All Saints
Christ The King

Books of the Bible
Lenten Series
Christmas Dramas


Series A - Matthew
Series B - Mark
Series C - Luke
Series D - Other

To contact
Edward F. Markquart

Series A
Is Kuwait a Just War?

Baptism of Jesus     Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10:34-43

The basis of the sermon for today comes from the Epistle which says, “God sent us preaching the good news of peace by Jesus Christ who is Lord over all people.” This verse is combined with the Old Testament lesson for today which says that “God will raise up his servant who will bring justice to all nations. He will not fail nor be discouraged until he brings justice to the ends of the earth.”

We are all preoccupied with Kuwait and the possibility of war. Many of us are asking the question: “Is this war just? Is this potential war justified?”

At certain times in our lives, we are overwhelmed by the events around us. These events overwhelm our thinking and doing. For example, back in 1963, I remember the day that John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed. What I remember even more clearly was the following Sunday in the church where I was the youth director at Bethel Lutheran Church in Madison, Wisconsin. I remember gathering for worship that day, not in our normal sanctuary because we were remodeling that sanctuary, but we gathered in this large movie theater in the capitol square of Madison, Wisconsin. The depth of the assassination John Fitzgerald Kennedy overwhelmed the worship service that day, and we could not preach on the gospel as normal. The assassination changed everything and that worship service became a eulogy for John Fitzgerald Kennedy. We were grieving together as a nation.

I feel that today is a similar day in the life of our history. I believed on this day that we are being overwhelmed by the events of history, and today is not unlike that day in 1963. But today we are being overwhelmed by what is happening in the Persian Gulf.

And so the first time in my twenty-two years as a parish pastor, I come and stand in the pulpit wanting, and yet not wanting, wanting with fear and trembling, wanting to say, speak, and share what I feel is the Word of the Lord at this time.

I also think of a man by the name of James Stewart who was a very famous preacher during World War II. He gave the most eloquent sermons and his sermons were published all over the country, but James Stewart is famous today because, in spite all of his eloquence, not once during World War II did he mention the war. His sermons were oblivious to the situation in which he found himself. Similarly, I have a friend who is a Lutheran pastor and he writes all kinds of preaching books that we as pastors read and borrow ideas from. He has wonderful illustrations for sermons but not once in all of his books does he mention the real world in which we live. His illustrations are wonderful, clever, interesting and theologically erudite, but his sermons never mention the real world of massive starvation, hunger, and war. I personally did not want this Sunday to pass by and have the same thing said about me.

Today is a special day in the life of our church. Today is a special day because it reflects the mood and words of the old hymn from the red hymnal, “Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide; in the strife of truth and falsehood, for the good or evil side. Some great cause, God’s new messiah, offering each the bloom or blight; and the choice goes by forever between that darkness and that light.” It is the opening line that I like, “Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide.” I like the line, “the choice goes by forever, between that darkness and that light.”

This past week, like you, I have been watching television, especially the debates. I have felt that both sides, Republicans and Democrats, have argued eloquently. Both sides were agreeing that this was the most important vote that they were going to cast in their political careers. For these senators, this vote was so much more important than the rest.

Like the old hymn said, “Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide.”

I personally, unlike many people, have appreciated the recent work of President Bush. I was glad when he mobilized our troops. I was pleased that he went to the defense of Saudia Arabia, not to defend their monarchy, but to wisely defend the importance of oil as a supply of energy for the western free world. I was pleased when he went to the United Nations and was able to gain an almost unanimous vote from a very pluralistic and diverse body. I was pleased when he finally invited members of congress to go work and forced them into a debate where they, too, had to decide. Then more recently, I was doubly pleased, that he said that we should have a large summit on the whole crisis on the Middle East, for there were other issues present, although this conference should not be linked to Kuwait.

George Bush has challenged the label, George the Wimp. For me, he does not appear to be George, the wimp. I know that many people do not agree with the strong leadership of George Bush, but I myself, believing in the importance of a superpower defending our democracy and democracies around the world. I have appreciated the strength that he has demonstrated as our President.

And like many of you, I am afraid. I am afraid that this is going to be an Armageddon, that the whole thing is going to explode with Israel at the very center of it. All those Biblical fundamentalists believe that the end of the world is going to come due to a major conflagration in the Middle East with Israel at the heart of it, and I too am a afraid of an international explosion. I, too, am afraid that the Desert Shield which was designed to protect Saudia Arabia has now become a Desert Sword, an offensive weapon. Initially, there was almost total unanimity in the deterrence of Desert Shield. Now, there seems to be a much greater division about Desert Sword.

Many of us are worried that our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, our husbands and wives, will be killed in that conflict. We become doubly worried, as we watched the play, THE CIVIL WAR, on television, on PBS. We are worried that the experts of the Civil War era made mistakes in their predictions, and we are worried that the so-called experts today grossly underestimate the amount of causalities. What started off as a civil war in America ended up being the most bloody war that our country has ever seen. The experts were wrong in their predictions of how bloody the future battle was to be.

