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The Amish and the Cross Life

They died with Jesus on their lips...

[COMMENT:  A terrible tragedy happened in late September or early October (2006) among the Amish in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.   Below is the story of testimonies given by a wonderful bunch of people.  Where, where but in Jesus could such a thing happen?  Where in all heaven or earth? 

These kinds of things happen when people are open to the Spirit of God.  Age does not seem to matter.  "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength."

Some may recall an incident in the late 1970's or early -80's when my family lived in East Haddam, Connecticut, where I pastored St. Stephen's Episcopal Church.  A boy had been murdered in town, by a friend.  Blasted with a shotgun, as I recall.  We had the funeral at St. Stephens because the family had some remote connection.  

We did not take up an offering, but I placed two offering plates at the back of the church for anyone who wanted to contribute to help either family.  The press got hold of it, and the news reached all over the world.  I received a letter from someone in India who appreciated the witness for compassion and reaching out. 

But mostly I got a lot of flack.  Or, just that dead "silence" from some of my own congregation.  I had assumed naively that, being Christians, that was the way to behave, love our neighbor, even if he has done you wrong.  Only a very few thought it a good idea, and I was taken aback by the level of "disagreement" expressed. 

I wondered often after that whether I had been insensitive to the needs of the family of the dead boy, which was what most people thought.  But I am sure now that I did the right thing, that we must call people to the highest, and not compromise to make things comfortable.  It is just at times like that that we can grow, and we need to be challenged out of our self-centeredness and self-pity to a genuine life in Christ.  The way is narrow that leads to life.... 

It is right at those times that God is sifting us, forcing us to choose whom we shall serve..., and we need direction as to how to handle the sifting.  Satan will use those events to destroy us in the hell-of-self, the very same events God uses to grow us up.  We need someone shining the light.  God has often spoken to me at many a hard time by sending someone into my path who showed a better way. 

A thousand Amish attended the funeral of the killer to minister forgiveness to a precious woman whose husband had done the deed.  They were not affirming "relative truth" ("Hey, the murderer was just doing his thing..."), they were, with tears and anguish, forgiving a terrible evil.  Satan gets his licks in, but then God turns the tables.  Amazing grace. 

I thank God for the Amish, whose witness is so powerful.  May the rest of Christendom learn from them.  I used to be a pacifist, but am no more, as I think that, as a general principle, it is not Biblical and cannot work, though some are indeed called specifically to that deep witness, as some are called to the monastic life.  

But I do believe in the way of the cross for all of us, death to self, death to the self that claims its right to this and to that.  Even to life.  Do not claim your right to life, money, fame, power, being liked -- just keep giving it back to God.  Make your body a living sacrifice.  Somehow God arranges it that the more you give up to Him, the more you get.  You cannot outgive God.  I have experienced that over and over.  And it continues to this day.  I see it happening in people close to me. 

David Virtue, below, is the writer for Virtue on Line, an email newsletter about Anglican Communion affairs that goes all over the world.  David and I wrote Homosexuality: Good & Right in the Eyes of God?    I rejoice that he (David lives near the Amish where this happened) took time off from the continuing and irrational tragedy of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion to visit these wonderful people and to tell their story. 

At the end, see a letter from the Amish community, article by Bob Barr, and epilogue.  See also the sermon I preached December 3, 2006.  

Meditate on the scene below.   And, thanks be to God.   E. Fox]


By David W. Virtue



 They died with Jesus on their lips.

 As the crazed gunman lined them up to kill, the eldest, a 13-year old, stepped forward and said "shoot me first", hoping perhaps to buy time.

 After he killed her, her 11-year old sister stepped forward and said "shoot me next".

 He blasted her to kingdom come.

 Then the killer broke down and cried and asked that the rest of the girls pray for him.

 Then he systematically slaughtered the rest.

 Some have survived, but most have gone home from nearby hospitals to die, their bodies riddled with more shot than the human body can take.

 On the weekend over 1,000 Amish attended the funeral of the gunman and prayed and wept for the wife and preached forgiveness at every opportunity.

 I was told that within an HOUR of the slayings they had sent a message to the wife saying they had forgiven her husband.

 The girls had never seen a gun before, but when confronted by violence they did the Jesus thing….they offered up their bodies in an effort to spare the lives of their sisters…to no avail.

 The man said he hated God, but yet he must have realized that God was going to decide their future, and that the girls had a link to God. So he asked them to pray for him.

