Sunday, May 30, 2010

Give God the Glory

Psalm 96

Music has the power to stir our souls and enliven our hearts and minds. Whenever Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus is played or sung, nearly everyone stands. They may even join in singing the chorus. It happened just the other day, when Pat concluded his recital with this very piece.

Why do we do this? Is it just habit or expectation? Or is it because this piece of music is so inspiring that we cannot take it in sitting down? What is important to point out is that the Hallelujah Chorus, like Psalm 96, calls forth from us, a declaration that God is sovereign, not just over our personal lives, but as the Psalmist declares, over “all the earth.” And so we sing:

“Hallelujah For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth, hallelujah”
And then, we proclaim:

The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever . . .
“Hallelujah For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth, hallelujah”

In this song of praise, we hear echoes of the biblical declarations of God’s reign, declarations like the one found in another ancient hymn, one that Paul included in his letter to the Philippians. This hymn declares that the one who emptied himself of glory has been raised up by God,

So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
 I don’t know what instrumentation Paul imagined for his hymn, but I expect it carried a sense similar to that of the Hallelujah Chorus and the 96th Psalm. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if our songs are accompanied by mighty organs, simple guitars, or even no accompaniment at all. What matters is what comes forth from the heart as a declaration of allegiance, thanksgiving, and praise.

The 96th Psalm calls for us to sing to God a new song. The Psalmist invites us to join with the whole of creation in singing the praises of God, who is our creator. It is by classification an enthronement psalm, which acknowledges the reign of God, and in this case also declares the good news that God is at work bringing salvation, healing, wholeness, and hope to a world that is fragmented and broken. It evokes from us visions of God’s splendor, which is reflected in the beauty of God’s creation. And then, it closes by offering us promises of stability and justice.

1. Affirming God’s Glory and Greatness

And so, at the invitation of the Psalmist, we come before the throne of God, singing a new song that declares before all the creation God’s glory and greatness. In doing this we affirm that God transcends our boundaries and our lives. God is present with us and among us and even within us through the Spirit, but we are not God. Karl Barth speaks of God as being “wholly Other.” That may or may not be sufficient definition of God’s being, but it is a reminder that when approach God, we stand upon holy ground.

When Moses went to the mountain to receive instructions for God’s people, God reminded him that he stood on sacred ground and that he should take off his shoes. Here in this Psalm, we’re directed to:

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts. (Vs. 7-8).
Come into God’s presence, bringing with you both words of praise that affirm God’s greatness, and bring signs of your devotion, offerings that affirm your allegiance to the one who sitteth on the throne of heaven.

2. Enjoying God’s Beauty and Splendor

Even as the Psalmist invites us to kneel before the Lord our Maker, the writer declares that “honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary,” and then invites us to worship God “in holy splendor.” This is an invitation to enjoy the beauty and splendor that is reflected in God’s creation.

Consider the wondrous beauty of God’s creation, whether it’s the dunes along Lake Michigan, the deep blue waters of Crater Lake, or the majesty that is Mount Shasta. Each of us can name a place that is so beautiful that we can’t do anything except stand or kneel in awe. There are other expressions of God’s splendor that come from within us, as we are invited to co-create with God things of beauty and grace. This invitation is written into our very being, for as Genesis reminds us, we have been created in the image of God. And so, it is our calling to bring forth beauty and splendor in the world. It might be music, such as we see displayed by the choir or the organ. It might be a piece of art or a poem.

N.T. Wright speaks of humankind being the reflection of God’s “wise, creative, loving presence and power.” God is enlisting us, in our very creation, “to act as his stewards in the project of creation.” Therefore, Wright states that:

Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in this world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God. (Surprised by Hope, Harper One, 2008, pp. 207-208).
We speak of ourselves as being a missional church. Therefore, as we create beauty we express God’s mission by helping create a better world, a world in which God’s name is honored and praised because there is joy and there is hope.

