From the Letter of Jude:
You, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; for they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Jude 1:17-23 (NRSV) – December 22, 2012.)
Sort of buried in Jude’s moralizing about false teachers and those who follow them is an Advent message: “Look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” As I’ve been saying pretty consistently throughout the season, here and in my sermons, Advent is not so much about celebrating the birth of Jesus, wherever it was and whenever it was about 2,000 years ago, as it is about getting ready for his return, the parousia as seminary-educated folks like to say.
It’s kind of humorous that Jude’s letter with its warning about “worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions” and others for whom we are to have mercy mixed with fear “hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies” should come up today. Yesterday, a lot of those very people were running around convinced the world was going to end because of the Mayan long calendar. It didn’t, we and they are still here . . . and don’t they have egg on their faces (or defilement on their tunics, as Jude might have said).
It is humorous, but it’s also a warning to us that Jude was right. We can be led astray by false and outlandish teachings. In the days since the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, there have been a lot of people saying a lot of things, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t. And some who should know better have been saying things about the use of violence to curb violence. Even before the NRA’s spokesman yesterday suggested putting armed guards in every school (an idea I find repugnant), I heard Christian clergy suggest the same thing, or some variation on it (such as arming our school teachers).
I don’t want to get into the politics of gun control or the history and meaning of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. (Well . . . I do, but not here.) What I do want to suggest is that those clergy are not building themselves or other church members up on our most holy faith; I suggest that their teaching is false. As I understand the Christian faith, it is not about meeting violence with violence. The One whom we name “Prince of Peace” gave these instructions to his followers: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31) No matter how much I try, I cannot make those admonitions into any sort of support for taking up guns, for arming teachers, for adding to the surfeit of firearms already present in our culture.
Every Sunday, I end the Mass with these words from my parish’s patron saint: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:12,14-18,21)
So far as it depends on me to live peaceably with all, the one thing I cannot do is arm myself nor recommend that others be armed nor countenance those recommendations from others. The words I leave out of Paul’s encouragements to the Christians in Rome include these: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’” (Rom. 12:19-20) I cannot guarantee that I will never avenge myself, but I can take a step in that direction by not preparing in advance to do so.
I know that I have friends and parishioners who disagree with me and with our church’s official teaching on this point (which is in favor of strict gun regulation). I believe they are wrong, but I know they hold their views for what they believe to be good reasons. I can only hope they know the same of me and that we can come to some consensus in our country that honors all points of view and that, at the end of it all, at the parousia we will all “stand without blemish in the presence of God’s glory with rejoicing.” (Jude 1:24)
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.