In the story of
paradise told in the opening chapters of Genesis, there stands a tree of
life in the center of the Garden of Eden, and the tree of knowledge of
good and evil.
And then in the
concluding chapter of our scripture, we find a new paradise, the new
City of God. Not someplace up in heaven (however we conceive
that), but the vision of Revelation is very clear of the city that
descends, the New Jerusalem that comes to earth where God will dwell
with the people.
Once again, in the
center of that paradise, stands a tree. A tree for the healing of
the nations. Old-timers here will remember that that is what is
pictured on the last window up here in the corner of the sanctuary, of
that vision of the pearly gates as it were, and the tree on either side.
That is the tree of the healing of the nations [Click
Here to view a picture of this stained-glass window].
And using that tree
as it's "logo", the general assembly of the Christian Church Disciples
of Christ in the United States and Canada met this past week in
Three of our members
were there, I presume returning home today. The Assembly met under
the theme "For the Healing of the Nations". In the opening worship
service, the ensemble that led the music for the Assembly (led by Pastor
Bill Thomas), used this image of the tree as a symbol for God's vision
for our world. A vision of hope.
So I want to read for
you the text this morning from Revelation 22 from which this image of
the tree comes. And then play a 4-minute video from that opening
service as one interpretation of this vision, so that you may catch a
glimpse of the flavor and spirit of our Assembly, where 6,000 Disciples
gathered for worshipful work, inspiration, education, and renewal.
So then, reading from
Then the angel showed
me the river of the water of life, bright as
crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the
Lamb 2through the middle of the
street of the city. On either side of the river is
the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit,
producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of
the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3Nothing
accursed will be found there any more. But the
throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his
servants will worship him; 4they
will see his face, and his name will be on their
foreheads. 5And there will be no
more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for
the Lord God will be their light, and they will
reign forever and ever.
then played a 4-minute video as mentioned.
The video can be viewed here.
The full video is over an hour in length. The 4-minutes Dan played
begin at the 51:06 mark -- once the video has started, you can use the
slider bar at the bottom of the video window to advance to the 51-minute
That's the 7th or 8th
time I've listened to that, and every time I hear something new, so it's
the kind of thing you have to listen to over & over again to get more &
more from it.
While the nation has
focused on who is drinking beer with whom in the White House
the Disciples have been doing the work of the church in Indianapolis,
thought it hasn't made national news. Church business rarely does,
unless there's a scandal or a shooting. Seeing how sex & violence
is something we try to avoid when we come to church, you know, there's
not much for the media here.
But there have been
some very interesting things happening at that Assembly in Indianapolis.
I do not intend to give a report on it this morning, since I wasn't even
there, but I've been catching little glimpses of it from the Internet.
I do want to share with you a few thoughts on why the business of the
larger church, the global church, is important to us. It matters
to us here in little Eugene, Oregon.
From right here,
right now, as the woman chanted in her poem, there stands a tree, with
roots outstretched from Eugene to Indianapolis. From Camp
Whitebranch to the White House. From Salem to Jerusalem. And
that tree is the body of Christ, of which we are but one small branch.
We sometimes forget that we are just one branch, not the whole tree.
That we depend upon that tree for our life and our vitality.
The newly formed
identity statement of the Disciples to describe who we are as a church
says "We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a
fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome
all to the Lord's table as God has welcomed us".
The goal of our
General Minister and President and the planners of that Assembly was to
make the Assembly a reflection on that self-understanding.
Speaking to the ways in which we participate in God's healing. And
ultimately in God's redemption of the world, symbolized by our unity
around the table, where we gather as one people of God.
So what happens in
that biennial event shapes who the Disciples are and how we are present
in the world, doing the work of Christ. And therefore it also
shapes us as part of that body.
The Reverend from the
United Congregational Church of Zimbabwe was this year's speaker at the
global ministries dinner in Indianapolis, one of the events that I
always try to attend when I'm at the Assembly. And he challenged
the delegates gathered there, he said: "What is needed today is a
new way of being and doing church. We need a servant church that
is anchored on service to communities in which we live".
And we know that, we
live that out. We seek to be that kind of servant church. So
nothing new there. But he went on to say: "The same
temptations of being co-opted into the corruptive systems of the empire
that blunted the witness of the early Disciples are still with us
today". And so the Reverend from Zimbabwe called for us as the
church to be a leaf for the healing of the nations by doing things like
recognizing and confessing our complicity in the pains and the wounds
that are greed inflicts on the environment and the other nations of the
on the schemes of empire, and mobilizing human, material, and spiritual
resources for the battle against the God of empire. You see, this
is one of the things that the larger church does for us -- connecting us
to our partners around the world, helping us to see the world through
their eyes. And the ways in which we are interconnected.
And how we do here
matters to our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world.
"Mission" today has a whole different meaning than it did years ago.
It's no longer about 'us', the enlightened westerners bringing salvation
to un-informed, backward, native people. Mission is what we do
together. It's not what we do to and for some distant people.
But rather, mission is about being part of that tree as the poet
described it, the incarnation of hope, that tree that bridges the space
between you and me, east and west, creed and clichι, need and greed, my
hymn and your chant.
O for a world where
Christ brings healing through this tree.
Through the global
church, we are part of that tree that reaches out its leaves of healing
for the nations.
Like all Assemblies,
there were lots of reports of business items, some more important than
others. All of them are online if you're so inclined and have time
to read them, at the Church's web site,
One of the more
interesting items was a call to establish September 12th as a day for an
"axis of friendship" when we will light candles in our homes and hold
events across the country in our churches to advocate for and pursue the
path of diplomacy and non-violence to resolve conflict around the world.
