The Dawn of Promise
Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
3 December 2006
First, imagine the prophet Jeremiah.
O land, land, land,
Hear the word of the Lord!
My people had grown complacent. They assumed that everything was okay and that everything would continue to be okay. But they were wrong. In truth our society was corrupt and on the verge of collapse, yet everyone kept deluding themselves.
Instead of relying on the promises of God in times like this, people had spurned God. It was like a marriage on the verge of erupting in a messy divorce, the relationship between God and God’s people was in ruins. Yet, people went about the motions, ignoring the truth.
And God grieved. My how God grieved. God’s sorrow was revealed to me:
Let my eyes run down with tears night and day,
And let them not cease,
For My dearly beloved people is smitten with a great wound,
With a very grievous blow.
God was filled with sorrow because God knew that this corrupt nation wouldn’t survive, that it would be destroyed by the avenging armies of its enemies. And God could do nothing to prevent it.
So in this time of woe, God poured out God’s spirit upon me. It was an overwhelming presence that I did not seek.
On the one hand I experienced the overwhelming sorrow and grief of God who wanted me to cry out to the people. On the other hand I was filled with empathy for the people and cried out to God on their behalf. My life was filled with loneliness and despair. No one wanted to be around me. I was mocked and derided. But God’s word had control of me. If I tried not to pronounce it, it’s power overwhelmed me. It was intoxicating and anguishing at the same time.
Because of God’s presence within me, I became more attuned to the suffering of this world. The sorrow of my people overwhelmed me:
For I heard a cry as of a woman in travail,
Anguish as of one bringing forth her first child,
The cry of the daughter of Zion gasping for breath,
Stretching out her hands,
Woe is me! I am fainting before murderers.
Though God could not avert the suffering that my people were walking into as a result of their complacent disregard, God’s promises offered hope:
See a time is coming when I will form a new relationship with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the relationship which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my relationship of steadfast love which they broke. But this is the new relationship which I will make with them after those days. I will put my teaching within them and I will write it upon their hearts. Then I will be their God and they will be my people. And no longer will they need to teach one another to know the Lord, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Yahweh promised a recreation of “that which is orderly, secure, abundant, good, and even green.” The “future is grounded in the activity of God.” God would restore the fortunes of the people, calling them again to this land and filling it with life. What is a desolation will become a place of abundance. The city that is now filled with despair will be a place of joy that all nations will be drawn to. God will bring healing to God’s people.
Eventually the foreign armies came and the people, too late, realized the danger they were in. It was in these dark days that hope was possible. Only those who grieved and sorrowed could embrace the hopeful promise of the new day. “Weeping permits newness.”
So as the armies encircled the city, I went out and purchased land, because I was confident that God would provide and bring us home again. The days are surely coming.
Imagine now Servant of God Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, who confronted poverty, racism, and war in America with the gospel message:
Some FBI man by the name of Daly came down to query me about one of our friends who is a conscientious objector. He asked the usual questions as to how long I had known him, how he stated his position as pacifist, whether or not he believed in defending himself. Evidently one of my answers offended him because he pulled back his jacket and displayed the holster of a gun under his arm pit which he patted bravely as he said, "I believe in defending myself!" I could not but think, "how brave a man defending himself with his gun against us unarmed women and children hereabouts." The FBI should train their men to be a little more impersonal.
People probably do not realize with what fear and trembling I speak or write about the Catholic Worker, our ideas and our point of view. It is an extreme point of view, and yet it is tested and proved over and over again; it is almost as if God says to us "Do you really mean what you say?" and then gives us a chance to prove it.
I know what human fear is and how often it keeps us from following our conscience. We find so many ways of rationalizing our positions. There are all kinds of fear: fear of losing our bodily goods, fear of poverty, fear of losing our job, our reputation, and not least of all there is the strange business of bodily fear.
One of the situations when I was most afraid was in my visit some years ago to Koinonia, an interracial community in Americus, Georgia. A very wonderful Baptist minister named Clarence Jordan and a few of his companions decided to tackle the problems of poverty, interracial conflict and agriculture by taking over two thousand acres of land and starting a community based on diversified farming. This truly interracial community thrived and prospered until they came to public attention. This precipitated a real reign of terror.
