Today is the second anniversary of the tragedy at Virginia Tech. I wrote a post about my thoughts on that day. Here is the text of the sermon that I wrote, that would have been preached the following Sunday (The text is Romans 5:1-11):
I began the exegetical work on this passage of Romans several weeks ago. During that process there were many deep theological concepts that arose in my study. The concept that struck me the most, the one that I felt was most appropriate for our current situation in our church, in our community, and in our world was the concept of reconciliation. I had all these great ideas and I felt the Spirit moving and I wish that I decided to right down those thoughts. Then…Monday happened.
Monday a confused, angry, and misguided young man made a decision that changed his family, his community, and our little bubble of a world…forever. He decided for himself that his community was incapable of reconciliation, he decided that the only way people could understand him would be to lash out and cause pain and hurt. Pain and hurt that he felt and he believed should be felt by others regardless of their part in his pain and suffering. In the end 33 lives were lost, 29 people were wounded, and countless others’ lives have been changed forever because of the lashing out of one angry young man.
To be honest, at this moment, right now I am having a hard time thinking about any kind of reconciliation. I am more worried about healing, shock, anger, retaliation, but reconciliation not now.
In our scripture for today we hear that we have been justified by faith, that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Those are comforting words but, the words that come to my mind are…yeah right. How can we have peace with God when our young people are not safe in their own classrooms, when our soldiers are being sent off to war, how can we have peace with God when reports of a bombing that kills 120 people in a market are pushed to page 10? How can we have peace with God when countless other tragedies happened every day that don’t invoke this kind of outrage? We don’t dawn ribbons or special colors for the innocent civilians killed in Iraq, when children starve to death in Africa, when our very own children don’t have adequate health care. Paul tells us to boast in our tribulations, knowing that they create endurance. If we are to listen to Paul then we are in for some serious boasting. Every day the media reports on another killing, another argument, another rift in our society. We are told to take heart our tribulations create endurance, our endurance character, our character hope. Right now hope is hard to come by.
It is easy to say that hope does not disappoint, but what does that look like on the ground. We hope that our troops will come home out of harms way, we hope that the growing and continued chasm between Israelis and Palestinians will one day be bridged, we hope that the divisions and schisms that are festering in our own denominations will be healed, we hope many things but sometimes there does not seem to be any hope to look to….
Then there is God pouring out God’s Holy Spirit; God, who reached out God’s love to us while we were still enemies, while we were still enemies. God who continually reaches out to us reconciling us to God, it is through the Holy Spirit given to us by God that we may one day achieve reconciliation.
Often times it is silent, it doesn’t get the media attention that the chasm gets but the reconciliation that can occur through the Holy Spirit is what binds us together as a community of believers with all the faithful of every time and place with God. As we speak our leaders are trying to put together a plan to bring our troops home at the same time they are taking seriously their role in the rebuilding and stabilization of Iraq. In Israel/Palestine there are organizations working for reconciliation. ESPN.com writer and assistant professor of conflict resolution at BYU-Hawaii Chad Ford tell us of a group in Israel/Palestine that is doing that hard work. A group called Playing for Peace, a group that’s goal is to bridge divides in polarized community through the game of basketball. PFP started work in Northern Ireland and South Africa in 2001, and then launched its program in Israel in 2005. Since its inception, PFP has coached 12,000 10- to 14-year-old Catholic and Protestant children in integrated settings in Northern Ireland, and taught basketball to 25,000 children in Durban, South Africa. In Northern Ireland and South Africa, basketball training is supplemented with programs that promote tolerance, ethnic sensitivity and community leadership training.
A 2005 study of the “Bridging Divides” program in South Africa, conducted by the Centre for Development Support at the University of the Free State, found that the majority of children exposed to PFP expressed fewer racial stereotypes compared to non-PFP children. A larger proportion of children who participated in PFP also were in favor of racial integration. The early conclusion is that PFP might have a winning model. But would it work in Israel?
Northern Ireland and South Africa are post-conflict societies. In Israel, things haven’t been this hot in years.
You’d expect it to be like this:
Khaled, 14, is supposed to be kneeling in a mosque, praying to the East five times a day. He’s from Issawiya, a gritty Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. At night, he sneaks out of the house and works by candlelight in a bombed-out factory, helping to build explosive devices for attacks on Israel or maybe the United States. His life is a palette of dust and dirt.
He prays that Allah will avenge him, will give him back the home, the life, the hope that his parents lost in 1967.
Hate is supposed to consume him. When he graduates from school, he’ll have no job, no prospects. His life is over before it begins. The script has been written. Just play the part and go to Allah in a blaze of fire and smoke, where 40 virgin brides await.
You’d expect it to be like this:
Pini, 14, is supposed to be going to school, getting a good Hebrew education. He’s from Bet Shemesh, an Israeli Jew from a poor suburb west of Jerusalem. He’ll serve in the Israeli military for two years, then go on to college. He’ll become a doctor, maybe a lawyer.
He prays at night that God will protect him, allow him to keep his home, the life, the hope his parents achieved in 1967.
Hate is supposed to consume him, too. Someday, he’ll build a three-bedroom house with a safe room in it. The walls of that room will be made of cinderblock, two feet thick, and guarded by a steel door and an Uzi on the bookshelf.
You’d never expect it to be like this:
Pini dribbles the basketball through his legs in a dimly lit high school gym in Shemesh. His defender stumbles, literally faked out of his yarmulke. As Pini penetrates to the basket, the defense collapses. Pini spins and finds Khaled with a perfect pass on the baseline.
Khaled rises from the court. His shot glides off his hand and through a crooked, netless rim. His arm above his head as he falls away, he turns and smiles. As he jogs back down the court, Pini raises his hand. With a little hop, Khaled jumps up and smacks it.
Two worlds collide, but there is no blood or charred soil. Glass and body parts aren’t littered throughout the scene just 50 Israelis and Palestinians cheering in the stands, playing on the court, coaching on the sidelines.
Trying to get along.
It is stories like this that lead us to hope. It is this hope that leads us to communication; it is this communication that leads us to understanding, and understanding that leads us to reconciliation.
My hope is that someday that all of those that are in conflict will look to the example that God has given us in Christ, he forgave us, justified us by his blood, even though we condemned him, we persecuted him, and through him we were reconciled to God. I know that reconciliation between our neighbors is difficult but we must take heart that we have been reconciled to God.
I wish that I could pass on some words of wisdom for the Blacksburg community, I wish I had some words of wisdom for our community. My only advice would be to talk about your feelings. Talk about your feelings to your friends, to your family, to me, to God, to your neighbors, but more than just talk…you should also listen, listen to the feelings of others. It is imperative in this time of uncertainty and doubt that we interact with one another. Sometimes those conversation will be hard, sometimes they will be uncomfortable, but they can always be helpful in developing endurance which increases character, which leads to hope. With Jesus the curtain was torn from top to bottom, God is available to us all and God is listening. God has reconciled us even though we were still enemies, let us learn from that and seek to be in dialogue with those who may be seen as our enemies and let us pray that through the Holy Spirit we will be able to reconciled to one another just as we have been reconciled to God.
To God alone be the glory in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 ESPN.com, “Hooping with the Enemy”; available from http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=playingforpeace; Internet; accessed 19 April 2007.