Bishop Aitken's Reflections
Violence and Jesus, the Total Overhaul
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son. Take away the arrogance and hatred that infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and, through our struggle and confusion, work to accomplish your purposes on earth; so that, in your good time, every people and nation may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne.
We are bombarded by continuous news releases of human produced violence: In Charleston South Carolina, Iran, France, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, small town America with its many after-hours shootings; drive-by or point blank, large city stabbings and shootings, boyfriends beating up girlfriends and killing their babies, people in the good old USA living out their ignorance, prejudice, fear, and hatred of an ever growing diverse America by shooting guns at innocent people. Violence as a way to solve problems has always been around. Today we seem obsessed with it to the point that we celebrate gratuitous violence on screen and in hand-held video "games" as we become more and more accustomed to understanding killing people as a way of life, even sport and entertainment.
God have mercy on us. Christ have mercy on us.
Lord have mercy on us.
When Jesus started preaching and teaching he used words like "The time is right, the Kingdom is at hand, repent and believe the good news". Repent literally means "go beyond the mind you have right now." His preaching was not and is not in vain. His words, remember, do not return empty, but instead bear fruit. Even in times that seem bereft of the good fruit of grace and love and peace. How can we take Jesus teaching seriously in our day? In our homes, in our work places, in our congregations? What can we do with his words in view of food, water, security, population problems and fearful fundamentalist "solutions"? How do you and I, Lutherans in the ELCA, deal with his powerful message, 'Go beyond the mindset you now have, turn and give your heart to God's Good News that heals the world'? (My paraphrase)
It's nice to think about Jesus. It's nice to dream about Jesus. It's nice to see films on Jesus and to have a picture of Jesus, even one embossed on our slick leather-esque bible covers. It's even nice to write JESUS on our walls and car bumpers but isn't all this still kind of insufficient, even odd - in light of the exploitation and murder of people around us - often, sadly, in the name of Jesus? Or God? Or Religion? What did he mean? What is he asking of us? What did he die for? What is he empowering us with week after week, in the Word proclaimed, in the Word eaten and drunk among us? Is it not a total change in the way we perceive our "problems" and our "solutions"? Did he not proclaim a total overhaul in the way we pray, live, and work with the Word he has already planted in us?
Prayer is necessary. It is the starting point, but not the end point. If we aren't wiling even to face our problems by starting out in prayer, we are not yet following him - because he modeled that very clearly himself. So I offer each congregation a prayer and litany resource below that can be downloaded and used in your worship life called "A Service of Repenting and Mourning" from our own ELCA resources.
Let us live into the Word, not merely around it.
+Bishop Thomas M. Aitken
Northeastern Minnesota Synod, ELCA
A Pastoral Letter on Violence - Conference of Bishops
A Service of Repentance and Mourning - Charleston, NC