Sunday, April 28, 2013

The newness of love

Texts: Acts 11 1-18 (Peter's vision); John 13 31-35 (a new commandment)

"They will know we are Christians by our love." Do you remember that song from the 60s? It goes like this. "We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. And we pray that all unity will one be restored. And they'll know we are Christians, by our love, by our love, and they'll know we are Christians by our love."

This song was inspired by today's Gospel reading. In it, Jesus tells us that his disciples are known not by what we believe; nor by how we worship; but by how we love. We show that we are children of God by how we take care of one another; how we listen to one another; and how we help one another.

Jesus says: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples."
Isn't that wonderful?

But have you ever wondered why Jesus feels the need to command us to love? As a Jewish rabbi, he stands on 1,000 years of sacred law, the most famous section of which is the 10 Commandments. Shouldn't the 10 commandments be enough?

Well, truth be told, the 10 Commandments are not about love. They command us to worship the God of Israel above other gods, to not create idols, to keep the sabbath holy, to honour one's parents, to not murder, to not steal, to be honest, and to not desire another's property. But there is nothing in them about loving one another.

To the extent that the books of the Hebrew Bible -- what Christians call the Old Testament -- focus on love at all, it is usually on our obligation to love God and not our obligations to love one another.

Of course, this is not always the case. Leviticus contains the famous commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves, which Jesus emphasizes in his teachings.

But I believe that Jesus has good reason to call his commandment that we love one another new. With Jesus, the focus is no longer on the tribe or nation. His focus is on all human beings.

By the time of Jesus, Israel's context has changed. The Jews have been a conquered people for 600 years, and their current ruler, Rome, will soon destroy Jerusalem. In the past, the Jewish nation had been their most sacred value. But with no hope for national independence, Jesus points to a more universal value -- love for each other and for all humans regardless of tribe or nation.

Religion, like everything else, changes over time. The moment when Jesus gives his disciples his new commandment marks one of those changes.

Our first reading from Acts, focuses on a similar change. Peter tells the first followers of Jesus of a vision in which God shows him that non-Jews can be part of the church. This vision also shows Peter that baptized Gentiles do not have to follow Jewish laws about kosher eating and other cultural commandments.

Both our readings point towards something new. They orient the church outward from its first members, all of whom were Jewish, to people everywhere. I am sure that this change was painful for many early Christians. But they rose to that challenge, and they changed the world.

Change, of course, did not stop with the early church. It has been constant during all the 2,000 years since.

Yesterday, I learned more about the history of change in the churches in our area. I had presided at a brief graveside service for Ron Schmidt, formerly of Coronach, who had died in Swift Current in February. The burial was at St. John's cemetery west of Coronach. It occurred amid the warm wind, the running water, the beauty of the countryside . . . and the mud -- which Merv Colibaba, Ron's cousin, worked hard to clear.

As we drove back to Ron's sister, Elvina Winter's house for lunch, another of Ron's cousins, Garth from Lethbridge, told me the history of the Lutheran churches in Coronach. The German Lutheran church had been built out in the country by the cemetery during the early years of homesteading. At that time, as many people lived in the countryside as lived in town.

Later, as farms grew in size and people moved from the country to the town, the church building was moved to Coronach.

But the changes didn't end there. Over time, the distinctions between Germans and Norwegians, which must have loomed large when people first settled the land 100 years ago, lessened. Everyone learned English. They went to school together. They became neighbours and friends. So at a certain point, the German and Norwegian Lutheran congregations decided to merge and form today's Faith Lutheran charge in Coronach.

As in any such merger, it came with its share of difficulties and pain. But out of it, the ministry of Lutherans in Coronach has continued to this day.

Change confronts us in Borderlands charge as well. Last Wednesday evening, our Central Board responded positively to a request from the United Church's General Council to participate in the conversations of the church's Comprehensive Review process.

This three-year process is led by a group of seven church leaders from across Canada. They will write make recommendations to the next General Council in 2015 as to how the church can continue our mission with fewer people and resources. The Comprehensive Review is looking for new life for the church in a changed context just as the first Christians looked for new life after Jesus' death and resurrection.

