by the Reverend Matt Harbage
Readings: Galatians 6.7-16; Luke 10.1-11, 16-20.
“Behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves…. And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house.”
May I speak in the name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.
Today I want to speak about war. Perhaps more so, about peacemaking, but also about war.
These first few weeks after Trinity Sunday, our Bible passages and Collects, lead us to think about ethics. Last week Mother Joanna spoke about Agents of Change, a charity supporting people in Romania who have disability. We raised over £100 in the retiring collection which will be used to further their work of compassion and care. Next week we will reflect further on our morality when we hear Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.
Today, Paul in the letter to the Galatians, gives us some important ethical advice:
“Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Says Paul, and, “let us not be weary in well doing.”
As we hold this advice in mind, I want to explore our calling as peacemakers. A good place to start is the conflict we might have overlooked in our Gospel passage. For here the threat of war is present just over the horizon. Jesus, as he sends out the 70, calls for peace in the context of people who at that moment would rather have had war.
The Samaritans, who feature in next week’s parable, were enemies of the Jewish people and were seen as unclean: Travelling through their land would be avoided if at all possible. They were heretics and sinners. Even more, the Roman occupiers were hated and loathed. Many felt they should be removed by insurrection – strategic all out warfare which would allow God to hasten Israel’s freedom.
Jesus’ choice to send 70 pairs out to declare “peace” and the coming of the Kingdom of God, flies in the face of this background of hostility. This number 70 has theological significance too.
St Luke sees Jesus as the new Moses. Moses, who in the Exodus led the people of God from slavery in Egypt into the promised land. After the people arrived and grew in number, Moses chose 70 elders of Israel to be blessed with God’s spirit, in order to share his leadership.
Like Moses, Jesus was equipping his disciples to lead a new Exodus, but not out of the physical land. Rather his Exodus is out from the old ways of violent conflict. He could see the coming crisis where he would meet his own death in Jerusalem and, unless they turned back, his people would meet theirs. If the people fought fire with fire against their Roman occupiers, Jesus knew they would be defeated. A few decades later, his prediction came true when Jerusalem was sacked and the Temple destroyed in AD 70.
“Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Paul writes.
“Those who live by the sword, die by the sword” says Jesus. And as he entered Jerusalem for the last time he lamented, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if only you knew what made for peace.”
As we hold on to our calling to be peacemakers and contemplate our world today, we must cry out to God to give us bold hope. For the threat of war is ever present:
Focusing on our own nation, the tension between the UK and Iran is heightening, to the backdrop of sharp threats exchanged between Iran and the USA. UK arms continue to flow into Saudi Arabia, adding to the civilian death toll of the Yeminis. In fact, if we contemplate Paul’s advice, the UK’s arming of Turkey, Eqypt, and China to name but a few should be deeply troubling.
Scripture and Jesus’ teachings call us to work tirelessly for shalom – “right relationship”, and to do so without lethal force of any kind. Jesus explicitly refutes the old ethic of “an eye for an eye” and instead teaches that we are to love even our enemies, perhaps especially them:
“I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6. 27-28)
Jesus lays out his path before us. His approach is creative non-violence, not lethal force. Demonstrated most powerfully through the way he lived, and met his death.
On a recent visit to the Holy Land I was struck by the sheer complexity of the frequently violent conflict there. Addressing the violence a few years ago, the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, asked this,
“What is the mission of Christ in this land at this time?
As people of faith we do not pretend that evil things are not happening in our land, or that deep injustices have not been perpetrated against our people.
We reject violence as a form of resistance or a pathway to justice.
But we stand in eternal solidarity with the victims of discrimination, ethnic cleansing, racism, tribal violence, and war.
Like the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, our cry goes up to heaven seeking justice. Like the spirits of the martyrs under the altar of God, we ask: “How long, Lord?” How long before justice comes? How long before your kingdom arrives? How long before your will is done on earth as it is in heaven?” – Read the full address here.
As we seek to answer the Archbishop’s questions for the Holy Land and elsewhere, we must also turn inwards. As Thomas Merton, the Catholic priest and monk writes, “the root of war is fear” as he reminds us that violent conflict does not start in someone else’s heart. It starts in our own. We are led by our fear to over simplify and demonise our adversary, and then seek their death rather than seek their redemption.
My friends, If we do not know what we stand for, we’ll fall for anything.
We must stand for peace. So how do we live out the peace of Jesus Christ that we share in the Eucharist “out there” – in our families, work-places, and world?
This calling will look different for each of us. As some of you will know, I’ve been involved in campaigns seeking an end to the UK arms trade, an issue close to my heart.
In September, I’m organising a day of resistance against an arms fair coming to London. At this celebration of weaponry; the UK will seek to further arm nations across the globe. But Christians, Jews, Quakers, Muslims, Buddhists and others will also come together to declare that we have “no faith in war”. All are welcome, click here to find out more: https://www.stopthearmsfair.org.uk/faith/
And so we, like the 70, are sent out by Jesus Christ into the world.
And as we are sent out, we must ask one another, how do we stand up for peace. in our world. today?