War or Baptism

Preacher: Nathan Hosler

Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17

Last Sunday we changed our church sign to “No War with Iran.” It is clear we are opposed to war with Iran. This statement is, however, rather limited. The Church of the Brethren’s stance is much stronger. It has more bite and less agreeable. It is simply “No War.” No participation, no affirmation. But it isn’t simply an opposition to war since it is so horrible, which it is, but a following Jesus into the teeth of the assumptions of power and dominance that are thought to determine reality. Not merely a political platform, slogan or t-shirt (though these are welcomed) but a call to embrace nonviolence and injustice and complacency. It is a joyful shout—Christ is the Prince of Peace, Hallelujah! The Prince of Peace has come!

It is praying and working towards the vision of the prophet Isaiah in when weapons are beaten into farming tools. With Christ war has been abolished (Hauerwas). Not only war but even death has been overcome as the Apostle Paul has proclaimed. So, while there may be those who disagree or challenge a strategy that we take, the basic premise has been well considered and reaffirmed through mutual discernment.

The 2013 Church of the Brethren Resolution on Drone Warfare reiterates and quotes earlier statements. “The Church of the Brethren follows the teaching and example of Jesus Christ, whose willingness to die was unaccompanied by a willingness to kill. In line with our Brethren heritage, we believe “that war or any participation in war is wrong and entirely incompatible with the spirit, example and teachings of Jesus Christ,” (1918 Statement of Special Conference of the Church of the Brethren to the Churches and the Drafted Brethren) and that all “war is sin…[and that we] cannot encourage, engage in, or willingly profit from armed conflict at home or abroad. We cannot in the event of war, accept military service or support the military machine in any capacity,” (1934 Annual Conference Resolution on Peace and Goodwill). We seek to live this belief through working for peace in our communities and opposing violence in all forms.”

It is ironic that in the week surrounding Epiphany we, and by we, I mean the American military and government, would assassinate and then get perilously close to a hot war with Iran. I say ironic because on Monday is marked as the coming of the Maggie, the 3 wisemen, to worship baby Jesus. Tradition has it that these travelers were from Persia. In the week marking a peaceful diplomatic mission to celebrate the Prince of Peace we also faced war with Iran.

Isaiah speaks and alludes to a multifaceted peace. Such peace is not limited to the absence of hot war—that of missiles and ground invasions—but requires well-being and justice. In this we didn’t end the week in peace. As a peace church-based policy person asserted on a call this week, the new economic sanctions are an act of war.

In addition to being opposed to war this week…we also mark the baptism of Jesus. A serene act that seems worlds apart from threats and war making and frantic preparations. We read in

Matthew of Jesus coming down to the river to be baptized by John. The river is Jordan. John has been down by the river baptizing—crowds are coming as a sign of repentance. The scene is idyllic and there is a revival going on. Even the religious leaders—about whom John is suspicious—come down. In challenge to them he proclaims that the act of repentance must be followed by good works. While the physical act of entering the water has an internal and spiritual function this change must be demonstrated in good deeds. He says the ax is at the root of trees that do not produce good fruit. The repentance embodied in baptism must have concrete and tangible results.

In Acts we read of expansion of the community outside the Jewish community. The Apostle Peter begins by saying “I truly understand that God shows no partiality” and concludes asserting, “All prophets testify about [Jesus] that everyone believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Participation in Christ is open to all who desire it. We are not forced but all are welcome.

Jesus, though not in need of repentance, enters the waters of baptism. The Church of the Brethren and baptism are closely connected with the initiation of the church as an act of baptism. It was a central topic of discussion by early leaders. Baptism is into Christ’s death. The going under the water is a form of burial to old self and raised to new life. Forward as a sign of humility and 3 times because of the Trinity. It is an outward sign of an inward change.

This act is central to being part of being a follower of Jesus and the Church of the Brethren. This was a radical defiance to state and church powers. It was subversive and dangerous. It indicated that loyalties were elsewhere. This challenged State dominance by incorporating into the Body of Christ. It reorients—the nation is not primary, nor career, nor even family.

We are welcomed into the Body of Christ. We participate in the death, resurrection, and work of Christ. We are emboldened to forgive and be forgiven, to resist violence and build peace. In all this we are empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit. Hallelujah, the Prince of Peace has come!

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