November 17, 2019 When will it be?
It was exactly 50 years ago that the white only Springbok rugby team toured the British Isles. At the time Nelson Mandela had already spent 5 years in prison on the infamous Robben Island, the violent system Apartheid was entrenched, the security apparatus used everything at their disposal to ensure that dissenting voices were silenced, and the Nationalist Party received overwhelming support from white people who were the only people who were allowed to vote.
The black majority dreamed about freedom to participate in a true representative democracy but it was an inconceivable dream, farfetched, improbable, unlikely!
On November 15, 1969 the Springboks were scheduled to play a Wales team, Swansea. During the second half of the match mass demonstrations interrupted the game. It quickly turned into violence. Eyewitness and future MP Hywel Francis commented about the events on this day: “It was the beginning of an awareness, not just as progressive people showing solidarity with the black people, but of a worldwide campaign against South Africa.”
Back in South Africa on Robben Island, white prison guards took out their frustrations on Mandela and the other political prisoners. The dream of a free society became even less likely. But hope springs eternal!
Fifty years later, this time in Japan, the first Black captain of the Springbok rugby team lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy as his team won the Rugby World Cup. Six of the 15 players were people of color, all citizens of a representative democracy. What was an unlikely dream for decades became a reality. As Martin Luther king Jr. another man with an unlikely dream once said: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it is bent toward justice.”
Hope springs eternal! Keep on dreaming.
Many Centuries ago, an unknown prophet who was given the name Isaiah, also had a dream. It was a dream that on the face of it was even less likely to turn into reality than the dream of a powerless black majority who protested a ruthless and violent regime. It was a dream that some viewed as laughable, ridiculous and far removed from reality, a dream going against conventional wisdom, going against historical observation and as a matter of fact going against nature and life itself.
This unknown prophet speaks about a time when heavens and earth will become new. Weeping and cries of distress will be absent. There will not be any infant mortalities, those who are 100 years old will be consider young. Wars will cease, there will be enough to eat. It will be a time when predator and prey will live harmoniously together, wolf and lamb and lion will co-exist. It will be a new time!
It is a dream of a world where all creatures will live together in harmony, not threatening each other, with enough to eat and drink, to simply coexist without war and violence.
This unknown prophet was not the first one who had a dream of a world of harmony and peace. The original prophet Isaiah decades prior had a similar dream (Chapter 11). And his dream is connected to a promise of someone who would make it happen. Someone from the house of Jesse, that is the house of David, would come and judge the poor with righteousness and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. During the reign of this universal king, the leopard shall live with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; calf, lion and fatling shall live together and a little child shall lead them. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy and the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord. Some will say this is a ridiculous dream, the dream of a child, unrealistic and far removed from real live! The Word of God is actually saying that this dream is in fact more than the prophet’s personal dream- it is God’s dream!
This dream still speaks to us in a way that is hard to put in words. Yet, deep down all of us yearn and ache for a world that is kinder and gentler. A world where there is less pain and suffering, a world where people are less greedy and more giving. A world without disease and death. A world in harmony!
As people of faith, as citizens of God’s Kingdom, as people who are followers of the Prince of Peace, we have seen glimpses of a new heaven and a new earth. We are, depending on how one sees it, privileged or burdened, for we are able to see the contrast between the world as it is and the world as it suppose to be. And let us admit it, when we see the contrast there will always be some restlessness within us. There is indeed an enormous gap between how the world is and how it ought to be. And that increase our restlessness. And then we let go of God’s dream and we accept the world as it is. When we see the terrible condition our world is in, we give up on God’s dream and we resign by saying: “This is how it is and there is nothing we can do about it.” Or we say: “Be realistic, or pragmatic, the world does not work like this.”
Faith is described in the letter to the Hebrews as “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith requires a hope that springs eternal, a hope that is seated in God and not in what we see or experience. A hope that goes beyond what we expect or consider normal. Faith and hope move us to refuse to say: “This is how things are, get used to them.”
Faith is to hold onto God’s dream of a harmonious world in spite of what reality shows. Faith is to be stubborn enough to say: “For you this may not make sense, or it may seem foolish, unrealistic or impractical or dangerous, but I will continue to dream of a world where there is harmony, justice, peace, tolerance, love and kindness in all of God’s creation!”
In short, faith is to embrace God’s dream of a world, where people can be who and what God intended them to be. God’s dream of a world that, according to the Genesis story is good – very good!
We sometimes give up on God’s dream because the gap between what is and what can be is too big. I suspect that there is another reason: We sometimes give up on this dream for we are distracted by our own natural instincts to cope or survive or to negotiate the world as it is. You see, we sometimes loose out of sight that God is still dreaming about God’s creation.
Jesus’ Disciples of course knew of God’s dream for they were familiar with the prophets’ words in their Holy Scripture. But they too may have become distracted and despondent with their situation living under Roman occupancy. Furthermore, they may have found their security in the magnificent Temple. They after all believe that God was present in the temple. So one day while they were walking past the temple they were once again impressed by the size and beauty of the temple. “This is permanent, this is God’s dream, this is what it is all about,” they must have thought. But then Jesus said: “the days are coming when not one stone will be left upon another, all will be thrown down.” Jesus of course was referring to the destruction of the temple which happened in 70CE.
And then Jesus continues about things that would happen before the end arrives. He is of course talking about the world as it is: Wars, insurrections, earth quakes, famines and plagues and persecution of the faithful. These words seem to contradict Isaiah’s words of a peaceful kingdom. They are not.
For Jesus is in fact preparing his disciples for the harsh and unfriendly world in which they have to testify about God’s plan: “they will arrest you and persecute you, I will brought you before kings and this will give you the opportunity to testify.” And then Jesus gives them a promise: “Not a hair of your head will be perish. By your endurance you will gain your soul.”
You see the world does not respond well to God’s dream of a harmonious world. There is push back and resistance against God’s plan for God’s creation. There has always been and there will always be push back. Jesus according to John’s Gospel says: “My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”
Since the very beginning those who have understood God’s plan for God’s creation have experienced push back: the prophets when they pointed out injustice and violence against the vulnerable were persecuted and killed. The faithful who have seen God’s dream for the world and worked towards such a world were first ridiculed, then marginalized and ultimately silenced. And the most violent reaction of course was against the Son of God, the Word that became flesh to show us what God really dream off: Jesus, the Word of God was silenced when they nailed him on a cross to silence his message. But instead of silencing the Divine message, Jesus rose from the dead and his message of love that is always stronger than hate, changed and still is changing the world.
We are called to dream with God about a world that God intended. We have to accept that there are forces that work against God’s dream. I think that the danger is real that we may lose sight of God’s dream for the world because we are distracted by everything that the world gives: comfort, leisure, things, privileges, concerns about our health and loved ones, short term pleasure and priorities, anger, realism and pragmatism. We often replace God’s dream for the world with my dream for the world.
But embracing God’s dream and dreaming with God are not enough. Ye it is true that we do not know when Christ will return-that is God’s work.
However, God gives us the opportunity to testify about the new life and new world that Jesus showed us. We have to trust God that God will bring about a new heaven and new earth. When will this be? At God’s time. We do not know when. But what we do know I that while we wait we have to work hard so that the world can become more and more what God has in mind. There is a Latin phrase that explains what we ought to do as we wait for the return of Christ. The phrase is: Ora et labora – pray and work! We have to pray knowing God will bring a new heaven and new earth. But we also have to work so that world would reflect more and more what God has in mind for God’s creation! Amen.