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I John 3:14
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to I John chapter 3, and follow along as I read v14:
14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
It has been 4 years. Tuesday, September 11, 2001—we all watched in shock and horror as terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. At 9:05 a.m., hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower. The north tower was already burning from a previous crash of American Airlines Flight 11. At 9:59 a.m., the South Tower collapsed. At 10:28 a.m., the North Tower came crashing down. Meanwhile hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. 3030 people were killed that day.
Now I have often wondered what was in the minds of the hijackers. What would cause a person to fly an airplane loaded with jet fuel and passengers into a building? I can understand soldiers killing each other in war, even though I do not like that. I can even understand Japanese Kamikazi pilots deliberately crashing their planes into American ships. That was an act of war by Japanese military pilots against American military forces. Again, I do not like that, but I understand it, but I do not understand why you would crash a planeload of innocent people, into a building full of innocent people.
The 19 hijackers of 9/11 were mostly Saudi Arabians, though the leader, Mohammed Atta, was an Egyptian. They were in this country legally. They were all fairly well-educated and well-equipped to become good citizens and good folks. The four young men who carried out the suicide bombings in London on July 7 of this year were all native born Britons, raised in England, went to English schools. They were described as pretty much normal young people. So, we are not dealing with ignorant illiterate third world peasants; We are dealing with “normal” people who decide that it is OK to murder innocent people.
You might say that they were evil. I agree, but that is not an explanation for their behavior. Why did they do it?
Since 9/11/01, the United States Government has paid for all kinds of studies of terrorism. Most have concluded that the September 11th attacks were part of a campaign against the United States by Al-Qaeda. This campaign previously included attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and on the USS Cole in Yemen. In 1998, Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda issued a statement that details their motivations for their attacks on America. They contend that the United States supports Israel and is therefore anti-Moslem and anti-Arab. They contend that the stationing of American troops on the Arabian Peninsula violates the sanctity of the Moslem heartland. They contend that we are plundering the resources of the Arabian Peninsula—specifically oil. They contend that we support dictatorial regimes and monarchies in the Middle East, thereby oppressing their people.
In 2004, Osama Bin Laden acknowledged Al-Qaeda’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. He said that Al-Qaeda was out to punish the aggressor and to create economic damage to America. He declared that a continuing aim of his jihad (holy war) was to bleed America into bankruptcy. Considering the current cost of the war in Iraq, he probably thinks he is winning.
In fighting terrorism, we are fighting a new kind of war. Most analysts say that it is not a war at all. The terrorists have no nation or state that can be targeted. I know that we have waged war against two nations—Iraq and Afghanistan—in response to the 9/11 attacks, but the fact remains that Al-Qaeda is not necessarily connected to those countries, or to any country. Most analysts say that terrorism is more like crime than war. To fight terrorism you need police and spies not soldiers. The terrorists have no capital city and no center. Al-Qaeda has no real leader. Even Osama Bin Ladin is more spokesman and propagandist than leader. So sending soldiers into third world countries might not be the most effective way to fight terrorism.
But lets get back to our original question. What motivates suicide bombers. Religion, specifically Islamic Fundamentalism. The terrorists maintain that they are killing as many people as they can, including themselves, for Islam. So, to understand their mindset, we must understand Fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism is a modern movement that is essentially a reaction against Modernity. Modernity is the name scholars give to modern secular civilization. The word “Fundamentalist” originated in the United States. That is understandable because the United States has been in the forefront of the development of modernity. The first Fundamentalists were Christians. We should note that all religions today have a fundamentalist movement. There are Christian fundamentalists, Islamic fundamentalist, Jewish fundamentalists, Hindu fundamentalists, Buddhist fundamentalists—the list goes on and on. In every case, fundamentalism is a reaction against modern civilization.
All Fundamentalism is always a reaction of fear. Fundamentalists are deathly afraid that modernity is going to wipe out their religion. They see the advances of modern science, they see people becoming more and more secular. Everywhere they look their religion is in retreat. They are mocked as ignorant rednecks, they feel they have been rejected by mainstream civilization. They are locked in a desperate battle to preserve what they hold most dear. That is why fundamentalists are so antagonistic and unfriendly, they are afraid, and fearful people are not kind and loving people.
Now, ARPs have never been Fundamentalists, and I am not a Fundamentalist, but I sympathize with the position of the Fundamentalist. We also have to deal with modernity and that can be a fearful thing. We sometimes feel that we are on the outside looking in. Our courts seem not neutral when it comes to Christianity, but hostile. The mainstream media only notices us when we say something stupid, like Pat Robertson saying a week or so ago that we ought to be in the business of assassinating elected foreign leaders. That got media coverage. You would have thought that the media had discovered some strange new religion.
Do you realize that in modern literature, in the movies, on TV, Christian ministers are almost never portrayed favorably. As a minister, I think I have grounds for a lawsuit here. Almost all modern media portrays Christian ministers as ignorant, untrustworthy bigots. Now I know that a few, a very few, ministers fit that description, but the vast majority of ministers are just ordinary people who try to talk about the religious feelings most people have. I guess that is our great sin in the eyes of modern civilization—we talk about religion.
