Sunday, November 13, 2016

D-Day: The Invasion Begins

On June 6, 1944 Allied forces began the operation to land in Europe in Normandy (which we commonly call D-Day). The invasion of Europe took another year of dreadful fighting before the war was won, but in a real sense, once the landing was complete the war had been won. That is why Germany fought so hard to prevent it, and why the Allies took such losses to accomplish it.

I used to think that the D stood for Dunkirk—from where Allied forces had been evacuated four years before, but Dunkirk is about 400 kms. away. I gather that in fact D just stands for D as in Day. “Today’s the day!” In a real sense, D-Day is also a metaphor for the conflict between God and the Enemy. As C.S. Lewis has said in a well-known quote: “Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel. Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

We live in the stage between D-Day and V-Day, between the coming of Jesus into the world and his final return in power and great glory. That is what I want to speak about this morning. That is the image or metaphor I want to use to consider the Scriptures we have heard this morning. We will look at Isaiah 65, 2 Thessalonians 3, and Luke 21.

Isaiah 65:17-25
17 “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.
20 “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. 24 Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.

At the end of Isaiah’s prophecies we find this vision of the goal to which all of history is moving: New heavens and earth, with evil eradicated. It appears to me that Isaiah is not describing the time beyond Time, but something that he anticipated within human history. All will live to a full age, with perfect justice and peace for people, the Land, and all who live in it (including the animals). People will still bear children and die (at a full age), but life will be as God intended it to be.

If we try to turn this into a millennial period of perfection, as some do, I think we misunderstand Isaiah. He is portraying perfect peace and justice, a full Shalom that God intends for those who follow him. We do not need to harmonize this with other prophecies of the end, but rather listen to what God wants. This passage describes a world in which the Sermon on the Mount is actualized in all of its goodness, and we have become finally what God intends us to be.

We know from Scripture more generally that this complete actualization of God’s Reign comes at the end of all things. At the same time, the fact that Isaiah portrays it as taking place within history lets us know that this is a goal we are to work towards now, not simply a description of what we will find when Jesus returns. We work towards perfect peace and justice now, although we do not see God’s full Shalom. Nevertheless we live the life that Isaiah describes because God has invaded human history and this description is the place God is taking us: the new heavens and new earth.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.

As I observed last week, one of Paul’s concerns in 2 Thessalonians is to counter the idea that the Day of the Lord had already come. Some people at Thessalonica had stopped working and sat idle, waiting to see Jesus. Paul reminds them to get back to work and live. Connecting Paul’s words here with the vision of Isaiah 65, we might say it this way: Instead of waiting for the Day of the Lord to drop out of the sky (which makes you a burden for everyone around you), work to do what is good. Paul lifts work up as necessary for true community: “To work is to pray.” I am extending his idea to do good by working well. So, Paul says, never get tired of doing what is good. Because the new heavens and earth are coming, you are supposed to live well now—live in the reality of the new heavens and earth.

Again, the perfect peace and justice portrayed in Isaiah 65 are not simply end-time realities we can anticipate and wait for, but present realities we can demonstrate to the world around us now. To put it another way, the kingdom of God is coming in fullness and power; the kingdom of God is also already visible—however imperfectly—wherever Christians embody God’s reign. Just as Jesus is the incarnation of God, to the church is intended to be the incarnation of God’s reign.

Luke 21:5-19
9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” 10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.”
In the days just before his crucifixion, Jesus took his disciples into the temple and told how it would be destroyed. His words suggested to them the end of time, and Jesus both confirms and transforms their ideas about the End. The destruction of the temple means that the end is coming, but it will not come right away. The troubles Jesus describes are an accurate picture of human history in general. When I was in school, I remember reading about Pax Britannica—the 19th Century seen as a time of peace. But if you lived in Zimbabwe and South Africa as one of the indigenous people, it was not a time of peace. Nation rose against nation, and droughts and natural disasters made life difficult. Similarly, the 20th Century was filled with two world wars and other conflicts, such as those in Korea and Vietnam. In 2000 we anticipated a new millennium of peace and instead the events of 9/11 ushered in continuing conflict and fear.

In such times the human response is to be afraid. God’s people, however, live within the peace that God brings. Even when an election in the United States appears to ratify fear and power as the best ways to confront the troubles of our days, God’s people continue to embrace love and peace and justice. Such a stance brings us into conflict with the authorities. Jesus says, “Don’t worry about that. I will give you words to say and courage to endure.”

The common theme in each passage, especially in the way that I have drawn them out, is the coming of the End, which gives us a reason to live rightly now. The End is a time of perfect peace and justice, and God wants us to live God’s Shalom now, in our contexts of violence and fear.

We can work for God’s peace and justice because the end is certain. We are part of God’s people bringing God’s peace and reconciliation to a hurting and divided world. To return to the idea of D-Day and the quote from C.S. Lewis with which we began, we are a part of God’s action invading the world that is in rebellion and bringing it back into God’s reign. The decisive event comes from the reading in Luke. As Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple, he is talking also about his own death and resurrection: D-Day, in the metaphor I have been using.

Working It Out
What do we do with this? How do we live, if God has invaded a world in rebellion against the reign of God? Remember Lewis’ point: We live in a war zone. The war is between good and evil, God and Satan. One could even say that we are the war zone. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn has written, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.” Along the same lines Chuck Coulson wrote the following:
In my book Being the Body, I tell the story of Nazi mass murderer and Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann. Kidnapped in 1960 by Israeli agents, he was put on trial in Israel. One witness against him was an Auschwitz survivor named Yehiel Dinur. Dinur entered the courtroom and stared at Eichmann. Their eyes met. After a few tension-filled moments, Dinur broke down and began to shout and sob. Why? Was it the memories of Auschwitz? Was Eichmann evil incarnate? No, as Dinur explained on 60 Minutes, it was the fact that Eichmann was an ordinary man. Dinur saw so clearly that sin and evil are part of the human condition. “I was afraid about myself. I saw that I am capable to do this . . . Eichmann is in all of us.”

