Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Simple Rule to Save the World

A Sermon by Rev. Gregory H. Ledbetter preached on May 6, 2007
at Shell Ridge Community Church, Walnut Creek, CA

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. (Revelation 21:1-6)

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13:34-35)

One world in which we live together, one sun shining on you and me, one ocean flows into another, one day we all will be free… (-from a song by Mike Stern)

When I was in college, this women would frequently write me letters … well, actually, it was my mom. Mom would write letters of encouragement to her son (these were the days before the instancy and immediacy of the cell phone) … these were of the “hang in there son” variety … “you can do it, son” … my mom knew that the struggles in the present had the potential of obscuring my goals for the future.

John of Patmos was also a letter writer. He was a Christian disciple living in exile on the island of Patmos … he knows how difficult things are for his fellow Christians. John has a vision and he writes it down and it becomes a great word of encouragement for Christians who are suffering persecution for their faith.

John writes in a literary style called: “apocalyptic literature” … John’s letter is alternately known as “the Revelation of John” or the Apocalypse of John. We’ve come to think of “Apocalypse” as being some cataclysmic event, perhaps because many of the writings dealt the end of the world … the word apocalypse simply means: revelation … to reveal. The word apocalypse literally means: “to lift the curtain”.

In the midst of the awfulness of their present situation, John writes to offer encouragement and a shining vision of the world as God intends it. John’s letter is written to encourage the Christians to see what he sees and to live into the vision of a world where God dwells among God’s people … where suffering has ended … where the abundance of the earth is shared by all.

As long as the human being has had self-consciousness, it has dreamed of a “world that is right” … from the idyllic “Garden of Eden” where the children of Israel imagined earth’s beginnings and earth’s first couple … to Isaiah’s great vision of swords beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks and the lion laying with the lamb … to John of Patmos’ vision of a new heavens and new earth … to Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech … to Mike Stern’s beautiful song, “One World” that we sang this morning.

Sometimes politicians and demagogues have enticed their listeners and followers with visions of a better world … an idealized world, but too often that world involves someone else having to suffer, having to do without. Hitler dreamed of a ideal society populated by a master race, but it meant killing off any who would pollute the bloodstream and the ideals of such a society.

Against such monstrosities of every time and every generation, a simple word … a simple rule keeps exerting itself … quietly, insistently. A different “John”, the author the Gospel of John tells that Jesus’ offered to his disciples an simple but powerful counterweight to the principalities and powers. Jesus said: “I give you a new commandment: that you love one another.”

Talk about a “candle in the wind”. Is this how Jesus proposes to “arm” his disciples against all of the horrors that John’s community was already facing when his gospel was written. “Love one another.” It’s like trying to put a volcano out by spitting into it. Isn’t it? Isn’t it?

But Jesus simple words … which get echoed by the other gospel writers … Jesus’ simple words are the fine, sharp tip of the great iceberg which is this dream of a world at peace with itself, living in the blessed company of its creator. “Love one another.” A tiny, pin-prick of a statement … three words that yet propose to change the world.

I took high school chemistry from a woman who had started her career working for 3M (I think) … Miss Carraba told about her work developing safety glass … she said that the glass she helped develop could withstand the repeated blows of a sledgehammer, it was that strong. Then she said to us, eyes twinkling, “I’ll tell you a secret … while you can’t break the glass with a sledgehammer, if you stab the glass with the point of an icepick, the glass will shatter.”

Jesus does not offer his followers a “weapon” of a conventional nature … a bigger sword, a better chariot … he doesn’t offer his followers a sledgehammer with which to go after the sledgehammers of Rome with its legions and wars and oppression … Jesus offers a tiny, pin-prick of a rule … simply that his followers would “love on another”.

You can’t out-Rome Rome … but you can out-love Rome.

You can’t force the world to conform to John’s vision or Isaiah’s vision or Martin’s vision … there’s no brute force in the world strong enough to create the peaceable kingdom … but love can. Only love can create a new city … a new world … a new creation where justice reigns, where abundance is for all people … a new creation whose gates are always open and whose light always shines; a place of great joy where the darkness of violence, exploitation, suffering and death is banished.

A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another.

Wednesday morning, I found myself sitting in an elementary school cafeteria with a couple hundred children and a surprisingly sparse number of teachers who were yet able to keep peace among the unruly masses. I was there to hear Jake Hindes’ third grade class present a musical presentation. I had no idea what the musical was about. Truly no idea.

By the time the musical had ended, I had tears in my eyes and I felt as though I’d just sat through a powerful sermon preached by a group of rapping and clapping third graders.

Together, the musical and the children declared, together is the only way we’re going to help save the only world we’ve got … we’ve got to pull together.

It reminded us of our common humanity … “You’re not that different from me.” We may look different and sound different, but underneath it all we are very nearly the same.

Let’s talk things through, the kids beg and beckoned … how can we share our visions for a better world and how can we solve the problems that beset us if we cannot talk with one another.

Jake’s line: “We must learn to communicate …”

We are the children: teach us to use our power well … they sang, and I got the sense that it was not the power that their elders wield that they sang about, but a “soul force” such as Martin Luther King spoke of, a soul force exemplified by Jesus and Gandhi and Martin King himself.

We’ve got to do better. The kids reminded us that the gap between the world we imagine—we yearn for—and the world that is is too wide. We’ve got to do better, and who better to tell us than the young ones whose eyes are not yet clouded by cataracts of conformity.

And then in a slangy, almost prophetic voice, they raised a chant: War stinks … poverty stinks … pollution stinks … wherever and however we have failed as a race to heal the world through our shared efforts—it stinks!

But these kids are no handwringers … no wailing about their helplessness in the face of such challenges … I can … you can … we can. Over and over … I can … you can … we can … I can … you can … we can.

Here I sat in a “godless, secular” (ha!) school thinking that I was hearing a musically writ large version of the vision of John empowered by the simple rule of Jesus … a simple rule that can save the world.

I can … you can … we can.

Mike Stern’s song says: “One day we will all meet our maker … ‘til that day we must do what we can to stand by each other, to love one another, every child, every woman and man … every child every woman and man.”

One world in which we live together, one sun shining on you and me, one ocean flows into another, one day we all will be free … one day we all will be free.

Love one another … it’s a simple rule that can save the world.

I can … you can … we can.