Later in the spring, all of us will be invited to spend about 90 minutes in a conversation facilitated by someone trained for this task. We will be asked to share feelings, thoughts and experiences that arise out of the worship and mission of our congregations.

Not only will this help the Review team, it will also help us as a charge discern what we want to do next in Borderlands. I am excited about the prospect, and I hope that many of us will be able to part of that event. Stay tuned for more details!

Something similar will take place at the workshop planned for next meeting of Chinook Presbytery in Moose Jaw on May 10 and 11. Once again, I hope many of us  will be able to come to that workshop to discuss how to be church in a new context.

Change can often feel painful. But it is constant. Both as individuals and as churches, we are constantly challenged to find God's new life in a new situation. The United Church of Canada and Borderlands are facing such a challenge today, and I am confident God's Spirit is with us as we face those challenges.

Culture changes, churches change with them, but God's Love remains. Jesus gives us the commandment to love one another because love is our source, our calling and our sure destiny.
And so as Christians we try to love one another. We try to love our neighbours as ourselves. And we even try to love our so-called enemies.

We all know the difference that love makes. We depend on each other; we yearn for caring contact. And our greatest joy comes from giving love to our families, friends, and neighbours.

In towns like ours, we know that our neighbours are God's children regardless of whether they go to church. We know it when they listen to us; when they help us; and when they love us. We know they are God's children by their love.

At one time, the tribe or nation was the most sacred value of our society. Jesus helps us see something new. He reminds us that God is not a God of one tribe, nation or church. God is Love, and Love is for everyone.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"Fear no evil" in a locked-down world

Text: Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd)

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." So writes the author of the 23rd Psalm. Today, I examine this famous statement in the light of Monday's terrorist bombing in Boston.

It is easy to make a list of things we fear: disease, natural disasters, war. But nothing seems to get the media's attention and governmental response quicker than politically-motivated terrorism. Acts of terror are designed to cause death and injury and spread fear; and the ability of terrorism to spread fear was dramatically illustrated again this past week.

Two young Russian-American brothers set off bombs at the Boston Marathon this past Monday. The blasts killed three people and injured more than 170 others. The brothers had lived in the United States for 10 years and the youngest had recently become a U.S. citizen. They had been born in or around Chechnya, which is a wretched part of Russia in which a failed independence struggle over the last 20 years has led to the deaths of 100,000 people, an Islamist terrorist insurgency, and human rights abuses by the Russian army.

So it seems probable that national and religious conflict in the former Soviet Union provides part of the backdrop for this deadly act of terror.

Some like Prime Minister Stephen Harper urge us not to look for the causes of terror attacks like the one on Monday. On Wednesday he said, "When you see this type of violent act [as in Boston], you do not sit around trying to rationalize it, make excuses for it, or figure out its root causes. You condemn it categorically, and to the extent you can deal with the perpetrators, you deal with them as harshly as possible."

His remarks were aimed at the new leader of Canada's federal Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau. On Monday, just a few hours after the bombings, Trudeau responded to a reporter's question about the bombing by saying, "we have to look at the root causes. Now, we don’t [yet] know if it was terrorism or a single crazy [person] or a domestic issue or a foreign issue. But there is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded. Completely at war with innocents. At war with society. And our approach has to be, okay, where do those tensions come from?"

My instincts pull me in both of these directions. While I was amazed by the size and scope of the police action that led to the apprehension of the two suspects -- one who is dead and one who is recovering from serious injuries -- I am relieved that the suspects are no longer at large.

On the other hand, I want to understand why young people -- like the two brothers in Boston, or the four high school friends in London Ontario who moved to North Africa a few years ago and joined Al-Qaeda -- are drawn to violence. To try and approach this question, I look both at Scripture and at some difficult realities.

The 23rd Psalm does not ignore the things in life of which we are afraid. It talks about the valley of the shadow of death and mentions our enemies.

In the face of both enemies and death, the psalm paints an appealing and reassuring picture of life lived in the presence of God. But given all that we have to fear, is this a realistic picture? Do "goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives" even in the face of disease, war, and terrorism?

