Left Justified: Preaching on July 4th

As the director of Rockford Urban Ministries, I get invited to explain the program to its contributors, most of whom are United Methodist churches in northern Illinois. This Sunday, July 4, I’ve been asked to preach in Polo IL at the United Methodist Church, except they will be in a park. This is their annual Polo outdoor church service and picnic. They will be joined by three other congregations.

They asked me to deliver the sermon, which I am more than happy to do. I want to talk about the “patriotism of Jesus” and how some so-called patriots use Jesus to justify their wars. I believe Jesus is a pacifist and abhors all wars because he is a patriot of the world. I think God calls us to act in a more compassionate manner, to heal the wounds of this world, not to inflict more. Truly, in all major religions, God wants us to be just, merciful, compassionate and love our neighbor as we like ourselves (and if you don’t like yourself, that doesn’t give you an excuse to beat up on your neighbor).

I don’t want to get tarred and feathered and carried out on a rail there in Polo, but I want to speak about what I believe, that Jesus is a pacifist, loves us all dearly, and doesn’t want us to bash each others’ skulls in. Granted, the majority of the church participants will be United Methodists, who are well known for welcoming practically anyone to their pulpit, listening politely, and then inviting the speaker to a potluck. Their communion is sometimes a green bean casserole.

During times of war, though, people may be more impassioned, especially when their children are carrying guns in a strange land. So I want to frame my beliefs in my experiences (which is a very Wesleyan thing to do). As a Vietnam veteran, I saw the horrors of war, and that’s what turned me against it. It wasn’t until I read the Bible that I truly believed Christians are supposed to be pacifists. And when I went on overseas mission trips to Bosnia, the Middle East and Colombia, I felt the call that there is a better way of bringing about justice in the world than through the barrel of a gun.

It was in Sarajevo, sitting with a group of Bosnian war veterans, that I was confronted with the same feeling, that war is wrong, even though sometimes it’s necessary, and perhaps it’s the veteran who can find a way toward peace.

In Columbia, when we American peace activists visited a small village, the people were happy to see us because they knew the chances of them being attacked decreased. I learned we can put our bodies on the line to protect other people’s lives. Finally, on a street in Gaza, I met Christian Peacemakers who were living with Palestinians, trying to make peace with Israel.

So, America, there is a better way—one that may get as many of our people killed but probablly save more lives in the long run. We just have to figure out how to bring about a more peaceful world, listen to the other side, and do justice first. I hope I can put this all in a sermon, and it will last less than 10 minutes. You have a happy Fourth of July, no matter what you are doing.

You are welcome to join me this Sunday, July 4, in the Polo City Park on Oregon Street, south east of the intersection of highways 26 and 52. The service starts at 10:30 a.m. and will be followed by a potluck picnic. As I was told, when you come into Polo, the park is in the southeast quadrant, and you go east at the Citgo gas station. I am going to be there a little early to make sure I don’t get lost, but after all, how big is Polo anyway?

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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