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Burn Them or Bless Them?

Before we get into our text for the week.

Baton Rouge Louisiana, St Paul Minnesota, Dallas Texas

Times when it’s very important that we respond well. We remember that people learn a lot about Christianity at times like this.

I believe we need to retrain ourselves on how to respond.

It’s so easy to be a Christian at church, it’s probably harder to NOT be a Christian in church.

And I feel like when crazy things happen in the world, too often Christians forget everything they’ve learned, and become exactly like the rest of the world. – We’re reactionary, we’re bigoted, we’re racist, perhaps worst of all, we’re unmerciful.

We can do better.


If you know me at all, you know that I am PASSIONATELY non-violent.

I believe the bible makes a pretty clear that violence is the way of the beast, and peace is the way of the lamb.

Violence begets violence begets violence betgets violence.

Phrase coined from the words of Jesus in the gospel of John when he says “”Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

“Violence begets violence…; hate begets hate; and toughness begets a greater toughness. It is all a descending spiral, and the end is destruction — for everybody. Along the way of life, someone must have enough sense and morality to cut off the chain of hate.” (MLKJ)

I believe that peace MUST be the goal for every Christian.

  • Because we follow the prince of peace.
  • Because Jesus rejected the warhorse and instead rode the ridiculous peace donkey.
  • Because Jesus rejected the sword and picked up the cross.
  • Because Jesus overcame his enemies by laying down his own life.
  • Because Jesus rejected eye-for-an-eye and instead insisted on turning the other cheek to be struck again and never retailiate.

Free are free to have different opinions on how to find peace. But for the goal to be anything other than peace is not an option.

One More – MLKJ Quote


I am not a republican.

I am not a democrat.

At this point in my life, I have all but washed my hands of this nations politics.

I believe they are two sides of the same coin. That is completely SEPARATE from the kingdom of God, which is where my true citizenship lies.

One of the things that I believe I’m called to do is to lead a ministry that reaches all types of people. Because people hold their political views higher than ANYTHING. And the world is so politically motivated right now that it’s become almost impossible for me to even have a political opinion at all. Because people hold their political views higher than ANYTHING.

20 years ago – Church = republican.

20 years ago, the church enjoyed this time where almost everyone in the church was republican.

So we were free to get right wing politics and Christianity and mix them together. So there was no need to separate religious and political view. And it made us feel really good about ourselves. Problem is, the church suffered and still suffers from that mistake.

So now there’s a new wave of pastors, myself included, and we realize that what the church of tomorrow is full of democrats, republicans, independents, green party, abstainers.

And there’s something bigger that unites us together than our politics.

All that to say that I am NOT coming from a politically motivated place at all.

Please do not be happy or disappointed when I either agree or disagree with your politics.

  • I don’t care about your politics.
  • I wish you cared less about your politics.
  • I wish you cared more about Jesus and less about politics.

The thing that set MLKJ apart from everybody else was not his keen ability to write snarky posts on the internet. He cared about people. It was his life.


It feels good to create a scapegoat. It’s the liberals, it’s the conservatives, it’s the blacks, it’s the whites, It’s blacklivesmatter, it’s the police.

Labeling is a lazy mans way of pretending you know more about a person than you actually do.

Your “Side” will tell you it’s simple when it’s not.

If we were to ask ourselves WHY this kind of stuff happens. We were all ultimately have to admit that it’s because of deep, systemic sin that has been a part of this nation for WAY too long.

Our response.

So if towing the party line is completely unacceptable for a Christian, and it is, what should our response be?


Mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

When Jesus came upon a tragedy – a family friend had died, his first response was to enter into their pain and to weep with those who were weeping.

Other people were bringing out judgement – Jesus and his bad timing and all this. But Jesus’s first response was to weep.

So our hearts break with those who are hurting. And we refrain from hurling more soundbites across the internet, we stop and we mourn.

And it’s not just those directly involved in the tragedies of this past week, there are people across the nation – black brothers and sister and our brothers and sisters that are police officers – living with their sense of safety removed. And our first response is we mourn with all those who are mourning. That’s our starting point.


Ask Yourself: In the midst of all of your processing of all of this, how long did it take you to pray? Did we pray at all?

So we mourn and we pray. We can do more than that of course. But not before we pray and mourn.

Part of what it means for us to be followers of Christ is that we see a world that can be different. And when other people see no hope, we show them hope.