And if we have nothing to fear, then how do we explain the huge response to the bombing in Boston on Monday? I was especially shocked when I heard on Friday morning that the whole city had been ordered into a so-called lock-down in order to aid the search for the remaining 19-year old suspect and to prevent him from hurting anyone else.

In the end, the lock-down seems to have slowed the capture of the teenager. It was only when the governor of Massachusetts told residents at 6 pm on Friday evening that they could unlock their doors and leave their homes that a homeowner in suburban Boston went outside and noticed a trail of blood that led to a boat in his backyard. He lifted up a tarp, saw the bleeding figure of the suspect inside, and phoned the police. Two hours later, the boy surrendered to the FBI.

The events of Monday were horrible, and I quite understand the sadness, fear and huge police response they generated. But what about the other things of which we are afraid?

The other incident of mass violence in the United States last week was the accidental explosion at a fertilizer plant in the small town of West Texas. At least 14 people were killed, part of the 5,000 Americans killed in industrial accidents each year. But why do regulations allow huge tanks of anhydrous ammonia to be stationed in residential neighbourhoods? Is this not crazy?

We are much more likely to be killed by an industrial accident -- often exacerbated by  lax regulations and enforcement -- than we are by acts of political terror.

Lax regulations are also behind the financial meltdown of 2008 that destroyed the savings and livelihoods of hundreds of millions around the world. Most observers believe that it was reckless and fraudulent practices by ultra-rich bankers that caused the meltdown. And yet five years later, not one bank executive has been arrested let alone charged, tried or convicted of a crime. Not one legislator who allowed the era of rampant greed on Wall Street to flourish has been held to account for what is surely a series of terrible crimes.

Then there is war with all its collateral damage. We are told that 100,000 people have died in the tiny region of Chechnya in Russia's attempts to prevent it from becoming a separate country. We are told that close to 1 million Iraqis have died since the U.S. invasion 10 years ago. All of these victims are just as much children of God and the mourned loved ones of parents, siblings, friends and neighbours as are the four people murdered by the terrorists in Boston this past week.

Do we really think we can live in a world filled with such reckless disregard of safety in the pursuit of profit, such inequality, and such carnage in war, and not also discover that some fanatical young people lash out with their own violence?

Asking this question does not condone political or religious acts of terrorism.  Such acts can never be justified. It does, however, put them into a context that Prime Minister Harper, for one, does not seem to want to examine.

President Barack Obama put it this way on Friday evening after the second suspect was arrested, "Why did young men who grew up and studied here as part of our communities and country resort to such violence? How did they plan and carry out these attacks? And did they receive any help? The families of those killed so senselessly deserve answers.

The wounded, some of whom now have to learn how to stand, walk and live again, deserve answers. And so . . . we will determine what happened. We will investigate any associations that these terrorists may have had. And we will continue to do whatever we have to do to keep our people safe.
One thing we do know is that whatever hateful agenda drove these men to such heinous acts, cannot prevail . . . they will not break the bonds that hold us together as Americans."

Obama concluded  by saying that, "the American spirit includes staying true to the unity and diversity that makes us strong . . . we take care not to rush into judgement, not about the motivations of these [two brothers], and certainly not about entire groups of people. One of the things that makes America one of the greatest nations on earth . . . is that we welcome people from all around the world, people of every faith, every ethnicity . . . So as we continue to learn more about why and how this tragedy happened, let’s make sure that we sustain that spirit." I appreciate the President's comments . . .

Terror, war and fear -- these are some of the big and difficult topics raised by the attacks in Boston this past week, and also by the 23rd Psalm. To close this sermon, I talk about the most fearsome threat that has ever faced humanity -- nuclear war.

Psalm 23 includes the phrase "the valley of the shadow of death;" and sometimes that image reminds me of our own neighbourhood. The United States houses its land-based nuclear weapons in silos just over the border from us, near Minot North Dakota, Great Falls Montana, and Cheyenne Wyoming. In this sense, Borderlands seems literally to be part of the valley of the shadow of death. At any moment, the hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles housed across the line could be launched and obliterate most people on the planet.