3. Experiencing Stability and Judgment

As we reach the closing stanzas of this great Psalm, a Psalm that directs us to proclaim the good news of God’s salvation, we hear words about judgment and stability. As we’ve been learning in the Wednesday studies, salvation isn’t about being whisked away from this world by God. Instead, God’s work of salvation is about making the world whole, and as we experience this wholeness – not perfectly of course – we have the opportunity to participate in God’s work of healing that which is broken. It is, to quote Paul, our participation as ambassadors of reconciliation, even as God, in Christ, is reconciling us to God’s self, so that we might experience the new creation (2 Cor. 5:16-21). Salvation has a partner, and that partner is judgment. Now, in our study, we’ve also been learning that God’s judgment and justice aren’t about punishment and condemnation. Although, God separates that which is good and honorable from that which is evil and dishonorable, God is not doing this in order to punish or condemn. God’s judgment is designed to make things right so that there might be peace and good will on earth as in heaven. The Psalmist declares that God will come to judge the earth in righteousness and truth. If we trust that God is not just fair, but gracious and merciful and loving, then we need not fear God’s justice. Instead, we can find in this message a word of hope, for God is not abandoning us or this world, but God instead is seeking to make things new.

Even as God promises to come and judge with righteousness and truth, we also hear a promise of stability. The Psalmist declares that the “World is firmly established and shall never be moved.” Now, that doesn’t mean that the earth won’t experience quakes or other cataclysms. I suppose it’s even possible that California could break off and fall into the sea, making Las Vegas a beach town. Rather than hearing this in a geological sense, perhaps we should hear it in the context of living in a mobile culture. It is an invitation to put our roots down into God’s presence and entrusting our lives to the care of God. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove writes of “the wisdom of stability,” and speaks of stability as being “a commitment to trust God not in an ideal world, but in the battered and bruised world we know. If real life with God can happen anywhere at all, then it can happen here among the people whose troubles are already evident to us.” (The Wisdom of Stability, Paraclete, 2010, p. 24).

With this promise of stability as our anchor in this world, may we join together with the seas and the fields and the forests, and sing for joy before the Lord, declaring that God is glorious and great. Yes, let us sing: “To God be the glory, great things he hath done!”

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Trinity Sunday
May 30, 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Turning Back the Clock -- A Pentecost Sermon

Acts 2:1-21 and  Genesis 11:1-9


The story of the Tower of Babel is a rather odd one, and yet it sets the stage for the Pentecost story. In the Genesis story a group of people discovers how to make bricks, and they use them to build a city with a tower that reaches to the clouds. This discovery offers them the means to control their own destiny. Now, they can build walls to protect themselves from outsiders and ramparts that allow them to climb into the heavens and touch God.

We understand the need to protect ourselves from outsiders and the need to reach for the stars; both are part of human nature. What may seem odd to us is God viewing all of this as a threat. Apparently, as the story gets told, the Creator of the Universe is worried that if humanity gets the right tools and abilities, they might storm the very gates of heaven and take over. To keep them at bay, God decides to confuse their languages and scatter them across the land. This may all seem rather petty, but there is a message here about hubris, alienation, and reconciliation. When we read the story of Babel with that of Pentecost, we discover that what was confused is now redeemed.


1. THE PATH TO ALIENATION

Although we might struggle with the way Genesis describes God’s response to the Tower of Babel, this story reveals a distinctly human problem – that is, hubris. Hubris is the arrogant belief that there are no limits or boundaries, and we can do whatever we please, whenever we please, with no consequences. This includes controlling all of our relationships, including our relationship with God.

In the Wednesday Bible Studies, we’ve been talking about God’s will and sovereignty. There are some among us who struggle with this question, which isn’t surprising for Disciples. Our theological fore bearers resisted the Calvinist understanding of sovereignty and stressed human free will. Although it’s understandable that we would resist overly rigid ideas about divine sovereignty, we must be careful about pushing the pendulum the other way. If there are no limits and no rules, then we face the danger of falling into anarchy and confusion.

Examples of hubris are many. They range from the innocent showboating of a football player who allows himself to be caught just short of the goal line to the forces at work in the financial sector that led to the recent global financial meltdown. Then there’s the Gulf oil spill, which lead to the death of eleven workers will cause billions of dollars of damage to the environment and the industries that depend upon the Gulf – all because the ones drilling for the oil failed to observe the limits to their equipment.

This path to alienation is symbolized by the Babel story, but the problem starts much earlier in the Genesis story. Indeed, it starts when the Serpent suggests that by eating the forbidden fruit humanity would share in divine knowledge. There are dangers stemming from the desire to control our own destiny, and the destinies of others. The biggest danger is that it leads to alienation from God and from our neighbors. You see, if we think we’re in control, it’s likely that our desires will collide with those of our neighbors, and alienation sets in.



