Sermon
November 11, 2001
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Job 19:23-27
"O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

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Sermon

There was once a faithful servant of God named Job.  He was a rich and happy
man.  At the instigation of Satan, God allows Job to be tested to see if he
will remain faithful despite misfortune.  Job loses his possessions; his
children take sick and die.  But Job does not speak out.

Next Job himself takes sick and suffers misery and pain, but still he is
silent.  His wife advises Job to curse God, but he rebukes her.  Then three
friends come to offer sympathy, but instead of sympathy they accuse Job of
having done something to have caused his suffering.  In spite of Job's
protests they defend their theme: if Job suffers, it is because he has
sinned.

The accusations of his friends cause Job to suffer not just in his body, but
also in his soul, and his suffering spills over in the passage we read this
morning:

I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;

For Job, the redeemer is the one who will testify to his integrity and save
him from the false accusations of his friends.  Job's wants a clear and
credible witness to determine who is speaking the truth and who is speaking
lies.

Generations before Job, the people of Israel went into Egypt to escape
famine.  But the Egyptians enslaved them, and they cried out for a Redeemer
to come and set them free.  God heard their cry and appointed Moses to speak
to Pharaoh and tell him to let the people go.  But Pharaoh would not listen
to Moses, and so God sent plagues on the people of Egypt:
the water turned to blood
there were swarms of frogs, gnats, flies
hail fell from the sky
the crops were devoured by locusts
darkness covered the land
and finally the death of the first born of every Egyptian family

After all this suffering, the day of redemption arrived, and the people of
Israel were allowed to leave.  But as soon as they left Pharaoh plotted to
track them down and bring them back to slavery.  But God opened up the sea
for the children of Israel and they crossed on dry land, and when Pharaoh
and his army pursued, the sea covered them, and they were no more.

Many generations later the people of Israel were once again under the thumb
of a destroyer, a Fuehrer not a Pharaoh this time, a man who had developed a
final solution for their race and religion.  Sitting in the concentration
camps of Europe, these children of God also prayed for a redeemer.

Elie Wiesel, a clear and credible witness to this time, wrote:
In the evening, lying on our beds, we would try to sing some of the
religious melodies. Some talked of God, of his mysterious ways, of the sins
of the Jewish people, and of their future deliverance.  But I had ceased to
pray.  How I sympathized with Job!  I did not deny God's existence, but I
doubted His absolute justice.

Wiesel ended World War II in the Buchenwald camp, where he was liberated by
American troops.  They proved to be his redeemer, but not without a cost.
American forces sent bombs like a plague of hail on the German people - It's
a funny thing, in my high school I had two German teachers, Herr Sanger and
Herr Henckel.  Herr Sanger was a man in his 50's - a graduate of Princeton
who had been a navigator on a bomber over Europe during the War.  Herr
Henckel was maybe 30, a graduate of the University of Berlin, and he had
been a young child living in Germany in the 1940's.  One day at lunch they
discovered that Herr Sanger had bombed the town where Herr Henckel was
growing up.  It was nothing personal, you know, it was merely the price of
redemption.

Ask anyone who has been oppressed, anyone who has been the victim of
violence, anyone who has been called to service in war or lived in a land
that was a battlefield, and they will tell you there is a price for freedom,
there is a price for justice, there is price to be paid for redemption.

Christians understand that redemption is not free, even if it is freely
given to us by God.  For we confess that God paid the price of our
redemption in Christ,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death-
even death on a cross.

The fact that redemption has a price, and a high price, and sometimes a
dangerous, deadly, violent price should come as no shock to the Christian
believer.  God sent a flood, God raised up kings and armies, God sent people
into exile and brought them home again, God anointed prophets who spoke the
word of truth and suffered for their witness - God did all these things for
our redemption and when they did not work God took on the flesh, took up the
cross, and suffered death so that we might live.

Today as a nation we seek both the vindication of Job and the deliverance of
Israel.  We want a clear and credible witness to the truth.  We want to be
saved from terror and set free from fear.

Do we want sympathy from those who are more than ready to tell us that we
are suffering for our sins?  I don't think we do, and yet we may need ears
to hear the prophetic voices of our time.  Do we want to bomb innocent
people, children living in villages who know nothing but poverty and
turmoil?  I don't think we do, and yet the reality of war is not to be found
in some rulebook sitting on a desk in a pastor's study, and innocent lives
are inevitably swept up in the storms of history.

On October 12 the Officers of the United Church of Christ issued this
statement:
The initiation of military action by the United States against Afghanistan
opens a painful and dangerous new chapter in the tragic story that began a
month ago in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. As we wept over the
images of fallen towers in nearby New York, we now weep over scenes of death
and destruction in distant Kabul. As we held our own children close during
the frightening hours of terrorist attack, we now tremble for vulnerable
children and innocent refugees who are in danger of bombs and starvation. As
Christians we confess that violence has been met by further violence, that
we have turned from the way of the Cross to the way of the sword, that God's
intentions are once again denied, that the vision of just peace remains
elusive in a world fascinated by military might. There can be no joy for us
this week, only lament. Lord, have mercy.

This statement echoes many issued by our religious leaders: violence will
only beget more violence.  Peter Steinfels, the religion reporter for the NY
Times, wrote a critical essay of this premise in his October 27th column.
After summarizing the arguments and examples he wrote:

Anyone trying to trace a path through the murky terrain of recent history
will stumble over another embarrassing possibility.  Does nonviolence
sometimes beg violence?

To raise that possibility does not deny the teachings or achievements of
Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King.  It simply points to another widely held
conclusion, that the unwillingness of democratic nations like France,
Britain and the United States to resist Hitler's serial aggression in the
1930's with military force had devastating consequences.

Nan Keohane, the president of Duke University, made a parallel case about
the Sept. 11 attacks.  She said: "We are currently in a situation where
violence indeed begets violence, but in a different way: If the violence
goes unchecked, it begets yet more violence from those who originally
launched it."

I don't pretend to stand here today as a strategic expert who can critique
the decisions of our leadership in responding to the current situation.  I
do not feel qualified to be a clear and credible witness who can sort out
the truth from the lies.  Nor do I feel our church officers are qualified
for this role, and the bumper sticker slogans being proclaimed as deep truth
do not offer much help.  As Peter Steinfels concludes - they may be useful
as cautionary rhetoric, but as formulas for resolving specific political and
moral quandaries, they do not suffice.

We know that many have served and many have died to secure for us the
freedom to debate the righteousness of our cause and the wisdom of our
choices.  On Veterans Day we honor their sacrifice.  And now the torch of
freedom is passed into our hands.  Our church should remind us of this
sacred trust and recall for us the high price that redemption has always
required in a world where evil is real and God is seen most clearly on a
cross.

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