When President Obama first took office four years ago, he spent a lot of effort trying to advance talks to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and with good reason. Each night Obama goes to sleep knowing that he could be awoken with news of a crisis and be asked to make a split-second decision to deploy these weapons and kill millions or even billions of people. Talk about terror and fear!

If only the nuclear genie could be put back into the bottle . If only we didn't have to live every moment of our lives with the threat of the ultimate violence lying in the hills to the south of us. But this is the world in which we live. And it is a world in which Psalm 23 can speak clearly to us.

The Psalm is not naive, I believe. It does not mean that regulators of industry will always do their utmost to keep us safe. It does not mean that fanatical youth won't sometimes attack the ills of the world or their own alienation with horrible acts of terror. It does not mean that nuclear weapons will never be used again.

What the Psalm does is remind us that God's Spirit is with us always -- through life, at the end of life, and after life is over. The Psalm reminds us to fear no evil precisely at the moments when we seem to have the most to fear: as our loved ones are dying, as horrible industrial or natural disasters are occurring, or as war is breaking out despite our best efforts to prevent it.

In fragile lives and in a society plagued by conflict and violence, fear seems unavoidable. The antidote to that fear is not wishful thinking that bad things will never happen to us. The antidote to fear is our faith that we are in God's hands come what may; that we are blessed by God come what may.

I pray with all my heart and soul that the ICBMs across the line are never used. But if those silos ever do open and the missiles are fired, I imagine that I will recite the 23rd Psalm. Its poetry will remind me that even in a world of violence and at my life's end, we need fear no evil, for God is with us both now and always.

Thanks be to God.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Blinded by the light

Texts: Acts 9 1-20 (Saul/Paul on the Road to Damascus); Luke 24 36-53 (the Risen Christ)

With today's Gospel reading, we end what we began during Holy Week -- a complete reading of the last three chapters of Luke. The readings began on Holy Thursday, continued on Good Friday and have now carried us through the first three Sundays of the season of Easter. Luke's final chapters tell of the betrayal, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

Today's reading focuses on Easter Sunday evening. After the discovery at dawn that Jesus' tomb was empty and his appearance later in the day to two disciples as they walk to the village of Emmaus, Jesus finally appears to all of his disciples in Jerusalem. As he had done earlier with the two with whom he walked, Jesus now opens all of their minds to how the Hebrew Scriptures relate to his death and resurrection. He also wishes his disciples peace, and assures them in word and deed that he is not a ghost.

One might assume from today's reading that Jesus also ascends to heaven on that same evening. But in his later book, the Acts of the Apostles, Luke writes that the ascension occurs "40 days" after Easter Sunday and 10 days before Pentecost.

Following the ascension, no one sees Jesus in the flesh again. Some people, however, have visions of Jesus; and the most famous of those visions is told in our first reading today from Acts: the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the Road to Damascus. Saul, who later changes his name to Paul, and whose letters make up half of the New Testament, is blinded by a vision of Jesus.

Both of today's readings tell of an encounter with the Risen Christ -- one in the flesh on Easter Sunday, the second in a vision some months later. Both of these encounters help Jesus' first followers turn their lives around. Saul changes his name to Paul and becomes an apostle of Christ instead of a violent opponent. The disciples in Jerusalem move from defeat and despair to wonder and joy, and they too obey Jesus' command to travel to all the corners of the Roman Empire and preach the good news of God's salvation through Christ.

We, like these first Christians, have moments in which we could benefit from an encounter with the Risen Christ -- either in the flesh or in a blinding vision. Unfortunately, only the first apostles have the privilege of seeing the Risen Christ in the flesh. Unfortunately, few of us are like Saul and have a blinding vision of Jesus.

Personally, I have never had a vision of Jesus nor heard direct instruction from heaven. When I have come to a dead end in my life, I have had to try and turn things around and follow God without the kind of spectacular help that Saul gets. I wonder, is this fair? Should I perhaps be jealous of Saul?