2. THE PATH OF RECONCILIATION

The path out of this dangerous situation, which is symbolized by the Babel story, leads us to the Pentecost story. In this story, which has become very familiar to church people, the people of God gather in an upstairs room for prayer, and as they pray the Spirit falls, and things change. From the mouths of this new people of God flow words of grace and healing in a multitude of languages. As a result, everyone in the neighborhood, no matter where they hailed from, understood the good news, and their confusion turned into understanding, and the alienation that separates one from God and neighbor began to dissipate. The Spirit becomes for them and for us a sort of universal translator – to borrow an image from Star Trek.

Pentecost is a natural response to Babel, but God began sorting things out and setting things right from the beginning of these times of trouble. He does this first of all by calling on Abraham and Sarah to be the means of blessing to the nations. Through his seed, we’re told, the nations of the world will be blessed. As Christians, we believe that this seed, through which the world will be blessed, is Jesus. Pentecost carries this message of reconciliation into the future, for with the birth of the church and the coming of the Spirit, the process of reconciliation is set in motion. That which was lost in the confusion of Babel, is now restored in Pentecost’s gift of languages.

We all know what happens when we’re confused and when communication falters. To overcome this disability, we seek ways of communicating.

There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that illustrates how confusion can be overcome through the telling of stories. In an episode, called Darmok, Captain Picard finds himself alone on a deserted planet with the captain of an alien ship. The two captains face the dangers present on this planet, along with the possibility that their two ships could end up in battle. Although the universal translator allows for them to hear the words spoken, they still can’t communicate. You see the Tamarians use stories and metaphors to communicate, and in order to bridge the gap, Picard must find analogies and metaphors that carry the same meaning in his own language. Dathon continually speaks of "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra," a story about two heroes joining forces to defeat an enemy. Picard isn’t able to understand the meaning of this reference, until he remembers an ancient Babylonian story, the Gilgamesh Epic. It is in this story that he finds the key that breaks down the language barrier. What we learn from this episode, is that if we’re willing to learn each other’s stories, we’ll find a bridge that leads to healing and hope. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darmok)

I don’t need to tell you that we face a world that’s full of confusion and even chaos. The world seems to be getting smaller because of air travel and communication devices, but we still find it difficult to understand and communicate with each other. We still struggle to find the words, the stories, and even the language that will help us bridge the gaps that lead to suspicion and anger.

While the Babel story speaks of confusion, the Pentecost story offers a way of reconciliation. With the coming of the Spirit, the barriers that divide human beings from each other begin to disappear. And as we allow the Spirit to work in our lives, then we become agents of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19-20). The Spirit provides the language so that we can build the bridge that will bring us together and allow us to work together – not so we can storm heaven and take over, but so we can experience the reign of God on earth as it is experienced in heaven.


3. BUILDING THE BRIDGE THAT CROSSES THE DIVIDE

The story of Babel is about people trying to find a way to touch God, but in a way that God deems inappropriate. Perhaps they weren’t ready or their motives were wrong. Whatever is the case, God put a stop to it. But with Pentecost God provides a bridge so that we can come as one people into God’s presence. Where reckless ambition once led to confusion, now trust in God brings reconciliation.

There’s something else interesting about the story of Babel. In building a city they would have built walls, and we build walls out of fear. In life fear results from a lack of knowledge, and a lack of knowledge begins with a failure to communicate. It’s fear that keeps us apart and leads to misunderstanding and misrepresentation.

Pentecost, on the other hand, celebrates the coming of the Spirit, who empowers the church to carry the message of God’s reconciling grace to the world. It’s a message that builds bridges across gender, ethnic, language, socio-economic, religious, and political divides. It allows us to listen to the voices of the other, and it does so because the Spirit of God is there to translate the many voices present in our world.

Babel is about arrogance, but hearing God’s voice in the stories of others requires humility. It takes humility to recognize that we don’t have all the answers to life’s questions, and that God might choose to speak in ways we don’t expect, and which we can’t control. But if we trust in God, and let the Spirit move in our midst then we’ll begin to hear God speaking to us, and maybe God will speak to others through us. And the means by which this happens is the stories that we tell about God’s reconciling love and presence in our lives. May we truly hear these stories of grace and love and take them to heart, so that we might experience reconciliation and healing.


Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Pentecost Sunday
May 23, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Going and Coming -- Ascension Day Sermon

Acts 1:1-11

It’s always difficult to say goodbye. Even if you know that you’ll make new friends in the new town, it’s still hard to leave behind old friends. When I was nine, our family moved from Mount Shasta to Klamath Falls. It wasn’t a difficult move to make, because Klamath Falls is only 80 miles away from Mt. Shasta. It’s nothing like the 2000 mile trek we made from Santa Barbara to Troy. But, to a nine-year-old boy, it might as well have been a cross-country move. You see, I liked my home and my friends, and I didn’t want to leave. Mount Shasta may not be the most exciting place in the world to live, but it was a perfect place for a nine-years-old. There was snow in winter, warm sunshine in the summer. There were lakes and streams, ball fields to play on and forests to explore. Had I wanted to ski there was a 14000-foot mountain in our back yard.
When we arrived in Klamath Falls, I discovered that my new home wasn't all that bad. To my amazement, living next door were two boys, one a year older and the other a year younger. I didn't stop missing my next door neighbors Don and Dave, or my other friends from Mount Shasta, but it was good to know that there were potential new friends living next door. Life is like that, people come and they go. You make a friend and then either they move or you move. There are births and there are deaths, beginnings and endings of life. But as wonderful as it is to say hello, it’s always difficult to say goodbye.
The New Testament itself tells the story of God's comings and goings. The gospel of Luke begins with the coming of Jesus into the world, while his sequel, the book of Acts starts with Jesus bidding farewell to his disciples. Being that this is Ascension Sunday, we stand some forty days after Easter, watching as Jesus gathers his disciples together on a hillside outside Jerusalem. It’s time for him to depart to the heavenly realm, but first he must bid good-bye to his followers. But even as he says goodbye, he promises that another will come. This Holy Spirit of God that will come before too long will empower them so that they might fulfill their commission to bear witness to the ministry and words of Jesus. As we take our place on the hillside, listening to the voice of Jesus, we’re invited to ponder the comings and goings of God, and consider what that means for us.
1. Ascending the Throne
Jesus could have gone nostalgic as he gave his farewell address. He could have focused on the past, but instead he focuses on the future. He gives them a mission and promises them assistance – the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Ascension Sunday serves as a link between the glories of Easter and the joys of Pentecost. It’s a moment of mixed feelings. You have to say goodbye, but you know that something wonderful is about to happen. Ascension Sunday is about letting go. It’s a transitional moment where the past gives way to the future, and where faith becomes essential. Moving forward requires trust in God. Yes, it is a joyous moment, one that is reflected in the words of Psalm 47:
Clap your hands, all you people; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king above all the earth. (Ps. 47:1)
It is appropriate to rejoice in this new act of God, but there is more to be heard.
2. The Commission
In the days before this farewell event, Jesus gave his disciples final instructions. But as you can see, they still didn’t understand, even in the light of Easter, the full implications of his mission. They still think in political and nationalistic categories, and so they ask: "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" And once again, Jesus gently reminds them that his mission, and our mission, is much broader than kicking the Romans out of Palestine. Their confusion is understandable, because we all know that it’s hard to let go of old dreams. We see that in our own backyard – Christians clinging to the hope that Christendom might again be restored. Yes, today we hear the voices of those clamoring to have the government reimpose the Christian faith upon nations and peoples. That, however, is not the way of Jesus.
The message of Ascension is that we have received a commission to carry the good news that God is at work in the world, moving outward to the ends of the earth. We get to participate in this new act of God, beginning in our own back yard. It’s not a work that requires government intervention or support. Although it’s appropriate to call upon governments to do the right thing, neither the state nor our culture determines our message. Instead of going forth with a government stamp of approval, we go forth with the promise that the Spirit of God will come and bring the power and understanding so that this task can be accomplished. But first Jesus must say his goodbyes, so that the Spirit might say hello!
In a text that has become familiar to us, as we’ve considered the call to become a missional congregation, we hear once again Jesus commission us to be his witnesses, beginning in Jerusalem, and moving outward to the ends of the earth with a message of healing, justice, mercy, and reconciliation. The story of this going out of the Spirit fills the rest of the pages of the book of Acts, but it doesn’t end there. This narrative takes us all the way to Rome, where Paul bears witness to the message of Jesus in what was then the center of the early Christian world. But as time wore on, the church has discovered that the world is a lot larger than the borders of the Roman Empire, and so the job is not yet finished.
3. The Next Step
We live on the far side of Pentecost. We’ve already heard the commission and tasted the presence of the Spirit. But the message of Ascension Sunday is a good reminder, that we always live in an age of transition. We continually face the temptation to rest in the past, but the future beckons us. It’s easy to pine for the days when Jesus walked in our midst, teaching us the things of God, shepherding us so that we don’t get lost, but as tempting as this might be, that is not where our future lies.
The future lies with Pentecost, and the empowering presence of the Spirit, who will guide us and support us, as we engage in the mission that God has set before us. It’s a mission that is captured in our core values, those attributes that define our sense of calling: We seek to become a church that is compassionate, serving, accepting, witnessing, spiritually joyful, and worshiping. Pentecost is a week away. There are things to do in the mean time. In fact, between now and then we will gather as the Regional Church and install Maggie and Eugene as our Co-Regional Ministers for this time of Transition. We will talk about the future of the region and its work in the world. The word for today is: “wait.” Wait for the Spirit.
It’s also a day to say goodbye to that which may be beloved, but also that which holds us back. In Luke’s text, the disciples watch Jesus disappear into the clouds, like a bunch of awestruck fans. They just stare into the heavens, not knowing what to do next. They have a commission and instructions to wait for the Spirit, but like us, they get caught up in the moment. At that moment, two angelic beings dressed in dazzling white break their trance, saying:
Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. (vs. 11)
They were like the crowd that William Willimon encountered while driving along the "Loop" in Chicago. Having been caught in a massive traffic jam, he only later discovered that the people were watching a young man climb the outside wall of the Sears Tower. Their eyes were on the sky and not the road and so everything came to a halt. Fortunately no one was injured, but as Willimon writes, some Christians are like these drivers: "They're trying with all their might to keep their eyes on Jesus, but don't notice the people around them. Sometimes people get hurt as a result."1 The angels reminded the disciples of the danger of being so spiritually minded that they ended up being of no earthly good.
Yes, the angels serve to remind us that we should keep focused on our calling. Jesus may not be with us physically, but the Spirit has come upon us so that we can move ahead into the future, extending the kingdom of God, knowing that a time will come when Jesus will return and again say hello! But, we can't get caught up in waiting for that day, because when we look out into our world, we discover that there are still people needing to hear the good news that God is gracious and merciful and seeking to renew a relationship with us through Jesus.
 

