered dreams. I would not be out of line in posting a sign at the entrance to Edmonton…perhaps just above the ‘City of Champions’ logo that says… “This is Edmonton. A City bought with the Blood of Christ”

This is perhaps one of the hardest truths for us to hold on to, that there is simply no place within the creation where one can escape God. Even when we see something that causes us to exclaim, “This place is truly forsaken by God”…be it Ortona some 62 years ago, more recently the Medac Pocket, Bosnia or Rwanda, or a home where a young child has been abused, we must always remember that there is no place, and no person that has been forsaken by God. There is no place and certainly no person that has been forsaken by God.

There is a saying that the birth of a baby is proof that God still has plans for the world. A story from the last part of the battle for Ortona offers an interesting perspective of God’s place even there. Captain Vic Soley told the correspondent Matthew Halton a story of the last evening of the battle. Amid a heavy artillery bombardment, a young Italian woman was discovered buried alive in the ruins of one of the buildings. The Loyal Edmontons and the Seaforth worked together to rescue her. As they pulled her from the ruin they discovered she was not only pregnant, but in the midst of labour. A sergeant from Vancouver assisted with the delivery and mother and child were both well. The woman promised the men that her son’s middle name would be Canadian.

From war correspondent Christopher Buckley describing the strange life in forward battle positions in Ortona, “What a strange clutter of humanity it was. There were some five or six Canadian soldiers, there were old women and there were children innumerable….In the half-darkened room the pasta for the mid-day meal was simmering over the fire in the corner. Haggard, prematurely aged women kept emerging shyly, one after the other from some inner chamber where an old man, the grandfather of the children, was dying…Another old man was uttering maledictions against Mussolini. Then his wife surprisingly produced a [bottle] of Marsala and a half-dozen glasses. She moved around the soldiers filling and re-filling their glasses. The children clambered over the Canadian soldiers and clutched them convulsively ever time one of our anti-tank guns, located only a half-dozen paces from the door of the house, fired down the street in the direction of one of the German machine-gun nests. Soon each of us had a squirming, terrified child in our arms. The old lady went on serving Marsala.”

As a resident of Ortona searched for his family possessions in the ruins of their house, a young Canadian approached and asked in perfect Italian if the man might know a family that had lived in Ortona. They were neighbours who lived just down the street. He led the soldier to a badly battered structure and banged on the door. After a few minutes the door opened and an old man looked out warily. “Grandpa” the young man said, and embraced his grandfather, whom he had never met.

So three short stories from a place of battle and death all of which have that spark of Christ’s presence about them…a baby saved by soldiers and born on the battlefield, children comforted by soldiers in the midst of battle, and a family reunion that might never have happened. These all serve to underline that truth: there is no place, and no one that is excluded from God. Like Mary, who trusted in God in the face of the unknown, let us all too trust in God as we seek to follow His will for each of us. Let us rest secure in the knowledge that where ever we may be and whatever we may have done, or may do, God is with us even in the great uncertainty of this world.

Don’t be afraid to be in that place of uncertainty, for it is where Christ is. Sometimes this will be the last place you want to be – a place of death and despair, of fearful sounds, smells and images. But even there, you will know, that this is the only place you have ever desired to be for in it you will have found Christ.

As we prepare each of ourselves for the coming of Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, in one short week, let us rest secure in the knowledge that God has already redeemed this world, and redeemed each of us fully. All we need to is open our hearts and minds and invite him into our lives. As we recall those selfless individuals who fought through Ortona for freedom, let us be equally selfless as we seek to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. Amen.

Written by sameo416

December 17, 2011 at 2:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Early Church Writings, and Pacifism or not

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A collection of early church writing put forth by my friend Tim, and some of the contrary comments from the same writers. Only point – the early church record is not that one-sided, and even before Constantine and state religion, theologians could imagine times and places where a Christian would be called to licit warfare. I note that Karl Barth made similar noises (about defending his native land) immediately after stating that Christians do not enter warfare.

Justin Martyr, circa 160 A.D.:
‘We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder, and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for ploughshares, our spears for farm tools. Now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness to men, faith, and the expectation of the future given to us by the Father himself through the Crucified One.’
– (Dialogue with Trypho 110.3.4)

Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 17, c. 150-155
“Whence to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men…” (serve the emperor in all but worship)

Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 90
“When the people,” replied I, “waged war with Amalek, and the son of Nave (Nun) by name Jesus (Joshua), led the fight, Moses himself prayed to God, stretching out both hands, and Hur with Aaron supported them during the whole day, so that they might not hang down when he got wearied. For if he gave up any part of this sign, which was an imitation of the cross, the people were beaten, as is recorded in the writings of Moses; but if he remained in this form, Amalek was proportionally defeated, and he who prevailed prevailed by the cross. For it was not because Moses so prayed that the people were stronger, but because, while one who bore the name of Jesus (Joshua) was in the forefront of the battle, he himself made the sign of the cross. (the cross of Christ is the reason for prevailing over Amalek?)