So for this and many reasons, like you, I am afraid.

Within all of this, the purpose of the church, the people of God, is to be the conscience of the state. We are to be the moral compass of the state. We are to ask the moral questions and persist in our questions about justice. The texts for today are more than appropriate, where the epistle lesson says for today,  “God sent us proclaiming the peace given by Jesus Christ who is Lord over all people.” Also, in the Old Testament lesson, the servant church in the Old Testament and the servant church today is to be sent to the ends of the world to proclaim justice, and the servant will not rest until justice is established.

The short word for justice is just. The people of God always ask the just questions, the questions of justice. We ask the question: Is this action just? Is this war just? It is the duty and the moral imperative of the church always to ask that question and to force our government to address that question: Is this action just? Is this a just war?

Therefore, I do feel not defensive today asking that question, for that is one of the fundamental purposes of the church. The church is to be the conscience of the state and to ask those persistent and knotty questions about justice.

Within our Lutheran church, we are guided by documents, and one of the fundamental documents that guides us, although you may not realize it, is named the Augsburg Confession. Lutherans are the largest Protestant body in the world and Lutherans nationally and internationally subscribe to this document called the Augsburg Confession. I would like to read you from Article 16 about the civil government.

“It is taught among us that all government in the world and all established rules and laws were instituted and ordained by God for the sake of good order, and that Christians may without sin occupy civil offices. Rulers and judges can render decisions and punish evil doers with the sword and engage in just wars, and soldiers may engage in just wars. We condemn those who teach that Christian perfection requires the forsaking of house and home and wife and child and renunciation of such activities as war.” … This was a reference to the ana-baptists who were forerunners of the Baptist church. The early Baptists were the pacifists and peace movement of the sixteenth century. We, the Lutheran church, rejected that. We strongly rejected pacifism in the sixteenth century. Instead Lutherans said that God has instituted government and allowed “just wars.”

Knowing that the Lutheran church accepts just wars, it is always the role of the church to act as the conscience of the state and ask the knotty question: Is this particular war just? You and I need to address and answer that question.

Throughout the history of the church, there have been a series of questions that we have asked to help us answer the question, Is this particular war just?

Some of those important questions are: Is the cause itself just? That is, does the cause contain evil? Does it punish an evil doer? Does it protect the good?

Many people would say this cause today is just because they want to punish an evil doer, Saddam Hussein. They want to contain evil. Many people, in their minds, think that this cause is just. Other people would say, “Such arguments are real smokescreen. The real problem is that we are protecting scare oil resources in that region of the world.” And so Christians can be on both sides of the questions as to whether a war is just or not.

Another question that we ask is whether or not a war is waged by a legitimate governmental authority. In this potential war, there is overwhelming approval; that is, President Bush has the backing of the United Nations, the executive branch, and ultimately the congress. This military action is not a unilateral action by one individual. For a just war to be just, there needs to be a consensus of various governmental authority.

Another factor that is very important in determining whether or not a war is just is whether the means are appropriate to the ends. After World War I and II and experiencing biological, chemical and germ warfare, the world community came to the conclusion that the use of biological, chemical and germ warfare is not just. The world community does not feel that those means are appropriate to war. After World War II, the world community condemned the use of chemical and biological weapons; and we continue to condemn the apparent use of those weapons by the Iraqi government, especially as used on the Kurds.

Personally, I also believe that the use of nuclear weapons should also be condemned just as the use of chemical and biological weapons have already been condemned. I personally believe that the use of nuclear weapons is so awfully devastating on the earth, its land, its people and the long term effects will be so catastrophic, I think the use of nuclear weapons should be condemned as illegal. In my cynicism, I sometimes think that we will only outlaw the use of nuclear weapons as being immoral, only after our own soldiers have been burned by them, and our populations have been burned by them, and our own land has become radioactive for centuries. I personally believe in a just war theory that the means are to be appropriate. I personally believe that biological and nuclear weapons are not appropriate.

Another factor of a just war theory: the war is not to do more harm than it would prevent. (That is another argument against the use of nuclear weapons.)That the war itself is not to do more harm than it would prevent. Today, we are afraid that there is a possibility of a huge political explosion in the Middle East, that Israel will be drawn into that conflict, and that the consequences of that war will be disastrous.

Another issue asked when thinking about a just war is that the civilians and innocent are not to be intentionally harmed. The war is to be fought against combatants.

The last issue to determine if this is a just war is:  Is the war to be used only as a last resort. That is my question for you today. In your conscience, do you believe that all the other avenues of peace have been exhausted? Do you believe that war is being used as a last resort? When all else fails, and only then, do we resort to war.

