Saturday, December 15, 2012

Hell Breaks Through

The earth’s crust has broken open and hell has risen, sometimes we see it, most times we don’t; yesterday we saw it in Newtown, CT. The earth’s crust has broken in fissures around the globe; in some places it has erupted, it erupted yesterday in Newtown. The eruptions are becoming more frequent close to home, the eruptions have reached home.

The image of Centralia, PA comes to mind; a landfill fire on May 27, 1962 ignited an exposed coal seam and ever since then fire has burned beneath the town, driving most residents away. But when the entire sphere of the planet burns beneath us, when flames and sulfur belch across earth’s surface, where can we go?

The waters of the Atlantic and Pacific have long shielded us – first from two world wars, then from eruptions in places like the Balkans, Rwanda, Sudan, Cambodia and the Middle East. Children die in places like these in ones and twos and en masse but they are across the waters – those eruptions are far away…now the eruptions are at home. Atlantis is threatened – will it sink into the seas? Malignant cells are attacking a body with a sabotaged immune system – will the body survive?

The cancer patient is in denial, he says that he is only a bit under the weather. He says that this killer was mentally ill, that one should have been diagnosed, someone should have read that Facebook posting; the killers are one and all exceptions in our population. How many exceptions like this can a population afford to have?

We will look at Newtown as yet another dysfunction, the machine is not operating properly; as long as we are viewed as machines we need not engage in moral or ethical or spiritual critique – let’s keep the conversation framed in mechanics or biology or psychobabble. If we do engage in “faith talk” it will likely be in terms of a coping mechanism (there goes a mechanical word again).

Hell’s tentacles break through the earth’s surface wrapping themselves around our hearts and minds, depriving us of spiritual and moral and ethical oxygen…we are dying and don’t know it. In Dante’s Inferno the core of hell, the abode of Satan, is not pictured as a flaming cauldron but as deep frozen cold in which all has come to a standstill – those who have truly encountered evil know that evil is cold; it is not for nothing that we have the term “cold hearted”. Our land is freezing, the cold is numbing us – we cannot keep awake.

The cold has held our cities in its icy grip for decades, now it rises from beneath our malls and suburban schools, now it invades our churches and temples outside city boundaries; we cannot redline evil, there are no firewalls.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of a people who do not know the “way of peace” (Isaiah 59:8), and God is amazed that there is no intercessor among this people (Isaiah 59:16). Surely our nation does not know the way of peace, surely knowledge of that way has long departed from us (assuming we ever knew it). We may marvel at the brutality of the Roman Coliseum and assure ourselves that we would never countenance such violence; yet all the while language and images of violence drives our entertainment, our virtual reality games, our political speech, our business and economic thinking – violence is our sustenance and yet we are taken aback when it assumes “unacceptable” forms. We look for therapy in response to violence, we look to legislation, we look to education, we look to social programming and controls – we do not see ourselves as having colluded with hell.

Sad to say we cannot look to the church. The church is either wrapped up in itself looking for it’s best life now, interested in becoming a better you; or it is engaged in political rhetoric with a violent and disrespectful ethos; or it has eviscerated the Bible; or it has convinced itself that its expression of faith should be confined to the sphere of the private – we have locked the doors to our Christian ghetto. The church has sold its soul, it has sold that to which it does not have title...not if Jesus purchased her with His blood…we have thirty pieces of silver jingling in our pockets but unlike Judas we have no remorse.

Atlantis is sinking beneath the weight of sin and violence, the fissures of the earth are opening up, will no one show this world a better Way? Will not the church and the people of the church learn the way of the Prince of Peace, His way as He taught in the Sermon on the Mount, His way as He lived and died and rose again on this very planet? Will not we intercede with our lives, demonstrating a Kingdom of Peace in which the lion lies down with the lamb, where there is neither hurt nor destruction in all His holy mountain?

It takes more courage to turn the other cheek than to retaliate; it takes more faith to allow others to take advantage of us than to perpetrate violence on others. It takes more courage to lay our lives down than to take the lives of others. We are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5) and to sow the seeds of peace (James 3) in all the things we say and do. All of our Sunday morning peace huddles from 11:00 – noon mean nothing if we do not salt the world with peace.

For those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus let us consider how we can bring the peace of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, to our neighborhoods, our families, our workplaces, our churches, our political and social discourse, our conversations with those of other philosophical and religious persuasions, our places of play, our entertainments – let us seek to allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:15) as one people, for this is our calling.

Will we grieve with the people of Newtown to the point where it will make a difference in the way we live? Will we choose to live against the grain of the violence of society? Will we choose to join the Lamb on the altar of sacrifice?

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