Tertullian (c. 160-220 A.D.) again
‘In that last section, decision may seem to have been given likewise concerning military service, which is between dignity and power. But now inquiry is made about this point, whether a believer may turn himself unto military service, and whether the military may be admitted unto the faith, even the rank and file, or each inferior grade, to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices or capital punishments. There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot be due to two masters— God and Cæsar. And yet Moses carried a rod, and Aaron wore a buckle, and John (Baptist) is girt with leather and Joshua the son of Nun leads a line of march; and the People warred: if it pleases you to sport with the subject. But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away? For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier…’
– (Tertullian, On Idolatry Chapter 19: Concerning Military Service’)

Tertullian (circa 160 – 220 A.D.)
‘To begin with the real ground of the military crown, I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians. What sense is there in discussing the merely accidental, when that on which it rests is to be condemned? Do we believe it lawful for a human oath to be superadded to one divine, for a man to come under promise to another master after Christ, and to abjure father, mother, and all nearest kinsfolk, whom even the law has commanded us to honour and love next to God Himself, to whom the gospel, too, holding them only of less account than Christ, has in like manner rendered honour? Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs? Shall he, forsooth, either keep watch-service for others more than for Christ, or shall he do it on the Lord’s day, when he does not even do it for Christ Himself? […]
‘…Of course, if faith comes later, and finds any preoccupied with military service, their case is different, as in the instance of those whom John used to receive for baptism, and of those most faithful centurions, I mean the centurion whom Christ approves, and the centurion whom Peter instructs; yet, at the same time, when a man has become a believer, and faith has been sealed’ (i.e. in believer’s baptism), ‘there must be either an immediate abandonment of it, which has been the course with many; or all sorts of quibbling will have to be resorted to in order to avoid offending God, and that is not allowed even outside of military service; or, last of all, for God the fate must be endured’ (i.e. martyrdom) ‘which a citizen-faith has been no less ready to accept’.
(‘De Corona’ Chapter 11)

Tertullian (as a pre-Montanist),
Apology Chapter 5
So far from that, we, on the contrary, bring before you one who was their protector, as you will see by examining the letters of Marcus Aurelius, that most grave of emperors, in which he bears his testimony that that Germanic drought was removed by the rains obtained through the prayers of the Christians who chanced to be fighting under him. (Christians fighting under him)

Apology Chapter 30
For we offer prayer for the safety of our princes to the eternal, the true, the living God, whose favour, beyond all others, they must themselves desire… Without ceasing, for all our emperors we offer prayer. We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection to the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest, whatever, as man or Caesar, an emperor would wish. (we Christians pray for brave armies)

Apology Chapter 42
But we are called to account as harm-doers on another ground, and are accused of being useless in the affairs of life. How in all the world can that be the case with people who are living among you, eating the same food wearing the same attire, having the same habits, under the same necessities of existence? …So we sojourn with you in the world, abjuring neither forum, nor shambles, nor bath, nor booth, nor workshop, nor inn, nor weekly market, nor any other places of commerce. We sail with you, and fight with you, and till the ground with you … (we are just like you, we Christians even fight within your armies)

Origen (185/5 – 253/4 AD):
‘In like manner, as the statement is false “that the Hebrews, being (originally) Egyptians, dated the commencement (of their political existence) from the time of their rebellion,” so also is this, “that in the days of Jesus others who were Jews rebelled against the Jewish state, and became His followers;” for neither Celsus nor they who think with him are able to point out any act on the part of Christians which savours of rebellion. And yet, if a revolt had led to the formation of the Christian commonwealth, so that it derived its existence in this way from that of the Jews, who were permitted to take up arms in defence of the members of their families, and to slay their enemies, the Christian Lawgiver would not have altogether forbidden the putting of men to death; and yet He nowhere teaches that it is right for His own disciples to offer violence to any one, however wicked. For He did not deem it in keeping with such laws as His, which were derived from a divine source, to allow the killing of any individual whatever. Nor would the Christians, had they owed their origin to a rebellion, have adopted laws of so exceedingly mild a character as not to allow them, when it was their fate to be slain as sheep, on any occasion to resist their persecutors…’
– Origen, Contra Celsus Book III Chapter VII (c. A.D. 218).

But we ought to admire the divine nature, which extended even to irrational animals the capacity, as it were, of imitating rational beings, perhaps with a view of putting rational beings to shame; so that by looking upon ants, for instance, they might become more industrious and more thrifty in the management of their goods; while, by considering the bees, they might place themselves in subjection to their Ruler, and take their respective parts in those constitutional duties which are of use in ensuring the safety of cities. Perhaps also the so-called wars among the bees convey instruction as to the manner in which wars, if ever there arise a necessity for them, should be waged in a just and orderly way among men.

