"Living In The Future Now"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 24, 2009
Jeremiah 31:27-34; Hosea 14:4-9
This weekend truly is a time for remembering those who have not returned alive from their sojourn into harm’s way. Solemn observances are held where people visit cemeteries like Arlington. Many of us fall silent as we focus on the men and women whose futures were taken from them by those who would destroy individual freedom.
Memorial Day may also be one of those occasions when a number of us ponder what wars really accomplish. In every conflict we have our hawks and our doves. Humanity has always struggled with the pros and cons of war.
There is something very profound, however, about such massive international struggles. We say that the men and women of our armed forces gave their lives for our country and the values for which our nation stands. To an outsider on whose soil we are fighting, such logic may sound arrogant and disrespectful of that nation’s sovereignty.
People who belong to the Taliban and Al Qaeda have ideas that they value as well. Think about what these groups value and what they create. They enter a new area like a creeping group of hooded bandits, beheading key leaders of the opposition, destroying every school building, ordering women to exit the work force as they establish a regime of governance ruled by fear and oppression.
If the community of humanity is to continue its evolution, those who love freedom for the human spirit must confront ignorance and values that produce no hospitals, no new industries, no advancements in agriculture, no libraries, museums, colleges and universities. People who love their neighbors cannot remain complacent while thieves break in and steal. What farmers would allow foxes to dwell around their hen houses?
This morning I want to pause and glance in the rear view mirror. Why has our country gone to war so often during the last seventy years? Apart from any religious philosophy or belief system, we have to ask ourselves: Is there a pattern for human beings living together that is universally superior to all other forms? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” The two selections from the Hebrew Bible that were read for us today give testimony to the vision that prophets experienced about where humanity was headed. The cover of our bulletin this morning displays a quote for Jeremiah.
Hosea ends his prophetic work with these words, “May those who are wise understand what is written here, and may they take it to heart. The Lord’s ways are right, and the righteous people live by following them, but those who miss the mark, those who don’t get it, stumble and fall because they ignore them.”
Judging from Hosea’s conclusion, we can discern that the prophet was saying, “Those who perceive with love will understand the nature of God’s ways; those who cannot perceive with love will continue to live self-serving, narrow lives that are incapable of producing anything but darkness and despair.”
Love’s pursuit of freedom evokes in our species creativity, inventiveness and communicates to everyone, “Those who seek find; those that knock, the doors to greater understanding and opportunity will open.” Fear, on the other hand, drives societies back into the Stone Age by stifling human potential and destroying human evolution in all areas of what it means to be civilized.
This morning we are extremely grateful for Americans who have died that freedom might be preserved. What they died for, however, is much greater than American values. What they died for goes to the heart of what it means to be human. Look at the way God has hardwired all of us. Humanity is like a colony of creators. We judge ourselves by the quality of what we create. America has exported this discovery to every country we have fought.
Consider what happened to England during the Revolutionary War and again in 1812. Consider all the nations that lined up against the allies during World War I and World War II. Consider the people of South Korea. Consider what happened to the people living in the jungle areas of Viet Nam.
While we have never been to war with China, look at what happened to this expansive nation when the powerful industrial and cultural center of Hong Kong reverted back to China on July 1, 1997. Rather than dismantling Hong Kong’s economy, the Chinese government studied it and found it to be remarkably better to the economic results produced by Communism.
Hong Kong became like a stem cell implant in a highly complex culture that is among the oldest on the earth. Within twelve years, China has awakened and, until lately has been enjoying double digit growth in its GNP. What was once unthinkable has happened. Currently, 146 Wal-Mart stores are doing business in China employing more than 70,000 Chinese workers. Other American companies have been invited to participate in their economy and their workers are going to the bank with their earned wages. They are providing for themselves and their families.
At the end of World War II what American citizen would have thought that thousands of us would be working for Toyota, Nissan and countless other international automakers within the boundaries of the United States, automakers that would eventually drive General Motors, Ford and Chrysler to the brink of bankruptcy?
Humanity is evolving into a new world order, much of it during the lifetime of many of us. Those who refuse to participate are being left behind just as the prophet Hosea predicted. The world community’s new understanding of possibilities will not allow the destructive thought patterns of a minority to survive.
The free flow of information can educate men and women in the fields of medicine, manufacturing and equipping them with more sophisticated techniques for producing food. We are enabling other nations to see the wisdom of moving into the future together as friends who want to share rather than fight. Is this not what we learned in kindergarten? We have become the leaven for the loaf because we have fought and defended an environment that enables the fruits of the human spirit to be expressed.
