Trying to convey the astonishing marvel of God's good news, Paul writes poignant words
to the Romans that reverberate this Memorial Day weekend:
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a
righteous person someone might actually dare to die.
But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
So many soldiers have also died for our country.
So many heroes have dared to die for this nation, and one day a year, or one moment of
silence tomorrow, is hardly sufficient to honor them.
Their sacrifice is all the more heroic and astonishing and Christlike when we admit that
America is at least as ungodly as it is righteous.
Our history does not always live up to our ideals; our rhetoric is far better than our track
record of liberty and justice for some.
Slavery and genocide and Jim Crow and patriarchy and violence stain our national soul.
We are as a nation what Martin Luther said we are as individual Christians: we are simultaneously saint and sinner, righteous and unrighteous, glorious and
ungodly, noble and generous to many, cruel and unjust to many.
We are both a beacon of hope and a shadow of death upon the face of the earth.
And for this mixed bag, this complex saint-and-sinner nation that has been
sometimes trustworthy with responsibility and sometimes sloppy drunk with
power, our heroes dared to die to secure a better future.
In this powerful way they followed in the footsteps of the One Paul proclaims Lord
whether or not their dogtags said Christian.
They give us a stunning glimpse into the heart of the Lamb who was also slain.
As we look back and remember, we hear from John, who looks ahead and reveals.
He shares a holy vision with his congregation that suffers under the thumb of a
Roman empire too drunk with power to live up to the nobility of its rhetoric.
Christians and others who do not show appropriate patriotism, including worship of
Caesar, are punished for their treason.
John is exiled, others are killed, and everyone is scared.
The Spirit therefore visits John in solitary and lets him skip ahead a few chapters
to read just enough of the end of history to inform and survive the middle.
Those nasty imperial bad guys are just the latest generation of front men for cosmic
forces of evil at war with heaven, a war they are certain to lose.
The kings of the earth and the empire they serve are thoroughly defeated.
The political powers of domination are left in rubble and tears.
They will be replaced by the new Jerusalem, where things are very different.
Nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, which obviously means no empire, no idolators, no kings of the earth.
Except that things in the Lamb's kingdom are very different.
The kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.
People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
All the domination and the lies that prop it up are gone, but all the bullies and liars are
invited in with their glory.
All the nations, with so much blood on their hands and stain on their souls, will
contribute their glory and honor.
All the injustice and innocent suffering and senseless death will be over and done, but the
forgiven guilty will be welcomed home alongside their sisters and brothers who
suffered their sin which will not survive the new Jerusalem.
The man keeping you down is lifted up and so are you, because what the Lamb is doing
is more than reversal, it's redemption.
The beauty of our country for which women and men have died is included in the city,
and all its ugliness and death are healed by the leaves of its tree of life.
Jesus has dared to die for Rome and America and all of their most evil, ungodly
characters, and their glory is welcomed into the city with no security system and
no temple and no pain and no trouble.
No slavery, no exploitation, no trail of tears, no lynching tree, no internment camp, no
burning cross, no border cage will be there, but those with blood on their hands in
those horrible histories will be.
God lets the monsters in because God refuses to let the monsters win.
God will not let their ways prevail, either for them or against them.
God does not beat us at their brutal game, God changes the game; God heals the game
and all who play it.
And God's salvation, God's healing, God's life has more muscle than their militaries.
All their firepower is no match for the love of the innocent Lamb.
For all the darkness our decisions cause, the nations will walk by its light, and there will
be no more night.
That unfathomable, unfailing future is where Jesus is pointing his disciples when he says,
on the night before Rome crucifies him, 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.
Easier heard than done in the middle of the night.
John still had to send his letter to loved ones still living under Rome's cruel thumb.
The disciples still had to watch Jesus leave them to suffer and die.
We still have the evening news reminding us daily that we are in the middle of night.
The beautiful future is so invisible and distant from where we now sit.
The arc of the universe may be long and bending toward justice, and the trajectory of
God's creation may be long and destined for salvation, but things look awfully bleak today.
How do we navigate what Paul called this present darkness?
Where is the light of the Lamb to guide our footsteps now?
During the night Paul had a vision, Luke writes.
This was after a mysterious moment when Paul and his companions wanted to
head east with the gospel of Jesus but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.
Paul's well-intentioned, best laid ministry plans were rejected by God.
Then night fell, with darkness, confusion, uncertainty about the future.
Only then did Paul receive a vision.
He saw a man from Macedonia, a region known for its economic troubles, which
started him toward Lydia, a very rich woman.
Trying to guess where the Spirit of Jesus is taking us next is a stab in the dark, but it is
ultimately leading to a new Jerusalem full of the glory and honor of violent, cunning, bloody, routinely wicked, beloved, healed nations.
It's a vision we cannot reach or accomplish any more than America has achieved equality
and liberty and justice for all in almost two hundred fifty years of trying.
So the vision comes to us in our night.
The Lamb comes to us in our flesh.
Salvation comes to us on our cross.
The Spirit comes to us in confusion and guides us one step at a time, and not in a
clean, straight line.
God's movement is not efficient or clear or fair or any of the other predictable, orderly
ways of empire.
God is doing something different.
God is weaving a deeper pattern with plenty of threads that appear to be going the
Do not let the smaller picture discourage you.
Do not forget what our fallen heroes have taught us, that there is a picture and a purpose bigger than our limited lives and narrow vision.
On our good days, we love and serve it.
On our other days, on every day, it loves and serves us even to the extreme of
giving his life.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.