Contra Celsus- Book 4:Chapters LXXXI- LXXXII

In the next place, Celsus urges us “to help the king with all our might, and to labour with him in the maintenance of justice, to fight for him; and if he requires it, to fight under him, or lead an army along with him.” To this our answer is, that we do, when occasion requires, give help to kings, and that, so to say, a divine help, “putting on the whole armour of God.” And this we do in obedience to the injunction of the apostle, “I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority;” and the more anyone excels in piety, the more effective help does he render to kings, even more than is given by soldiers, who go forth to fight and slay as many of the enemy as they can. And to those enemies of our faith who require us to bear arms for the commonwealth, and to slay men, we can reply: “Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If that, then, is a laudable custom, how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously may be destroyed!” And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we join self-denying exercises and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army–an army of piety—by offering our prayers to God.
“keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously may be destroyed!”

Contra Celsus Book 8: LXXIII

While Origen here is clearly setting the Christian path apart from military service, you have to do some fancy interpretation to also read a condemnation of violence into his writing, as the Christian prayers will be lifted up for the destruction of those opposed to the righteous. I have some difficulty with that text, as this reflects the willingness to allow others to risk their lives, while the Christians preserve their holiness, while praying for the destruction of the state’s enemies. Is it alright for a Christian to pray for the destruction of one’s enemies? Not what I would consider the typical pacifist position.

Irenaus (approx. 120-202 AD):

‘From the Lord’s advent, the new covenant which brings back peace, and the law which gives life, has gone forth over the whole earth, as the prophets said: “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and He shall rebuke many people; and they shall break down their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks, and they shall no longer learn to fight.” If therefore another law and word, going forth from Jerusalem, brought in such a peace among the Gentiles which received it (the word), and convinced, through them, many a nation of its folly, then it appears that the prophets spoke of some other person. But if the law of liberty, that is, the word of God, preached by the apostles (who went forth from Jerusalem) throughout all the earth, caused such a change in the state of things, that these’ (i.e. Christians throughout the world) ‘did form the swords and war-lances into ploughshares, and changed them into pruning-hooks for reaping the corn, into instruments used for peaceful purposes, and that they are now unaccustomed to fighting, but when smitten, offer also the other cheek, then the prophets have not spoken these things of any other person, but of Him who effected them. This person is our Lord, and in Him is that declaration borne out’.

– Against Heresies IV.34 (c. A.D. 180)

All this just to suggest that the witness of the early church is not as unitary as we would perhaps like. While Constantine reflected a shift in church thought, this was more a shift to the church backing the state in general, of which but one aspect was the military. There is ample evidence, both textual and archeological, that supports the presence of Christian soldiers well prior to Constantine. I do not think that reality is a fatal blow to pacifism, but it emphasizes that any argument based on an imputed single focus drawn from history is usually incomplete. Soldiering under the cross of Christ has been around for a long time, and any pacifist philosophy has to at least acknowledge the record is not unitary.

Written by sameo416

December 15, 2011 at 11:51 pm

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The Heart and the Fist

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Former US SEAL Eric Greitens has just published a book, The Heart and the Fist: the education of a humanitarian, the making of a Navy SEAL Greitens provides a fascinating look into the mind of a soldier, and as to the call of duty. The recipient of a Rhodes scholarship, he left the academic life to join the US Navy. His words are fascinating:

“Here was everthing that Oxford offered: luxury, rest, time, freedom, wealth.

Yet in the rotunda, I looked up and saw that the stone walls were etched with the names of Rhodes scholars who had died during the two wrold wars. Seeing those names reminded me that the intention of the scholarship was to create public servants who would ‘fight the world’s fight.’ Many had left the comfort of Oxford for the trenches of Europe in World War I, or for combat across the globe in World War II. If they had chosen to stay at home rather than to serve, I knew that I wouldn’t be standing in Rhodes House, looking up at them.

The philospoher John Stuart Mill once wrote, ‘War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.’

I had no desire to see my name etched into any wall anywhere. But I felt a sense of obligation. My family was not wealthy. My parents had worked every day of their lives to support me as a kid. People before me had endowed scholarships that allowed me to pursue eight years of higher education and never have to pay one penny. What was all of that investment for?

Oxford could give me time. The consulting firm could give me money. The SEAL teams would give me little, but make me more.”

Greitens goes on to become a SEAL, through what is likely the most arduous training anywhere, and serves at many places around the world.

I noted one other comment of interest. He refers to Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” An interesting reflection on the use of force.

Greitens went on to start a foundation, “The Mission Continues”, that focuses on getting injured soldiers involved in volunteer activities.

I would commend the book to anyone interested in the reasoning behind a soldier’s call to service.

Greitens leaves me thinking: to those much have been given, much is expected.

Written by sameo416

December 2, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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