A number of sad chapters in human history have described how collectively countries have confronted ignorance and blindness. Incrementally, humanity is slowly helping each other to leave behind ancient hatreds. Entire generations of terrorists who refuse to surrender their ideas that growth happens by destroying, cannot possibly survive in a world that has moved beyond them emotionally and spiritually. They cannot live in the future we have inherited unless they change how they think and integrate themselves into the world community.
Historically, once victory has been insured, only we Americans have gone back into the war-torn nations and helped them to rebuild. The United States did this with the Marshall Plan that literally provided billions of dollars and expertise to rebuild much of Europe. In every case, the economies of those countries exceeded their pre-war levels.
Yes, we are frequently accused of being BIG brother. We are accused of being the world’s policemen. If we do not defend the weak against ignorant people who have and use powerful, destructive weapons, who will? Just as we fight malaria with Nothing but Nets, so we must protect defenseless people from the ravages of those who stand for values that produce nothing but tears and confinement.
The human spirit was not designed to be smothered; it was designed to create, to love, to produce music, art and laughter, to build what enhances culture and education. When we talk to the men and women who have come back from the war zone in Iraq, they bring a very different story from what is carried by news writers who peddle information about body counts.
We seldom hear of the hospitals and schools being built. We do not hear of the roads that have been restored, or the electrical grids that now connect one community with another. A typical story we hear and read is the woman who detonated the explosives she was carrying in a marketplace that was teaming with men, women and children. Only ignorance could have inspired this woman to do that.
In a very unique way, we are living in the future now. Humanity is far from perfect, but more of us are chipping away at the dream seen by the vision of Jeremiah and Hosea. We are experiencing that future now to a large extent because we are among a league of nations that refuses to cave into the armies that produce nothing that will enhance humanity’s future.
Terrorists destroyed our World Trade Towers, but nations are still trading with each other. If terrorists were proud of what they are, they would not hide their faces from the rest of the world. They must know that they have nothing they can point to that is productive, creative or will benefit the world community.
Once again, Hosea ended his prophetic book with these words, “May those who are wise understand what is written here, and may they take it to heart. The Lord’s ways are right, and the righteous people live by following them, but those who miss the mark, those who don’t get it, stumble and fall because they ignore them.”
There is much we have seen in our lifetime to inspire hope. What we are experiencing is not a holy war. Those two words cannot co-exist in the same universe of ideas. What we are experiencing is the slow unfolding of God’s will in our world, a will that knows that community, where love reigns, is the Kingdom of God. There is no other way for our species to evolve. What God wills is happening and there is nothing that can prevent that. Never give up hope people; God is in charge.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We thank you God for creating us with spirits that can be discerning as well as compassionate. We have learned that being successful in life is not that difficult to accomplish. We have also learned that helping the angel in others to awaken requires a lot more from us. We ask that you guide us to understand the spirit in which we serve. Instruct us how to heal with our words. Teach us how to look at the frailties of others with eyes that see only their strengths. Help us to discover that when we are extensions of your presence, mountains will move, bridges will be built and those without vision will be able to see. Enable us to live so that those who do not understand truth when they hear it might have it revealed to them through what we do. Thank you for all the opportunities we have to make your presence visible. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Gracious and loving God, this weekend we pause as a nation to remember those who have had their lives taken from them because of their choice to defend, at whatever the cost, the environment where freedom for the human spirit is able to flourish. When goals and purposes within the family of nations are so violently opposed to each other, sometimes the skills of diplomacy are not strong enough to prevent conflict. And so humanity continues its struggle where values that are timeless confront those that are temporary and fleeting.
All of us long for the day when the world community will share natural resources and agricultural advancements instead of spending our financial resources on machines of war. We long for the day when "love thy neighbor" will be more than just words or a goal that humanity hopes to reach in the future.
It was into such a world that Jesus came to bring light and life. He invited us to give form to his message of love so that others might understand what it means to give and receive what produces community. Help us to express verbally and visually his message and not the logic we often use to justify why we hurt each other.
As we remember the scores of deceased loved ones this weekend and the families who have been touched with their loss, may we recommit ourselves to living the values our freedom has given us. Help us never to take for granted the environment that liberates our spirits to soar to heights unknown by those who lived centuries ago. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .