This past few weeks have been busy news weeks. I was reflecting on the CIA report that came out and it reminded me of a friend of mine from high school. Joshua Casteel.* Josh was one of those rare kids who was all potential and full of integrity. He had serious faith and was a just talented in everything that he attempted. I would guess that’s why he excelled in the military so quickly. A West Point grad, he was trained as an interrogator. He was stationed at Abu Graib. He conducted 130 interviews. As he became aware of abuses happening at the prison, he asked to be moved as a conscientious objector.
He was moved to a burn pit in Iraq… Remember that other report that came out recently about burn pits in Iraq?
He was eventually granted an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector. He began to speak and write about his experiences in the war. His objection, was not because he did not believe in the military or even believe in war, but his objection, as a Christian, was to the methods being used.
And this was not an easy decision to call for something better from his government, his decision to hold himself to a higher call and to serve with integrity, led to his death. The toxins he inhaled at the burn pit led to lung cancer and he died at the age of 33. He died as a man with integrity, as a Christian unwilling to compromise his commitment to a better way.
Today’s scripture is interesting. For generations, there was a hope for a savior to come. There was an expectation of a military leader or a King, perhaps a miraculous presence of some kind.
But here we have a group of shepherds. Not necessarily men high on the social ladder. Not worthy of a royal audience. And an angel comes to them, proclaiming that the savior has come.
And then the angel drops a bomb… the savior, the messiah, is a baby. Not a military leader, not a king. He’s a baby.
This week I had the joy of getting to visit a new baby at the hospital, many of you know that Emma Otterblad had her baby. There is nothing less powerful than a newborn baby. Nothing less pretentious.
And did you notice what the angel said, peace on earth and good will to men (or humanity.) There are two proclamations here, the first of peace for the whole earth- for creation. The second proclamation is good will to all people.
The word peace here, it signifies both a rest from war, it is a tranquility, harmony, security, safety. It is a literal peace between people and a peace within the hearts of people, but it’s bigger than just people, it’s literally peace across the land.
The second proclamation, is good will – kindly intent, delight, pleasure, satisfaction, in, by and with all people.
This is essentially the state of shalom. It is that all things are right across the land and all people are satisfied. It is the essence of peace. The announcement of Christ’s birth was intertwined with a proclamation of peace, of shalom.
And Jesus continued with this theme, when he sent his disciples out to minister in new villages, his instruction, the very first thing they were to say was, “Peace be unto you.”
Christ’s came to bring peace.
So this begs for a conversation that matters. Christ’s birth was the instigator of the declaration of peace. It was the coming of Christ that introduced the peace, the shalom. Christ came to bring peace.
If Christ came to bring peace, than what on earth is going on across our world?
I changed my sermon this week, because as I have been hearing the news over the past few weeks, I just had enough. This sermon series is Conversations that Matter. This is a conversation that desperately matters.
If Christ’s birth came to usher in peace, then how are we as Christ followers to respond?
There is a distinct call to the Christ follower to follow Christ.
I am going to do something that I rarely do from the pulpit, but I believe that as a Christ follower, I cannot remain silent.
It has become clear to me, that despite all of our human efforts to create peace, we wind up with a big mess.
And just like all priests are not sex offenders, all cops are not racists, all military personal are not torturers. But it should be said that all Christians bring peace.
And the reality is, some priests are sex offenders, some cops are racist and some military personal and leaders did torture. And not all Christians bring peace.
The problem with each of these situations is that they are more complicated than just a few bad people making poor decisions. Each of these examples were perpetuated and grew because of systems, institutions that allowed them to grow. I know that is not necessarily a popular view, but there is something to the fact that these institutions turned a blind eye to injustices done to whole groups of people.
In the Catholic Church, sex offenders where systematically moved to cover up scandal. But it is never okay for a person to impose themselves sexually on another person. Ever. I don’t care how much ministry or good, or how well someone knows the Scriptures. It’s never acceptable.
In our police departments across the country, we are not very far removed from a time when it was legal, under Jim Crow, to harass, demean, and segregate an entire group of people. We are not very far removed from slavery. How many people in this church can trace their family back to the early years of this church, to the beginnings of their family in this area? This church existed when slavery was still a legal practice. This church predates the end of slavery, and if you have memory and pride for your ancestors and community, then it should not be a surprise that African Americans have a memory and pride for their ancestors who came through slavery.
The situations in Ferguson, New York, Florida, Ohio… the list goes on and on. The cases that have inspired these protests are not about individual cases, but about a system that has allowed for injustices to happen to a specific group of people over centuries. And as much as it may feel resolved to many of people during the Civil Rights Era, we have systems that continue to turn a blind eye to injustices done to African Americans. This is never acceptable.
In our military is was considered acceptable to use methods of torture on suspected terrorists. Now, to be clear, I am all for punishment and consequence, I am not for the degradation of humanity, ever. The actions of others, the lack of care for humanity from our enemy, does not justify our own use of torture. It is never acceptable.
Christ came to bring peace, specifically he came to bring shalom, all things are right across the land and all people are satisfied.
In this season of expectation, this season of hope, how do we bring peace into a world that is lacking peace?
My friend Josh, became a conscientious objector. He brought peace by not participating in the opposite of peace. He brought by peace by challenging Christians to consider their actions and how they affect others.
Today is Black Lives Matter Sunday, Clergy across the country are wearing black to support a better world. I have so many friends passionate about this issue. My friend’s husband, is the president of Isaiah MN, an organization that seeks social justice across MN, they even have a local group starting here in Northfield. Another friend is the president of St. Paul’s NAACP. Another friend is a program manager at Take Action MN. And in Northfield, these issues must have a response that is appropriate for our community. Today, I am wearing black in support of my friends. In support of their work and their hope for a better community that reflects the peace of Christ, a peace that seeks tranquility, harmony, security and safety across all the land, and satisfaction to, in and with all people. Today I am wearing black because all lives matter, this is why Christ came.
This is a conversation that matters. There is not one challenge, one call to action, except to continue this conversation. We don’t have to agree in order to have peace, we simply have to promote peace to have peace. Christ came to bring peace and we should do the same.
*Sources for info on Joshua Casteel:
Iraq Vets Against the War Blog http://www.ivaw.org/blog/remembering-joshua-casteel
Letters from Abu Ghraib Paperback – July 4, 2008 by Joshua Casteel (Author)
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