April 25, 1999
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

John 10:1-10 "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers." 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (NRSV)

Acts 2:42-47 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (NRSV)

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Sermon: The Cross and Kosovo

I want to begin this morning by stating an assumption that is often unstated but almost always important for preaching in the church. Sometimes we talk about an event because it tells us what happened once. That makes the event historic. Sometimes certain events tell us not simply about what did happen once, but also help us understand what is happening now and what we can expect to have happen in the future. That makes history relevant. But when these same events serve as a window for us on the basic dynamics of how human beings interact with the bigger picture of life, how our story is connected to the larger story, then that makes an event religious. And there is no more important religious story we can tell than the story of Jesus Christ crucified, a story which opens up for us an understanding what when on in the world back then, what is going on now, and what we can expect in the future.

The title of this sermon is "The Cross and Kosovo." I realize there have been other events, most tragic events, which have displaced Kosovo for the moment in our minds, but I am unprepared to speak about that. Perhaps some of what I say here will apply, but it has taken me a while to process the war in the Balkans into a sermon framework, and I think it will take even longer for the high school shootings in Colorado to be more than a blur of images and raw emotions.

There are three ways I want to talk about the Cross and Kosovo. The first is as an expression of guilt.

Guilt is a pretty broad brush word. It can mean many things to different people. When someone says, "I feel guilty," they are talking about an internal sense of remorse. Perhaps they are asking the listener to say: "O you shouldn’t; you did everything you could." The individual speaking of a guilty feeling means something quite different than the jury foreman who stands before the court and says "Guilty" about a criminal who may feel no guilt and no remorse at all.

But the way I want to use the word this morning is in a more literal, and more biblical sense. Guilt, in the bible, is the seed of some future misfortune contained in every sinful deed. In this sense guilt is not an emotion, not a judgement, but a spiritual reality, a potential energy, a momentum of evil.

The Cross is an expression of guilt, because it was not for something Jesus had done that he suffered, but for what others had done. And the cumulative effects of what had been done over time had become a crushing burden of guilt - a tremendous potential for destruction that no one could bear and live. Someone had to stand in front of this freight train coming down the tracks; someone had to put the brakes on and bring it to a stop. And to bear that burden, God sent his only Son.

Kosovo is also a place where the momentum of evil has broken loose. The killing, the terror, the uprooting of families, the burning of villages, the expulsion of peoples, all this is all too familiar at the intersection of the Christian West and the Muslim mid-East. We have a momentum of evil here which has existed for hundreds of years, and which threatens to bracket this century in blood.

In 1915, April 24, was on a Sunday. That night marked the beginning of the first genocide of this century, a genocide committed by the Muslim Turks against the Christian Armenians. Figures vary, but possibly 1.5 million Armenians died during this time of terror.

It is ironic, to me, that today we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, for it is the 23rd psalm that I associate with the terror of that time. When I was growing up we had an elder in our church who also served as our minister of music. His name was Yeuron Serouni, and in 1915 he was a child living in a small village in Armenia. One day Turkish soldiers came into his house and shot his family; Mr. Serouni survived because his parents' bodies fell on top of him.

Although not killed in the first round of terror, he was captured and ended up in a labor camp, a camp on top of a hill. Each day the Armenians would march down from their hill top and go through a valley to their work site. And every day people would be harassed, beaten, shot, and left for dead in that march through the valley.

Mr. Sarouni was a faithful member of our church choir, but on Sundays when they sang "The Lord is My Shepherd," he would be absent. He simply could never speak those words: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death without the pain of that time flooding over him and washing him away.

It was an evil time, and that evil had within it the seed of future misfortune, a misfortune we harvest in our day.

The Cross and Kosovo, places where guilt has unleashed its fury and where the pain of the past has sprouted in a new time of terror.

But who suffers from this guilt? Is it the criminal, is it the perpetrator, is it their heirs and assignees? No it is not, and that is the second similarity - it is the innocent we see suffering on the Cross and in Kosovo.

The suffering of the innocent is a hard thing to witness, but history and experience teach us that it is one of the few things that actually brings people to a change of heart, to repentance. Consider for one moment the most famous work of English theatre: Romeo and Juliet.

The background is a long storied hatred that pits two powerful families against each other:

Two households, both alike in dignity.

(In fair Verona, where we lay our scene)

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civiI blood makes civil hands unclean.

