Thursday, March 27, 2003


WE SEEK A BETTER COUNTRY

Last Sunday's sermon might seem, at first blush, to be avoiding the issue of right or wrong regarding the Iraq war. Actually, it is an implied slam on the deepest heresy working within American Christianity--the idea that "God blesses America." This heresy is at work in every nation, but it does its worst damage in militarily powerful ones, for obvious reasons. Its sources go all the way back to the Emperor Constantine, who, about the year 315 AD, told his soldiers to put the Holy Cross on their battle shields, and "by this sign, conquer." God does conquer by the power of the Cross, but calling on its power to commit mass homocide is an obscenity whose horror we cannot grasp because we have grown used to it over 1700 years.

b>THE ROAD BEFORE US

Genesis 12: 1-5; Hebrews 11: 13-16

March 23, 2003

Rev. Steve Harvester

It seems like a long time since last Sunday, when war was still a possibility and not a present reality. I chose the sermon title, “The Road Before Us,” a month ago. It has a new meaning now, and contains a new question. As our soldiers move up the road to Baghdad, what other roads are before us as a people? Where is the road taking us, and where will it end?

When we ask this question of our political leaders, they will answer in terms of politics. They will talk about what this means for the future of the Middle East, the battle against terrorism, or the role of the United Nations in global affairs. “Where is this road taking us,” you ask, and they assume the “us” you are talking about is “us Americans,” or “us people of the world.”

When you bring your question to the Bible, however, you discover that the Bible has a different “us” in mind. The Bible is the roadmap for the citizens of an international kingdom, the kingdom of God.

The new “us,” the new people, gets its start about 4,000 years ago, with the encounter we read about today. Abram and Sarai are told to take a new road, “to a land I will show you,” says God. That’s all the description they get. They set out together, and as Paul would point out thousands of years later, what made them the parents of a great nation was not circumcision, but faith. Abram became Abraham, and Sarai became Sarah. They arrived at the Promised Land—but it was owned by other people. “Don’t worry,” God said. “I am giving this land to you—in my own time, in my own way.” So Abraham set up a pile of rocks on the land God said was his. His descendents came back with Joshua to claim it—about 500 years later. The new people, the new “us,” is a people who don’t always have any earthly country at all. What makes us a people is our faith.

The Sword in the Stone is a Disney movie about the young King Arthur, based on the novel The Once and Future King. In the book, Merlin, the great wizard, changes Arthur into a hawk. He tells him to fly high and far, then come back and report on what he sees. Arthur tells Merlin about many wonderful sights. Then Merlin asks, “What did you not see? What Arthur did not see, it turns out, is boundary lines. Merlin is helping the future king to understand that God made this world whole, undivided, and beautiful. No matter how distant, he is to keep that vision before him always: A world with no borders, no enemies, no wars.

There was a song playing on the radio at the time of the last Iraqi war. Bette Midler sang it. It was written by a woman as she gazed at photographs of the Earth, taken from a satellite in outer space. Perhaps you remember the lyrics. They go like this:

From a distance the world looks blue and green,And the snow-capped mountains whiteFrom a distance the ocean meets the stream,And the eagle takes to flightFrom a distance, there is harmony,And it echoes through the landIt's the voice of hope, it's the voice of peace,It's the voice of every manFrom a distance we all have enough,And no one is in needAnd there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,No hungry mouths to feedFrom a distance we are instrumentsMarching in a common bandPlaying songs of hope, playing songs of peaceThey're the songs of every manGod is watching us, God is watching usGod is watching us from a distanceFrom a distance you look like my friend,Even though we are at warFrom a distance I just cannot comprehendwhat all this fighting is forFrom a distance there is harmony,And it echoes through the landAnd it's the hope of hopes, it's the love of loves,it's the heart of every manIt's the hope of hopes, it's the love of lovesThis is the song of every manAnd God is watching us, God is watching us,God is watching us from a distanceOh, God is watching us, God is watchingGod is watching us from a distance

Like Abraham and Sarah, like young Arthur, we cannot imagine how, or when, this vision of a Promised Land, a new Eden flowing with milk and honey, will ever come to pass. We can’t visualize a course of history that will bring us to one world, no borders, no hunger or war or disease. What we can see is the road, the road before us. What the Letter to the Hebrews said 2,000 years ago is true for us, the people of faith all over the world who hear the words again today:

From Abel to Abraham to the present day, “All of these died in faith without having received the promises. But from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak this way must make it clear that they are seeking a homeland…They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11: 13-16).”

What is the road set before us? As Americans, we have to do our best to figure that out. We have to make the best choices, as voters and active citizens, to point our nation and the world towards a future of relatively more justice and relatively more peace. As the people of God, the road before us is longer, but it is the only road that leads us to the better country, the city God has prepared. In our doing the pragmatic jobs of daily life, let us never lose sight of that vision: our one, beautiful, unbroken world. Let us step onto the road together, in the Spirit of our Lord Jesus, hand in hand.