Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Beautiful World?

Sermon preached April 28, 2013

Texts: Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

U2, A Beautiful Day

The Rascals, A Beautiful Morning

Louis Armstrong, A Wonderful World

I love each of those songs. In listening, I am reminded of the line from the 1930s series of aphorisms – “Desiderata”: With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Is it?
I picked up my newspaper this week and read that with an unstable Syria next door, the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and there are concerns that it, too, may descend into civil war.
Last week in the town of West, Texas, a chemical fertilizer plant exploded, killing dozens, injuring many more, leaving a 100 foot wide, 10 feet deep hole in the ground. The very things we have invented to help us feed each other, have the potential to do great harm.
Of course there is Boston. Two young men, apparently angry and estranged, feed their alienation so that it becomes a violent malice, a malice that led them toward bombing and murder, with plans for more. The communication tools we have invented to stay connected also provide opportunities for the feeding of hatred. The same video capabilities which allow me to watch the U2 video of “It’s a Beautiful Day” allow others to watch bomb-making videos. Religious teachings, intended to bring out our best, to foster compassion, to promote peace, are twisted by anger and alienation into providing justification for violent, calculated killing.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it’s still a beautiful world? There is more than just sham and drudgery and broken dreams. Candide is right, “there is a horrible deal of evil on earth.”
Can we really say, “it’s still a beautiful world?” No and yes.
To my mind it does us little good to minimize the pain, hurt, hatred, violence, malice, discouragement and broken dreams we see in the world around us. Our Christian faith is not the faith of Pangloss, “in the best of all possible worlds, everything is for the best.” Instead we acknowledge “the spiritual forces of wickedness, the evil powers of this world” as our baptismal vows have it.
And yet, and yet, there is beauty, grace, kindness, generosity, tenderness, courage, compassion and love. In those moments when someone does his worst, other people display what is best about us – courage, compassion, care. We run toward explosions to see if anyone needs our help.
There is beauty, grace, kindness, generosity, tenderness, courage, compassion and love amidst horrible evil, malice, destructiveness. Yes there are spiritual forces of wickedness – decisions toward harm and evil build up and take up a life of their own. Hatred multiplies, and becomes something more than any one person chose. Yet in the end, what we affirm, what our faith affirms, is that beauty is stronger. Beauty and grace and kindness and goodness and generosity and tenderness and courage and compassion and love are stronger because God is at work in our lives and in our world building a newer world, a world rooted in love.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them; they will be God’s people and God will be with them; God 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…. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
God is at work toward a newer world. God is at work making all things new.
Jesus said, ‘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.
God is at work toward a newer world, a beautiful world. God is at work making all things new. The direction of this work is love.
Have you ever been puzzled by Jesus’ words here? What’s so new about this new commandment? In Deuteronomy we are told to love God. In Leviticus we are told to love our neighbor as ourselves – yes, that’s in Leviticus. What’s new here? Maybe this. “Just as I have loved you, love.” We are to love with a Jesus-kind of love, a God-kind of love. And maybe what else is new is the scope of that love – both intimate and wide. Love one another, in the Jesus community. Love starts here. It starts in our families and in our family in faith. The distinguishing characteristic of followers of Jesus is not what we do at 10 am Sunday morning, though that matters. The distinguishing characteristic of followers of Jesus is how they relate to all those who are gathering together in the same place at 10 am Sunday morning. Are we building a community of love here?
But our love cannot just stay here. The Jesus-kind of love, the God-kind of love is broad and expansive. It reaches out. Churches are intended to be experiments in building communities of love whose love boils over into the world.
God is at work building a beautiful world rooted in love.
This is love, that we know the closeness of God. This is God’s newer world.
This is love, that tears are wiped gently away. This is God’s newer world.
This is love, that we respond to mourning. This is God’s newer world.
This is love, that we answer the cries of pain we hear. This is God’s newer world.
This is love, that the thirsty have their thirsts quenched. This is God’s newer world.
Love is a gift. You are loved. Accept that. Accept that you are excepted.
Love is a task. You are loved, so love. Take the risk to love. Exercise the courage to love. It may be a process. It often is. The important thing is that we are on that journey toward loving.
There was a fascinating article in the latest issue of The Christian Century (May 1, 2013) “Feeling forgiven helps us forgive others.” The article reported on two research projects which say that “individuals who believe that a loving God forgives them are far more likely to turn around and absolve others.” Furthermore, trust in God’s forgiveness… also may make it more likely for individuals to forgive themselves, which in turn seems to make it easier for them to extend mercy to others. By the way, all of this forgiveness also seems to have health benefits. And just one other tidbit from the report: “participants who were more satisfied with the emotional support they received from church members were more likely to forgive themselves.”
Forgiveness is a powerful form of love. Love is a gift. Accept it. Accept that you are accepted. Accept that you are forgiven. Love is a task. You are loved – love. You are forgiven – forgive. Now both are processes, as I’ve said before – especially forgiveness – but are we on the journey? And the quality of our life together here helps us love and forgive ourselves and others. We are companions on the way.
And then God takes our acts of love and uses them to build God’s newer world. And when we love, it is like that newer world breaking into this world of ours. With all its sham, drudgery, broken dreams, pain, hurt, horror, it’s still a beautiful world because God’s newer beautiful world begins here, breaks in here. It blossoms in our lives. It is meant to flourish in our life together here. It is intended to be shared with the world. When we love, we work with God to create a more beautiful world. There is no greater joy, no more delightful purpose for our lives. By this will all know that we follow Jesus. Love. Amen.

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