But what made the
resolution more interesting was that it was revised during the Assembly.
And those of you who have attended any of our church Assemblies know how
difficult that is -- you can imagine when you have a few thousand voting
delegates, you don't just get up and make a motion to change the wording
of a resolution (you'd be there forever). So there's a very
complex process of referral back to a committee, things brought back to
the Assembly before anything can be changed. And this particular
resolution was revised, adding a litany of trouble spots around the
world, from the decade of conflict in the Congo, where nearly 600
million people have been killed, and we hardly ever read about.
And the recent unrest in Iran and Honduras. And the resolution
"The General Assembly expresses solidarity with people around the
world, especially now in the Congo, Honduras, Iran, the Korean
peninsula, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, and continues to
work for friendship with people, church and interfaith partners and
others, there and everywhere, in critical presence ministries".
This is what the
global church does for us, this is our task as church -- a ministry of
critical presence. To be present with people in their daily
struggles, especially in those times and places when and where they are
most vulnerable. And it is through that presence, when the church
stands with people -- after an earthquake, after a hurricane, after a
war, in the midst of a famine or other health crisis -- that Christ is
present, making a difference, bringing healing to the nations.
In the closing
ceremonies last night in Indianapolis, which I have not yet seen,
representatives from the 'fragmented' world, from places of brokenness,
division, and strife, stood together with the leaders of the church
around the table of the Lord in a visible expression of the healing we
are called to embody as Christ's church. We were not there, so we
can only imagine what that service might have been like.
And yet we were
there. We were not there when Jesus gathered his Disciples at that
last supper, and so we can only imagine what that might have been like.
And yet we were there. Because whenever and wherever (be it in
Indianapolis last night or Jerusalem 2,000 years ago) the church gathers
around the table of the Lord, we are there. We are that church and
that church is us. We are part of that one body of Christ.
want to play one more clip for you from the Assembly, to connect us once
again to what happened this week in the larger church. And this
clip is from our General Minister and President, Sharon Watkins, who
describes her visit to the Congo last year. She spoke briefly
about it in her sermon
that she gave here a couple of months ago, but she goes into more
detail in this sermon. And she talks about flying over the jungle
in the Congo for hundreds and hundreds of miles, seemed like forever, so
many trees, that jungle is so vast. They came to a small airport
where they could land, and from there they took a boat up the river, 2
canoes with a small outboard motor, making its way up the river.
Just the same way the old U.S. Oregon used to do, that our church helped
support back in the 1920s. And they made there way up to these
little villages that are only accessible by boat, where the Disciples
And it just so
happened that one of the churches they visited there, a newborn baby of
the Pastor of the church was to be dedicated. And that Pastor's
father, in an act of partnership and grace, invited one of the visiting
pastors from Indiana (Rick Spleth), to do the honors of blessing his
baby. So here is this white pastor with this very black African
child in this powerful moment in the celebration of life and the
celebration of church, as they dedicated Henock, the child's name.
Sharon spoke of the
ways in which that jungle literally is the lungs of our planet, and how
we are interconnected. And she took away something special that
day, that this was not only God's child, but in that little Disciple
church in a small Congo village accessible only by boat that few of us
will ever have the chance to see, that Henock was also our child.
So I want to play
this clip so she goes with that, as she talks about her new awareness of
her own lifestyle and how that impacts Henock:
then played the video of Sharon Watkins' sermon -- the portion
referenced below begins at the 1:29:10 mark of the online video]
just learned that my own energy‐use pattern in my house,
where I hardly even live because I travel so much, uses
the same energy as three cars! Worse than average
in my neighborhood. It's clear if I love Henock
I need to quit being such an energy hog!
what? How vulnerable can I be? How warm in
summer and cool in winter, how much less hot water,
fewer electrical appliances can I use? How much of
Henock's reality can I let in to my awareness everyday?
And be guided by it? Because we are family, united in a
circle of care. Because Henock, no less than me,
deserves a life of abundance, including a share of
earth's material abundance.
scarcity with which Henock lives may be normal in a
world defined by economists, but is not acceptable in
the abundant world defined by Genesis. Whatever
the economists may say, it's not God's normal that the
children in Henock's congregation go until six o'clock
at night without food while their parents work their
fingers to the bone to bring home that one meal.
normal, and it's not right. And if Henock is truly
my child, if his family is my family, I know it's not
right, and now what? now I have to do something
little baby is a stranger half way around the world, I
don't have to care. But if he's my little brother,
Henock, I do. And he is my little brother, and he is
yours. And how I live as a Hoosier is inescapably
connected to the life of Disciples on the Congo River.
And how Congolese are able to care for their forests
will inevitably affect how Americans are able to
continue a happy way of life.
of all people, said over half a century ago:
being is part of the whole called by us universe . . .
We experience ourselves . . . as something separate from
the rest. A kind of optical delusion of
consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison
for us, restricting us . . . to affection for a few
persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free
ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of
compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole
of nature in its beauty. . .
shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if
humanity is to survive.
We have that way of thinking! It's in God's
imprint on creation. It's in the glory shining
forth from us through Jesus' prayer. It is in the
vision of wholeness that we bring by the grace of God
into this fragmented world. A vision that takes us
out of the prison of ourselves and widens into a global
circle of care."
Church. We have
that way of thinking. That vision of God given to us. To be
a light to the world, to share that hope, to bring to people the
wholeness of God. To live out that vision for the healing of the
This is the call of
God. To live out that new kind of thinking, that new way of being
in the world, as God's light, as God's people, as God's church.
This is our call.
Can we do it? The world awaits.