Our passages combine the hope of God’s triumph with the call to work and live in this world precisely as God’s people—to live in light of the New Heavens and New Earth. We decide which side we are on: the side of good or the side of evil.

The point of the D-Day metaphor is to make it clear that this war between good and evil is a civil war—between God who made all things and a created derivative power of evil. Once God invaded the world and established a beachhead through the cross and resurrection, we can see that the war is won. Just as the final victory of the Allies was certain once they had established a foothold on the continent, God’s victory in our world is certain. In truth, God’s victory is far more certain than the Allies’ victory was, for the Allies and the Axis powers were both alike human and part of creation, whereas in the end evil cannot win against God.

One can illustrate this certain victory with many stories. I told you some of them last week, from David Garrison’s study of the House of Islam. These stories are inspirational indeed. Consider the story of a businessman in the Arab world. He made his fortune as a billionaire, and then his wife, whom he loved dearly, died. He lost his will to work and sold his business. His health declined and he ended up in emergency surgery for a blocked artery. He tells how, as he went under the anesthesia he cried out the name of “Jesus”, and was filled with peace. In a dream he saw Jesus and his wife, welcoming him to Heaven. Just before he reached them, they receded and he returned to the hospital room. The surgery had been successful. But the vision of his wife with Jesus drove him to read the Bible and over the next few years he brought 70 other families (besides his own) to faith in Jesus. They continue to read and study the Bible together. When Garrison asked him if his wife knew Jesus he said, “Oh yes.” She had an icon of Jesus and Mary, which she had treasured throughout her life, although she never spoke about Jesus.

There are many such stories. In light of what we have said this morning, we can say that Jesus is present in the House of Islam. Jesus has landed! D-Day has come! Although we look at the Muslim world and see much fear and enmity of the West, inside that fear and conflict Jesus is at work. I do not conclude from this that the church has done something great. Rather I would see a similar movement in the House of Christianity. I want to see God’s Holy Spirit blowing throughout our land as well. We also are filled with fear and distress. We also wonder if God is still at work, or if somehow the enemy of God has won the victory. Jesus has landed! D-Day has come! In his death and resurrection Jesus has won the victory, and we can live in the fullness of God’s peace and joy today.

Seven and a half years ago I went through a time of darkness, which I wondered if I would ever escape. In fact, God brought me through into light. Thinking of our theme this morning, I see that time as are-discovery of D-Day, a re-awakening of my desire to see Jesus and walk with Jesus. Here is a description of that darkness and coming to light, which I wrote in the months after the event. (You can read the original blogs here, and here, and here.)

In some sense the six months at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 were the most difficult of my life. In objective terms I see no reason to have experienced a particular crisis. There were professional pressures of working in a tight economy. There are the personal pressures of living in one’s 59th year. But many around me have had more real difficulties to deal with than I. For whatever reason I came to the edge of some sort of crisis in February, which found the beginning of resolution in March. Lent was a season with more than usual meaning this year.

Resolution began with two dreams and with a voice in the silence. The following lines describe something of the experience – a journey into darkness to find God’s limitless love, patience, and grace. I do not yet understand what happened, or why. This record of the path through the undergrowth (of my life) to the cliff overlooking a pit, the cross beside the road, the sea, and the circle around the ashes is an effort to keep the whole in mind long enough for it to form the journey of the coming months and years.

Four brief descriptions of that struggle, in verse.
One: The Path
The path wandered through the undergrowth,
A pathless way deeper into the darkness.
Wandering unwilling, compelled, pressed, constrained
I stumble like a sloth into the dark.
It did not seem so dark at first,
this crosspath; but as I walk on
Through under-undergrowth, the need grows
To break clear, escape
Some cataclysm, a burning.
Wandering aimless and looking for freedom/ I, trapped in fear.

Relentless the pathless path wanders down
The growth of many year, shapeless fears
Forming in the darkling gloom.
So many years of growth underfoot
Obstructing, clutching, pulling.
At last I break free into a clearing
At the edge of a cliff, and find
Only darkness burning deep within the pit of myself.
A pathless path balanced on the edge of time.

Two: The Cross
Beside the road stands a cross, unheeded, unneeded.
People hurry past, hardly looking.
I stand, lending my weakness to keep the cross
From falling.
I am not needed, not heeded – let me go!
A building close by beckons, offering safety, privacy,
A chance to slip out of the light, a place to hide.
I cannot leave.
Unnoticed, unneeded, I want only to go and change.
I promise to return …
There is no escape,
Compelled to stay, to stand by the cross beside the road.

“I want nothing between us.”
Immediate fervent assent
To live at the cross by the side of the road.

Three: The Sea
A dream
Floating in a dream
Floating in the sea.
Completely secure, endlessly rocking
Floating in the calm and stormy sea of love.

Four: A Voice in Silence
Circled around the ashes
Waiting for a sign,
We sat in silence, ritual simplicity.
My friend gave up coffee for Lent,
Waiting for a sign.
My friend gave up wheat and wine,
Waiting for a sign.
We sat in silence, ritual simplicity.
Circled round the ashes I heard (can I say “heard”)
A voice in silence.
“There is no more. I have done all. Receive.”

The imposition of the ashes.

13 November 2016
Grace Bible Church

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