Our Home Town--Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem
The following sermon was preached by Sarah Friesen-Carper, LSTC Senior M.Div. student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, November 2, 2006.
Revelation 21: 1-6a
This week we have taken a look at the journey from bondage to freedom. We began by naming that which binds us in this community and bound up the bread and wine. We meditated on and lamented our separation from God as we observed the bound elements. Yesterday, we heard Jesus call us out of bondage into freedom just as he called Lazarus out of the tomb, and we received the unbound bread and wine. Today, we are left with discarded grave cloths. So we celebrate our freedom and we ask ourselves - where do we go from here?
In our reading from Revelation today, we receive the promise of a new heaven and a new earth. A new Jerusalem where God will dwell with God's people. The New Jerusalem is the place where God lives among us. A place where God's presence is so felt that tears of shame and pain and anger and grief are no longer shed. A place where violence and destruction are no longer a reality. A place where the groans of creation are not just silenced, but no longer even exist. A place where all that separates us from God is no more.
In Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, this new heaven and new earth are now. This New Jerusalem is now our home town.
And yet...I have a good friend who is serving with the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Tuwani, Palestine. A few months ago, she was studying Arabic in Jerusalem at a school where all students, staff and faculty are subject to a "zero-tolerance" policy regarding interaction with Palestinians. Had they known that she lived in the Palestinian Jerusalem or that she spent her vacation in Tuwani, she would have been kicked out of school. At this school, she met a young man who just finished his term with the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces. She asked him about the school's travel policy and the IDF's use of such extreme force with the Palestinians.
He answered, "A Jewish life is worth far more than an Arab one. If 500 hundred Arabs have to be killed to save one Jew, it is worth it. In terms of missing soldiers, if 1,000 Arabs have to die in order to recover one missing Jewish soldier, it is worth it."
Now I do not intend to make a political argument about the Palestine-Israel conflict. What I do mean to say is that it is indicative of the human condition and the state of creation of our whole world. This is the Jerusalem of our world. We live in a world where human life is devalued and creation is ignored. On all sides we are surrounded by tears and death, we are overcome by mourning and crying and pain.
There is an eschatological novel called Skinny Legs and All which I read in college and in it the author, Tom Robbins, reminds us that Jerusalem, the Middle East, is known as the Fertile Crescent. He likens this fertile crescent to the womb out of which humanity is born. He writes, "Of all the places on the planet, it is the most feverish, hot, pain-racked, tense, dilated, bloody, traumatized, stretched to the point of ripping. Remind you of something?" Birthing is messy. It is bloody and painful. But in labor new life is born. Now, I would in no way glorify or justify the pain and violence that the Middle East or any of our world endures. Rather, I would say that this "stretched to the point of ripping" Jerusalem, is the Jerusalem of which we are all citizens. This is the Jerusalem which is now our home town.
And yet, it is this Jerusalem, this earth, in which God also lives among us, giving birth to new life even in the midst of gruesome violence and death.
So we ask today, where do we go from here?
In a few minutes we will pray the great litany calling out, Kyrie Eleison! Lord have mercy! The Hebrew and Arabic words for mercy are the same words for womb. When we cry out for mercy, we cry out to our God's womb. The place where we find rest and comfort as God holds us and nurtures us in her womb, is the same place that God gives birth in pain and agony. The place where God gives birth in pain and agony, is the same place where we are birthed to new life. This is the God who does dwell with us in pain and violence. Who does wipe the tears from our eyes. Who does away with death. And in whom mourning and crying and pain are no more.
We are people still living in the old heaven and the old earth, yet we are people of the new heaven and the new earth. We are people who sometimes see no sign of God's presence at all, and yet we are people with whom God dwells. We are people who live in bondage and in freedom.
Yesterday, we read that Lazarus was unbound and let go. Dr. Bangert asked, "He was freed to go, where? Home, probably." So we too are unbound and set free to go home. We go home to Jerusalem, both old and new. And so, we pray. We pray for mercy. We call out to the womb. We pray for our world. We pray for our neighbors. We pray for our enemies. We pray for ourselves. We are empowered to shed that which binds us in our home town Jerusalem to be witnesses and workers of our home town, the New Jerusalem.
As we begin the Litany, you are invited to stand as you are able. We begin in our places then gather by these grave clothes and then process through the chapel and out into the world discarding that which binds us and praying for the life of the world.