  1.  William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, 29 (April, May, June 2001): 42.
Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Ascension Sunday
May 16, 2010

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Healing for the Nations

    Revelation 21:22-22:5

    In The Last Battle, the final volume of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis picks up on an important theme in Revelation.  Like the author of Revelation, Lewis describes evil as 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 imposter is controlled by the Calormenes, a rival nation that serves the evil god Tash.  The Calormenes want to control Narnia and so they exploit the Narnians’ longing for Aslan.  Jill and Eustace, two travelers from our world, help expose the imposter, but not before Narnia is destroyed.  There is great sadness in this book, but there is also good news.  That is because Narnia gives way to a new creation, the land of Aslan, into which those who are faithful to Aslan are invited to enter.   Like Revelation, The Last Battle describes what theologians call eschatology.

    What is interesting about Lewis’ story is that he offers a rather inclusive vision of the future.   You see, it’s not just the Narnians who get to enter this new world of Aslan.  Both Ermeth, a Calormene warrior, and Puzzle the donkey, who in his innocence allowed himself to be used as the fake Aslan, are invited into this new world.  In Lewis’ mind, God has a much more inclusive understanding of reality than we do many of us.    

    Before we can get to the vision that the author of Revelation and Lewis offer us, we must first recognize that there are a multitude of voices calling out to us, not all of which are wholesome and life giving.  Sometimes, when we feel uncertain and afraid, we allow ourselves to listen to voices that claim to be godly, but are not.  We live in a world where evil resists the justice and mercy of God.  Nation rises against nation, people against people, family against family, neighbor against neighbor.  Out of fear, we seek safety and security in ever tighter groups, making us susceptible to a message of “us against them.”   Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Darfur, Israel/Palestine, Sudan, Somalia, Mexico, and the Congo are all torn apart by tribal, ethnic, or religious strife, but they’re not alone.  We see it here in our own communities, where nativism – just to name one example – is on the rise. 

