The final volume in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia is entitled The Last Battle. In that book Lewis picks up on an important theme in Revelation. Evil is a consuming power that lives off pain, suffering, and destruction. In this story, an imposter poses as Aslan, and speaks to the people of Narnia who long to hear Aslan’s voice. The impostor is in the employ of the Calormenes, who serve the evil god Tash, and who wish to control Narnia. Jill and Eustace expose the impostors, but not before Narnia is destroyed. The good news is that Narnia gives way to a new world, the land of Aslan. Those who are faithful to Aslan are invited to enter the kingdom of promise. Interestingly enough, among those going through the door is Ermeth, a Calormene warrior, and Puzzle the donkey, who in his innocence allowed himself to be used to impersonate Aslan.
Like the Narnians, we too live in a land of false promises and broken relationships. Evil resists the justice and mercy of God, and nation rises against nation, people against people. Out of fear, we try to find safety and security in ever tighter groups, and we become susceptible to a message of "us against them." Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Darfur, Israel/Palestine, Congo, and the gangs of Lompoc, are torn apart by strife.
I know this doesn’t sound much like a Mother’s Day sermon, but I think there is a connection. You’ll just have to wait and see!
The promise of Revelation is that no matter what happens God is present with us. And this morning we hear the promise that healing will be given to the nations who make their way into the New Jerusalem, where God and his Lamb are the Temple and the light.
Here the symbol of evil and disorder isn’t the sea, it’s darkness. We hear the word that the darkness seeks to extinguish the light, but again hear the promise – the light continues to shine in the darkness. Because the light continues to shine in the darkness, there’s no need to fear. In fact, there’s no need for walls and for gates. In this vision hatred and anger, self-centeredness and rebellion are burned away in the refiner’s fire.
And along the river of life that winds its way through the city stands the Tree of Life, which is sustained by the waters of this river.. The leaves of this Edenic Tree provide healing to the nations, even as the leaves of aloe-vera plant bring healing to our bodies. They are a salve to the wounds brought on by human strife.
Now these nations aren’t just political entities. The Greek word ta ethne gives us the word ethnic, and so we’re not just talking about political entities, were talking about every group, tribe, and race that inhabit this world of ours. Yes, everyone is invited to experience healing in the city of God.
It is, as Paul suggests in Galatians, that there is now neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for in Christ we’re all made one. Our physical distinctions may not be erased in the kingdom, but these distinctions no longer decide our place or our relationships. There are no second class citizens in the kingdom of God.
The words "the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations" (22:2) are also found in Ezekiel (Ezk. 47:12), and as I consider these words I think about our cities and our neighborhoods which often are ethnic powder kegs, ready to blow at any time. We know about the War in Iraq, but what about the gangs at war here in Lompoc? There’s going to be another Town Hall Wednesday evening, and this time the discussion will be about solutions. How can we be part of the solution? The problem is, although we live decades after the Civil Rights era, too often we remain in our self-imposed ghettos. We live separated into ethnic enclaves and look at each other with suspicion, jealousy, and even hatred: Black, Korean, Arab, Persian, Latino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Anglo, Indian, Jewish, and on and on.
The question then, that continues to face us is: is healing even possible? I for one find a word of hope in this passage of Scripture. I hear in it a call to the church to be agents of healing. And the good news is that we needn’t wait until an undetermined date in the future to experience this peace. We can begin the work of bringing healing to the nations now. As Martin Luther King told moderate Southern whites, in words reminiscent of Martin Niemoller's confession at the failure of the church to act in the face of Nazi oppression, the greatest tragedy of the Civil Rights era wasn’t the "strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people." Indeed:
"No social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals." (Martin Luther King quoted in "And Don't Call Me a Racist!" 141].
And so how does this fit into our Mother’s Day celebration? Well Mother’s Day wasn’t always a big consumer bash. In fact, Mother’s Day can be traced back to a proclamation given by Julia Ward Howe, the author of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," in 1870. And in that proclamation, Howe calls on women to honor mothers by becoming peacemakers. Writing after the end of the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, Howe called for an end to the seemingly endless conflicts and wars that plagued the world. Calling on the women of the world to rise up and join in seeking to bring healing to the nations, she declared:
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
May 13, 2007
Sixth Sunday of Easter