(Prayer – St Francis)

Title: Burn Them or Bless Them?

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)

And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; (Luke 9:52)

but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. (Luke 9:53)

When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:54)

But Jesus turned and rebuked them. (Luke 9:55)

Then he and his disciples went to another village. (Luke 9:56)

We live in a world where competing religions and ideologies make competing truth claims.

The whole world is not Christian in religion.

Many of the religions make Absolute Truth claims.

Other religions will hold equally ABSOLUTE claims about the way the world works that are incompatible with our absolute claims.

What should our response be towards people who make Absolute Truth claims that contradict our Absolute Truth claims?

Do we burn them or do we bless them?

Before you rush to your answer, let me tell you that for Christians historically, this is not forgone conclusion.

In Luke 9 – “The samaritans”

In Luke 9 – The samaritans were religiously and ethnically similar to the jews. But samaritans were ultimately different in ethnicity and religion.

Similar to modern day Israelis and Palestinians.

Disciples assumed that Jesus shared their animosity. Yes they knew Jesus was teaching peace and love and all that, but they thought ‘Well certainly he’s talking about within our own community’ He’s not talking about to ‘them’.

So Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem for a passover festival and they pass by a samaritan village.

The samaritans don’t welcome them, because they know they’re going to jerusalem and cerebrating a jewish festival.

This is one of their disputes.

Jews believed that the center of worship was jerusalem, and the samaritans believed is the mountains of samaria.

So when they see that these guys are going to jerusalem to celebrate passover they’re basically saying ‘heretics!’ and they refuse to let them in.

James & John

James and John – Jesus nicknamed them the sons of thunder. – Fiery dudes.

Well when they’re refused hospitality on religious grounds, they think of Elijah in the Old Testament. Who called fire down from heaven to burn people up.

So they believed they had biblical right to using violence on religious, national, and ethnic enemies.

“Elijah did it, so we can do it.”

But surprisingly (to them) Jesus instead rebukes them.

“You have no idea how dark your heart has become. I didn’t come to destroy lives but to save lives.”

What attitude should we have towards people of other religions and worldviews when we know their religion or worldview is in direct opposition to Christian Absolute Truth?

We can’t cave on what we believe. We can’t say “Well basically all religions are the same.” No they’re not. So we don’t say that.

Does being on the right side of Absolute Truth justify violence in attitude or even action?

If we look to the bible, specifically certain parts of the Old Testament, the answer seems to be ‘yes’.

You can find passages in the Old Testament that seem to say that being on the right side of Absolute Truth justifies violence.

But if we listen to Jesus, and let his words reign supreme, the answer is ‘no’.

So there is a ‘tension’ in the bible between certain passages of the Old Testament and what Jesus does.

What are we to do with that?

Here’s a statement that clears it up for up: The Old Testament takes us on a long journey that leads to Jesus. And we have not arrived at Absolute Truth until we arrive at Jesus.

So we could say it like this: We don’t arrive at Absolute Truth with Moses, or David, or Elijah.

It’s part of the journey. But we haven’t arrived yet.

Instructs our relationship – stories.

And that instructs our relationship with those stories.

We value them for what they are, and we don’t take them for what they’re NOT.

Elijah is not Jesus. Moses is not Jesus.

Elijah the Tishbite.

Irritable, sometimes, violent, depressed.

At one point we find him curled up under a bush praying that God would kill him.

He’s a loner. Amazing prophet.

But you wouldn’t want to hang out with him, but it wouldn’t matter cuz he wouldn’t want to hang out with you either.

2 Kings 1

King of Samaria, who Elijah did NOT like.

Suffered a fall and was injured, and he wanted to know what was to become of him.

He knew Elijah was a prophet.

Wanted Elijah to come and tell him what his fate would be.

So he sends a captain and 50 soldiers to go get Elijah and bring him to the King.

They find Elijah, sitting on a hill.

Captain “Oh man of God, this is the kings order, come down quickly.”

Elijah : “If I’m a man of God, let fire come down and burn up you and your 50.”

BOOM! Probably the closest thing we have to a bomb coming from heaven.

Gets another captain with another 50 soldiers to get Elijah. Same thing: Sitting on a hill. “Oh man of God, quick is the kings order, come down quickly.” Elijah “If I’m a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and burn up you and your 50.” BOOM!

King tries again

3rd captain, 3rd group of 50.

