Our Town, Our Hope - Sermon by Pastor Fred Kinsey
In Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, a woman named Emily who dies in Act II, asks the stage manager narrating the play in Act III, if she can return for a brief visit with her family. Reluctantly, he grants her the wish, advising her to choose the least important day in her life—which “will be important enough,” he says. So she chooses to return on her 12th birthday. But her hopes are dashed when she finds her father obsessed with his business problems, and her mother preoccupied with kitchen duties. Though no one can see or hear Emily, she cries out, “Oh Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, 14 years have gone by. I’m dead!” Unable to rouse her parents, Emily breaks down sobbing. “We don’t have time to look at one another. . . . Goodbye, world! . . . Goodbye, Mama and Papa. . . . Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”
If only we could be that aware. That, in the moment. If only we could see today from the perspective of tomorrow, 14 years, or 140 years, down the line! Maybe we’d give thanks more often. Maybe we’d be better able to appreciate just how wonderful the earth, God gave us, is!
Jesus invites us to look into the future, God’s future, which already impacts us today, right now, by asking us to, keep awake, be ready. Even in the midst of our busy lives, celebrating special family occasions like birthdays or Thanksgiving, or just the usual every day routine, at work, surfing the net, or downloading a Podcast on our IPhone – whether 12 years old, of 92 years old. Be ready!
This Thanksgiving I am thankful for much. Family and friends, a church full of faithful people, a diverse and talented community to live and work in. Many of you expressed similar thanksgivings in our Thanksgiving book in the prayer area.
Today we begin the New Year in the church with the season of Advent. Four weeks of waiting, hope, peace and joy. Four weeks of preparing for the Messiah, God’s anointed one, to come. Four weeks to remember to appreciate and give thanks for Our Town, our lives. In order to get us in that frame of mind, the first Sunday in Advent is always about the arrival of the Eschaton, the end times. We know it from the biblical stories of the Prophets, and Daniel in the Lion’s Den. From the hope of the Son of man’s coming in Jesus, and the 2nd Coming of the Messiah, to renew the face of the earth. And we seem to be drowning in its images again in these days. Apocalyptic movies and TV are filled with crumbling and burning cities, Zombies, wars, and rumors of war, all around, mirroring the world we live in. In response, our country seems to think, being ready means, buying more guns, and investing in our military.
As a country, it’s alarming that our national treasure, to the tune of a trillion dollars or more a year, has been squandered on the maintenance of a war state, and the eternal upgrading of “homeland security.” Our country has launched the first set of cyber wars in history, against Iran’s nuclear program, …and has a 78% market share of the world arms trade; our military expenditures are greater than the next 13 nations combined; and we continue to build military bases across the globe. [November 25, 2013 by TomDispatch.com Scared to Death in the USA: My Safety ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Security, by Tom Engelhardt]
In the 1st chapter of Isaiah, the chapter before our First Reading, the prophet graphically lays out what he has seen: violence and bribery, unfaithfulness and desolation, a trampling on the poor. There are brief interruptions as God calls for repentance and offers glimpses of hope, but they are drowned out by these pictures of violence and rebellion.
Then Chapter 2 opens, our reading, as though Isaiah is starting all over again. Isaiah, overcome by the Spirit, has a vision, and needs to share! Even now in the midst of deception and treachery, Isaiah sees “the days to come.” People of every nation will stream to Mt. Zion – the mythic city of Jerusalem – including those who were enemies of Israel. God shall arbitrate for many peoples. The people will be transformed by this teaching. And, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” [parts from, Barbara Lundblad, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1896]
In 1997, a gigantic crane in Washington D.C. lowered a four-ton sculpture to its permanent cement base in Judiciary Square. Few things are more complicated than trying to erect a new monument in the heart of the nation’s Capital, and one commission after another must approve each project. What made this particular installation remarkable was the biblical symbolism of the sculpture’s design. Titled “Guns into Plowshares,” artist Esther Augsburger and her son, worked for two and a half years as they molded 3,000 handguns that had been surrendered by local residents, to form a 16-foot-high steel plow blade, an interpretation of, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, they shall not learn war anymore.” (parts from, Peter W. Marty, The Christian Century)
There’s a shadow of pessimism, that can’t help asking if this really makes a difference? Will the criminals, the warring nations, be transformed by a statue, even one built on such a famous prophetic vision, from Isaiah?
Here in Chicago, reporter Rob Wilderboer found a compelling story about the gun buy-back program in Chicago. The policy of the Chicago Police Department is to destroy the guns, so they can’t be resold or stolen. But the question for Wilderboer was, why not sell them to licensed firearms dealers, for the Department to make a profit? Wilderboer, a reporter that I love to listen to on Chicago Public Radio, found out the Department is forfeiting about $2 million every year. But, is it just about money, vs. what he called, “ideological and emotional,” reasons?
As City of Chicago residents know, it's not at all clear that a new chunk of money for the City to play with, would lead to better well-being for Chicago residents! And, Chicago's victims of gun violence haven't been terrorized with the abstraction of guns. They've been terrorized with specific guns. So, for many, there is a powerful emotional reason for those guns to be destroyed. Better yet, following Isaiah’s vision, and also the current practice in the Cleveland Police Department, why not melt them down into steel, and transform these instruments of death into useful, life-giving tools, or, artwork? “Of course, if we took every confiscated gun in Chicago and beat it into a plowshare for use on one of our urban farms,” says Steve Thorngate, “we'd probably create a glut in the rather niche-y plowshare market. What a ridiculous, emotionally motivated, but powerful witness that would be.” [The Christian Century, Does it make sense to destroy guns? Oct 23, 2013 by Steve Thorngate]
So where does our hope lie then? Is God’s future real, despite present realities? Can we give thanks with honest and true hearts, now, at this time? I realize, trusting the preacher under your employ, is a bit suspect when it comes to this. So let me convince you in the words of another, who, as you will see, doesn’t even have good reason to give thanks, or to have hope. But here’s what he wrote on Thanksgiving: “I am blessed everyday here. There are many reasons to give thanks. I am blessed with the best friends and family and lawyers, people who care about me. I am blessed by our Creator with good health, food, and clothing, a place to sleep. I am blessed, even with the strange creations of our Creator – with all creatures like, stray dogs, cats, wild birds and bees...and here...very big mosquitoes....not sure about the blessing in them however!
The author, Don Siegelman, has completed the 1st year in his 6.5 year sentence, in federal prison, in a highly tainted case. Some call him a “political prisoner,” and wrongly imprisoned. The former Governor of Alabama – he went from advocate of the underdog, poor, and disadvantaged, to prison – a political grudge that may only be remedied by Presidential Pardon. And yet, his letter concludes: “I am blessed and thankful for you, the work that you've done, the contributions you have made, the letters you've written, and for the dream you've kept alive of going back to my family, and back to work, to change things for the better for others. The blessing is having a hope and dream, Siegelman says. Thank you for giving me that hope.” [letter at, http://mad.ly/100644?pact=18595236214&fe=1 free-don.org]
Our hope is in the surprising, and wonderful, coming of the Messiah, the Son of man, into our world, more fully, and more powerfully, trusting in that day, when we shall not learn war any more. Let us be ready! In Christ, we have been freed, already, today! Let us, stay awake, “every, every minute,” for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.