The soldiers of Ft Campbell, KY are largely members of the 101st Airborne. They are air assault troops who move quickly and with little in the way of equipment. When they met for DISCIPLE Bible study they didn’t look much like the “Screaming Eagles” of the photo ops. They came as wounded warriors, brave in the face of …whatever, but desperately in need of hearing that God loved them just as they are. That God had a better plan than what they had seen…that there would come a day when there would be no more war. The most important thing for them to know deep in their souls as they went into Somalia and Haiti and other brief actions that never made the news, was that God was working towards the healing of all creation, and the seeds of that were at work now. The second most important thing for them to know was they could align themselves with that work, even while serving in the military as a supply officer, a sergeant major overseeing training, or as a cook feeding the troops. They needed hope in order to serve.
We don’t really expect God to act. That isn’t even something we think about much. Certainly not to create upheaval of the world. Even if that is what the scriptures tell us. It seems so far-fetched. All the bits in the Bible about the eschaton, the healing of all things or coming of Christ, seems like a futuristic fantasy. And it is still hard to wrap our imaginations around it.
This passage in Revelation, with a crystal pure river and trees of live with leaves for the healing of the nations, has a dream-like quality for us. All will see the face of God and Christ and there will be no darkness…we have a hard time imagining this. We are more familiar with dystopian futuristic visions than eschatology. We can envision the end of our world quite easily as an alien invasion, an asteroid hitting us, a nuclear holocaust or climate change annihilation thanks to films and, well perhaps, a “sum of all fears” reality.[i]
Revelation gives us something else – mythology and symbolic language which may help us to envision something beyond either our normal experience or our fears. It may help us imagine a COSMIC difference, where God has an ultimate hand in our world. It is based on the foundational idea that we merely human beings need to be in close relationship with God for anything GOOD to happen. And in the final judgment based on THAT assumption, creation – all creation – is made new, made over, healed. Love triumphs, God wins. It is the end hope that life as we are living it is transient and uncertain and that future certainty, a trustable outcome , starts and ends with God. The death of THINGS opens up the possibility of focusing on the LOVE OF GOD, which endures. HERE we can see a new era for God’s people and for all creation.
KINGDOM MOMENTS. This offers the possibility that we can live in EXPECTATION of something good that will happen…the idea of a saving history that has been part of the understanding of the Hebrew Bible and somehow has been overshadowed in our modern age. If we EXPECT God to be in the midst of redemptive work, we are more likely to SEE it. If we are looking for them, we might SEE Kingdom Moments…moments that God uses to give us hope and help us see things differently.
-- Moments like the “Soundtrack for Revolution” Rally last night in Oak Park where our children and youth, full of promise and hope, stood up against hate. Or the student-led march against hate that will begin at OPRF today at 3:00 pm and march down Lake Street to the park at Lake and Harlem. We can show up to hear them, and offer support!
-- Moments like the Shabbat of Solidarity on Friday a week ago where Christians came out in support for our Jewish neighbors, and the conversations over breakfast yesterday that continued that thought on support in the presence of anti-Semitic hate speech
-- Moments like the partnership of PADS clients and our church volunteers in cleaning up on Friday morning when it was truly “ministry with” rather than "ministry TO” our guests.
Kingdom Moments – where the action of God is at work, where we can see forces for redemption and reconciliation even among us.
We CAN expect God to act – and watch for the moments among us when God’s activity might nudge us into a new way of thinking, or living. These scriptures tell us that the God of the Bible has made promises to us that will surely be kept. The past stories are powered by the coming future when all creation will be restored. God will act. God is acting. And if we are looking, we may glimpse the activity of God![ii]
The Now. The idea of God’s coming, God’s dream, God’s great healing – however we want to describe it – has the power to help us here and now. It can put the life we live in perspective in a rather ultimate way. It can help us get unstuck from the things that tie us in knots. It can help us to focus on what really matters. Now.
The words of the “Canticle of Light and Darkness” are haunting.
“We look for light but find darkness..we grope like those who have no eyes.”
But God reveals the deep and mysterious things – and perhaps lights the world so that we can see things that seemed cast in shadow before.
The holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas are approaching. As we make plans for celebration, what we plan matters. I am always deeply thankful for inquiries from families who want to know how they can help others as a part of their Thanksgiving celebration. Bringing socks for the homeless, serving PADS on the night of Thanksgiving, walking through town Thanksgiving night with hot coffee and turkey sandwiches to give away. These things reflect thoughts of how God is at work and how WE can be a part of God’s action.
At Christmas, part of the celebration of THIS congregation is the adoption of families and purchasing of gifts for each member of that family. Taking children shopping to provide Christmas for others is a wonderful way of teaching them that Christmas is about giving – not receiving. And it isn’t bad for adults either! Another part of the season is the Sing-Along Messiah concert on December 2 that provides a significant offering for Housing Forward.
