“There Shall Be a Day”

Download a PDF of this sermon here.

 

Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

November 10, 2013

Scripture:  Jeremiah 31:1-9

 

On Monday, November 11, 1918—95 years ago tomorrow—in a train car on a railroad siding in northern France in the wee hours of the morning, a group of German, French, and British men wrote their names on a piece of paper.  In so doing, they brought an end to the Great War, the European War, the World War, as it was known then.

It had been fought as “the war to end all wars.”  Out of its ending arose the League of Nations, the first international organization whose purpose was to achieve and maintain world peace.  The kind of devastation seen in the trenches—tens of millions of young men killed, and wounded, and missing—could never happen again.

 

But one thing led to another, and we humans did what we humans do, and trouble did arise again.  And pretty soon they had to add a roman numeral after “the World War,” because another great conflict was exploding everywhere.  In ghettos and concentration camps, in firefights and dogfights and naval battles, yet more millions were killed, and wounded, and disappeared, until 1945, when new armistices were signed and the fighting ended again.

Out of the ending of World War II arose the United Nations, a renewed effort at international diplomacy and peace.  As details of the horrors of the Holocaust emerged, the world united around two words:  Never Again.

 

But one thing led to another, and we humans did what we humans do, and trouble did arise again.  There was Korea, and Vietnam, and Kuwait, and Iraq, and Afghanistan…  There was Pol Pot in Cambodia and Idi Amin in Uganda.  There were the Serbs and the Croats and the Kosovar Albanians in Yugoslavia, and the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda.  There were the Contras in Nicaragua and the Generals in Chile.

Today, in 2013, there are civil wars in Syria and Somalia.  There are insurgencies in Yemen and Iraq.  There are drug-related conflicts in Mexico and Colombia.  There is inter-religious fighting in Israel-Palestine.  There is inter-ethnic fighting in Sudan and the Congo.  There is gang violence in Hartford and New Haven and Bridgeport and Boston.

 

One thing leads to another, and we humans do what we humans do, and over and over again, we end up in trouble.  When we look at human history—the past century, the past millennium, the entire arc of our existence—it is easy to feel like we’re caught in a never-ending cycle of violence and death and destruction.  It is easy to think that these conflicts are intractable, that more fighting is inevitable, that the ideal of world peace is an unachievable pipe dream.

And that’s why we need the prophets.  That’s why we need visions from the likes of Jeremiah.  That’s why we need the message we heard this morning.  We need to be reminded of God’s promise that violence will not be the end of us—that peace will prevail at the last.

 

Jeremiah was no stranger to cycles of violence and death and destruction.  More than six centuries before the time of Jesus, Jeremiah was born into a world torn by political and military instability.  The Israelite kingdoms were divided between north and south.  The Babylonian Empire was gaining strength, and eventually it laid siege to Jerusalem.  The king was deposed and replaced by his son; the son was then deposed himself and replaced by his uncle.  Eventually, the city was sacked and the Temple was destroyed by the invading forces.  All the rulers and leaders were exiled, some to Babylon and others to Egypt.  Jeremiah was carried off with them and remained a refugee in Egypt until he died.  Jeremiah was no stranger to cycles of violence.

If you’ve read much from the book of Jeremiah, you’ll know that many of his prophecies foretell destruction and devastation.  But the one we heard today is different.  The one we heard today promises restoration and renewal, peace and prosperity.

 

The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness…
I have loved you with an everlasting love…
Again I will build you up…

Again you shall take your tambourines
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers
Again you shall plant vineyards…
    and shall enjoy the fruit.

 

Jeremiah says that God promises a world in which those who have survived the sword, the veterans who make it home from their deployments, will be met with grace—with healing for their shrapnel wounds, and support for their struggles with depression and PTSD, and encouragement and embrace as they readjust to peacetime living.

Jeremiah says that God promises a world in which building-up outpaces tearing-down—a world in which planes will airlift food rather than bombs, and builders will build schools rather than prisons.

Jeremiah says that God promises a world in which everyone can come home again—the refugees scattered to the four winds, and the soldiers killed in far-away battles, and the estranged family members who haven’t spoken in years.

Jeremiah says that God promises a world of restoration and renewal, peace and prosperity.  Jeremiah says that God promises.  There’s no maybe about it.  God says, “There shall be a day.”  No matter how tangled-up our world might be now, no matter how checkered our past or uncertain our future, there shall be a day when all who survived the sword will find grace, when all who are hungry will be fed, when all who weep will rejoice, when all who are divided will be reunited, when peace will reign at the last—there shall be such a day.

 

This is the promise in which we place our hope, and this is the work to which we are called.  The work of beating swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks…  The work of melting down resentments and molding them into generosity…  The work of dismantling grudges and reassembling them into forgiveness…  The work of tearing down the walls of fear and using those bricks to build bridges of understanding…  This is the work to which we Christians are called.  This is the vocation that Lily assumed when the water trickled down her forehead this morning, the vocation we all inherit in the waters of baptism.

Our efforts may be hesitant and halting, because after all, we are human, and therefore imperfect.  We may stumble or fall.  We may slip back into our old ways.  But Jeremiah will call us forward, proclaiming again that there shall be such a day, a day when that long-awaited “Never Again” will ring true at last.

After all, God promised.  Don’t you want to prove God right?