On hearing again the account of Saul's conversion on the Road to Damascus, I am struck by how little content the story has. Yes, it has the drama of a sudden appearance, three days of blindness, and the arrival of the prophet Ananias, who heals, instructs and baptizes Saul as Jesus had promised. It is a very famous story; even people who never come to church probably have associations with the phrase a "Road to Damascus conversion."

But given that most of never have spectacular visions of Jesus, what good is it to us to know this story?

We often hear that people with tough problems need to hit rock bottom before they can turn things around. Sometimes in crises like divorce, medical diagnoses, or job loss, people abandon old ambitions and put their trust in God. And I believe there is a lot of truth in this notion.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son, which we looked at in Lent, shows us this pattern more clearly than does the story of Saul/Paul on the Road to Damascus. The Prodigal Son does not have a blinding vision of Jesus. Instead, he has the pain of poverty, hunger, and humiliation; and in this dark place, he remembers the generosity of his Father, and decides to return home.

Saul may also be experiencing a dark night. Perhaps he feels guilty about the violence he uses in his self-righteous defence of religious law. The Book of Acts does not say that Saul is a murderer. But it shows that he is an accomplice in the murder of the first martyred disciple, Simon. And our reading today says he is breathing murderous threats against Christians as he heads to Damascus.

In Saul's letters -- which he writes under his later name Paul -- we don't get a first-person account of his "Road to Damascus" conversion. But in his letter to the church in Phillipi, he talks about the costs as well as the gains of his conversion.

Paul writes: "I was born a Jew . . . as far as keeping the Law is concerned, I was a Pharisee; and you can judge my enthusiasm for the faith by my active persecution of the Church. As far as the Law’s righteousness is concerned, I don’t think anyone could have found fault with me.  Yet every advantage that I had gained I considered lost for Christ’s sake . . . for his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, but I now consider those things useless rubbish compared with being able to win Christ [and even to] share Christ's sufferings and to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead."

Paul realizes that his conversion comes with loss and pain. But the gains are of vastly greater value. Paul doesn't write about a blinding vision, but he does write about the joy of new life in Christ, which is available to us all.

People turn away from sin and towards God all the time without the benefit of seeing the Risen Christ in the flesh, as the first disciples did, or without a blinding vision of Jesus like that experienced by Saul.

People like us who have never seen Jesus in a vision or heard a voice from heaven nevertheless follow the way of Jesus and accept its costly grace. This path comes with loss, but as with Paul, the gains are incalculable.

The first disciples lost their hopes for military victory over the Romans and for political glory. But their encounter with the Risen Christ showed them there was something more important -- a Love that survives all of our worldly ambitions.

Paul lost his hopes for the salvation that comes from following the strict letter of the Law in the way Pharisees like him had interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures. But his vision of the Risen Christ helped him see that there was something more important -- a Love that trumps all religious laws.

In today's Gospel reading, Jesus teaches that “everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Before his conversion, Paul thought that he was following the Law of Moses. But after his conversion he came to see it differently.

What he learned, I believe, is that God is often found through death and defeat. It was only after the Babylonians burned God's Temple to the ground 600 years before Jesus that the Hebrew Scriptures were compiled. In Exile in Babylon, Jewish leaders discovered that God survives the defeat of the hopes of the nation. All national ambitions are eventually dashed by the grinding of the wheels of history, and each life moves inevitably to the grave. But God's Love lives on within, between and all around us.

The Christian path is not about achievement. It is about abandoning personal or national ambitions and relying upon God. As Paul will later teach, "life has three great lasting qualities -- faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love."

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that even though we cannot see him in the flesh, we encounter the Risen Christ in everyone we meet. In the people we love serve and nourish, we meet Jesus.

Unlike the disciples, we are not privileged to see the Risen Christ in the flesh. Unlike Saul on the Road to Damascus, we are not usually privileged to have a blinding vision of Jesus to help us turn our life around.

What we do have are family members and neighbours whom we love. We have fellow pilgrims on the road to the cross. We have a tradition that values Grace over Law, Love over victory, and life despite death. We have a path of service that takes us out of ourselves and that puts us in touch with Christ in our neighbours. We have faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.

