God’s Dream
A sermon on Galatians 6:1-16 by the Revd Dr Paul Dekar, 8 July 2007
 
Thanks to Nathan for the invitation to share some thoughts with you. Let me open with words of a song Shir LaShalom that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin was singing on November 4, 1995,when an assassin took his life. “Let the sun rise and give the morning light. The purest prayer will not bring the dead back. Those whose candle has been snuffed out, buried in the dust: a bitter cry won’t wake them, won’t bring them back. Nobody will return us from the dead dark pit. Here, neither the joy of victory nor songs of praise will help. So sing only to peace, don’t whisper just a prayer, it’s better to sing a song to peace with a strong, raised voice. Let the sun penetrate through the flower. Don’t look backward. Lift your eyes with hope. Sing a song for love and not for wars. Don’t just say the day will come. Work to bring that day because it is not a dream. Within all Jerusalem’s squares, in all Jerusalem’s dwellings, let us sing for peace.”
 
Rabin’s dream, and the dream of many of a reconciled world, is God’s dream. It would be natural to be discouraged about what is happening in the Middle East or, for that matter, in this country. Today is National Aboriginal Sunday. First established in 1937 to draw attention to the living conditions suffered by Aboriginal people and their lack of citizenship rights. Around 1000 Aboriginal people attended a conference, and subsequently presented their proposals for a national policy to the then Prime Minister who rejected them. Many Christians responded by holding a “Day of Mourning” which, since 1955, has been observed as National Aboriginal Sunday in early July.
 
I first came to Australia in 1998 at the time of the release of the report on the Stolen Generation; I have continued to follow events since. I respond to recent pronouncements of Prime Minister Howard with cynicism. I am reminded of a situation from my early activist years. In 1964, I worked in a community organizer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Our efforts contributed in a very minor way to the passage of an important piece of civil rights legislation. At the appropriate time on the day LBJ signed the voters’ rights bill, a few of us gathered in the basement of the African American congregation that was the hub of our work. Victory was in the air. An elderly African American brought me to a sense of reality: we have crossed a river. There’s a mountain ahead.
 
I have found similar wisdom in the Bible. Writing at a time in ancient Israel’s history as dark as ours, the period of the exile, prophets of the exile – 2nd Isaiah and Jeremiah – insisted that God expects us to live as we are.  In their vision, earth’s bounty is distributed among all persons equally; all members of society are valued equally; and strong and weak come together in common work and common joy. In short, they anticipated that day announced by Jesus in Luke 4: release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, the year of the Lord’s favor.
 
Such a mandate to live into God’s dream is found in the lectionary reading from Galatians, especially 6:9-10: “So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all….”1
 
Paul is giving practical instructions spelling out what it means for his Galatian sisters and brothers to “live by the Spirit” (5:16, 25), to be “led by the Spirit” (5:18) and to “keep in step with the Spirit” (5:25). The Spirit sustains us in doing good. We do good not because of any legalistic mandate. Rather, we do good because it is natural that our outer lives manifest the reality of our truest selfhood. Saved by grace, we respond in loving ways, persisting in doing good to all people.
 
Jesus made it very clear that he expected his disciples to express their relationship with him in ways that would be personally and socially relevant. Jesus came bringing peace. Jesus left peace. Jesus blessed those who would carry on doing the things that make for peace. In the passage read from Luke 10, he selected seventy and sent them ahead of him, giving them this charge: travel light …. When you enter a home, greet the family, “Peace,” and if your greeting is received, then it’s a good place to rest. Stay there, eat what they set before you, heal anyone who is sick, and announce the good news that God’s realm of justice, peace, and integrity is breaking in.
 
Jesus warned that not everyone would receive his followers; in fact some would reject them as even Jesus was rejected, even unto death. As his own death approached, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
The very real and disturbing message of Jesus’ words in Luke, or in his last days is that there is no resurrection by proxy.2
 
We love to cite vs. 16:33, “take courage; I have conquered the world!” There is no getting around Jesus’ preceding, cautionary words “In the world you face persecution.” But this is not His final word. His final word is peace. “Peace be with you.” After his death and resurrection, Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene. “Mary!” he said to her. “Teacher,” she replied. Here is Gospel in two words. “Mary … teacher.” Jesus, Risen Christ, names Mary, and she responds to his gracious call. Mary, “Peace be with you.” Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, “Peace be with you.” Samara, Alison, Margie, Nathan…. “Peace be with you.”
 
For Christians, the way of nonviolent love of friends and enemies is rooted in the belief that “Christ is Risen!” We are talking power, the power of God over death. This power exists not to do the impossible, but to do the unimaginable.3
 
If ever a vision of the prophets of Jerusalem or of the early Christian community has been needed, it is now.  Humanity must find a way to live nonviolently, and to resolve conflict nonviolently. It is the only useful means to work for a just peace and to break the pattern of war in the Middle East and elsewhere. Yes, the world is a dangerous place. As we journey with Jesus, we may be required to suffer and even die. We do so as daughters and sons of God, living nonviolently, with God’s realm of peace as our goal.
Let me share two images: first, from a poem by Walker Knight, an Atlanta journalist published in 1972.  Then President Jimmy Carter quoted these lines at the ceremony marking the signing of the Camp David Peace Accord between Egypt and Israel:
 
