REVERENCE FOR LIFE
Matthew 5:21-26; 7:12
This isn’t the sermon I had planned to preach
today. But in light of what happened on
of Virginia Tech this past week, how can our thoughts be anywhere else? When I heard about the shootings on Monday, I
was taken back to a day in August of 1966, when there was another
The rampage at Virginia Tech is only the latest
chapter is a
horrific saga of “mass murders” in our country.
So called “spree” shootings at high schools, post offices,
and restaurants have taken a terrible toll in lost and wounded lives. It is estimated that at least half of those
mass murderers were mentally disturbed, but all of those killers must
disturbed in some way to take innocent lives.
We seek to understand why such tragic events take place, and
no easy answers. There are many factors
that contribute to such violence. Mental
illness is one factor, as is social isolation.
The easy availability of firearms and ammunition is another
factor. So is the depiction of violence in
video games, television, popular music, and the Internet.
So are the breakdown of families and lack of
discipline and values in some young people.
Among the other industrialized nations of the world, the
One of the scripture verses that we read a few
is known as the Golden Rule: do to
others as you would have them do to you.
It came from Jesus, as he was teaching his disciples in the
the Mount. Jesus said that it sums up
the teachings of the law and the prophets.
Frankly, if everybody lived by the Golden Rule, we would not
epidemic of violence in our society. But
many people do not live by the Golden Rule.
Many people live only for themselves, and as a result they have
shocking disrespect for the lives of others.
The other passage that we read is also from the
the Mount. Jesus quoted a crucial and
law of the Old Testament: You shall not
murder. That was one of the Ten
Commandments. It’s one of the
fundamental principles of every civilized society.
Murder is wrong. Yet we live in a
time when murder is
commonplace. Just about every night on the
news there are more murders reported in our area. Even
in our “civilized society” there is a
shocking disrespect for human life.
I titled this sermon, “Reverence of Life,” rather than “Respect for Life,” because the word “reverence” lifts the discussion to a higher plane. Reverence comes from God, and that is why we have reverence for life, because life comes from God. Reverence is more than respect. As Christians we don’t just have respect for life, we have reverence for life. We recognize that all of us life is a gift from God, and that those who would destroy life invoke God’s judgment and condemnation.
The phrase “reverence for life” was coined by a
doctor named Albert Schweitzer. He was
born in 1875 in the Alsace-Loraine region between
As a young man Albert Schweitzer served as pastor
In the summer of 1915 Dr. Schweitzer was traveling
But at sunset of the third day of the journey, their boat floated along an island in the middle of the wide river. On a sandbank to the left he saw four hippopotamuses and their young plodding along in the same direction. That scene of man in harmony with nature lifted his spirit. The phrase, “reverence for life,” struck him like a flash. So far as he knew he had never read nor heard that phrase before. But at once he realized that that phrase carried within itself the solution to the problem that had been torturing him. Schweitzer later wrote, “Only by means of reverence for life can we establish a spiritual and humane relationship with both people and all living creatures within our reach. Only in this fashion can we avoid harming others, and, within the limits of our capacity, go to their aid whenever they need us.”
“Reverence for Life” would become the guiding
Albert Schweitzer’s life. For most of
the next fifty years, until his death in 1965, Dr. Schweitzer would
treat patients at his hospital in
When Schweitzer spoke of reverence of life, he
reverence for all of life, including not just people, but all living
things. He was far ahead of his time in
calling for the humane treatment of animals in medical experiments and
production. He also was ahead of his
time in his concern about the care of the earth. Schweitzer
once wrote, “The farmer who has
mown down a thousand flowers in his meadow as fodder for his cows, must
careful on his way home not to strike off in wanton pastime the head of
single flower by the roadside.”
Schweitzer recognized that sometimes killing is necessary, such
killing plants for food, or killing animals for medical research or as
people. Reverence for all life does not
mean that all life has equal value. We
value animal life over plant life, and we value human life over all
forms. Since reverence for life includes
reverence for our own lives, legitimate self-defense is justified. But Schweitzer insisted that we think before
we kill anything, and that we never kill needlessly
The chilling video excerpts from the Virginia Tech
shown on television revealed a total absence of reverence for life. The killer had no reverence for the lives of
others, or even reverence for his own life.
Like most mass murderers he was an isolated and frustrated
was so delusional and self-centered that he thought the whole world was
him. Among the many victims of his
violence were the members of his own family who forever will carry the
what he did.
The Washington Post
did a great service by printing a profile of each shooting victim,
picture and some biographical information about each of those 32
persons who were
killed last Monday. As I read the
biographical sketches of each one, I grieved at the tragic deaths of
gifted students and professors. Each one
of them had something to offer to the world, and each one was making a
contribution in his or her own way. Their
stories reminded me how much we have lost, but they also reminded me
day is a precious gift.
Bruce Salmon, Pastor,
April 22, 2007
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