3rd captain is a little nervous about the mission.

He doesn’t repeat the speech.

Begs for mercy.

Elijah softens – King – “You’re gonna die.” – And the king does die.

Back to James and John

This is the story that inspired them to call down fire on the samaritans.

Elijah brought down fire to kill a captain and his 50 soldiers TWICE.

People were of a different religion, and a different view of Absolute Truth, different world view. So why not?

The suggest it to Jesus, and he doesn’t just say ‘no’, he rebukes them. He said they were of a wrong spirit.

They believe that Jesus is willing to resort to violence and of course they’re wrong.

Why was this the wrong move?

B/C Elijah – not – end of the story – Jesus is.

Which is why I’m so mystified by people who try to model their lives by people who came before Jesus.

Here’s what I think is interesting: James and John had other options to choose from in the Old Testament.

For Example: They could have chosen Elisha.

You know Elisha right. And he Elijah’s successor. And the bible says he got a double portion of Elijah

Elisha also had an encounter with an army that was trying to take him away.

Here’s that story : 2 Kings 6

Israel and Syria were at war.

Elisha was a prophet, and because of that he had ‘foreknowledge’ of the movements of the enemy syrian armies.

So he’s tell the Israelite king : “Don’t send you troops over here send them here instead.”

So Israel was able to avoid the great military might of Syria because of the prophet Elisha.

Eventually the King of Syria finds out what’s going on. That Elisha is doing this.

Sends an army (don’t know how many) – Where Elijah lives (Dothan)

Whole army go get one man, he was so important.

Arrive in Dothan and surround Elisha’s house.

2 Kings 6:15-23

When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15)

“Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” (2 Kings 6:16)

Then Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” The LORD opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire. (2 Kings 6:17)

As the Syrian army advanced toward him, Elisha prayed, “O LORD, please make them blind.” So the LORD struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked. (2 Kings 6:18)

Then Elisha went out and told them, “You have come the wrong way! This isn’t the right city! Follow me, and I will take you to the man you are looking for.” And he led them to the city of Samaria. (2 Kings 6:19)

As soon as they had entered Samaria, Elisha prayed, “O LORD, now open their eyes and let them see.” So the LORD opened their eyes, and they discovered that they were in the middle of Samaria. (2 Kings 6:20)

When the king of Israel saw them, he shouted to Elisha, “My father, should I kill them? Should I kill them?” (2 Kings 6:21)

“Of course not!” Elisha replied. “Do we kill prisoners of war? Give them food and drink and send them home again to their master.” (2 Kings 6:22)

So the king made a great feast for them and then sent them home to their master. After that, the Syrian raiders stayed away from the land of Israel. (2 Kings 6:23)

So there was peace.

Elisha didn’t burn up his enemies like Elijah did. Instead Elisha blessed them.

Israel’s enemies were given a feast and sent home unharmed.


So why didn’t James and John use that story as inspiration? They’re both in the bible.

Because the Elijah story agreed with the hatred in their hearts.

They immediately go to “Do you want us to burn them up?!”

Why didn’t they say “Do you want us to make dinner for them?”

Which of those two options are more the style of Jesus?

Killing those outside the truth, or eating with them?

So the question is this: “Do we burn them or bless them?”

The answer is undoubtedly “We bless them.”

Romans 12:14-16

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. (Romans 12:14)

Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! (Romans 12:16)

“I could be wrong.”

Wouldn’t you agree that we all have wrong ideas in our heads right now? Problem is we don’t know which things we’re wrong about, or we’d change them. But with that comes a certain degree of humility. “I could be wrong.”

Romans 12:17-21

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. (Romans 12:17)

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. (Romans 12:19)

Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” (Romans 12:20)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

Our task: Always love.

Back to the original question: What should our response be towards people who make Absolute Truth claims that contradict our Absolute Truth claims?

Christianity makes Absolute Truth claims.

Everybody agree? – Examples

  • God is father, son, and Holy Spirit.
  • Jesus is God.
  • Salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone.


Absolute Truth claims are dangerous.

We have to make them.

Once you believe you have the Absolute Truth, it’s easy to justify any and all actions in the name of Absolute Truth.

“I have Absolute Truth, therefore, anything I do is justified.”

Belief in Absolute Truth is behind both Jihad and the Crusades.


Everyone knows : 9/11 had religious motives.

