One thing the early Christians didn’t get quite right was the future. They expected that any day, any hour, Jesus would return and usher in the new order. The New Testament ends on a note of expectancy: “Surely I am coming soon”, he says [Rev. 22:20]. And references to future generations virtually disappear. The early church didn’t have much to say about future generations because they didn’t think there would be any—or, at least, very few.
For a long range, forward looking plan we have to look back, ironically, to the Hebrew Scriptures, the “old” testament. All through the Hebrew Scriptures are countless references to the children and the children’s children—down through the generations. Ancient Israel was intensely interested in future generations. Abraham is promised the blessing of countless descendants–they would be as numerous as the particles of dust on the earth, he would be the father of a multitude of nations [Gen. 17:5]. To have many descendants, stretching far into the future, was a blessing from the Lord. Ancient Israel looked forward, far into the future.
And so there were prophets. This morning we heard Isaiah’s vision: God is creating a new heaven and a new earth, Jerusalem will be a joy, the wolf and lamb shall feed together, they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain…[Isaiah 65:17 forward] Visions of wellbeing, visions of a renewed humanity. Visions of the “peaceable kingdom”, as it is often called.
The prophets’ visions of a better future speak to the past and present: where we and our ancestors have failed, our children will succeed—God willing, our children or our children’s children will succeed. So, here we are, two and a half thousand years later. The prophets’ visions have not been fully realized, but—God willing–they will be by our children and our children’s children. Where we and our ancestors have failed, we pray that our children will succeed.
But we need to make sure they catch the vision; we have to pass the torch. The peaceable kingdom has not arrived yet–swords are still swords and have not been beaten into pruning hooks. Our children and our children’s children will have to carry on our work. We need to equip them: with the light of vision and with skills. With torches and with tools.
Next Sunday I leave for Jerusalem—for the tenth time. It’s the place outside of this country that I’ve been to the most—it’s become a second home. I ask myself why I feel such a strong gravitational pull to Jerusalem. It’s partly the holy places, the places where Jesus walked, the place of death and resurrection. It’s partly the sheer complexity of Jerusalem: historically, politically—it’s a microcosm of the human condition. It’s partly the people I’ve come to know whose lives are shaped by all that Jerusalem is and all that it is not—at least not yet.
It’s the “what it might become” that I think is the most powerful draw. I’m drawn to Jerusalem because of what it might become. I guess I keep going back to see if it’s any closer to what it might become. Or any further. I’m drawn over and over again to the 87th Psalm.
- On the holy mountain stands the city he has founded; *
the Lord loves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
- Glorious things are spoken of you, *
O city of our God.
- I count Egypt and Babylon among those who know me; *
behold Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia:
in Zion were they born.
- Of Zion it shall be said, “Everyone was born in her, *
and the Most High himself shall sustain her.”
- The Lord will record as he enrolls the peoples, *
“These also were born there.”
- The singers and the dancers will say, *
“All my fresh springs are in you.” [BCP]
Zion, Jerusalem as the mother city of all people. Even Egyptians, even Babylonians, even Philistines. Even these ancient enemies. Jerusalem as the mother city of all: in Zion were they born. Egypt, Babylon, Philistia—even us. She is our mother too.
This is ancient Israel’s vision of Jerusalem—and, I like to think, it’s God’s vision. And it can be our vision, and one to pass on to our children. There’s an expansiveness, a universalism, in this ancient poetry that resonates deeply for us today. “The Lord will record as he enrolls the peoples: ‘these also were born there’. Of Zion it shall be said, ‘Everyone was born in her.’” Did you hear that? Everyone.
When I go to Jerusalem I’ll be chaplain for a course at St. George’s College, something we brothers do several times a year. One of the most compelling programs at St. George’s is the brainchild of a former course director, Henry Carse. Some of you may remember Henry preaching in our chapel a few years ago. A few years ago Henry started a program called Kids4Peace. The basic idea: Jewish, Christian and Muslim kids 11-13 years old get together at St. George’s on a regular basis for a year of activities. Then, in the summer, they come to the States for two weeks to meet with kids their age here—one week at a camp, one week doing other things.
It’s all about helping kids come to a deeper awareness of our common humanity. Kids4Peace exists to pass on a vision: an expansive vision of our humanity that cherishes our differences while embracing all that we have in common. It’s one thing, of course, to learn about Jews and Muslims and Christians in books. It’s quite another thing to learn and work and play right alongside each other. The essential thing is to see one another face to face, to be able to touch the “other”. This is when walls come tumbling down.
Kids4Peace in Jerusalem needs counterparts here. So, there is a Kids4Peace USA umbrella organization and there are a growing number of local chapters. As it happens, we have a new chapter here in the Boston area: called Kids4Peace Boston. And, as it happens, I’m on the board of directors. Many of you, by the way, have supported Kids4Peace in the past: several times in the last few years your Good Friday offering has been given to Kids4Peace.
Why am I so involved personally? It has to do with that breathtaking vision: “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of our God…of Zion it shall be said, ‘everyone was born in her’”. The mother city, the humanity to which we all belong as God’s children. A vision of inclusion, of expansiveness. A vision of wide embrace, even embrace of ancient enemies: Egypt, Babylon, Philistia–“in Zion were they born”.
Our ancestors have done wonderful things. But they failed to realize the vision. Our own generation has accomplished amazing things. But we have failed to realize the vision. The task falls to our children and our children’s children to make the vision a reality. So we have to pass the torch. Along with the tools they will need. Torches and tools: that’s what Kids4Peace is all about.
I’ll close with a few lines from a poem we’ll be singing later.
“O day of peace that dimly shines through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth and love, delivered from our selfish schemes.
May swords of hate fall from our hands, our hearts from envy find release,
till by God’s grace our warring world shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.
Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb, nor shall the fierce devour the small;
as beasts and cattle calmly graze, a little child shall lead them all.
Then enemies shall learn to love, all creatures find their true accord;
the hope of peace shall be fulfilled, for all the earth shall know the Lord.”
[Hymnal 1982; Carl P. Daw, Jr.]
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