You know the story; the Montagues and the Capulets are at each others throats and it seems that nothing can bring peace to their world. Then in the midst of all this, the fair children of these households fall in love - a pair of star crossed lovers - only to have that love overwhelmed by their parents strife. They will not let that strife cost them their love, but it does cost them their lives. So at the end the heads of these two families meet, not at a wedding, but at a death bed.

It is the innocent who have suffered, the innocent who have been crushed under the burden of hate and animosity. But their death awakens all who see it to the blind stupidity of what has gone before and the absolute necessity to change direction, to mend the wounds of the heart, to forgive and heal.

This also was a vision of the prophet Isaiah: He saw in the future how an innocent one, a servant chosen and supplied by God, would come and would suffer and be destroyed. And people would allow this to happen, for

He was despised and rejected, a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;

and as one from whom others hide their faces, and we held him of no account.

But God would vindicate this servant, raise him up from destruction and death, and people who looked upon him would understand his innocence and the enormity of his suffering and this would wake them up and stir their hearts to repentance:

When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died,

my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

We lack no vision of the suffering of the innocent in our time. We cannot plead ignorance or inability to understand. We see it in the faces of men, women, and children who have been forced from their homes and sent into the whirlwind of long marches, tattered tents, unfriendly borders, crowded refugee camps, and uncertain futures. All live, 24 hour, full color.

It seems so hopeless, so beyond the capacity of our leadership to manage, so out of place in our "modern" world.

But even the distant past was modern to those who lived there. And the people of the Hebrews were well beyond looking forward to the close of their second millennium when the shadow of the cross was stark against the walls of Jerusalem.

Then, as now, it seemed that hope was dashed. It seemed there was no way out. It looked, for certain, as if the power of an oppressive and ruthless regime had crushed the hopes of a people for a life of peace and dignity.

And that is why I want to join the story of Kosovo and the Cross. We do not know how Kosovo will end, but we stand on the other side of the cross. We have been given its message of triumph and hope as our richest inheritance.

Do you recall the words of our opening hymn this morning: Our God has made this world; oh, let us ne’er forget, that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

Why the momentum of evil in this world is so great, I do not know. Why the innocent suffer so, I cannot understand. But this is for sure: tyrants fall; nations that seek to dominate go to dust; God’s will for righteousness and peace will prevail.

We see that the crosses of the world have not been dismantled. They daily present us with their message of the power of guilt and sin, the anguish of innocent suffering. They call upon us to repent, to serve with compassion, but also to cherish our message of hope. For in the cross we also see the promise of redemption, the power of the resurrection, the path that God has taken to reach us and give us peace.

God walks those snowy hills in Kosovo today, God languishes in those refugee tents. God speaks to us in the faces so full of pain and fear and doubt. We hear the words echo down the ages: I was hungry and you gave me food; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was sick and you took care of me; as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.'

The cross is raised in Kosovo. It’s shadow covers the land. For us it is a call to repentance, and service, and, most of all, to remain a people with the power of hope in our hearts, for that power, and that alone, will bring redemption, and healing, and peace.

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Let us pray:

We gather before you with many prayers in our hearts this day, O God. Prayers for our world, prayers for our nation, prayers for our children, for our church and for ourselves. We see so many signs that we have strayed from the path, that we have left undone things which ought to be done, that the unity of love which we must seek if we are to survive is slipping from our grasp. Give us guidance, O God; give us strength; give us direction and respect for leadership which renews our vision and confronts us with the hard choices we must face. Help us to be mindful always of the power of the cross and to be sustained by your promise of hope.

With great hope and trust we offer our prayers today for those in need of your healing and comforting power. For:

the MacInnis family, at the death of Elizabeth MacInnis

the Dorwin family, at the death of Lillian Dorwin

For: Gial Steciwicz after surgery,

For: Punky Lyon, Kevin Hawks, Kate Clonaris & family, Sue Temple, Jean Barlow, Mary Ellen Lanigan, Brian Johnson

For the children killed, wounded, and terrified at Columbine High School, for their families, and for William "Dave" Sanders and his family.

For all those we remember in the quiet of our hearts.

We join our prayers with all people of good will, seeking peace for our families and hope for our future. Rule in our hearts, O God, and make us worthy of the great gift of life you have given us in Christ our Lord. Amen

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Let love be genuine; hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, live peaceably with all. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. And God’s blessing go with you, and keep you close to those you love, now and forever. Amen.

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