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But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
–1 Peter 2:9
Threats by North Koreans to attack neighboring countries and the United States prompted international debate about the rationality of North Korean leader, Kim Jung Un. Closer to home, the bombings in Boston prompted a similar discussion about the rationality of two young men, one a teenager, who attacked Boston Marathon participants–men, women and children. Senseless acts of violence.
Evil is senseless and afflicts society and confounds the Church. When evil produces outbursts such as those in Boston, Christians offer consolation to the victims, and more often than not, lament the acts as senseless and irrational. When evil afflicts the Church within, it often goes unnoticed. It grows and festers with impunity.
Less celebrated evil presents itself as sensible, even reasonable. This low-profile evil works quietly over time and finds a willing host where it can breed and grow. It may take years, even decades, to manifest itself. This evil, this evil that incubates within the host, is the most insidious and most dangerous.
The Church combats such evil by the faithful preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. The Word and Sacraments offer life to the Church when afflicted by evil within. Without such means, the Church surrenders to evil and rots and decays until it is no more a Church but a spiritual corpse.
Preaching Christ’s atoning work is the Church’s life-saving message for the world; its special calling. Anything else accommodates evil; tolerates the discomfort, and leaves the world without hope. This accommodation is sin at its worst for it not only is self-destructive, it is the manifestation of hopelessness.
Evil will remain until our Lord returns in glory. Whether evil explodes on the world or resides dormant within, it is the Church that offers the sure and certain final victory. Let the Church carry out its work faithfully that sinners would be brought to life, delivered from evil, and from sin, death, and hell.
May God in Christ bless and keep the Church. Amen.
LCMS Chief Mission Officer
Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ “For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:31-34
Sequestration. noun \ˌsē-kwəs-ˈtrā-shən, ˌse-; (ˌ)sē-ˌkwes-\
1 the act of SEQUESTERING : the state of being SEQUESTERED – a jury in sequestration
2 a: a legal writ authorizing a sheriff or commissioner to take into custody the property of a defendant who is in contempt until the orders of a court are complied with
Until February 2013, I rarely heard the word “sequestration;” perhaps, I heard it a dozen times or so. And then, it was used in the context of legal matters. Since February, I have heard it countless times on radio, television, and internet outlets.
“Sequestration,” since February, has been the harbinger of government doom and gloom. Broadcasters used it to warn of pending government shutdowns, loss of health care, loss of civil services, and the loss of jobs for some folks. It almost took on an Armageddon-like meaning.
Many were, and are, anxious about the future of the US government’s ability to provide protections, services, and support for citizens. I, too, wondered what the consequences of “sequestration” would be. I am still waiting for the effects in my personal life. I suppose most of you are, too.
I find it easy to listen to the world. The message is very enticing. After all, I am a human being. I need health care; I need various government services; I am planning for retirement. All these things matter to me. So, I quickly grow anxious about the world’s concerns.
In the midst of anxious moments, God calls me back to His reality. His reality is not limited to government plans and programs or the whims of lawmakers, for that matter, it is not limited to space and time. His reality is rooted in the work of Christ. That work is about the reality of sin and the reality of His grace.
So, “sequestration” may cause a bit of anxiety; let not your hearts be troubled. Christ Jesus knows that we are but frail, anxious folk — fearful, weak sinners — and for us He died. He answered the cries of our anxious longings once and for all. Let the covenant that He made with you in baptism sustain you through every worry of mind, body, and soul. Amen.
Gregory K. Williamson
Chief Mission Officer – LCMS
The Fifth Commandment
You shall not murder.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.
The recent murders in Connecticut have spawned debates about the growing violence within American society. Debates include gun control, mental health, school security, and parental responsibility. Most experts recommend action by local, state, or federal governments to better secure our society—legislate new laws to protect our children, more aggressive intervention for the emotionally disturbed, more oversight by social welfare agencies, but few, if any, have addressed the acts of murder as a moral and spiritual problem.
Simply put, the experts do not include sin and the old nature. The Bible records the first murder in Genesis chapter 4, “And Cain talked about Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” Not long into mankind’s history do we encounter murder, and not much has changed.
The old nature’s inclinations are close at hand every moment of every day. Scriptures exhort the wise to flee temptation; yet, to flirt with sin is titillating and stimulates the worst within us. Even those who do not process evil from a Christian perspective recognize the danger of a society that inoculates itself to violence and stimulates the passions within by vicarious means.
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society,” writes in 1996,
In video arcades children stand slack jawed but intent behind machine guns and shoot at electronic targets that pop up on the video screen. When they pull the trigger the weapon rattles in their hand, shots ring out, and if they hit the “enemy” they are firing at, it drops to the ground, often with chunks of flesh flying in the air.
