There are no words sufficient for the atrocities of our world, like the terrorist attacks in Paris Friday night. That evening, we watched as the news kept coming and the death toll kept rising. More than 150 dead. Others severely injured. Borders closed. Ambulances rushing.
An international city frozen in fear.
What...why...how…? We have all kinds of questions. It just doesn’t make sense. How can we be doing this to one another? What kind of hatred and evil pollute us?
I don’t have answers for you. But in the midst of tragedy, we seek guidance from our faith, our Scriptures, and our God.
At first, we might jump to the conclusion that the attacks in Paris are a sign of the end, like Jesus seems to be describing in Mark 13. People rising against each other, natural disasters, birth pangs. This all sounds like our world, like topics from a newspaper, right? All of these horrible things are happening.
And what about how Jesus says, “Beware that no one leads you astray.” The people committing these awful attacks have been led astray by extremist ideology and groups. These extremists may not be pretending to be Jesus, but they are professing to have ultimate truth and authority, which we reserve for God and Jesus alone.
But I don’t think running around in fear proclaiming the end of times is going to do you any good. I don’t think there’s going to be some God-ordained destruction of the world. People have always been fighting and hurting each other, and there have always been natural disasters.
The difference today it’s is easier to mobilize and attack, we have more powerful technology and weapons, and we have access to far more media and real-time information about what’s going on, so everything seems bigger and more horrendous. And perhaps there are more problems in the natural world, but I believe this has more to do with how we are treating creation than with some cosmic impending doom.
Jesus may very well be speaking of the end of humanity or the world in this passage, but we’re doing these things to ourselves. War and mass killings and cruelty aren’t part of some divine plan -- they’re evils arising from us. If and when humanity’s time on earth ends, it’s likely we’ll have had something to do with it.
Humanity’s inclination to head down the wrong path is not new. There’s even a glimpse of it in in the gospel text. The disciples are in awe of the “large stones and great buildings” that they see in the temple. It was an impressive structure. But Jesus tells them, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
For us, this can point to the “great stones and structures” in which we place our value, in which we place our trust. Money. Power. Guns. Privilege. Comfort. Winning. Individualism. The list goes on.
As one Bible commentator (Karoline Lewis) writes, “We love bold. We love big. We love better. That’s the human motto, in every form, it seems. The disciples are no different than we are and we are no different than the disciples back then … Regardless of time, regardless of proximity to Jesus, regardless of so-called illumination, disciples across the age are attracted to splendor and grandeur. We are drawn to the biggest and the best. The most influential. The most powerful. The most anything. We love superlatives. Lest we think we are any more knowledgeable than Jesus’ first disciples, we are not.”(1)
In other words, our attraction to the biggest and the best gets us in trouble. And it causes deep pain. Whether someone kills one person or a hundred, they’re wanting to take away someone’s life, to have more power, to strike fear. Those who attacked Paris want control, they want assimilation, they want the world to know their power and potential.
Fear is an appropriate response. But if we stay there, evil wins. If we stay in fear, the wars and killings will never end.
But what are we to do? Hebrews tells us that Jesus has opened for us a new and living way, so that we might approach life with a true heart in full assurance of faith. Our faith can be subversive. It is a bold and daring thing to rise up from the shadows unafraid.
In the midst of these terrorist attacks in Paris, we are rightly in fear, but following this living way of Jesus, we can boldly proclaim that God is here. God is weeping with the world. God is embracing Paris. God is active and alive and present no matter how dark the night.
Alone we might hide away in fear forever, but with Jesus there is another way. A living way. A way of going forward in full assurance of faith that God is with us. That God is with the whole world.
These “great stones” we tend to put our trust and value in aren’t there for us in the end. But our God is. Our “great stones” -- like power and influence and money -- tell us to respond to terrorism with even more hatred, violence, and revenge. I saw a news cartoon with the Statue of Liberty carrying a machine gun across the ocean to France, with the caption, “I’m coming.” We think that bigger and better weaponry and even more killing will change the world for the better. I promise you it won’t.
I’m not saying we should drop all weapons and never protect each other. I respect our military. I’m saying that our obsession with this “great stone” of bigger and better force and destruction has got to stop.
Solidarity with weapons is not the only way to stand together in the world.
Again our Scriptures and our God have something to say. Hebrews tells us, “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together … encouraging one another.”
I told you earlier that I didn’t have answers for you. But if there is an answer, I believe it is this instruction from Hebrews.
In the face of terror we have to provoke one another to love and good deeds. We have to meet together. We have to encourage one another.
The attacks in Paris were not the only tragedy this week. Lebanon experienced an awful loss of lives in Beruit. Refugees are still fleeing and seeking new life around the world. A suicide bombing killed several at a funeral in Baghdad.
All of this is too much to bear alone. We have to stick together.
Our prayers rise up today for the whole world. We must be as outraged and heartbroken by what happens in Lebanon and Iraq as we are about what happens in France. All of these people are our brothers and sisters and friends.
While it may not be popular, we must speak up on behalf of our Muslim neighbors, knowing full well that these extremists are no more Muslim than the KKK are Christian. This awful ideology has no place in any religion, and we cannot seek revenge on our peaceful Muslim neighbors -- we are to meet together with Muslims and encourage one another in love.
We must also love the refugees. They are no more responsible for the evil in our world than you and me. We are called to speak up on behalf of them as well. These attacks did not occur because of France allowing in refugees -- these attacks were committed by the same people the refugees are trying to run away from. We are to meet together with refugees and encourage one another in love.
As Roque Dalton, a Salvadoran poet who lived through horrendous times, wrote, “I believe the world is beautiful … and that my veins don’t end in me but in the unanimous blood of those who struggle for life and love.”
We weep with our brothers and sisters of all colors and creeds, who are struggling for life and love. Our veins run in theirs. We pray for the people of Paris, of Beruit, of Baghdad, of the whole world. Let us perpetuate not a cycle of violence but a world of peace. God calls you to radical love. Rise up from the shadows unafraid. Proclaim God’s presence in the midst of despair. Hold one another in love.
I believe, and I hope you do too, that evil has not won. Evil does not have the final word. If we all stop putting our trust in unlasting stones and structures and follow this new way of life in Jesus, maybe we won't destroy ourselves. We just might change the world.
This might seem like a lofty dream, but I believe our God is far bigger than we can ever imagine, and that when we follow God, things can really change.
For I believe the light has shined in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Amen.
(1) “Storied Stones,” by Karoline Lewis on WorkingPreacher.org. Accessed Nov. 13, 2015. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3724
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church