But we don’t have to wait for holidays to live differently in the NOW moments of our lives. God calls us to prepare ourselves for God’s future action by living out our faith in significant ways now. To do that, we have to let go of some of the things that hold us back from living in the moment – and they may be cherished memories. We ALL get stuck in the past sometimes. We idealize our memories, tending to remember the happiest times and places of our lives and wishing we were back there.
But God calls us to live in the MOMENT – to consider “the gift of this day” and what we should do with it instead of either marking time until some point in the future, or wasting time wishing we were still in past circumstances. Because NOW is the moment that needs us – where we can do some good for God and for others.
James Russell Lowell’s poem, “The Present Crisis,” on which that old favorite him,
“Once for Every Man and Nation” is based, offers the challenge quite powerfully.
“New occasions teach new duties;
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still, and onward,
Who would keep abreast of Truth;
…Not attempt the Future’s portal with the Past’s blood-rusted key.”[iii]
We live between memories of the past and hope for the future. Now – focus on what matters. Now, figure out how to serve in the present in new ways – ways that fit the moment. NOW.
How we remember the past, therefore, matters. How it shapes us in the present and urges us towards the future matters.
On this 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day, I remember an amazing group of veterans that I had the honor to serve as pastor. The year that I was serving as the pastor of Berlin United Methodist Church – yes, spelled like the capital of Germany, but pronounced differently – Veteran’s Day fell on a Sunday. They approached me in August asking if the Veterans in the church could write a prayer for that day, and I enthusiastically agreed to have them lead us. They worked together to prepare and lead the entire service. In that congregation, every single man who attended regularly and a number of the women, were military veterans. The service that they led focused on love, repentance and forgiveness. They spoke, as only Veterans can speak, of the irreparable harm they had done to others: lives lost, families broken, communities reduced to survival level. They spoke without any defensiveness of their need to be forgiven. And they shared their later attempts to repair the damage. They asked for an offering to be taken for help with reparations of war. There were several veterans from WWII, and quite a few from Korea, Vietnam, First Gulf War and other military actions. No one walked away from that worship service unscathed –( pause) – or unforgiven. Their words of assurance said that while we draw breath we can work for peace. While we draw breath, we can see to repair the harm we’ve done. And with every breath we take, in our harming others and in our efforts towards healing them, God is with us – loving us and never giving up on us.
They reminded us that morning that we are not RIGHT, nor are we anywhere near PERFECT. That at our best, we are broken and sinful. But that even at our worst, we are loved – and so are those on the other side of the war zone or political argument.
Incarnation. Part of what helped them – and perhaps us as well – was their understanding that the Incarnation, the coming of Jesus into the world, changed the world. It changes us. It suggests a point of decision – that we don’t have to wait for that far-flung day of the eschaton to live differently in the present. The question for us is, “Will we let God’s grace live in us? Will we let God’s grace WORK in us – even though we are far from perfect?” Their decision was YES. They announced that WE ALL live under both judgment and grace BECAUSE there will come a day of restoration. And we can live in grace, even in the midst of the conflict and mess.
We are God’s people BEING forgiven,
BEING used to serve others and repair relationships that have been damaged. We are still works in progress – human, broken, and very loved by God who seeks to make all things, including us new.
And while no one read the words of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” at that worship service, it would have been a fitting conclusion to it. And perhaps to today’s message as well. Those veterans did agree with Cohen’s explanation of the piece. Cohen said,
The future is no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards yourself and your job and your love. “Ring the bells that still can ring”: they’re few and far between but you can find them.
This situation does not admit of solution of perfection. This is not the place where you make things perfect, neither in your marriage, nor in your work, nor anything, nor your love of God, nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect.
And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together: Physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the light gets in, and that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.[iv]
Here these words from Cohen’s “Anthem.”
ANTHEM by Leonard Cohen The birds they sing, at the break of day Start again, I heard them say. Don’t dwell on what has passed away Or what is yet to be. Yes, the wars, they will be fought again The holy dove she will be caught again Bought, and soul, and bought again The dove is never free. Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in. We asked for signs. The signs were sent The birth betrayed. The marriage spent Yeah, the widowhood of every government Signs for all to see. I can’t run no more, with that lawless crowd While the killers in high places say their prayers out loud But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up a thundercloud They’re going to hear from me. Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in. You can add up the parts; you won’t have the sum You can strike up the march, there is no drum Every heart, every heart to love will come But like a refugee. Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in.
[i] Tom Clancy, The Sum of all Fears, espionage thriller of a plot to engage the US and Russia in WWIII.
[ii] Walter Brueggeman, The Bible Makes Sense, 47
[iii] James Russell Lowell, “The Present Crisis.”
[iv] Interview by Cassier Werber, November 11, 2016.