We are in the second week of the Harvest time of 2011. The text that guides us in this seson is the Book of Revelations. Scripture reveals to us the results of the harvest of our faith and God’s intervention in our lives during this last year of faith and struggle. It should give new meaning to the word “homecoming.”
Today we celebrate the victory we have won this year for our families fighting for the right to stay together and raise their children in a family and in the ways of the Lord. Yet as we celebrate we seek to draw lessons from the harvest that will help us meet the many other challenges that are tearing home and family apart all around us.
A news report came out this wweek which showed that from the year 2009 to 2010 there was a nearly 200% increase in the rate of divorce. In one year! What is going on?
The report suggested that the primary reason for the increased divorce was “a lack of mutual understanding.” For me that simply means that partners lost the common thread in their lives they once shared.
The actual reasons for divorce are many. First among these – and very important for young people to understand – is lack of preparation. People got married before they were ready, before they really knew each oher and before they really knew themselves.
But how does a marriage that was begun in love go wrong? The song Amazing Grace says “I once was lost but now am found.” People get lost. They forget what they once thought was so important. A husband or a wife reacts in anger or jealousy turning a home of peace into a hell that nobody wants to live in. Why? Did they change their mind about the importance of their home to them – or did theyjust get lost and not know what was important to them?
The costs of divorce are not small. Children are scarred. They are hurt and they never forget. The studies show what we know – that a divorce breaks up an economic unit and makes it that much more hard to survive. Once you were pulling together – now you are pulling apart, even as the economic realities are getting worse. You see we need a home to have peace, to raise our children in love, to survive in a hostile world. We lose our homes because we get lost in the world.
When people get lost they wander in the emotions of their past. A woman looks at her husband and she does not see him – she sees an abusive father. A husband looks at his wife and does not see her – he sees someone who betrayed him years ago. When we get lost our mind loses focus – and faithfulness to what is important. How many have known the despair of a marriage broken by things that they themselves have done to each other. “Why did we – why did I do these things. You become unfaithful in your mind – and then you become unfaithful in your marriage.
When you are living an unfaithful life, you have lost your faith. Distractions have pulled you away from the road you once traveled with confidence and passion.
You say the necessities of life make it too hard to dedicate yourself to what is important. The world makes it hard to survive – you lose your jobs, your home. You are victims of injustice and discrimination and these things occupy your mind and soon your marriage is so neglected it dies.
When your loyalties to your partner and to your children seem to become too much of a burden to sustain, a weak person turns his back on them.
Most often in this country, you forget what is important to you because of your desires. This nation we live in spends more on advertising than it does on production, more on entertainment than it does on saving lives. Even now, when its economy is so badly faltering, the nation is selling dreams instead of solutions, awakening often perverse desires. When you give in to them, you get lost – and you lose what is important.
Sometimes it feels like we are living in “Satan’s world”, a world where Satan rules – where greed and ambition and violence and death are all around us. And we become lost.
We feel like the disciples in that boat when the waves are ten feet high and the storm is everywhere. We want Jesus to wake up and calm the storm. But when Jesus did wake up, he asked them “Where is your faith?” You see, it is not that you have gotten lost because of the world, it is that you have lost your faith. And that was the reality that the writer of revelations was addressing as he wrote to his seven churches filled with people who were bearing the persecution and violence and discrimination of the Roman Empire.
The powerful vision given to the prophet to give to his people was first of all a vision of four horsemen, what we call today the four horsemen of the apocalypse. In fact, the four horsemen represented the realities of a dying empire. What rises with man falls with man: and as at that time, in this time, we are in the time of the falling of the empire of the United States.
The first horseman was Conquest. The drive of this nation to dominate the world is out of control. Its ceaseless efforts to dominate the oil of the middle east and the economies of Latin America have caused unblievable misery. It is why many of you are here. The destruction of the economies of your home countries drove you here, forced from your homes and generations of your families.
The Horsemen of Greed is out of control. No one can argue that it was not unbridled greed – on wall street, in real estate – that brought this economy to its knees. You know this greed in the same way as the prophet of old talked about it, the greeed that cheats the worker of his wages and steals from the consumer by raising prices. They lowered your wages until you could not buy what was produced and then you were laid off your job because no one was buying what you were making!
The Horseman of Violence is out of control. The prophet said that the powerful, under the influence of Satan, would cause violence to break out between people everywhere. Look at the violence in the middle east, in Africa. Look at what breaks our heart today with the violence in Mexico, with bodies without heads laying in the streets and loved ones screaming and crying.