 They did not plead for mercy, they did not pull out Glocks or semi-automatics, they humbly submitted to GOD, not to this man, and in doing so they went to be with their Father.

 Because of the closeness of their community the Amish are better able to handle grief. They closed ranks, they prayed and they found the resources for going on from their solid faith in Jesus. Their culture is not one we can absorb or even handle, but their faith is unquestionable.

 Ask yourself, would you stand up and die for Spong's 12 theses, or Frank's "pluriform truths" nonsense, would you say, as a gunmen pointed a gun at your head, "oh by the way have you given serious thought to the Millennium Development Goals" we in the Episcopal Church endorse?" "Ah, didn’t you know, there is a better Glock on the market old chap. When you have finished here, go get the latest, it'll fire 50 rounds a second and you can kill the whole Amish community next time."

 Let me say this, it is out of situations like this that revival is born. People see forgiveness first hand, no whiny self-help gurus, no pathetic liberal gospel that cannot possibly deal with a situation like this.

 This is raw naked faith at its finest which I doubt most of us have, and not 5 ECUSA bishops in 300 could say they have as they faced certain death. No more talk of pensions, no properties to juggle, no devious back room politics, no more covenants, no more communiqués, oh God when will it all end, no more statements from Global South theologians or ACI theologians, no more resolutions, just raw naked faith in the face of certain death.

 Now that is something to remember amidst all the half truths, spin and lies I hear all day long from both sides of the ECUSA fence.



 Submitted by David W. Virtue

 The following letter was sent to the Lancaster Sunday News as a letter to the editor. It also was sent to the Philadelphia Inquirer by Donald B. Kraybill, senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, who assisted Benuel S. Riehl in composing the letter.

 October 6, 2006

 As a member of the Amish community, I wish to say thank you for the overwhelming support so many people have shown to us this week.

 While the events in Nickel Mines this past week have been tragic, the generous response of the larger community and the world has been overwhelming. Our perceptions of "worldly" and "outsiders" have been challenged and changed. It has been reaffirmed to us that there is much good in the rest of the world. It is reassuring that in spite of our different identities, we can still reach out to each other as human brothers and sisters with the same hopes, fears, desires and feelings in difficult times.

 I know I speak for the rest of the Amish community when I say that we wish to show our appreciation and express our gratitude for all the bountiful support and prayers we have received. Thanks to all the police officials and emergency teams for their efforts and bravery. And thanks to everyone for their acts of kindness, prayers, and goodwill.

 We also wish to extend our condolences and prayers to the Roberts and Welk families. I wish yet to say that with God all things are possible and that in heaven the Lion and the Lamb shall lie down together.

Benuel S. Riehl

Narvon, Pa. 

See article by Bob Barr:   http://www.conservative.org/columnists/barr/061018bb.asp


Epilogue:  Where from here?

Only when we are unafraid to die can we can be unafraid to live, to be open, undefended, and free in our relationships.  Otherwise either God or the Enemy will put us right in that place of fear to sift us -- as Jesus told Peter that he, Peter, was being sifted (Luke 22:31).  Until we stand on the Hand of God and obey His Voice, the fear of death will continue to make cowards of us all. 

We are told that we must expose ourselves and our children to the "real world", that, for example, home schooling does not properly socialize children, that children so raised will not know how to relate to the "real world", that they will turn out dependent and immature. 

Here was a community of tightly knit people, generally cut off from the "real world", raising their children.  And when the time came for these young children to stand alone because there was no other help, they knew exactly what to do.  They knew how to stand alone precisely because they had learned how to stand together -- in Christ, standing on the Hand of God and obeying His Voice. 

The "real world" cannot teach that kind of personhood, that kind of rugged and full-of-grace independence. 

Roman citizens lived in an eat-or-be-eaten world, with violent death all around them.  But they noticed that many of those tightly knit together Christians of their day had lost all fear of death and gave themselves for both friend and foe.  The Romans understood the need to be able to die well.  If Jesus could do that for them, they wanted Jesus.  That is how Rome was converted, and we can do it again here in America, and, yes, retake the West for Jesus Christ. 

Honest evangelism can happen only when we Christians are able to stand with few, many, or alone and be our real selves.  Only then can we invite others into that wonderful grace and law of God, the covenant of life. 

You want socialization?  Here it is.  It is called the Kingdom of God. 

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