Their roadside stand was dynamited and completely destroyed in the middle of the night. Community members were shot at, some of the houses were burnt down, marauders cut the wire that fenced in the cattle and threw torches into the hay barn, setting fire to the hay. They were boycotted, couldn't buy oil for their tractors or cars, couldn't buy seed or fertilizer, couldn't get insurance on their cars or houses.
We did learn something of what mob hatred is like. And I must say that it makes your blood run cold. Not many of us ever experienced this kind of venomous hatred.
The women volunteered to watch at night. We signed up for two or three hours of watching at a public road that ran between two pieces of Koinonia property. About two o'clock in the morning, while I was engaged in conversation about voluntary communities with the woman who was sharing the watch with me, a car with no lights on came down the road and suddenly the car we were in was peppered with shots. The car was there and gone before we could realize what had happened. It is strange how the fear always comes afterward, your bones turn to water and your whole body seems to melt away with fear.
We call ourselves Christian, we citizens of the United States, the majority of us, but no one would ever know us as Christians. Reflect on the life of Jesus who came to call sinners, who was born in poverty, who lived as a worker for thirty years. He was an itinerant teacher, walking the roads of Palestine, who hungered and thirsted and was fatigued to the point of exhaustion, who was tempted in all things like us but He did not sin, because He was also God. As the apostles said, we are called to be other-Christs, we are called to put off the old man and put on Christ, we are told to see Christ in our brother. Hard sayings and who can understand it. Only the Spirit can teach us. It is some comfort to remember those further words, when Christ himself died because His whole way of life was revolutionary—He spoke them from the torture in which He hung, nailed as He was to a cross—"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." And He also said to the thief dying by His side, "This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise."
I am afraid of what is before us, because what we sow we will reap. It is an exercise in courage to write these words, to speak in this way when it is revolting to consider how much we profess and how little we perform. God help us.
When it is said that we disturb people too much, I can only think that people need to be disturbed, that their consciences need to be aroused, that they do indeed need to look into their work, and study new techniques of love and poverty and suffering for each other. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" with napalm, nerve gas, our hydrogen bomb.
This is the greatest of problems today, this problem of war and peace, and involves every man, woman and child in the country. We are one world and all men are brothers. We must pray to learn to love, to have faith in love. Can we go from that fount of Love to a factory where nerve gas and incendiary bombs are manufactured?
Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief; in thee have I hoped, let me never be confounded.
About all of our failures, in the Catholic Worker Movement, I must say that I am not much concerned. I think that such failures are inseparable to a work of this kind, and necessary for our growth in holiness. Such failure, for those of us who have dedicated our lives to this work, is our cross. As a matter of fact, our failure is so continuous that we never think of it, we just go on working, without judging ourselves, as St. Paul tells us to. We can list our accomplishments as glorious examples of God’s providence, and of our faith in it. We grow in faith in it and in our very persistence, we are growing in hope and charity. God grant that we persevere.
The vision is this. We are working for "a new heaven and a new earth, wherein justice dwelleth." We are trying to say with action, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." We are working for a Christian social order.
And finally, hear these words:
The day is surely coming when the heavens will be torn open and God’s spirit will be poured out upon this land, when justice shall roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.
But that day is not today. We weep that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children are harassed and bullied in the public schools. We are angry that we are treated as a social ill. We grieve that we cannot enter into the legal state of marriage with our loved one. We are disturbed that racial discrimination still plagues our sisters and brothers. We are horrified by the rhetoric used against immigrants. We hurt for our troops sent to war. We are angry at our political leaders.
And we feel so helpless. Just trying to nurture our families and friendships is difficult. Trying to keep up with our duties at work is tiring. Faithfully sustaining this congregation at times seems an impossible task.
But the days are surely coming. For we know that God is good and God is able. We know that God will bring healing to our land, that God will renew our spirits with a new song, that we will not be abandoned in our hour of need.
With hope and perseverance our vision will be fulfilled in this time and this place. God will use us as instruments of peace. Our ministry will, one small step at a time, be used of God to bring about a new dawn. I can see the light, join me in the journey.