Grossman goes on to say,
This new “pseudo reality” will make it possible to replicate all the gore and violence of popular violent movies, except now you are the one who is the star, the killer, the slayer of thousands.
He concludes by saying,
That force [innate rebellion against killing] has existed in man throughout recorded history, and military history can be interpreted as a record of society’s attempt to force its members to overcome their resistance in order to kill more effectively in battle.
Following the massacre in Connecticut, Lt. Col. Grossman shared his concerns about the desensitizing of our society to violence via movies, television, and video games. I, for one, appreciate his call for less violence within the media; however, what Grossman fails to see is what faith reveals. That is, the innate force within mankind is not rebellion against killing; but, on the contrary, the old nature seeking to satisfy bloodlust.
Without God’s intervention there would be no moments of safety, peace, and tranquility; rather, the constant world state would be violence, murder, and massacre. No human laws, ordinances, or constraints can check this “old Adam.” This is the tragic plight of humanity without the gracious intervention of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Another soldier, General Douglas MacArthur, references this innate propensity to violence and war in his speech at the surrender of the Japanese on September 2, 1945 and again in his farewell speech to congress April 19, 1951 where he said,
Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. . . . The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature and all material and cultural developments of the past two thousand years, It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.
MacArthur points to a solution to war and violence that is spiritual, a spiritual “recrudescence.” More precisely, and from a Lutheran understanding, it is only through the atoning work of Christ and the renewing of the Spirit that any has hope. This hope was given to us through the waters of Baptism where we were clothed with the righteousness of Christ—a true spiritual renewal.
In a society desensitized by violence, it behooves Christians to walk circumspectly, not in accordance with the wisdom of this world, but by faith. As St. Paul writes to the Colossians,
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
–Gregory K. Williamson
Chief Mission Officer – LCMS
 Lt. Col. David Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, 1st ed., (New York: Back Bay Books; Little, Brown and Company, 1996) 314.
 Ibid., 316.
 Ibid., 332.
 General Douglas MacArthur, “Surrender Ceremony Speech,“ U.S.S. Missouri, Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945, Radio broadcast to the world following the formal surrender of the Japanese.
 Colossians 3:15-18.
October 7th was the Commemoration of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg who many consider the father of American Lutheranism and the most influential German-American in colonial American history. Given the current cultural/religious environment, I thought that I would share my contributions to a formal response to an article written by a former United States Military Academy professor of philosophy, Dr. Tim Challans.
Three years ago I wrote the following to a fellow chaplain who sent a formal response to Military Review. I encourage readers to listen to Pastor Gerecke’s audio tapes.
Dr. Tim Challans’ article, “Leading Our Leaders,” Military Review, Sep-Oct 09, identifies religion, religious leaders and Army chaplains as inappropriately engaged in matters of policy, moral leadership, ethics, military regulations, and counseling. Dr. Challans asserts that chaplains are only retained for, “services to service members . . .” and questions the necessity for any type of chaplaincy in contemporary America.
There are several facts that Dr. Challans may want to review. There are about 6.5 billion people in the world. Of that 6.5 billion, about 5.6 billion believe in God as represented in a variety of religions[i]. The US has a somewhat higher percentage of God believers at about 92%[ii]. As an example of religious demographics, the Roman Catholic Church has about 75 million adherents in the US and about 1.1 billion worldwide.
Policy makers including President Obama[iii] and past Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright[iv], are acutely aware of religious influence in private, national and international affairs. Most obvious to strategists is the current engagement in the Global War on Terrorism. They posit that victory is possible via an ideological counter to extremism[v].
Historians find this of no surprise. Religious leaders have influenced culture, society and governance for millennia. A cursory overview of world history will include more than a few references to religion and religious leaders. Some are noted for their inhumanity (the Inquisition); others for their societal changes (Reformation) while others still for their convictions and sacrifice (Masada).
Sun Tzu reminds the military strategist that to defeat your advisory one most know yourself and your enemy[vi]. Applying this principle to our current engagement would include understanding our adversary’s cultural and religious values as well as our own. One may reasonably conclude that strategic leaders must include religion and religious influences as they develop policy.
This is no radical or new idea. For instance, the West has a long-standing tradition of military engagement shaped by what is called “Just War Theory,” a moral value adopted from the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo, a 4th Century Christian theologian. Many, if not most, western ethicists assert that St. Augustine’s principles for military engagement remain applicable in the 21st Century.