So you can see that we have something in common with the Fundamentalists. We are fellow travelers. They are right when they say that Modern civilization fails to answer basic questions that must be answered. I appreciate modernity. I appreciate all the advances in medicine that enable us to live longer and healthier lives. I like all the technology, from nuclear power to cell phones to the space station, but the implication of modern civilization is that is all there is. Modernity has a philosophy, and the philosophy is materialism. What you see is all that there is. Modern civilization appears to the world as very successful, very attractive. It says, I have the answers, and it does have some answers, that is what makes it dangerous, but when we buy into that way of thinking, it is so bleak and empty that some of us cannot stand it.
We feel like strangers in a strange land, and we know this is not for us. Everyone feels this way to some extent. Every human being has a religious nature. We have an intuition of the holy. We know that there is something more, and this something more is the best part of us. We sense God. We are born to have a relationship with God. Most people however are in denial about this. Modernity causes most people to deny this part of their nature, but the results are fragmented people. People go around without the better part of themselves. We have a great civilization but this civilization tries to hammer part of our being to nothingness. And so fundamentalism reacts against this in fear and hatred.
Now, Christian Fundamentalists seldom go to the extremes of Moslem Fundamentalists. That is probably because violence has never really been acceptable to Christians, and violence has always been a part of Islam. Islam is a religion that has always been spread by the sword, but they have not been having much success at that lately, so they have turned to the extreme violence of attacks on innocent people.
But let us backtrack a bit here. I said that I sympathize with Fundamentalists in that I also feel somewhat alienated from modernity. But my reaction is altogether different. The Bible does not teach us to have an attitude of fear, the Bible teaches us to have an attitude of love.
Our verse today, from I John 3, talks about the motive that should govern us. Go back with me to v11, John says, “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” John is talking about Christianity. When he says “from the beginning,” he means from Jesus. What did Jesus tell us to do? Love one another. Then in v12 John takes a negative example: He says, “We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother.” How do you know when someone is “from the evil one”? They are hating other people. They are killing other people. They are flying planes into buildings. Terrorists may claim to be doing God’s will. They are not. They prove that they are not by their actions. You cannot act like Cain and pretend to be like Jesus.
In v13, John says, “Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you.” Apparently, John was alienated from his society also. John wrote in a time when Christianity was an outlaw religion. Near the end of the first century, Christianity was mocked by the Roman establishment as a religion for slaves, outcasts, and “lower class” people. Greco-Roman civilization rejected Christ, just as modernity rejects Christ. John says, So what? So they don’t like you, so you are on the outside looking in, don’t let that bother you. Don’t be afraid. It is no big deal. The world does not like us. The world has never liked us. If you get right down to it, Christians have always been aliens in every society of this world. How do we react to that? John tells us in v14. “ We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.”
We were dead, but in Christ, we are made alive. Notice that Death and life are represented in this verse as two distinct territories. We did reside in the territory of death. We now reside in the territory of life. We have changed our residence.
In Colossians 1:13, Paul says, God “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.” In Christ, we are citizens of another kingdom. That is why John says, do not be so unhappy that the kingdom of this world does not love you. You are not of that kingdom. You are of another kingdom. How do you know that—not by your fear, by your love. The mark of your citizenship is love for others.
The question for us today is: Which kingdom do we belong to? John says that we should consider the evidence of our lives. This is not rocket science. We can know the difference between a person who follows the evil one, and a person who follows Jesus. It is not hard to tell. Satan’s followers live certain ways and do certain things. In other words, you can tell from the way they act. The followers of Jesus act out of love toward other people.
Someone has said that the vices of fundamentalism are anger, bitterness, suspicion, and a critical spirit, but I don’t think those vices are unique to fundamentalism. I find them everywhere and in every church. But that is not where they should be.
As Christians, we have an out of this world example. Jesus is our example. He showed us and he taught us what real Christian love is. He was nailed to the cross for us. That is what love is. And you can tell that we are followers of Jesus, by the way we love. Look at it this way. God’s love so filled up Jesus that it flowed over and out to us and that same love so fills us that it flows over and out to others.
Jesus-love means knowing that people are valuable to God, and treating them like they are valuable to God.
Sometimes, people want to play the blame game. Whenever things don’t go exactly right, they spend a lot of time blaming other people. This is part of the Fundamentalist mindset. Fundamentalist Moslems blame America for everything. American is the Great Satan. Moreover, it is a characteristic of fearful people that they do not forget a slight. Fundamentalist Moslems cite every infraction of the West against Islam. They still remember the Crusades of the 13th century. Many people are like this. They brood over slights and omissions. They are constantly turning over in their minds, “He did that, she said that.”
In contrast, love is forgetful. Love forgets and forgives slights and injuries and moves on. How does it help anyone, if we start blaming people? How does it help if we are busy adding up faults of others? How does it help if we carry grudges like Cain?
Fundamentalists of all religions, Christians, Moslems, or whatever, appear to be unhappy, unloving people. That is not the way Christians are called to live. God calls us to live happy, loving lives in joy and fellowship with each other. So the people of this world do not like us. They have never liked us. What should we do? Don’t hate them, don’t fear them, love them anyway, because you belong to a better kingdom, a kingdom of love. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 9/23/05