Thursday, November 24, 2016

Year A, Advent 1, Isaiah 2:1-5, “Imagine”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
It was 1971 when John Lennon captivated a generation with his song, “Imagine”:

“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today. . .Aha-ah

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace. . . You. . .

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world. . . You. . .

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.

Lennon’s beautiful lyrics are hardly the stuff of which good “Christian” music is made.
But there is a lot of truth to what he writes.
“Imagine all the people, living for today. . .”
Karl Marx coined the phrase that religion is the opiate of the people.  Promise people that one day they’ll live in paradise, and they will no longer strive to improve their lot in life today.  Why work for peace, if we believe that it will only be achieved in heaven???  And that it will be ours if we just wait for it.
Lennon goes on to identify countries, religion, and possessions as the three primary factors that lead the world to fight wars.  He’s right.  It’s been that way since the beginning.
Were it not for borders that divide nation against nation,
Were it not for the bigotry associated with the dogmatic beliefs promoted by religion,
Were it not for the materialism that motivates so many of us with the desire to possess more and more,
There would be little to fight for.
And, in the mind of a dreamer,
                The world could live in peace.

“You may say I’m a dreamer
                But I’m not the only one. . .”
No, Lennon’s not the only one.
Actually, he’s got a lot in common with another dreamer, Isaiah.

“they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Isaiah will pick up this theme again in Chapter 11:

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Imagine a world in which people no longer preyed on one another like ravenous animals with insatiable appetites.
                Is it so hard to believe that we could live together without devouring one another?
Imagine a world in which the desire to possess material things was not something to die for.
                Is this so hard?  The Lakota people lived with no concept whatsoever of personal possessions.  All things were held in common.  In the early church, people sold everything that they had, everything was held in common, and each received according to their need.
Imagine a world in which people no longer believed in “my God” as opposed to “your God”, but rather that all were one.  That our belief in God resulted in our commitment to love all the more, not fight to the death.
Imagine that dreamers like Lennon and Isaiah were not idealists whose visions would never come to be.
Imagine a world, where everyone lived in perfect harmony.
To quote Paul McArtney and Stevie Wonder’s song “Ebony and Ivory”: 

“We all know that people are the same where ever you go
There is good and bad in ev'ryone
We learn to live, we learn to give
Each other what we need to survive together alive

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord why don't we?”

The struggle is that it is easy to dream and write songs.
But the reality of the world is another thing.
Generation after generation has hoped for peace.
And with every hope there came disappointment.

Isaiah’s vision of a peaceful world came just before Israel was to be destroyed at the hands of its enemies.
And generation after generation has fought wars ever since.  No one wins in war.  Everyone loses.  But we fight on nevertheless.
World War I, the Great War, was to be the “War to end all Wars”.
And yet barely twenty years passed before World War II, an even greater war. 
There have been efforts to find a way to avoid wars.
The League of Nations failed.
The United Nations has been used as a justification for armed conflict instead of an alternative to war.
And need I even mention that the conflict between the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people of this world continues to fuel conflicts as it has throughout history.
Three great religions.
All claim Abraham as our Father.
Muslims even believe that Jesus was a prophet, and he is mentioned many times in the Koran.  (Did you realize that???)
And yet we fight one war after another.
Is there any reason to hope?
It would be very easy to give in to despair.
To believe that the world will never achieve a lasting peace.
The Soviet Union and the United States managed to avoid all out war during the Cold War era, but that “peace”, if you dare call it that, was achieved only because of the fear of mutual destruction if ever the bombs started to fall once again. 
Living in the fear of a nuclear holocaust is not peace.
Dr. Bob Stivers, one of my college teachers, was teaching us about the book of Revelation.  One of the things he had concluded from Revelation and its portrayal of the final battle between good and evil and the end of all times, was that in this life, even to the end of the world, we would never be free from conflict. 
To dream of a utopian world, is merely that, a dream.
It is not possible.
And perhaps he is right.
And perhaps Isaiah, and Lennon, and McCartney and Wonder are merely the “dreamers” of their generation.
But I’m not willing to give up the dream so fast.
Peace is not merely a dream of the idealists in our midst, it’s the vision that God has laid out before us.
It wasn’t Isaiah’s words, or his dreams, that we heard about today.
This is the Word of the Lord.
And if God can hold out before us a vision for peace, doesn’t that mean that maybe, just maybe, it is possible??
But there is another thing to consider.
Even if we can never achieve the peace that Isaiah, or Lennon, imagine,
                The quest for peace is its own reward.
We do not lose, just because we don’t achieve a permanent and lasting peace in the world.
We only lose, if we give up the effort. 
We may never be able to love and forgive as God loves and forgives, but that is what we strive for. 
If we lose the vision, the dream, of a peaceful world, where nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore”,

           Then we will have truly lost.
You see, it is the journey toward peace, and justice, and equality that is as important as the final goal.
It is the striving to love as God first loved us that is as important as finally achieving that perfection.
The alternative is to simply stop trying.
To give up hope.
And with that, to give up believing that God can do what we cannot do.
Imagine the world God imagines.
And live the dream.


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