Although some argue, as does Dr. Challans, that chaplains/clergy ought remain in their religious lanes providing religious services, there is ample evidence indicating that religious leaders have rightfully engaged in a variety of human activities in order to manifest the divine will in society. Dr. Challans sites Al-Qaeda as one such religious organization. I propose that there are counters to such an understanding of God. For instance, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa and Albert Schweitzer made significant contributions beyond the narrow confines of “religious services;” yet, few regard their activities as inconsistent with true compassion rooted in religious convictions and beliefs.
Whether or not the facts of the conference in Florida are accurately stated by Dr. Challans is for others to answer; however, the Army chaplain corps has consistently respected the religious beliefs of others including our enemies. One such example is from the Nuremberg Trials. The Army sent Chaplain Henry Gerecke[vii] to minister to the men on trial for war crimes. Chaplain Gerecke faithfully ministered to these men who had so viciously waged war on the world.
The matters addressed by Dr. Challans are more about personal theology than about religion and influence. Most people in the world, and most Americans, believe in God. Their various understandings about God are expressed in a variety of ways and religious practices. Strategists who allow personal theology to cloud their world view are in danger of committing a fundamental error that Sun Tzu warns will lead to defeat. No matter how ardently one may bemoan the inappropriate role of religion and inappropriate roles of religious leaders, the reality remains.
Dr. Challans apparently refuses to accept this reality and proposes that, “we should push some of these rocks back uphill.” It seems that the rock he wishes to push is the very foundation stone for much of our nation’s core values including: education, law, health and healing and humanitarian well-being.
Rev. Gregory Williamson
Chief Mission Officer
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
[iii] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/us/politics/04obama.text.html?_r=1 President Obama’s Cairo Speech addresses the Muslim world requesting a new beginning. Apparently, the CINC believes that Islam has vital influence in statecraft and world affairs.
[iv] The Mighty and the Almighty, Madeleine Albright, 2006, Harper Collins Publishers, NY, NY.
[v] Bill Rammell, Minister to the UK Armed Forces, 3 AUG 09 Rammell: Defence contribution is crucial to UK counter-terrorism policy “However, he cautioned that there is no purely military solution to terrorism and that countering terrorism requires countering its financing, recruiting, communications and ideology – none of which can be done at the point of a gun” General David Petraeus, 13 AUG 09, Showing a diagram of counter terrorist strategy on the slide, General David Petraeus says that the Allied Forces needed “to challenge them for popular support, go after them, attack their ideology, disrupt their command and control, cut their links to senior leaders, reduce the flow of money available to them, take away their weapons cashes and explosives, cut the flow of foreign fighters.” In Iraq, the Coalition cut the support for terrorists from safe havens in Syria through this way. In Afghanistan, similar approaches are taken to cut supports from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Baluchistan in Pakistan.
[vi] Sun Tzu, The Art of War, 6th Century BC, “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”
[vii] http://www.stjohnchester.com/Gerecke/Gerecke.html. This site has audio recordings of Chaplain Gerecke’s experiences and ministry among the Nazi officials while they were on trial.
Popular therapists often refer to healthy families and healthy people as resilient. The notion finds fertile ground among corporations, the government and churches because it captures the idea of being able to withstand struggle and adversity. According to the American Psychological Association, “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.”
The Church calls pastors to Word and Sacrament ministries in order to nurture and sustain the men, women and children of their congregations. Pastors fulfill their callings by faithfully proclaiming the Gospel, administering the Sacraments and properly caring for their flocks. Every congregation is unique; yet, the common bond among them is the Word and the Sacraments.
Pastors proclaim the Word of Life in and out of season—personal struggles and needs are set aside for the sake of their flocks. Through their faithful preaching and teaching, parishioners grow in grace. Called to faith in Baptism, they grow “resilient” through ongoing Word and Sacrament ministry. This resilience is not merely a psychological ability to bounce back, but it is a spiritual growth and maturation in, by and through faith that hears the death knell of the law and seeks comfort in the righteousness of God through the atoning work of Jesus.
Bouncing back from adversity or difficulty is not a human endeavor, but it is the gift of God. God pronounces His forgiveness in the words of absolution proclaimed every Sunday, when pastors declare, “Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Such words are not only for the congregation, they are also for the called servants of the Word. Pastors may grow weary as they shepherd their flocks; yet, there is hope to bounce back but not by human endeavor. Rather, pastoral resilience is a gift of God, too.
Temptations abound to perform ministry by personal strength, intellect and persuasion. All such self-guided efforts lead to despair. There is hope, however. Resilient shepherds find consolation in the words of absolution, “. . . and for His sake forgives you all your sins.”
May every flock and every shepherd grow in resilience as they receive the forgiveness of sins and feast at the table of life.
“What is Resilience?” Copyright Information Online. n.d. http://psychcentral.com/lib/2007/what-is-resilience (accessed August 16, 2012).
 “Divine Service Setting One”. LSB, page 151