Pastor Walter Mitty had already decided he was going to use the “blessed are the peacemakers” text for his sermon on Sunday. After all, it would be the day before Veterans Day, and wasn’t Jesus against war and all in for peacemaking?
The problem, he realized, is that when it comes to war, he didn’t know what he was talking about. He knew a lot of theology and could read the Sermon on the Mount in the original Greek, but he had never known what it was like to have someone on the other side trying to kill him.
He knew he was all for peacemaking in the abstract, but when he tried to write his sermon earlier this morning, he discovered he was unable to say anything with any kind of authority because he had never actually been there.
What’s more, he didn’t know anyone who had been in the military, let alone in combat, so he did what any modern person would do. He went to the Historical Buzz, Bernie Rolvaag’s coffee shop, and got online to hear the real story.
One thing he discovered right away was that he wasn’t alone in having no firsthand experience with combat. The first site he opened reported that only 1 percent of the U.S. population will ever serve in the military and a small percentage of those who do serve will ever experience combat.
“No wonder I don’t know what I’m talking about,” Mitty thought, “and most of the people who opine on the subject don’t know what they’re talking about either.”
He wasn’t old enough to remember Kent State, the Vietnam War protests or how returning vets were allegedly called baby killers, but he had seen enough documentaries and interviews to know that veterans sometimes get blamed for the wars they serve in.
“Are you OK?” asked Bernie Rolvaag as he came by to top off his friend’s coffee. “Are you upset about something or just deep in thought?”
“All of the above,” Mitty said, sighing.
“So, what’s going on?”
Glad for the chance to talk out his internal conflict, he replied, “Next Monday is Veterans Day, and I decided to preach on the issue of war and peace, but I realized I don’t know what to say. Can you imagine Jesus pointing an AK47 at anyone? On the other hand, everybody seemed to rejoice that Abu Bakr or whatever his name is got killed by our special forces. Bernie, how do you fit those two together?”
Bernie put the coffee pot down on the table, thought a minute and replied, “I have part of an answer.”
Mitty raised his eyebrows.
“As you know, Walt, the early Christians were pacifists. They did not rebel violently against the Romans like the Maccabees did but they didn’t enlist in the Roman legions either. They were persecuted by the empire and went to their deaths as martyrs praying for their enemies.”
Mitty nodded and said, “That’s part of what I’m struggling with.”
“What happened,” Bernie continued, “is that 300 years after Jesus declared, ‘blessed are the peacemakers,’ Constantine became the Roman emperor, declared Christianity the state religion and overnight Christians found themselves stuck with the responsibility of having political power, and a hundred years after that the church formulated the Just War Theory, trying to somehow resolve what seems to be an intellectual contradiction.”
“That is a problem,” said Mitty, remembering one of his pastor colleagues declaring that when Christians pursue power, they lose Jesus.
“It sure is,” the owner of History/Herstory continued. “They could no longer get away with hiding behind pacifism. They now were in charge of protecting citizens against criminals and defending the empire against its enemies.”
“So how does that help me figure out what to say in my sermon on Sunday?”
“I guess it doesn’t,” Bernie admitted, “but at least it gives some context for your struggle.”
“Thanks for nothing,” said Mitty with a sigh, then a smile. “At least you helped me get my head on straight. Now the issue becomes how far does Jesus want us to go in bringing his kingdom to earth.”
“Yeah,” Bernie added. “Like would Jesus have encouraged us to be pacifists when Hitler was in the process of exterminating six million of his chosen people?”
“At the same time,” asked Mitty, “what would he say about us dropping nukes on Nagasaki and Hiroshima?”
The friends sat in silence for several minutes.
Finally, Bernie sat down in the chair next to his friend and asked, “Are those soldiers who served in the German army during World War II going to hell because they fought for the Third Reich believing they that were just doing their patriotic duty?”
After another long pause, Pastor Walt laughed and said, “Here I come to your shop, pay way too much for a cup of coffee, and all you give me is more questions!”
On the way home, the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church asked himself the difficult question: “Was he willing to tell his people on Sunday that he didn’t know the answers to all of their — and his — questions?”