Summary: For Worldwide Communion Sunday: How can we, like the Psalmist, be optimistic in the face of international conflict, national dispute, racism, church tension, our personal conflicts? The Cross is God’s reaching out to heal.
It was an awesome ruin. A hulk of stone, a pile of rubble. Smoke stains clearly visible. Jagged edges its roofline. What once had been a magnificent building lay now exposed to the open air, useless, a scar on the horizon. What terrible thing had happened here to create this ugly defacing of the earth? What awful accident, what deep-seated malice, what searing hatred? What had happened here, and what was its meaning?
In the corner, over against the remains of one wall, I saw a slab of stone. And above that stone, something to see, nails they were, long, strong nails; and something to read. A witness of some kind. What had happened here, and what was its meaning?
There are too many signs of destruction and division these days. Too many things point to tragedies and heartaches of one kind or another. There are too many scars on the horizon, not all of them burned buildings. Some of them are the scars of scorched hearts. Not visible to the naked eye, but nonetheless real.
Trouble is, you and I know that too many divisive things have happened. Too many things are headed toward disunity, not unity. Too many people are caught up in conflict, not harmony. Too much is lived out in anger, division, injustice, destruction. Too much.
The psalmist who wrote our text today, however, spoke of earth yielding her increase. He spoke of God’s kingdom growing, not failing. He dared to see God’s blessings, not the curse of human sin. Was he naive? I suspect that he lived in a time just as tumultuous as ours. Did the Psalmist have his head stuck in the sand? He insisted that all the nations, all peoples, would praise the Lord. He insisted that earth had yielded its increase. How can this be?
Let’s take a brief inventory of the scars and ashes of our time. Let’s wander through the ruins of our world and see if we can figure out any way in which earth is yielding her increase and God is blessing us.
Begin with the international scene. A divisive time. Nation continues to rise against nation, terrorists strike at innocent targets, the winds of war blow fierce across the landscape. Where is the justice when a megalomaniac pounds the Kurdish people? Where is the hope when the opening of a tunnel in Jerusalem prompts some to throw rocks and others to become rigid and stubborn? Where is the sense of it when a poor little Balkan nation, already divided into six pieces, threatens to subdivide further still? Ours is a divisive time. Where is the hope in it all?
"Let all the peoples praise you, 0 God; the earth has yielded its increase."
As Margaret and I toured eastern Germany just a couple of weeks ago, we were taken to a great old church in Leipzig, the Nikolaikirche, St. Nicholas Church, and we were told its story. It seems that just a few years ago, four pastors in Leipzig began to hold prayer meetings in their homes, praying for the will of the Lord to be done in their Communist-dominated land. Four small Monday night prayer meetings, in four Christian congregations. But the numbers began to grow; praying for an end to the oppression of Communism became more and more popular, more and more powerful. Soon the four small prayer meetings became one large prayer meeting, held, week after week, in a prominent setting, the Nikolaikirche. Hundreds, then thousands, began to come. Of course this did not escape the notice of the authorities, and so on one Monday night, a thousand Communist Party members filled the main floor of the Nikolaikirche, intending to block access to all those who would come to pray. But word had gotten out about this tactic, and so, over against the thousand party members seated on the main floor, two thousand Christians flowed into the double balconies high above them, and the service went on. So far from Christians not being able to worship, what it meant was that a thousand Communists were exposed to the Gospel! The rest is history. The wall fell, just by people power. By prayer power.
God had blessed; earth was yielding increase. A unity, despite all the evidences of disunity.
But continue. Ours is a divisive time, not only on the international scene, but in our nation as well. We are one month away from national elections, and here we are, as usual, being treated to slander and lies and half-truths and sheer noise, all of it without anybody saying much of anything. My cynical side says that it won’t matter much whether we get Republicrats or Democans. That it won’t mean much whether we get Bill Dole or Bob Clinton. My cynical side doesn’t care which Warner they choose in Virginia or why there are some new loonies arising in Maryland to challenge the old loonies. My very cynical side cannot get at all excited about shadow senators for the District of Columbia. Something in me says that we are going to have scandals and corruption and incompetence and all the rest, whoever is elected.