June 7, 2020
Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Psalm 8 and 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
My heart is so full, and so broken, over the events of the past days. My mind is turning over and over the insightful words of many passionate and thoughtful people responding in anger, sadness and disgust. How we wish things were different. How we long for change. And how very deeply entrenched is this institutional sin in which we find ourselves unable to escape on our own.
The story of creation from Genesis 1, in poetic fashion, resounds with phrases that are repeated over and over:
God said, “Let there be” … and so it was;
There was evening, and there was morning; and
God saw how good it was.
Good, good, good.
It seems an understatement, this declaration that the creation is “good.” How many generations of poets and artists have tried to capture the magnificence and beauty of the universe, with such eloquence — and many words — but the Genesis 1 account simply says it is “good.”
When we were in school, our English teachers discouraged us from using such a non-descriptive adjective. “Good” was not good for creative writing. But in Genesis, there is something satisfying about good. It is sufficient. It is enough. And in a world which is constantly telling us we are not enough, good is good.
Day. Night. Earth. Water. Trees. Living creatures. You and me, made in God’s image. Good, good, good. A picture of harmony, balance and stewardship. Good.
And yet, humankind has been out of harmony, balance and stewardship for as long as the stories have been written down — and we seem to be spinning further and further out of control. Injustice is the order of our days.
Much of the Bible comprises an attempt to explain how it is that we human beings got ourselves into this state of affairs — how the illusion of scarcity triggers fear, greed, violence and inequity. It chronicles the movement from personal to tribal to national struggles with these matters, and issues the call, again and again, through prophets, poetry, stories and letters, to return to God, to return to the awareness that we are made in the image of God, to return to the realization of “enough,” and to embrace that which is good. And it declares that we need God, we need grace, to accomplish this.
I was reading about some of the ministries that have been supported by the United Methodist Peace with Justice Sunday offering, and came across a story that led me to learn more about a country that doesn’t often make American news headlines, and which wasn’t part of my school curriculum.
Cyprus, a sizable island in the eastern Mediterranean, sits 47 miles south of Turkey, 65 miles west of Lebanon and Syria, and 124 miles northwest of Israel. Barnabus of the New Testament hailed from Cyprus, and he and Paul traveled there on Paul’s first missionary journey (you can read about their adventures there in the 13th chapter of Acts). It is a country with a storied and difficult history, having passed in ancient times from Greek to Roman to Ottoman hands, then, in the 19th century, to the British. Independence came in 1960, but it has not been an easy arrangement, for over three-quarters of the population are of Greek descent, and much of the remaining minority are Turkish. Tensions have long brewed between the two groups, along both ethnic and religious lines. A Greek coup d’etat in 1974 was followed by a Turkish invasion in the north, and, in addition to much brutal loss of life, a devastating eviction and counter-eviction, with thousands of people — a quarter of the population — displaced to the north and the south. Greek Cypriots (who are Orthodox Christians) were forcibly moved south, and Turkish Cypriots (who are Muslim) were forcibly moved north. Turkey still claims the northeastern part of the island as its own — a status unrecognized by the European Union and the rest of the world. The UN maintains an uneasy buffer zone between the two parts of the island.
The wounding of all this, decades later, is still fresh in the minds and hearts of the two ethnic groups.
If you’ve ever thought, “Wouldn’t it just be easier on everyone if that ‘other bunch’ who don’t look like me, or don’t think like me, could just go away?” Cyprus is just one example of how such an approach hasn’t worked.
A non-profit group called Creating Friendships for Peace (abbreviated CFP) is dedicated to an alternative. They bring teenagers from communities in tension with one another, into an intensive learning experience for building trust and friendship. This experience is complimented with a multi-week foreign exchange stay, in pairs, with an American family. CFP started many years ago working with teenagers from Northern Ireland, and when, years later, tensions there had eased to the point that it seemed the project was no longer needed, then CFP turned its attention to Cypriot teens. In July 2019, United Methodists in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference served as host families to some of these young people, and the leadership camp experience was held at an Annual Conference camp. This program was supported by a grant from the Peace with Justice Sunday offering last year, and is just one of many ways that people of faith are seeking to build bridges and to repair the torn places in our human tapestry.
As I was doing some background research on Cyprus, I came across news of a DNA study that has found that Greek and Turkish Cypriots are very close genetically. Perhaps that comes as a surprise; perhaps not. As I consider other lines that people draw between themselves and others, I have to wonder whether we don’t usually have more in common than we like to think.
When it comes to the gross inequities and injustices that are closer to home, it is easy to become overwhelmed, to throw up our hands, to decide we’ll just stop watching the news. But when we make this our habitual response, we add to the entrenchment. When we deny difference or claim colorblindness, we also add to the entrenchment. We have long benefited from a system that has meant tyranny for others, and it has come at a cost to our own humanity. The dismantling of this system will need to happen at a governmental and policy level, but it also needs to happen with our own small actions, our own incremental changes of heart, our own admission that we stand in need of grace, and our own opening the door to personal transformation.
Several helpful resources came my way this week, and I would like to explore these in group conversation with any of you who have found your heart broken and your spirit activated by recent events. We don’t have to wait until we can meet in person again; we can use Zoom, which might well be both physically and emotionally safer for conducting these courageous conversations.
If you feel called to give toward Peace with Justice Sunday, either directly through the link shown in the earlier mission moment and in your email, or by check to our church marked “Peace with Justice” on the memo line, I thank you for your generosity. If you would like to give toward a more local justice-building endeavor, given the inequities that are emerging around COVID-19 in our community, I would recommend UndocuFund as a worthy recipient of your support.
Justice requires more, though, in addition to our financial gifts. It calls us to a change of heart, a close examination of our reactions to the news, and to the everyday encounters we have with our neighbors. Just as every careless action or comment inflicts a wound on a child of God who carries the burden being deemed “less than” in our society, every humanizing action, every gesture of friendship, every effort at deep listening, contributes to the healing that is so desperately needed. Make that effort. Be open to learning some else’s story. In so doing you may find an outpouring of balm not just for another soul, but for yours, as well. Amen.