Start by reading from Mennonite Weekly Review. It’s been almost three weeks since these school killings. No doubt these have affected each of us in different ways. For those with young children it was another instance of random violence against ones who just as easily could have been our children. For those who work in the schools, it was another violation of your sacred space that is supposed to be safe for teacher and student. For those ethnic Mennonites among us it was an attack against distant, or not so distant, sisters and brothers. I received condolences a couple weeks ago from a gentleman at the community meal who knew that Amish and Mennonites were related. I often have a tendency to stay away from this kind of news because it doesn’t seem very productive for me to know more details about this kind of tragedy. But there is something strikingly different in this instance in comparison to other acts of violence experienced in our country recently. There was, almost immediately, talk of forgiveness. And there was, almost immediately, not only talk of forgiveness, but also acts of forgiveness from the Amish community, which included approaching and expressing compassion toward the family of the murderer who had also taken his own life. All this coming from those who lost young daughters only days and hours before. Sadly, the killings are something I’ve grown accustomed to. The forgiveness is what seems a little more shocking. There has been plenty of talk in our country in the last few years about the meaning of security. How do we live more secure lives? A recent article in the Mennonite magazine said this: “Americans now feel something of the insecurity much of the world has known since before history was written. And we do not like it. According to Jim Wallis in God’s Politics ‘We seem to want something nobody can give us – to erase our vulnerability. We just want it to go away.’” (Oct. 3, 2006) I would like to hold this story of the Amish community alongside the day’s Scripture texts and see what kind of light they can shed on each other in regards to what it means to live in insecurity and security and what this might have to do with being a baptized Christian. Psalm 91 paints a fairly clean picture of security and safety for those who trust in God. “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” There’s not a lot of ambiguity here. “Those who love me I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them” This Psalm comes across as rather confident, very much like a promise of security for those who put their trust and hope in God. Not only will you live a life of protection and safety, but you’ll be around for a long time to enjoy it all. V. 16, “with long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.” At face value the message of this Psalm seems to be in sharp contrast with the reality of our world, and the reality of innocent people being killed. Psalm 91 is one of those Old Testament passages that gets quoted in the New Testament, only in a rather unique way. Before beginning his ministry Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river and spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying and facing down temptations from the devil. And during that time, when he was most vulnerable, he learned what we all should learn at some point in our lives: the devil quotes Scripture. And when the devil quoted Scripture to Jesus, of all the options to choose from, it was Psalm 91 that he cited. “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus experienced Psalm 91 as a temptation. The promise of security, the assurance that no matter what happened he would always be protected from harm – to this Jesus has to say “no.” He had to face the reality of vulnerability, and he had to accept that God is not the kind of God who intervenes in every situation of danger. It’s not that Jesus rejected the words of Psalm 91 – like he said in another place, he didn’t come to do away with the Scriptures, but to fulfill them, to bring out their true meaning. So what is the meaning of being secure in God? Throughout his ministry Jesus brought people into greater health and security and challenged people to walk in a path of insecurity. He told the leper to take up his mat and go home, but he also told his followers to take up a cross and follow him. He provided bread for the thousands of people in the wilderness who had come to hear him teach, but he told his disciples not to take any bread with them when they were going on their missions. As Mark’s gospel progresses, Jesus begins to tell his disciples that soon he will die at the hands of the religious and political leaders. Each time he says this Mark is clear to note that the disciples simply don’t understand what he is talking about. Perhaps they still believed in the kind of security that Jesus had been tempted with earlier, that if you are faithful to God you will live a life free from harm. This would seem to be the case in today’s gospel text. Jesus has just told them the third and final time that he will soon be violently killed and that he will rise again. They are nearing Jerusalem. James and John, members of Jesus’ inner circle, find an opportunity to seek to secure for themselves positions of honor and authority. And what better, safer, more powerful position to be in than on the left and right hand of Jesus? I’m not sure whether Mark was laughing or crying when he wrote these words. Maybe both at the same time. They are full of irony, reflected in Jesus’ response, “You do not know what you are asking,” and then the rather cryptic, “are you able to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” James and John believe they are seeking the most secure positions available, but as the story turns out, those who occupy the left and right sides of Jesus are crucified Jewish rebels. Jesus’ baptism did not protect him from harm, but the baptism that he underwent called him to confront the harmful forces of his time and accept the insecurity that this produced.
The irony of being secure in insecurity might be exactly what Christian baptism is about.
Regardless of the political situation of our country, there is simply no way to live a completely secure life. Again, looking at the Amish community, if there is any group that should be secure it should be them. They live apart from society, and live peaceful lives. But this devastating thing happens to them.
It’s not a question of whether or not we will ever be completely secure, but how we will live in our insecurity and who we will entrust ourselves to.
So what does this look like on a practical level? What does it look like day in and day out to live secure in the midst of insecurity, entrusting ourselves to God? I think Jesus sets us on the right path as he instructs the rest of his disciples. They were of course rather angry that James and John had broken off from the group and sought to secure for themselves a certain kind of exclusive power and honor next to Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t seem very concerned with their anger. He calls them together for their last teaching session before entering Jerusalem: “You know that among the Gentiles (Romans that is) those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Servanthood is a rather vulnerable position, but could it possibly be the key to building a more secure world? In this instance I believe that the Amish modeled this sense of servanthood quite well. Rather than using their moral high ground for revenge, they became servants to each other and to the family of the murderer. The British publication The Independent reported this: In (a) letter, released by a family spokesman and addressed to Amish friends, neighbours and the local community, Marie Roberts (the murderers widow) says she and her three young children have been overwhelmed by the community support since the shootings on 2 October.“Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need,” she wrote. “Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe … Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”If we are baptized with Christ, we have accepted an invitation to live in a certain kind of security. It’s a kind of security that accepts the fact that we are vulnerable people and that we are never guaranteed safety from harm. Faith isn’t believing nothing harmful will happen to you or those you love, it’s believing that absolutely nothing that happens to you, not even death, will be able to separate you from the everlasting love of God. This is, at least, what the Apostle Paul concluded at the end of Romans 8: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s the safety spoken of in Psalm 91, and it’s the willingness to face hardship spoken of in the gospels. The Amish are not a perfect community and it does no one any good to idealize them. But I believe they have taught the world something of great value. Through extending forgiveness and compassion and through willingly becoming a servant to others, they have modeled what it means to live secure in the midst of insecurity, and in doing so, they have made the world an overall more secure place. RESPONDINGPrayer of Confession
Leader: God our refuge, you have been our dwelling place throughout the ages.
People: Yet we are people who have known fear. We are aware of our own vulnerability.Leader: We long for safety and security,
People: Yet we find ourselves in an unpredictable world where life is often lost too early.
Leader: We ask, O God, that our lives be hidden in youPeople: Make us servants of doing what is right, that we may live at peace with friend and enemy.All: Amen. Words of Assurance “The Most High will deliver you from all harm, and we will rest secure in the Divine Embrace.” Hymn of Response God is our refuge and strength