I hesitate to tell this story, because you might get the wrong idea.
Seminary correctly drilled into me a disciplined avoidance of telling personal stories from the pulpit that might make me look good; there are too many pastors misplaced on pedestals already, so we dare not add to the problem.
But I also trust that by now you know me well enough not to be impressed, so I'll risk this one.
Earlier this week I was watching the Dodgers play the Giants at a favorite watering hole.
Between innings I noticed a large man in a t-shirt that featured a menacing figure on the back with a lot of words—too many words to be a slogan, maybe enough to be theology.
Sure enough: The t-shirt asserted, God gave his archangels weapons because even the Almighty knew you don't fight evil with tolerance and understanding.
It's a popular view, particularly among the disciples. who will all bail on non-violent, unarmed Jesus when he predictably suffers and dies from his obviously naive insistence on tolerance and understanding.
Salvation must involve violence, so when God fails to initiate it, we provide the weapons, sharpening plowshares into swords and cutting down trees to produce crosses.
It's hard for us to imagine, much less trust, any God who would operate any other way than with violent power; it's hard for Jesus to train us to see again, to look at life very differently.
I wanted to dismiss this child of God as a bad theologian, but Jesus' Spirit made me see again.
I remembered him.
I met him several months ago.
Two single women had called me over to join their uncomfortable conversation with him.
He was four sheets to the wind, maybe five, and insisting on driving them home as they were trying to leave.
He was not happy to have me included as yet one more obstacle to spending time with these two blonde angels, who were easy on his eyes and gentle with his big broken heart.
He told us what had happened.
One of his finest officers had blown his brains out that morning.
One of his archangels had used the weapon against himself, leaving behind a young family and a shell-shocked department.
It was a complete and devastating surprise, and he couldn't stop drinking about it.
Tears crashed down his massive cheeks, waterfalls of love in raging pain.
The small group of angels huddled around him finally convinced him to relinquish his keys.
We guided him to my car and I drove him to the station.
I helped him into his office and served him a couple rounds from his water cooler.
We talked and cried some more.
After assurances that he would sleep there and not return to the roads, I said a prayer and he gave me another hug, asking my name again, thanking me profusely for being a Godsend and saving his life.
Yet I was packing no heat; I was armed with nothing but tolerance and understanding.
You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.
But it is not so among you; ... whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.
You must look at things differently and see again, for the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life ... drenched in shame and despair and blood between two bad theologians, two children of God dismissed by reputable law enforcement as criminals, two guilty casualties of a violent world playing God and fighting evil, one on his right, one on his left, in his glory.