And I Think To Myself…

Think back for a moment to your childhood. To early childhood. What’s the first major news event that you remember? That first time that you realized that there’s this whole wide world out there, things happen out there that are beyond you or your parents or anyone else’s control… What was it?

For me, as a 31-year-old, it was the fall of the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War. I vividly remember seeing a newspaper on my grandparent’s dining room table with a photo of Boris Yeltsin standing defiantly atop a tank. I was too young to appreciate the significance of that photograph, but I could tell from the reaction of the adults in the room that it was a big deal.

My parents and my grandparents, many of you here grew up in a time when the Soviet Union was this great enemy, this monolithic force, this thing that would almost always exist as an antagonist to us. So when it crumbled, it was shocking. Like stones from the great temple, it just collapsed.

What were those moments of realization for you? When the world was scrambled or just seemed to just tumble down? When everything you thought you know, you took for granted, changed forever?

For the disciples it was quite shocking to hear Jesus talk about the temple collapsing. How could this giant massive building just fall down like that? (Never mind it happened once before!) The temple was enormous. Some of the stones were 160,000 pounds! They were rooted. They were solid. They weren’t going anywhere.

Yet, by the time Jesus’ words were recorded in the Gospel of Mark, the temple had already been destroyed. The Jewish people were in rebellion against the Romans. Everywhere the pressure was on to join the fight…a struggle that the hoped would bring about the end, the messiah, the savior.

Wars and rumors of wars. Nation against nation. But Jesus cautions us: “Don’t be lead astray.” Don’t think that this particular struggle will be the end—whether it be the fight against the Romans, or the Communists, or the terrorist—don’t think that this event or that event is the ultimate one. These are just the birth pangs.

Yet, most of the time, we don’t think about this, do we? Most of the time we go about our day, go about our lives, without the worry about the big picture. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, there’s only so much that we can do, so much that we can control. Part of Jesus’ message is to not fixate on those events as if they spell out some greater cosmic plan. Don’t convince yourself that there is sense in senselessness.

Because if we did, we’d go out of our minds. The world is full of that these days, right?

Last month, I was reading a book to my son. He’s really into like three or four books that he wants to read over and over. And one of these books takes the words of Louis Armstrong’s song “What a Wonderful World” and puts them to the art of illustrator Tim Hopgood. (As an aside, it’s really a delightful book—I highly recommend it for your child or grandchild).

Anyway, we were reading through this, and he was enthralled by the pictures, and I was really enjoying reading it to him, for, like, the 20th time in a row. The radio was playing in the background, just background noise to our story.

I see trees of green, red roses too

I see them bloom for me and you

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

 

I see skies of blue and clouds of white

The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

At this point I hear breaking news over the radio. The announcer reads a statement.

I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do

There’s been another mass shooting, this time at a community college in Oregon.

But they’re really saying I love you.

9 dead.

I hear baby’s cry, and I watched them grow

They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself what a wonderful world.

My son doesn’t know much about the world beyond the circle of people who love him. He doesn’t know about what happened this week in Paris, or last month in Oregon, or last summer in Charleston, or these years in Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan.

But there will come a day when he will hear and begin to understand the wars and rumors of wars. And there will come a day (not far from now) when I will have to explain to him what that all means: that there is evil in this world. That there are people who are twisted and broken. That the temple stones won’t stand forever. There will be anguish, whether on this global scale or in that small circle around him.

But I’d also speak to him the words of Jesus: “Do not be afraid. Watch and wait. Be ready. Even when scary things happen, God is working for good.”

The world may seem to be tottering. Everything may feel like its crumbling. But Jesus reminds us that these are but the beginning of the birth pangs. We are all touched by the ravages of violence, we are all touched by death, but for those of us living lives in relationship with God, in deep faith, we are shown a pathway out, a pathway to salvation. And it falls to us to point the way for others. To show others that in spite of it all, this is indeed a wonderful world that God is saving.

In the words of our second reading: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.”

God is faithful. God’s answer to the terror of crucifixion is to raise Jesus up. God’s answer to the terror of the tomb is to clear it out. God’s answer to the terror of Hell is to crush it.

Do not be afraid. Watch and wait. Be ready. Even when scary things happen, God is working for good.

We see that now, in the images of solidarity among peoples and nations after terrorism attacks this week in France and Lebanon. We see it in the brave men and women who rush into harms way to save others. We see it in the fervent faith of those who hold the suffering in their prayers. If violence and destruction are birth pangs, then all the displays of love and courage point us towards the promise of what’s coming next. We will not be afraid, because love is stronger than hate.

As the grim report comes over the radio, I hold my son tightly. What more can I do? What more can any parent do? Faith is all I have. Love is all I have. Hope is all I have. So, perhaps we just read the words one more time.

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself what a wonderful world.