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Monday, November 16, 2015

The beginning of the birthpangs

My sermon for this week was based on Mark 13: 1-8.

I cannot add much new to the storm of commentary (both informed and otherwise) about the recent attacks in Paris, Baghdad and Beirut.

I do not want to argue what constitutes a terrorist and what constitutes a terrorist attack.  I don't want to argue about religion.  I don't want to argue about refugees, national security or the fact that the "white world" has hardly heard anything about the terrorist attacks in the last two cities I mentioned.  I don't want to argue about whether or not Canada and the rest of the world should be involved in air and/or ground strikes against targets in the Middle East.

I don't actually want to argue anything.  I am just going to tell you what I am going to do.  It is naive and hopelessly optimistic, but given that I am not a politician or a soldier, I can't seem to do anything else:

I am going to keep hoping.  And that hope is informed by my faith.

Here's the thing: ISIS, ISIL, Al Qaeda and all of its repugnant permutations are nothing new.  Yes, they have new-ish weapons and tools of propaganda, but realistically, certain groups have used terror tactics to achieve their goals for thousands of years.

Take the Gospel passage for today: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom".

This sort of thing was happening before Christ's time, it was happening during Christ's time, and unless the human race holds on to hope, it stands to happen again and again.

Interestingly, when this passage is placed in context many people, particularly fundamentalist Christians, read this as Christ's prophecy of Armageddon, the end times, etc.

Now, A) I am not a believer in that eschatology and B) I don't think Jesus was either.  The reason being in the last phrase of this passage:

"These are but the beginnings of the birthpangs".

Notice he did not say, "These are but the beginnings of the death throes".

Christianity is a faith of hope and new birth, not of death and destruction.  There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that Jesus was talking about "the end times" in the sense of the destruction of the world.  If he was predicting anything, he was predicting the end of selfishness, greed, hatred and injustice.  What he was talking about was the tumbling down of the "worldly" structures of the world, and a breaking in of the divine aspects of humanity, those aspects of humanity with which God is associated.

If we were all headed towards death and destruction, why would Jesus bother to have preached a Gospel of love and peace, right?  And if we were headed towards that, why would we bother trying to make the world a better place at all?

But Jesus' words imply that disasters and wars are not the final story.  Something comes after.  For example, I have, of course, never given birth, but I understand it hurts like a son-of-a.  But that being said, I am fairly certain that the love every sane mother bears for her child makes the pain worth it.  I am fairly certain that few mothers think the pain was not worth the payoff of bringing a new life into the world.

I am not going to try to ease anyone's pain over the recent terrorist attacks, and I will not tell you to love or forgive those who have committed these sins, but what I will suggest is that we not reach out in hatred and anger.  I cannot name one single ill in the world that was cured by meeting hatred with hatred.

What I will suggest is that we not give up hope.  I am going to suggest that we not think these birthpangs are the end, that we not think these pains are the way things will always be.  I am going to suggest that we continue to hope that human nature can rise above the base impulses of the people who commit these acts, and the base impulses of the people who respond by vilifying entire races or religions.

Human nature is capable of so much more.  We can never stop believing that, and hoping that we can change the world for the better.

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