Will We Ever See the End of War?
150 years ago this month the War Between the States officially ended when General Lee surrendered to General Grant in Virginia. But just days before the surrender, Union Troops invaded Selma burning much of the city including this parish’s original church building. In an effort to stop the burning of the city and this church, founding member and senior warden Robert Philpot was killed.
While none of us were alive during the civil war, we all know, on some level, the horror of that war and the horror of all wars. Some of us even know war first hand. And we have all been subjected to images on television news or movies. Even though often inevitable, war is an imperfect solution to conflict and sometimes the only solution.
However just or right a war might be, it is always evil even if you are one of the good guys. As C.S. Lewis once suggested, no matter how good or perfect our solutions might be they will always be imperfect because we live in a world that is fundamentally broken. Yes, the civil war brought an end to the institution of slavery in the United States, an institution that oppressed an entire people. And yes, we should celebrate a God who worked through our struggle to bring an end to slavery.
However, we must never call war good under any circumstance. We can certainly honor those who exhibited extraordinary courage in the face of war—like Commander Catesby Jones, Generals Hardee, Forney, and Polk. We can give thanks for the brave men and women who were on the front lines so that we don’t have to. We can rally around our veterans and wounded warriors and support them when they return from war.
Even more, we are called to pray for our brothers and sisters in combat. We are called to support our troops who defend our nation’s freedom on our behalf. Just because we don’t wield a weapon doesn’t mean we are somehow uninvolved in our country’s wars—most of you were reminded of this truth on Wednesday when you paid your taxes!
As Christians, we are also called to pray for our enemies. We are called to pray for those who wish us harm. We are called to pray for the other team because we have faith in a God who is making us one in Jesus Christ. And we pray for all who are victims of war especially children and the least among us.
So the fundamental question for today asks, why? Why is there still war even when we know that it is evil? Even more, how can a civilized country like ours still participate in war? Both of these questions are the result of what many call the myth of liberal progress.
The myth of liberal progress basically says that evil and war and sin can be eradicated by advancements in technology, medicine, and government. It is a myth that says that an advanced civilization will get beyond the need for war—that each generation is moving toward getting it right. I am afraid quite the opposite has been true. Just look at all the wars that have taken place over the last century—during the rise of Western Civilization.
The reason that liberal progress ultimately fails to solve the problem of evil is because it does not address the fundamental problem. In many ways, liberal progress actually perpetuates the fundamental problem which is our fear of death and sin. On some level, medicine, technology, and government give us the illusion that we can evade the power of sin and death—the illusion that we can outsmart evil and death. And when we want to escape something, we are in essence admitting that we are afraid; we are basically giving what we are afraid of power over how we live our lives.
Medicine has the power to give us the false illusion of health—so we are surprised when confronted with sickness and death. No one can out run death; not even the best medicines in the world can save us. Technology can give us the illusion that we can stay in touch with anyone at any time but the world is starving for authentic relationships.
And government… For far too long we have put too much trust in the leaders of this world to solve our problems. So, why we are so surprised when the government fails to make good on its promise? Even a democracy like ours will fail. And why should we not expect our democracy to fail—it is run by imperfect people like you and me, isn’t it?
It is not that medicine, technology, and government are bad. In fact, we need doctors and nurses and IT professionals and politicians. These things are essential to the life of our society, but when we put our hope in these things to save us, we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment.
When we put our trust in liberal progress to save us, we are enabling the power of sin and death to control our lives; we are in essence creating false goods in the image of medicine, technology, and government. Instead of confronting the reality of sin and death, we create ways to run or hide from the inevitable. Ultimately, the reality of sin and death will catch up with us all.
The reality of sin and death sets in with the disciples after the crucifixion of their Lord. In today’s lesson, we find the disciples huddled behind locked doors in fear of the Jews. They are afraid because the person who was supposed to save them from the Roman Empire didn’t—at least not in the way they envisioned. The king that was supposed to protect them from the enemy is dead. Most envisioned that Jesus would take his place as king on an earthly throne with sword and scepter. Left without a king, the disciples are terrified.
But as Jesus said to the authorities at his trial, his kingdom is not from this world. Jesus’ throne is in heaven and his weapon are his words—words from his Father in heaven. Jesus even said that the peace that he brings is not of this world. This world doesn’t know true peace. From the beginning of time, we have always known war. And by now we should know that war will not bring an end to war—war is only a temporary and imperfect solution to the problem of evil.
But there is good news in Jesus Christ. There is a permanent solution. And the world first comes to know this permanent solution to evil when the risen Jesus appears to his disciples behind locked doors and says, “Peace be with you.” How strange, right? Here we have the disciples hiding for their lives and Jesus says something like, “Peace be with you.” And this isn’t any regular Jesus. This Jesus has endured the greatest threat to life of all—death. This is a Jesus who has come back from the dead. So if anyone can say, “Peace be with you” in the face of death it is Jesus because he is alive!
In today’s resurrection appearance, the eyes of our faith are opened when the risen Lord is made known to the disciples. Jesus didn’t come to protect us from the evil regimes of this world. Jesus didn’t come to build walls and other sophisticated defense systems to shield us from the enemy. These are temporary solutions for earthly kingdoms. Jesus’ heavenly kingdom gives us more. Jesus gives us peace even when our best efforts for security fail us. Jesus gives us a confidence that says no matter what happens in our earthly life—war, famine, pestilence, disease, disaster, you name it—we are alive in the Lord.
Jesus gives us the confidence to believe that evil is only temporary but love is everlasting. And we are given reason to believe that love is everlasting because Jesus rose from the dead, love incarnate rose from the dead, God himself rose from the dead and showed the world that evil and sin and death are weak in the face of true love. Sin and death and evil are all temporary and we know this because love wins for Jesus is risen from the dead.
Someone framed the good news of resurrection like this, “when you are strong in Christ you can put the neurotic need for security behind you.” I love that—the good news tells us that we can put the neurotic need for security behind us. What a relief?! We don’t have to hide behind our locked doors anymore. We can believe in a world where fear of sin and death no longer has the power to hold us back from life. We can trust in a life lived beyond our feelings of inadequacy. We can live a life that extends beyond the knowledge of pain and evil. And we can live a life even beyond the sting of death because Jesus Christ is risen today.
Instead of running from pain, instead of running from death, instead of running from our sin or casting it on someone else, we can name evil for what it is. Evil is small and weak compared to the love we know through our risen Lord. But if we don’t trust the truth of God’s enduring love in Christ, then of course we will run from evil, of course we will live in fear because sin and death are permanent in a world without the risen Lord. If we don’t trust that Christ lives, then there is no reason we shouldn’t give our whole trust over to medicine and technology and government and war. If there isn’t a God who lives beyond death, then of course we should resort to worshiping earthly gods.
But the good news says that our God lives. God is giving us more in a life lived beyond the cross in the way of Jesus Christ. We can live a life trusting that evil is only temporary—no matter how horrible it seems at the time. For we know that evil does not hold Jesus back for long. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
The good news of a God who lives was first given by an angel of the Lord who said, “He is not here. For he is risen.” The mosaic over our altar reminds us of this truth every Sunday. This worship space that was completed in 1875, ten years after war, is a reminder that evil and death are only temporary. This house of worship is a reminder that God calls us beyond ruin.
The good news that the angel proclaims also says that God’s permanent dwelling is not in this building. God lives in our hearts and calls us to witness to the risen Lord beyond these walls. So when you leave this place today, may your life be evidence that you worship a God who lives beyond the power of evil and death. Amen.