This is Easter. This is new life in Christ. This is our beautiful vision on the Road to Damascus, both now and always.

Thanks be to God.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

God's revelation: war or peace?

Texts: Revelation 1 1-8 (Alpha and Omega); Luke 24 13-35 (road to Emmaus)

When we think about Canadian teenagers today, what worries might come to mind? Drug and alcohol abuse? Unplanned pregnancies? Lack of job opportunities? There do seem to be a lot of pitfalls facing young people today.

In this sermon, I focus on a new danger facing young Canadians -- religious conversion! This thought came to my mind as news unfolded this week of three men from London Ontario who converted to a radical form of Islam in high school. Two of them participated in a deadly terrorist attack in Algeria in January in which they themselves were killed. The third has been in jail in Mauritania for several months for reasons not yet disclosed.

More information will probably become known about these three men as journalists and police dig deeper into their story. But there is little doubt that the two who attacked a gas plant in Algeria, who participated in the murder of 40 hostages, and who were themselves killed when Algerian forces moved against them were motivated at least in part by their love of God and their devotion to a particular religious path.

I mention this incident not to denigrate Islam. Islam arose out of Judaism and Christianity and it is the third great faith of the people of Abraham. For 700 years, from 800 to 1500, Islam was the largest religion in the world. Today, it is second in size and influence only to Christianity.

Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam preaches peace. The very word Islam means wholeness, safety and peace. A Muslim is one who submits to the will of God and follows the five pillars of the faith: testimony to God, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage. The Holy Book of Islam, the Koran, uplifts Abraham, Moses and Jesus as prophets of God. From the little that I know about Islam, it seems to be as legitimate a path to God as is Christianity. 

So how can conversion to this great religion of peace lead young Canadians to engage in terrorist activity? Of the three men implicated in terrorism in this week's news reports, one was born into a Muslim family. One was raised Roman Catholic. The third was raised Greek Orthodox. How could their high school conversion lead them to commit horrific crimes?

To tackle this question, I look at today's Scripture readings. They present us with two different ways that God might be revealed to us and two different approaches to the role of peace and violence in the religious life.

The Gospel reading is about two followers of Jesus who have their faith tested and then renewed. They have been devastated by the events of Good Friday and confused by the news of Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday morning that Jesus' tomb is empty. Later that day, they encounter the risen Christ as they walk home from Jerusalem.

Given how powerful Jesus' teaching and healing was in Galilee, I can understand why these two men would have followed him to Jerusalem. Given their love for Jesus, I can understand how his arrest and crucifixion would have devastated them. Finally, I can understand why they are walking away from Jerusalem in pain and confusion.

But then Jesus joins them as they walk. At first they do not recognize their crucified and risen friend. It is only when Jesus breaks and blesses the bread at supper that their eyes are opened to the fact that he is Jesus.

At this point, Jesus disappears. With renewed enthusiasm, the two then run back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples. They tell them that Jesus has opened their eyes to the meaning of their faith and revealed himself in the act of breaking bread. We can assume that from this point onwards these two will redouble their devotion to Jesus and their work for God's realm.

But will they also become dangerous converts like the three young men in London Ontario? Will the conversion of these two disciples on the road to Emmaus lead them to become violent?

The path of Jesus, like that of Islam, is one of peace. In the very next verse in the Gospel of Luke that follows our reading today, and which we will read in church next Sunday as we finish Luke's story of the resurrection, Jesus greets his disciples with the phrase "Peace be with you."

But despite the peace preached by Jesus, Christian churches have often been involved in horrific violence. Christianity tried to stop the rise of Islam 900 years ago with the Crusades. Over a span of 200 years, tens of thousands of European soldiers responded to the calls of successive popes to journey to what is now Israel and Palestine where they fought the Islamic rulers who ruled the Holy Land. These Christian soldiers slaughtered tens of thousands of Jews and Muslims, but in the end, they gave up all the territory they had won.

Christianity eventually did regain its status over Islam as the world's largest religion following the European conquest of the Americas after 1492. The church supported these conquests and used the power of the state to force conquered peoples to become Christians.

