"Bloody Sunday"

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 neighborhood.

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 those.

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 empowered.

In the name of Christ, and in the Spirit of Christmas go-be-do.


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