Even if it was a distortion of that religion.

Just remember : Those 19 hijackers were not angsty impoverished teenagers.

They were middle aged, middle class, men.

It wasn’t rushed, they planned it. For over a year. They had to learn to fly planes.

They hopped on a plane – murdered flight attendants, pilots, take control of the plane loaded with people and fly it into a building and murder thousands of people.

How can you do you that?

It’s easy. So long as you believe you have Absolute Truth on your side.

The Crusades

Belief in Absolute Truth is also behind the Crusades.

We don’t talk about the crusades much. We don’t like to discuss our own failures.

But people of other religions are WELL aware of the crusades.

Let’s talk about the 1st crusade.

Objective : Christian soldiers were to go to Jerusalem and liberate Jerusalem from the control of the ‘infidel’ muslim.

So there were preachers, famous preachers rallying people to go on these crusades. Take back the Holy Land for God. Type stuff.

Finally they start to head to Jerusalem – on their way there.

In what’s known as the “Rhineland massacres” – they murdered 12,000 jews.

Why? B/C they wouldn’t confess Jesus as Lord.

They were outside our Absolute Truth claims.

Jews – nothing – do w/ it. – Riled up.

So they killed 12,000 before they even got out of Europe.

Finally arrive in the Holy Land – bunch of battles.

By the year 1099 – They had Jerusalem under Seige.

So they were successful in what they set out to do. This was the only Crusade that was “Successful”. All the rest were bitter defeats.

On July 15th 1099, the muslim armies surrendered.

Laid down – weapons.

Most of them were seeking refuge in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which still stands. (pic)

The Christian crusaders went in where there were 10,000 unarmed muslims and massacred every last one of them.

How can you do that?

It’s easy. So long as you believe you have Absolute Truth on your side.

Again, we DO believe in Absolute Truth.

We must. Without it, we’re not Christians.

How do we keep it from being horrifically dangerous?

We stress love as our highest value and pledge to never do harm in the name of God.

Specifically – the love of Christ revealed in Christ on the cross.

“Love” can mean anything.

Jihadists would claim their motive is also love. Love of religion, love of nation.

But it’s not the love that Christ shows us that lays down our live for others.

1 John 3:16 – THIS is how we know what love is.

More Important ever : I believe this is more important now than ever. Why? Because as technology advances, we’re able to kill each other in more creative ways than we ever have.

I believe this is our choice in the 21st century: Either we renounce violence in the name of God or renounce religion as being too dangerous.

Atheists – “Religion – too dangerous – modern world nt that religion is too dangerous for the modern world with modern weaponry. And they have a very strong argument.

Unless: We stress love as our highest value and pledge to never do harm in the name of God.

Worst – make dinner.

We must assure our secular critics and our religious enemies that if they don’t agree with us, the worst we will do to them is make them dinner. I’ll try to convince you of my Absolute Truth, and if in the end, you don’t agree with me, I will not hate you, I will not mock you, I will not belittle you, and I CERTAINLY will not harm you.

So, if someone were to reject Christianity b/c of the crusades. “Christianity is where you go through the world and slaughter the innocent people that don’t agree with you.”

What would you say? I bet you’d say something like ‘That’s not real Christianity. Those people missed it.’

It’s not fair to compare the best of your religion with the worst of another religion.

You don’t like it when people do that to you. So we don’t do it to another.

So if you’re talking to a muslim, what we don’t do is suggest that all muslims are terrorists because you can find some muslims that were.

That would be same as saying ‘All Christians are bloodthirsty crusaders because you can find some Christians that were.

So we return to the golden rule, and if by some incredible act of God, all Christian churches did the same, it would change the world.

As we prepare for communion.

So let me try to bring it back to our everyday lives.

No one has the right to be boastful right now.

Examine – own hearts – contribute

And I believe God would lead each and every one of us to examine our own hearts and see how in so many ways, we all contribute to the bigotry and scapegoating that we’re beginning to see the consequences of.

It’s comforting to have a scapegoat. To decide that this is ‘THEIR’ fault. Whoever that is for you.

Thomas Merton Quote

Catholic writer – early 20th century.

“So instead of loving what you think is peace, love others and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another.” (Thomas Merton)

So my prayer is this : “Comfort them and forgive us.”

And when people see me, may they not find a reason to fight, but a reason to live in peace.

God use me to heal the world.