May 27, 2012
Sermon for Pentecost Sunday 2012
May 27, 2012
The Rev. Bradford Ayers Rundlett
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Five to six centuries before the birth of Jesus, while a captive of the Babylonian Empire, a Jewish prophet and priest named Ezekiel had a series of visions. In one of his visions God picked him up, took him to a valley between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and set him down; Ezekiel walked around the valley for an entire day. From every vantage, as far as he could see in every direction, the ground was littered with the bleached skeletons of thousands upon thousands of Jewish soldiers who perished trying to stop an invasion by the Assyrian Empire. They failed, and fell. The Assyrian King Sennacherib gloated about his brutal victory “With the bodies of enemy warriors I filled the plains like grass.”
Ezekiel was stunned; the waste of human life was incomprehensible. All that was left of Israel’s young men were their desiccated bones. The horror of it must have been suffocating.
Estimates vary but approximately 700,000,000 human beings have been killed in the wars we have fought - and even now are fighting - with each other. Many, many millions more have died - and are dying now - from the wounds, disease, and starvation caused by war.
In Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, 6,433 U.S. service members have died, 188 of them were residents of Virginia.
It’s Memorial weekend.
It’s time to pause, and count the cost.
It’s time to pay homage, and seek a better way.
We speak of peace. We convey our common hope for peace on Sunday morning. We pray for God’s peace, and for human peace.
I’m certain God hears prayers for peace in every language of the world. But our Creator will not force peace upon us. We are free to choose, and apparently we prefer hatred, greed, violence, and retribution. When the cost of war exceeds the victor’s gain, when we reach a threshold of pain that is truly unbearable, when we finally realize that the image of God in each person is essential to our understanding of God, hostility will cease; not before.
Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas argued for what we call a “Just War.” The essential elements are self-defense, proportionality, fair treatment of captives, proper care for the wounded, no attacking civilians or people in distress; the weapons used must not be cruel, intended to maim, inflict great pain, or terrorize; attacks must not be motivated by rage or the desire for profit; war must be a last resort, and waged only to prevent a greater evil.
It sounds so very neat and civilized. But we know not everyone agrees with these rules, and there’s no guarantee that the good guys will win. In any case when you’re fighting for your life, rules are the first casualty.
We can guess what went through Ezekiel’s mind as he surveyed the shocking and inevitable consequence of human failure; to some degree or another we have all been touched by war.
As Union General William T. Sherman said “War is hell.” There is no more appropriate word. And World War I - which President Woodrow Wilson called “the war to end all wars” - did no such thing, though after the last howitzer shell whistled through the smoke filled air more than 35,000,000 casualties were counted. The death toll for World War II was twice that.
God raised the question that Ezekiel could not even contemplate, “Can these desiccated bones live again?” Can all the human beings who have died in combat, or as a result of it, rise up and live as if all the horrible wars we wage against one another never happened?
Ezekiel stood there thoroughly bereft of hope. His response was just as dead and dry as the skeletons that surrounded him. Dust we are and to dust we return. It is an immutable law of life. All the disconsolate prophet and priest could say is “O God, you know.”
Indeed, God does know. And the prophet Joel announced “I, God, will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, the young shall see visions, and the old shall dream” – the prophecies, visions, and dreams of peace, prosperity, and joy.
If we can envision peace, dream of peace, pray for peace, with God’s help we can achieve peace.
God won’t stop us from fighting, won’t make us live in peace. But God sends the Holy Spirit, The Advocate for God’s dreams and for our dreams as well. And God will make everything right, even after everything has gone all wrong. God can, and does, raise us up even after death.
This is Memorial weekend; today is also Pentecost, the day we celebrate God’s gift of the Divine Spirit – the Advocate. The Holy Spirit comes to us to inspire dreams and visions, to speak prophetic truth with human tongues, to give us gifts for telling the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ, to send us out into the world to tell our neighbors throughout the world about our experiences, dreams, and visions of a better world; the Holy Spirit of God sends us out to share our faith, and build a world of peace.
While war, hatred, greed, violence, and vengeance flare across the world, we use the gifts and resources given to us by the Holy Spirit to build relationships and communities of peace.
La paz del Senor sea siempre con ustedes (Spanish).
Huh-up shing yu ni tong zai (phonetic Chinese).
Ke poo-zee ave kou (phonetic Haitian Creole).
E-tan’chan tah-wo’-ah-wah-wa-la gee nee-yeh’-pee ehl o’-hinh-nee-yah oon ki’tah (phonetic Lakota)
Lape’ du Signeur.
The peace of the Lord be always with you.