Whatever is born of God conquers the world. Seriously? I mean, have you looked at the news lately? Earthquakes, terrorist attacks, refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, Global Warming, endangered polar bears and our own ecosystem in Alberta threatened by the die off of bees, frogs and the invasion of pine beetles in a seemingly never ending litany of bad news. God conquering the world? Give me a break!
I can just imagine how this would play out if I quoted it at a member of my family who will remain nameless as he’s not here to defend himself. This young adult was only 10 years old when a world-changing event changed how we look at our sense of safety and security. One day, he found teachers whispering to each other, looking sad and shocked, and parents coming to pick up their children who were giving their kids longer hugs than usual before bundling them off home. Once there, moms and dads sat down and tried to explain what was happening on the television, and many chose not to let them see the cycling images of airplanes crashing into two tall skyscrapers in New York.
Whether or not the children saw these images, they had a sense that their lives were not as secure as they had imagined, and the fear they saw in their adults’ faces had a lasting impact. Many of this generation have a sense of hopelessness and apathy, that it doesn’t matter what we do as the world can come crashing down on us in a split second. Why bother plan for the future when some crazed terrorist might end everything with dynamite stuffed in a backpack? Scripture that claims God conquers the world would seem laughable, idealistic and naïve.
I imagine that this little message was as hard to swallow for John’s people as it is for us. His people had survived Emperor Nero and the mad Caligula, but it didn’t mean that they were safe from persecution or violence. They were being chased out of synagogues for preaching heresy, they were being ridiculed by the Greeks and Romans whom they rubbed shoulders with, and if they truly proclaimed that God, not the Emperor, was the ruler of the world, they would be executed for treason against the state. In fact many did indeed die for saying the unthinkable – Roman emperors come and go, but Jesus is the one who makes a lasting impact on our lives and on our community. Proclaiming Jesus as ‘the one who for us is the Christ,” who is our judge and our hope, the word made flesh who came to reconcile and make new, was a dangerous thing for them to believe, to commit to, to have faith in. It wasn’t easy then, and it isn’t easy now.
It’s also not only about my personal relationship with Jesus, and through him, God. If we limit our understanding of faith to that level, we fail to realize the transforming power of our faith claim. The world is conquered by God, not just me, but the whole world. John understood that, and encouraged his community to act as if their faith could make a startling difference in their society.
Did it make a difference? It was a faith crisis that led to Quakers turning away from the practise of owning slaves in the United States. It was a faith crisis that led to the inspiring words of Amazing Grace being set to a chant sung by African captives heading to be sold in the United States. It was faith that led an angry young man in a prison in South Africa to choose a path of reconciliation, and that let him to work with his enemy for the dismantlement of Apartheid. Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk changed the course of history. A Venezuala owner of a rum company, Alberto Vollmer, would drive around his community in a bullet-proof car because it was the deadliest country in the world due to corrupt police and widespread drug gang warfare. He offered two thugs work for three months for free or go back to the police where they would probably be executed. They agreed. A few days later, the thugs asked if their friends could join them. 22 kids showed up! Then they recruited the rival gang to the work force, and before they knew it, they had 5 different gangs working together in what they have called “Project Alcatraz”, and the violence in the area has gone down dramatically. This is not an isolated event, however.
The United Nations is discovering that worldwide violent conflict has been in steady decline for a surprisingly long time. In 2005, there was a report released by a University of BC research institute that discovered the number of wars, deaths from warfare and civil wars have been steadily decreasing since the end of the cold war. Even accounting for events like 9/11’s, the number of deaths due to war have dropped. With the Arab Spring, the number of countries operating under a dictatorship have dropped. Since the 1990’s the UN has been working with many organizations and charities to prevent or reduce conflict, and to keep civil wars from re-emerging. Even our Mission and Service fund is helping reduce wars and violence. Better education for women, better health care for babies means that hope is coming to people who haven’t had hope before. And for those of you who still feel cynical, ponder this: in the 1950’s Athabasca United Church was designated the town’s local bomb shelter. If there had been a nuclear attack, the people were supposed to take shelter in our basement. When was the last time one of your children or grandchildren told you that they had a practise drill hiding from Atomic bombs?
It starts with us. It starts with individuals like you and me taking Jesus seriously. Jesus commands us to love one another, not as one person who has power over another, but as friends, as equals. Love one another as Jesus loved us, not to dominate or intimidate or boss or threaten. But as partners, as co-creators, as people who are committed to the dream of a world that God does indeed conquer with love and has the power to bring a lasting peace and joy to all who live in it. May we work together to bring this vision to fruition. Amen.