Every now and again things come into sharp focus.
It happened to me this morning. Tears instantly poured down my cheeks.
I’ve been following several news stories that tugged my heart strings, and, like I’ve told you before, I try to read the news not as information but as calling and discernment. The first story is the horrific abuse of developmentally disabled students at the Corpus Christi State School. Going back at least two years, staffers have pitted students against each other in hand to hand combat – for fun. In a world where guns, bombs, invasions, WWE, Ultimate Fighting, and Hockey brawls are seen as acceptable, why not?
Second are the two stories of mass shooting in Alabama and Germany. These are even worse, though at least not as systemic. Sylvia alerted me to a school shooting in Southern Germany where a 17 year old student shot and killed 15 people, then turned the gun on himself. Southern Alabama also witnessed the grisly murder of 9 people before he also killed himself. Stories like these are as tragic as they are terrifying.
In both cases, my anger boiled, my heart broke, and my mind struggled to comprehend. Why God why? And, how do we respond?
Then I opened my devotional book Thursday morning, Take Our Moments and Our Days: An Anabaptist Prayer Book for Advent through Pentecost. In only 10 words of scripture, things snapped into clear focus. “When he was insulted, he did not insult in return.” I felt like I was sitting in the chair at the eye doctor when they ask you, “Can you read the bottom line?” Yes! Throughout the New Testament we are confronted with the story of a man whose soul was so deep he could absorb the anxiety, anger, and hatred around him, without continuing the cycle of violence and pain. Jesus, the Son of God, took upon himself the insults of the entire world, and yet, though justified, did not respond in kind. He took violence of the physical, verbal, social, and spiritual kind upon himself and let it die with him on the cross.
“When he was insulted, he did not insult in return. When he was threatened, he did not threaten.” “Return evil with good.” “Love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you.” This is the witness of Jesus.
These powerful words, overlaid upon the stories of violence in our world, become a lens through which we can see rightly. First we see our world as it really is: broken, insulted, in pain, suffering alone with little hope, disconnected from true community, and feeling backed into a wall. The reason these words about Christ stand out so starkly, is because the obverse is so plainly normal. Standard procedure is to lash out when we feel insulted and alone. We threaten others when our sense of identity is itself threatened. This is basic human nature, writ large. This is modern political policy, embodied worldwide. No story illustrates this better than Jesus story, the story of a man caught in the normal cogs of fear and hatred. This too, is the story of Tim Kretschmer of Germany and Michael McLendon of Alabama, who both claimed insult and neglect as motive. Kretschmer, who before his wild shooting spree, told various acquaintances he was suffering, how tired of being persecuted and mocked he was, how out of options he felt he was, and how ready he was to make the world stand up and take notice. McLendon, likewise, left behind a long list of people he felt had wronged him. Threatened, their only known response was to threaten in return. How terribly tragic. How painfully normal.
Second, these words begin to show how we might navigate our faithful response through the landscape of brokenness that is planet earth. Our text goes on to remind us Jesus “left an example for you that you should follow in his footsteps.” How can we respond? We respond by proclaiming, modeling, and teaching the gospel of peace. Peace, nonviolence, conflict restoration, compassionate communication, these are the way forward in a world gone mad. Followers of Christ today must be committed to stopping the cycles of violence in our world, and to teaching others to do likewise. This needs to happen at the individual level, the group level, the local level, the international level, and the environmental level. And the church must lead the way. We are, after all, people who claim not only to “believe in” Jesus, but people who actually believe him when he lays out for us this strategy for the healing of both the human heart and the world community. Perhaps we begin such a campaign through our loving prayerful response for both victim and perpetrator in the above stories.
Our world desperately needs the gospel of peace. This is the only Truth that makes sense of our world, the only story that brings into stark focus the realities of our world. How can we, as a peace church, be a part of a campaign for peace on earth? I believe it’s time we stop sitting on our most treasured prize, and embrace this Anabaptist distinctive for the healing of the nations.
Finally, our bold vision for ourselves as a congregation is that we would participate in the Transformation of the world. We’ve acknowledged this is only possible through the transformation of ourselves first and foremost. Thus my prayer is for us to embrace the gospel of peace, and, like Jesus, when insulted, to not insult in return. When threatened, let us not threaten in return.
The Peace of the Lord is with you!
We are Houston Mennonite Church.
And this is what we value.