    In our text this morning we hear a word that exposes the darkness that is present in our midst, and welcomes us into the light.  It is a message of healing – not just for individuals, but for the nations.  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!

1.   A LIGHT IN THE WORLD

    The promise of Revelation is that no matter what happens God is present with us.  It’s in this promise of God’s resolve that we find  hope, 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 serve as both Temple and Light.  

    In this passage, the symbol of evil is the darkness that seeks to extinguish the light, for if the light can be extinguished then the people will be lost.    But no matter how encompassing the darkness might be, we hear the promise that the light of God will continue to shine into the darkness.  Therefore, there is no need to fear.   In fact, In this vision of God’s new creation, there’s no need for walls or gates, for that which is evil has no place in this new creation.  That which is unclean and false – whether it be hatred or anger, self-centeredness or rebellion, shall be burned away in the refiner’s fire.     
  
2.  GOD'S HEALING PRESENCE

    The vision moves from the light that shines into our darkness, to the healing waters of the river of life that winds its way through the city.  Along this river stands the Tree of Life.  The leaves of this Edenic Tree, which is sustained by the River of Life,  provides healing to the nations, even as the leaves of an aloevera plant brings healing to our bodies.  These leavers are a salve to the wounds brought on by human strife.

    Now these nations aren’t just political entities, for the Greek word ta ethne, which  gives us the word ethnic, speaks of every group, tribe, and race that inhabits this world of ours.  Yes, everyone is invited to experience healing in the city of God.   As Paul suggests in Galatians, in Christ “there is now neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free” (Gal. 3:28).  Our physical distinctions may not be erased in the kingdom, but these distinctions will no longer decide our place or our relationships, for in Christ we have all been made one body.  Therefore, there are no second class citizens in the kingdom of God. 

3.  TOWARD THE HEALING OF THE NATIONS

    The words "the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations" (22:2) can be found in Ezekiel (Ezk. 47:12) as well as here in Revelation, 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 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but what about the walls that divide us here in Southeast Michigan?   I’ve been told many times about the invisible wall that divides Detroit from Oakland County.

    When we read a text like this, it’s easy to assume that God will make everything right on the far side of eternity.  But, what if the new creation, the new Jerusalem has implications for life in the here and now?  If the kingdom of God is already present in our midst, initiated by Jesus in his life, his death, and his resurrection, how might we participate in God’s work of transformation?  How might we be part of the solution?

    The text speaks of the waters of life and the Tree of Life, which offer healing to the nations.  If we can move beyond seeing nations as political entities and see this as describing tribes and families and groups, then perhaps we can better grasp what God is calling us to do.  We live decades after the Civil Rights era, but many of us still live in self-imposed ghettos and enclaves, where suspicion, jealousy, and even hatred are present: African, Korean, Arab, Persian, Latino, Native American, Chinese, Vietnamese, Hmong, Anglo, Indian, Jewish, Romanian, and on and on.  Color, language, and culture remain divisive.  Many of us fall prey to fear of the other.  And often, as illustrated in Lewis’s book, this fear breaks out into violence. 

    We may feel overwhelmed by the news, but there is a word of hope in this passage of Scripture.  The church has been called to serve as agents of healing and reconciliation.  God desires to use us to pour out the living water into the world, so that the dry lands might once again bear fruit.    In our discussions over the last year or so, using the Unbinding the Gospel materials, we talked about prayer and faith sharing.  As the living waters take hold in our lives, we are freed to speak and live God’s healing presence in a broken and hurting world. 

    Consider what Martin Luther King told moderate Southern whites many years ago.  He said that 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 he wrote: 
    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!  9th edition, (Argonaut Press, 1998), 141].

    And so how does this call to join in the work of bringing healing to the nations fit into our Mother’s Day celebration?  Well, before Mother’s Day was a big consumer bash, Julia Ward Howe, the author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” made a proclamation that  called on women to honor mothers by becoming peacemakers.  Writing in the aftermath of the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, she called for an end to the seemingly endless conflicts and wars that plagued the world.  She called on the women of the world to rise up and bring healing to the nations, declaring:

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. 

There is a connection between Revelation and Mother’s Day, and it is found in this call to bring peace and healing to the nations.    May we all heed this call to be agents of healing in the world! 

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
May 9, 2010
Sixth Sunday of Easter