You know this violence because you are the object of this hate and violence. You became too many, even though you produced and contributed, even though they need you, because your numbers and the color of your skin threatened the picture of the selfish world they hold on to.
The Horsemen of Death is out of control. Hurricanes and earth quakes and fires destroy cities and take lives – because no one takes the time to prepare. Diseases rage, diseases that come from the drugs we take and the food we eat – and greed denies health care to the poor and the workers.
These things in the world around us distract us and discourage us. We hear, as the prophet did, the cry of the innocent. How many times have we heard the cries of children who have lost their father or mother to immigration, how often the tears of a mother for a child shot down in the street or a soldier blown apart in a far off war. The prophet says, he hears the cry of the innocent and so does God.
According to the vision of the prophet, God sends four angels to the four corners of the earth and they stop the horsemen from riding until they can “seal” the “144,000.” He means that God places a seal of protection on the people of God, the believers who God has chosen to make His way known in the world.
Does God protect us? Does God protect the people who call on him?
Just look at the harvest of the struggle this year – look at how God worked through us to “seal the 144,000”. We have won a victory that allows us to protect hundreds of thousands of families from deportation and separation. It is not a change in the law, it is a cover of protection from the 1100 deportations a day that were causing so much pain and suffering.
We know the work that now falls to us to use the changes we have won to defend our families on a “case by case” basis. And we are beginning to prepare for that struggle in the next two weeks. We will clarify the changes Obama agreed to, determine how to make use of them – and continue to fight for more protections.
But today I ask you to take this as a sign of the destiny God has for you as a people. Those of you who have been with us in this struggle that won this victory from the beginning know the touch of God’s hand on us, God’s intervention in our affairs that made it possible. But if God protects you from these deportations know that at the same time he also offers you protection from the distractions and dangers that cause you to become lost in your lives.
In Exodus, after God freed the people from slavery in Egypt, he told them to keep his covenant with them, to obey his laws, because they were his people. Know that the Way requires a discipline to your life as well: you are not whole if you are not part of a family, a church, and an organized movement and you will soon become lost in the storms of the world around you.
The discipline of our struggle is found in family, church and movement. Each has a home that we must nurture and value if we are not to be blown off course and lost.
We began this morning talking about divorce – the disassembling of the family. Now Jesus does say that divorce is wrong, a sin. But he also says, my family is those who follow me. That means that marriage is not just a matter of law, but a matter of common purpose and common love.
I want to be clear because I know there are many here who came from the Catholic Church where divorce is considered a sin. We have seen women counseled by their priest to stay in abusive relationships and we think that is wrong. There are conditions in which divorce is necessary – but many of the divorces we see, many of the breakdowns of the family we see – in such great numbers – are not necessary. They come because we get lost.
Home should be sacred: prepare for it carefully, honor it daily: if it is truly important, then treat it that way.
But also honor and commit yourself to your church home: it is the fountain that gives you water – but you must drink from it – and you must make it grow and you must defend it.
And you must also honor the home of your people, which is the movement, for God chooses you to be his PEOPLE: the organized movement is the home of your people and it provides you with a program of action and learning and being together that keeps you from getting lost, from being driven by the wild winds of greed and conquest and violence and death. It helps you to keep your eye on the prize!
In this Harvest time, when God has given us a sign that He is with us, that the angels are protecting us, make this a time of coming home, make this a time of homecoming ! When you hear the four horsemen riding, stand firm in the road, say I am not worried about you crazy riders, keep walking, keep coming home!
The believer says, “I once was lost, but now am found.”
Yet you say, “The world is falling down around me and the storms of life have torn my world apart.”
Still, Jesus said, “Where is your faith?”
Has not God chosen you as one of his people, with the destiny to make his love and his justice and the greatness of his creation known in the world?
Has he not sealed you to protect you from the storms of life? Is he not calling you HOME? The Kingdom of God is always near you!
Therefore you cannot lose your faith; you can only misplace it for a time. Face your necessities of work and responsibility; honor your loyalties to your family home, your church home and your movement home; discipline the desires that war within you; keep your eye on the prize and your faith will return to you. Then you will be at peace no matter what happens in the world around you.
Harvest 1 Scriptures
Exodus 19:1-6 At Mount Sinai
On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
Luke 8:22-25 Jesus Calms the Storm
22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”
Revelation 7:1-4 144,000 Sealed
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.
Revelation 6 The Seals
1 I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword. When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “Two pounds[a] of wheat for a day’s wages,[b] and six pounds[c] of barley for a day’s wages,[d] and do not damage the oil and the wine!” When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth. When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters,[e] were killed just as they had been. I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us[f] from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their[g] wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”