It’s not just hating war,
despising war,
sitting back and waiting for war to end.
It’s not just loving peace,
wanting peace,
sitting back and waiting for peace to come.
Peace, like war, is waged.
Peace plans its strategy and encircles the enemy.
Peace marshals its forces and storms the gates.
Peace gathers its weapons and pierces the defense.
The weapons of peace are love, joy, goodness, longsuffering.
The arms of peace are truth, honesty, patience, prayer.
The strategy of peace brings safety, welfare, happiness.
The forces of peace are the daughters and sons of God.4
 
The second is from a novel, The Last Western by Thomas S. Klise. The book concerns Willie, an Irish-Indian-Negro-Chinese boy who grows up in abject poverty, who is absolutely uneducable, but whose baseball skills are discovered in the slums and sandlots of Houston.  In his first major league baseball game, he strikes out twenty-seven consecutive players, and he becomes a national sensation. But Willie quickly finds that the baseball executives are exploiting him. He leaves the team when riots strike his home area, hand returns to Houston where his family and friends are dead, his home razed. Overcome by horror, he runs. Somewhere outside the city he collapses. Some people--the Silent Servants of the Used, Abused and Utterly Screwed Up--find him and nurse him back to health. Listen to the description of the community.
 
The Servants will always choose the way of serving the poor, the lonely, the despised, the outcast, the miserable and the misfit.  The mission of the Servants is to prove to the unloved that they are not abandoned, nor finally left alone. Hence, the natural home of the Servants is strife, misfortune, crisis, the falling apart of things. The Society cherishes failure for it is in failure, in trouble, in the general breaking up of classes, stations, usual conditions, normal routines that human hearts are open to the light of God's mercy.
 
Willie subsequently joins the Silent Servants of the Used, Abused and Utterly Screwed Up.  Though very few of us are able fully to identify with Willie, there is a sense in which we are all Willies. Forgiven, we become part of communities such as this, because we need companions on journey that leads to freedom. I can make no prescription as to the road you must walk. In a sense there is no road. The road is made as we walk it. And when you look back, you will see a path on which you will never step on again.5
 
It may seem insane or naïve to believe that we can have a world without war or violence. It may seem insane to work for reconciliation with Aboriginal Australians. Yet millions of us in various peace and solidarity movements are making a positive difference! We do so when we insist that developments in military technology have raised the costs of war – not just nuclear war, but all war – to unacceptable heights; when we advocate the rights of all; when we chip away at conventional nationalism; when we promote the integrity of creation. The vision of shalom is sufficiently powerful to require those who seem to stand in the way to engage with it. I believe, in words of Simone Weil, “Only he who has measured the dominion of force, and knows how not to respect it, is capable of love and justice.”6
 
We sought to live and practice non-violence as the only way to overcome injustice, persecution, tyranny and violence and build cultures of peace. I have found no better description of the cumulative effect of the movements for change than a metaphor Henry Richard offered in his annual report for 1858-9 to the British Peace Society:7
 
The little insects that build up the beautiful islands which stud the face of the Southern seas work for ages, we are told, in the ‘dark unfathomed caves of ocean,’ myriads of them perishing in obscurity long before their graceful architecture even begins to peep above the surface of the waters, but each content to contribute its tiny labours to hasten on the final glittering like a gem on the bosom of the deep, crowned with verdure and fertility, and teeming with life and abundance. So it is with those who labour … for the accomplishment of some remote good. They may be destined to work on for generations in obscurity and contempt, conscious only that … they are helping, in however feeble a degree, in bringing to pass those scenes of blessedness and peace, upon which humanity, even in its darkest moments, has loved to repose in hope.8
 
As you reflect on Paul’s insistence on doing good for all, I invite you to reflect on a well-known parable. “Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a coalmouse asked a wild dove.
“Nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.
“In that case I must tell you a marvellous story,” the coalmouse said. “I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk... When it began to snow, I began to count snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the next snowflake dropped onto the branch – nothing more than nothing, as you say – the branch broke off.” … The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on the matter, thought about this for a while and finally said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come about in the world.”9
1 Eugene H. Peterson, The Message. The New Testament in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993), 399.
2 Ken Sehested attributes the phrase to Vincent Harding in a talk “Trust and Obey” (July 1997).
3 Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy First Baptist Church, Memphis, April 2001; Boldly Like God, Go Against the Swords, lecture 7.
4 HM December 1972, p. 21. Ken Sehested’s “Disarming the Heart. The Gospel of Nonviolence” (1997) is my source on Carter’s use of these words.
5 Caminante, no hay camino,
  se hace camino al andar.
  Al andar se hace el camino,
  y al volver la vista atrás
  se ve la senda que nunca
  se ha de volver a pisar. Antonio Machado (Spanish, 1875-1939)
6 “The Iliad, Poem of Might,” The Simone Weil Reader ed. George A Panichas (New York: David McKay, 1977), p. 181.
7 Henry Richard (1812-1888) was a Welsh Congregational Minister and Member of Parliament. Margaret Maison offers a brief biographical sketch in Reconciliation Quarterly Autumn 1992, pp. 15-17; Ben Rees has published several chapters of a biography of Henry Richard in Peace and Reconciliation.
8 Martin Ceadel, Semi-Detached Idealists. The British Peace Movement and International Relations, 1854-1945 (Oxford: University Press, 2000), p. 427. The title refers to Britain’s semi-detached geography and is derived from Vera Brittain, England’s Hour, 1941, p. xiii: “Our island is no longer a detached unscarred participant, sharing in the conflict only through the adventures of masculine youth.”
9 As told by Ken Sehested, Recipe for Peacemaking (Charlotte: Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, n.d.).