You see, we are the people who ask the justice questions. I personally am not a pacifist and I agree with my Lutheran heritage. It seems to me, that at time of potential war, the pacifists come out of the woodwork because they do not like war of any kind. None of us do, but I personally believe in the use of war. I believe that unfortunately human beings are warring animals. I do not believe that you or anyone else will ever stop the human race from warring with one another. And if it is inevitable that human beings are warring animals, then the question becomes, “Is this a just war?” That is the question that you must answer today. Do you believe that this war is just?

As a footnote to all of this, that continues to perplex me, is that merely five months ago, the USA was the primary armor and protectorate of Iraq and Saddam Hussein; that we were the primary supplier of military weapons to them as Israel was to Iran. It amazes me that five months ago, a nation can be a recipient of military arms sales and then a short time later, we may engage them in war.

If the first point of the sermon for today is that Christians are to be advocates for a just war, there is another important question. If a war is not just, if a person does not believe a war is just, what is to be your course of action? Here again, within the BOOK OF CONCORD and the Augsburg Confession, it says, “that accordingly Christians are obliged to be subject to civil authority and obey its commandments and laws and do all that can be done without sin; but when commands by the civil authority cannot be obeyed without sin, we must obey God rather than man.”

When you conscience comes to the conclusion that a war is not just, we are to obey our conscience rather than the dictates of our government.

In his treatise, SOLDIERS TOO CAN BE SAVED, Martin Luther wrote the following words which seem to be so contemporary, “Suppose my ruler were wrong in going to war, I reply, ‘If you know for sure that your ruler is wrong, you should fear God rather than man and not fight or serve for you cannot then have a good conscience before God. No, you say, my lord compels me and will take my job, my money, my wages, besides I am despised by everyone and puts me to shame by being a coward, a faith breaker in the eyes of the world by refusing to go to war, as one who has deserted his ruler in need? Luther answers, ‘You must take that risk and with God’s help, let go what goes. God can restore to you a hundred fold as he has promised in the gospel. He that leaves his house and home and wife and goods for the sake of my gospel shall get it back one hundred fold. In other words, he must expect the danger that the ruler will compel us to do wrong.”

It is interesting for me that Luther takes this passage out of Matthew, a person can leave house and home and wife and goods; and applies it to those young men and women who believe that a war is wrong. They should give up those things and God will take care of them.

What shall we do if we believe that a war is wrong? As Luther says, “I compel you to obey your conscience rather than civil authority.”

A third thing that I wanted to talk about this morning is the freedom to criticize our government. That is, years ago, when I was trying to write my book, QUEST FOR BETTER PREACHING, in that book I created a chapter entitled, “The Pastor As Prophet.” I was doing research for that chapter, and at that time, I belonged to a sermon study group over in Renton. There were twenty-five pastors present. I asked those pastors if they were free to criticize their government from the pulpit. Not one hand went up. I then asked the opposite question (Are they free to praise their government?) and every single pastor raised her or her hand. These pastors were not free to criticize their government from the pulpit, but they were only free to praise their government. That was precisely the problem which happened in the Lutheran church during time of Hitler. Historically, the Lutheran church has taken position, a pastor cannot criticize the government from the pulpit, and therefore, because we are so rigid in that position, we have not allowed pastors to stand forth and speak our conscience about our nation. Pastors know the rigid rules of the congregation. I believe that there are times, rare but critical moments in our nation’s history, that we pastors need to be free to criticize our government from the pulpit.

This past week, one of our legislators said, “This is not the time for politics. This is a time for conscience.” This morning is a time for conscience because the people of God are the conscience of the state.

The last thing that I want to say this morning is that I very much appreciated Philip Brook’s book, LECTURES ON PREACHING, from 1877, when he said, “It is the responsibility of those of us who are in a democratic society to exercise our constitutional rights and to make sure that our legislative leaders understand our feelings. That we as pastors, should strongly encourage our members to exercise their constitutional rights.”

So I ask you personally today, have you contacted the President or your legal representatives about the crisis in the Persian Gulf? Have you contacted your political leaders personally about this issue? Could I see the hands of those of you who have? So I have one, two, three, four, five, six, seven hands showing. Seven out of three hundred. That is terrible. I am not at all surprised because some ten years ago when I preached a sermon on the role of church and government, using Romans 13, I asked how many of you Lutherans were involved in civil office, and only three out of three hundred responded positively. Historically, the Lutheran church has been a “quietistic” church. We do not involve ourselves in politics. We do not exercise our responsibilities as public citizens, as is evidenced by our lack of contact with our legislative leaders about the potential war in Kuwait.

“Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide.”  You and I must grapple with these hard questions and come to a resolution in our mind, however tentative. The question is this: Is this a just war? Then we must act on how we answer the question.

Today, I am not capable of eloquence, but I am capable of conscience and today I would like to remind us as the people of God, that we are to be the conscience of our nation.

Isaiah, the prophet said, “You, the people of God, are called to pursue justice, and you will not be content until justice is established on the earth.” Amen.

Back to Top