Every week, I wait for a moment of insight or inspiration before sitting down to compose this brief moment of spiritual reflection. This week it came for me as my pastor, Kelli Brill, read the scripture and prepared to preach: “The leaves,” she said, “are for the healing of the nations.”
She was quoting from a passage towards the close of Revelation. John is describing the newly formed City of God. There is a river, and next to the river a tree – one that bears fruit in every month of the year. Its leaves, he writes – are for the healing of the nations.
John has taken us back to the garden of Eden – that place where fruit was abundant; where all were not only welcome, but were fed to abundance and lived with their neighbor in peace and harmony. It is reminiscent of a passage from Micah: “they will no longer learn the ways of war. For each will sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.”
No one will make them afraid. I like that. Leaves offered for the healing of the nations – I love that. It begs an important question: to what extent do we who call seek the wisdom of our creator participate in the healing of the nations.
A quick survey of the landscape of human behavior, from our present time all the way back through the annals of history, reveals our proclivity for inflicting great pain through warfare, hatred, misunderstanding, intolerance, religious fervor, jealousy, outrage, and so much more. Every nation remembers and rehearses their own narrative of unjust subjugation, inviting inhabitants of their land to teach their children whom to hate, whom to fear, and whom to conquer.
Bob Dylan’s biting sarcasm in his song “With God on Our Side” reminds us just how we play this game. He came from the Midwest, he writes, and then says: “I was taught and brought up there the laws to abide, and that land that I live in, has God on its side.” A little later he references studying the Civil War, and writes: “and the names of the heroes I was made to memorize, with guns in their hands and God on their side.”
Religion is often the tool we use to justify our treatment of those whom we are taught to loathe and fear and hate. God is on OUR side.
Which is why John’s vision of the New Jerusalem (in Hebrew literally the City of Peace) is so remarkable. It is a reminder from one writing during a time of persecution and domination by a conquering foe that God’s vision of Shalom is what inspired the creation of this world order in the first place; and God will not rest until those created in Her image participate in the healing of the nations in the last days.
From beginning to end we were built for peace. And God has provided and will provide for us the means by which the healing of the nations will be found.
Let those who have ears to hear, hear. Among the cacophony of voices asking you to hate your Muslim neighbor or your Palestinian neighbor or your Jewish or your Lesbian neighbor or your black neighbor or your trans neighbor or your Mexican neighbor – hear instead the voice of the Creator in whose image all these beautiful people are fashioned: I invite you to participate in the healing of the nations; and I will provide for you all you need to do this.
I hearken back one more time to an ancient scripture, this one from Isaiah: “You will be called repairers of the breach, the restorer of streets on which to dwell.” I have walked the broken streets of this world, from Gaza to Bogata and many points between. I have seen the ravages of what human hate can fashion. In Granada, Colombia, I watched villagers from rival warring factions lay stones together to build a road of peace – literally becoming repairers of the breach and restorers of streets on which to dwell.”
The Psalmist writes: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s family dwell together in peace.”
We were built for this: for peace. May God’s vision of Shalom, and God’s participating hand in the healing of the nations, inspire us all to walk the way of peace on this, our journey Into the Mystic.
The Church has left the building.
I heard David Vasquez-Levy, President of the Pacific School of Religion, speak those words last week.
At first, I misheard him. I thought what he was saying was that the Church as we know it is no longer an entity. We've left the building. We don't matter anymore.
As I listened more deeply to what he was saying, though, I realized I missed the point. Then, I got pretty excited.
The Church has left the building.
We live in a time when religious bodies are seen as less and less relevant. That perception is fueled by many things; among them the Church's pre-occupation with our buildings.
Many who seek a relationship with the sacred agonize over the time, money, and attention churches invest in their buildings.
I have seen churches for whom their de facto mission has become their building. All of their remaining assets get spent to maintain a facility that sits largely empty the entire week, and mostly empty during their worship hours.
I don't want this to be a rant about buildings. I can confess that my faith has been enriched by physical spaces where art and architecture conspire to inspire. In stained glass, handcrafted woodwork, spired cathedrals, beautifully adorned altars, multi-ranked pipe organs and other such accouterments I have found true delight. My heart and soul have been stirred by such.
But I also deplore the manner in which the preservation of those buildings hinders more meaningful and substantive mission from taking place.
I have a brother who was incensed when his local church spent millions to erect a gold covered statue commemorating a religious hero rather than use that money to feed the poor.
I have sat with church leaders who meet to determine how deeply to cut the pastor's salary so that they don't have to cut the funds needed to sustain the physical property.
I have seen spiritual seekers whose only connection to their faith ends the moment worship closes and they leave the building.
So when I finally heard what David was saying, I rejoiced.
The Church has left the building.
The Church is reawakening to its call to engage in mission. It is again conspiring to respond to the unmet needs of those who inhabit their community.
It is taking the faith as they know from the building into the streets.
I celebrate this.
I applaud this.
It gives me such hope, and no small amount of joy.
Gentle listener, no matter where you find your inspiration or how you commune with your sacred – be it in the vast wilderness of the great outdoors or the bejeweled architecture of your local Church and its sanctuary: love your neighbor. Take the faith to the streets. Leave the building. Meet the fellow traveler on the way, who like you is struggling to find her way Into the Mystic.
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