December 26, 2004 - St. Stephen's Day
There is no way to insert any humor into today's message. This
is indeed a "Bloody Sunday" in terms of the lessons. Because we
are focusing on St. Stephen the Gospel reading from Matthew
focuses on the murder of Zechariah, but the other reading from
Matthew assigned for today, if we were not using the texts for St.
Stephen, is the one regarding Herod's murder of all the male
Jewish children in Bethlehem and the region who are two years and
under. So, the texts for today, the Old Testament lesson, the
Epistle lesson, which is actually from Acts, recording the stoning
of St. Stephen, and both of the assigned Gospel readings for
today, are all bloody.
Now we could focus on the horror of all these texts-the murder
of innocents-and be stunned, immobilized, or so repulsed that we
block the stories from our minds, turn away, rather than think
about such things.
But you know very well that you can't get away from it because
the same sort of stories are in the news constantly-beheadings,
suicide bombers, school children taken as hostages and killed,
entire families killed, mass murders in African countries,
intimidation and murder of witnesses right here in Baltimore,
burning families in their homes because they stand up to drug
dealers, fathers or mothers killing all their children right here
in all parts of the USA.
You can't get away from such news. You might not read papers or
magazines, you might not watch TV news, but you hear the stories
from neighbors and friends or at coffee shops or even at church.
So, the Scripture readings for today are not something that
only happened in the past. But why today, the day after Christmas?
We just celebrated the birth of Jesus and the talk was about love
and peace and hope and joy. So, why so suddenly do we get slapped
with such scenes of horror?
Well, it may seem like it's sudden, but it isn't really. Such
scenes of horror happen at the same time that incredible scenes of
joy and compassion happen. Jesus was born into a world of
darkness. But Jesus brought light to the darkness. And that's what
we, as followers of Jesus, are supposed to do.
It doesn't do anyone any good, not yourself, nor anyone else,
to be overwhelmed by the news of acts of violence so that you are
victimized by thinking there is nothing you can do. Most times the
acts of violence seem far away-not part of our personal
experience. But then something hits close to home and we hear
folks say how surprised they are that it happened in their
We tend to ignore the seeds of violence. We tend to let things
slide until they are critical and then we pay attention to them.
We tend to think that violence won't happen in our neighborhood or
in our family or our extended family of friends. But if I asked,
I'm sure that everyone here has some personal knowledge of
violence in their lives. I don't mean just murder or killing, but
also domestic violence, not just physical but verbal abuse as
well; or violence done to the body-like anorexia or bulimia, or
self mutilation, or an addiction of some sort whether food or sex
or drugs; or sexual violence like rape or child molestation; or
suicide or vehicular violence where someone is seriously injured
or killed through negligence on someone's part; or someone killed
in a war like one of the world wars or Korea or Viet Nam or the
Persian Gulf or Afghanistan or Iraq.
We have all had our lives touched by violence of some kind.
Taken all together it seems so overwhelming that we become
immobile, victimized. That is, as a victim we feel helpless.
Victims are people that things happen to and they can see no way
out, can see no recourse to help them out of their situation.
Someone who gets robbed is a victim; someone who thwarts a robber
from robbing them is not seen as a victim.
We are not victims. As Christians we are NEVER victims. We may
see ourselves that way, but we are NOT victims. There is ALWAYS
something you can do, some action you can take so that you are not
overwhelmed and immobilized by the violence that is happening in
the world. You are equipped by Christ and empowered by the Holy
Spirit so that you are never a victim.
For every act of violence there are a dozen or more acts of
kindness and compassion that happen. You listen to a thirty
minutes of TV news and you are given a particular negative picture
of the world. Yet, in just one minute, one minute there are
literally MILLIONS of acts of love, kindness, compassion that
happen around the world. Yet we choose to believe that the world
is a negative place.
That is NOT what Jesus equipped us to believe. He showed us
love, he taught us about love and compassion and giving and
forgiving. We are, each one of us, equipped to do, to accomplish
In the face of violence, whether personal or whether you hear
about it on the news or read about it in newspapers or magazines,
you are equipped to accomplish acts of NON-violence. And that is
what we are called to do in order to change the world.
It starts with you and me. For every act of violence you hear
or read about, you should take action by purposely completing some
act of love, compassion, sharing, giving, forgiving; some act of
kindness, encouragement, support, which includes prayer.
Jesus was born to bring light into a world of violence and
darkness. We have been given the mandate to carry on his work.
Through Christ in us, we are the light of the world-Scripture
tells us that specifically. JESUS tells us that. We are the hope,
the peace, the joy. Christ is born in us each day and the Holy
Spirit gives us the guidance and strength and power to accomplish
such acts of non-violence that will bring about peace and joy;
that will increase the love and hope in the world.
Don't spread hopelessness. Don't spread negativity. That isn't
what you were created to do. Many people search for what purpose
it is that they were created. We are created first to love. That's
first. If you start with that the rest of what you specifically
were created to do will become clear.
But people are not willing to start there-start with loving.
Why? Because they must love themselves and many folks don't. They
must love their neighbor as themselves, and they don't know how to
love themselves. Or some folks don't want to risk loving others
for fear of being rejected. Some don't want to love because they
would rather hold a grudge. That's easier (even though extremely
unhealthy for them) to do than to give up a grudge. We so often
LIKE being the victim that we hold on to that grudge to garner the
sympathy, the attention of others.
But my friends, we are created first to love-love God, love
ourselves, love others. Love creates acts of kindness and
compassion, acts of giving and forgiving. The way to counter
violence in the world is to increase love and positive action.
Try it. Every time you hear or read of or experience some act
of violence, counter it with a positive act of kindness or
compassion, or giving or sharing or forgiving; some act of
kindness, encouragement, support, prayer. Every such act of yours
has a positive, cumulative effect on the quality of the world.
Your act of love does NOT stop with the person with whom you
interact, but has a ripple effect. You can never know how many
lives you touch with just one act of kindness or compassion.
So, this may be a "Bloody Sunday" of Scripture readings, but it
gives you and me the opportunity now, having heard about four acts
of violence in Scripture, to implement that which we have been
equipped with-to accomplish at least four positive acts today-of
kindness or compassion, or giving or sharing or forgiving or
encouragement or support. And back them all up with prayer.
You have the light of Christ in you. Christ is born anew in you
every day. You have the blood of Christ in you. You are blood
brothers and sisters with Christ. You are equipped. You are
In the name of Christ, and in the Spirit of Christmas go-be-do.