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For the Healing of the Nations

Sermon - 8/02/09
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Revelation 22:1-5

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 Indianapolis:

 

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 Revelation 22:

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.

 

[Dan 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 mark]

 

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 J, 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 world. 

Educating ourselves 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, www.disciples.org

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 states:

"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.

I 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 are present.

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:

[Dan then played the video of Sharon Watkins' sermon -- the portion referenced below begins at the 1:29:10 mark of the online video]

Text is below:

"I have 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! 

So – now 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. 

See, the 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. 

It's not 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 about it. 

If that 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. 

Einstein, of all people, said over half a century ago: 

"A human 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. . . “ 

Einstein concludes: “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.”

Church!  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 nations.

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.

 


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