Christianity, then, is hardly immune from the use of war and violence to spread the faith and achieve the aims of the church.

Today, no one in the church still advocates war as a method of conversion. Some terrorists do claim to be Christian, such as the Norwegian who killed 77 young people at a summer camp in 2011. Fortunately, horrific incidents of terror done in the name of Christ are few and far between.

The same can be said for Islam. Of the one billion Muslims in the world, only a tiny handful believe that they can achieve God's will through terror.

This existence of religious terrorists has a negative impact on the standing of all religions. Since the terror attacks on the United States in September 2001, church attendance has fallen sharply in Canada and the United States. Many people now turn their backs on religion in part because small groups of fanatics use religion as a cover for violence.

Our first Scripture reading from Revelation points to the attraction that violence has for some Christians. Many of us love Revelation's strange imagery of a New Jerusalem: a city made with precious jewels, shining with divine light, and containing the tree of life. But there are also images of extreme violence in it: the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, winged lions, earthquakes, plagues, and painful death for most people.

Revelation was written by a Christian named John about 60 years after Jesus' resurrection.  As a disciple of Jesus, John suffers in prison at the hand of the Romans. He knows the injustice of Empire first hand. In response to his hardships, he writes what is perhaps the most violent work ever to be canonized as Holy Scripture.

The only hint of that violence in the short reading we heard today is the phrase "all the tribes of the earth will wail." But what follows in Revelation are horrific descriptions of war and mass killings.

Revelation, for all that we might love about it, shows that violence appeals to some who love God. When we feel inspired by God's love and are also aware of the terrible injustices of the world, we may be tempted to take the shortcut of violence to try to reach God's promised new Jerusalem.

Jesus on the road to Emmaus points to a better way, I believe. As he walks with the two disciples, Jesus explains the connections between the Hebrew Scriptures and his own death and resurrection. He shows them how the defeat of God and the dashing of Israel's hopes can  lead to the resurrection of Love. Finally, he reveals himself in the breaking of bread.

At the Last Supper the week before, Jesus had given his friends the sacrament of communion. In sharing bread and wine with friends and in giving thanks to God we experience the Risen Christ.
Christ is best revealed not in the fantastical visions of war and death found in Revelation. Christ is revealed while breaking bread at table. In this humble and common activity, we experience the flame of God within and between us.

Experiencing God at the communion table may inspire us to resist injustice. But holy communion also reminds us that Jesus did not lead an army against Rome. Instead, he sacrificed himself on the cross in solidarity with all who bear our cross . . .

Now, despite what I have said so far, I don't worry that many young Canadians will become violent fanatics. The reality for most young people today is a lack of enthusiasm and engagement much more than it is religious or political fanaticism.

Think for instance of the nine young people who were confirmed in Fife Lake and Coronach last May. To be frank, I would be surprised if any of them show up in church again before they graduate from high school.

But regardless of their attachment to the church, we can be sure that they, like any of us, will experience God throughout their lives. When they draw a connection between such moments and Christ, I trust that it will be with the Christ as revealed at the Lord's Table and not with the warrior Christ of Revelation.

Three young men in London Ontario came to know and love God in high school. Unfortunately, they used the inspiration of this conversion to follow a disastrous path of violence.

John, the author of Revelation, came to know and love God in one of the early Christian communities. Unfortunately, he used his inspiration to imagine war as the way of Christ.

In contrast to this, our meals at the Lord's Table remind us of Jesus' path of peace. They remind us that God's Love is found in simple acts of hospitality. They remind us that we can resist injustice through acts of love and not through acts of violence.

Moments when God is reavealed can be powerful and and hence dangerous. But when we allow our hearts to be broken open in a meal of bread and wine that reminds us of Jesus' sacrifice and love, we avoid the dangers. We remain followers of Christ without succumbing to the violence of crusades or conquests and without the need of the violent images found in Revelation.

In a few minutes, we will gather again around the Lord's Table. In this simple meal, we will experience God. It will be a taste a love that renounces violence even as it points to lives and our world transformed.

Thanks be to God.