In the Name...
I think it was Francis Bacon who said that Man was given imagination to compensate for what he is not and a sense of humour to console him for what he is.
In the music business, groups and singers come and go. They release a few albums, they tour. They may be popular for a while, even hit #1, but, as styles and fads change, they fade into oblivion. Every once in a while, though, a song is composed which has an influence beyond the moment and in 1971, one of those appeared. Some have called it one of the greatest songs ever written. Former President Carter says that he's heard it in every one of the 125 countries that he's visited. It's appeared in movies and TV shows as diverse as "The Killing Fields" and "The X Factor." It's accompanied New Year's celebrations in Times Square and protest rallies in Iran.
The song, by John Lennon, is "Imagine."
Imagining is one of the things that human beings do best. A day doesn't pass when we don't think about the future, about what can and may be, or what we think should be. It can very personal and practical, such as our finances or health. It can be general and theoretical such as global warming or the NBA playoffs. Imagining can also be a source of comfort or escape.
In 1930, the midst of the Depression, 20th Century Fox released one of the strangest movies in film history - a sci-fi musical about what life would be like in 1980. With the title, "Just Imagine", you can just imagine how silly it was. People travelled to work in blimps instead of buses and Prohibition was still in effect! And, yet, people went to see it and the film actually made money. Because, in a troubled present, people needed the hope, however absurd, of a better tomorrow.
For the next few weeks, our scripture lessons will include passages from the Book of the Revelation. Not the product of a human imagination, it rather staggers the imagination with its vivid images of past, present, and future rolled up into one. A vision, revealed by God, of an ultimate future similar in many ways to that articulated by John Lennon. A time in which greed, hunger, and killing will be no more. A place of universal brotherhood with no boundaries to divide us. Where all the people live as one. Very similar, but, with one all-important difference.
In Lennon's concept of the future, there is no religion. Heaven has been abolished, along with God. But, without heaven and without God, a future time and place of perfect peace cannot exist because that is beyond man's power to create.
In Revelation, we hear of a tree whose fruit God says will heal nations. That should remind us of another tree whose fruit was long ago misused by Man and, as a result, humanity became set against nature, male against female, brother against brother, and nation against nation. The point being that we made the mess and we can't fix it. The healing, the hope, has to come from outside the human experience.
In our Gospel, we heard Jesus say to his disciples that he was going to give them peace. But, he said, it would be a special kind, not what the world, or they, might think of as peace. Now, when many of us think and pray about peace, in our families, in our communities, in our world, we ask for an end to conflict, to the violence that nations and individuals do to one another.
And that's good, but, often, we mentally restrict, we unconsciously limit, what it is we're thinking and praying about because we limit our intention to merely an end to particular acts of aggression or discord. We forget that the lack of peace we experience in our world is only a symptom of other factors. In Hebrew, the word for peace, "shalom" means much more than the absence of contention. It's more closely linked to the concept we call "wholeness", wholeness, of being at one with God, with our neighbours, with ourselves. Peace is about healing as much as anything else.
Which reminds me, I heard a fellow went to a church and asked the pastor to pray for his hearing. At once, the pastor grabbed the man’s ears and began a long and passionate prayer. When he finished, he asked, "How’s your hearing now?' "I don't know.” the fellow replied, “it's not until Friday.”
But, healing is a big part of why we come to church. We want to be assured God is concerned about our personal trials and tribulations, our health in body, mind, and spirit, our relationships, the forgiveness of our sins. And yes, He is indeed. He cares about all of these and much more because He is concerned with the health of all creation and He wants us to be, as well.
That means, for example, that when we pray for peace in various parts of the world, we should be asking not only for the violence to end, but, for the causes of that war, whatever they were, to be eliminated. When we pray for people who need spiritual guidance or physical cures we should be asking for the mental, emotional, or medical conditions which led to their situation to be corrected, as well. Our prayer should be for healing of people's attitudes and behaviour as much as anything else.
Every prayer we offer must have global and universal implications. Every prayer we offer must be for wholeness, shalom. And maybe that's why Jesus also said we might find his kind of peace troubling because it asks us to think about so much more than we might think we can handle.
But, it's something we can handle because we have a presence that helps us, a presence that assures us that our prayer is effective and that it accomplishes what it sets out to do, a presence that works towards wholeness. That presence is Christ himself. He is peace incarnate and he has promised to be with us even to the end of time.
The world is powerless to give this peace. Deep within the human psych are latent feelings of envy that demand prosperity, selfishness that insists on pleasure, anxiety that requires desire. And so, people create gods who will reduce their stress so that they can continue to stress themselves out, gods who will protect them from accidents so they can live with reckless abandon; gods who will forgive them even when they are unforgiving of others. But, these are false gods. They don't enable a person to endure tragedy. They can't strengthen someone to resist evil. They will never give peace.
One may commend John Lennon in his attempt to give the world a song of a better future, but, the music of heaven which St. John hears in Revelation includes a song which goes, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them."
That is a song which will never go out of style, which will be around when time itself has ended, and when all the people live as one, with God.
In the Name...