I remember way, way back in the schoolyard. I remember how it was back then and I wonder that we all survived. Maybe that’s why they had us read “Lord of the Flies” when we were in high school, it was such a present reality to us in those days, though we are as likely as not to miss it at the time. Sure it is great literature, but it also is a poignant message about the depravities that humans visit upon each other in our schools.
The bigger kids rule the schoolyard, the piggies are their victims, the food for their voracious appetites for power over the other children. Loads of psychologizing goes on about how wrecked their home-lives must have been and how bereft of true friendship they were and all the rest of it, blah, blah, blah. That is fine when you are the forty year old analyzing the scene, the adult looking back, trying to justify your not fighting back because you were, curiously, “too healthy” to resort to the same violence you were suffering.
But when you are the somewhat plump, “gifted,” artsy-fartsy, jew-fro sporting kid who just wants to get to biology class, none of that matters. What matters to you is that Kevin, or Jimmy or someone else has let it be known that you are today’s target. No reason is given, you are just going to get shoved and tripped and smacked by unseen hands today, and heaven help you if you allow yourself to be isolated from the crowds.
Nowadays I really do want to go back and try and make things different, to demonstrate a better way. I want Kevin and Jimmy to understand that, with ten minutes of conversation, we could have made common cause, not at the expense of another target, but simply working out what it was that the others wanted and seen what we could do to pool our resources.
I think that way because I am not the same person I was back then. I did not have a sense in the way back, in the long, long ago, that there was another way for me. I could glimpse it out of the corner of my eye but even the news media, the nightly news, 60 minutes back when it was worth watching, the radio, everything pointed to this just being the way things are, the way thing always are.
Even today, with me being changed, somewhat, the world remains the same. The radio comedian Tom Lehrer had a song called “Send the Marines” which sums up “the way things are” quite clearly. “When someone makes a move, of which we don’t approve, who is it that always intervenes? U.N. and O.A.S. they have their place I guess, but first! Send the Marines!”
“For might makes right, and ‘til they’ve seen the light, they’ve got to be protected, all their rights respected, ‘til somebody we LIKE can be elected!”
The history of the world in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, that second one would be “the American Century” if you ask Americans (I imagine that the French might call it something else) is, outside of our participations in the two world wars, in some measure the story of us trying to get our way by flexing our muscles across the face of the world.
When you put it the way that I just did, it sounds like the story of a bully. It is vastly more complicated than that, but on the face of it, you can see how a child watching the television, listening to Cronkite tell us the way it is, might think that might really does make right and that we might very well find ourselves, therefore, wrong, the rest of our days, for want of might.
I truly do not know how it all worked out for the bullies in my school years. Maybe they figured their stuff out and became fully-fledged humans, I do not know because I was not privy to their inner lives, just the leading edges of their fists and so I did not follow them after high school, they became a part of the wallpaper of my early years.
Most of us put those people behind us. We leave the mean girls and the bullies behind as individuals but make no mistake, the lessons we learn at their hands we keep with us, our children today still take with them the lessons learned in the schoolyard.
For the United States, I do not think that it worked out as well as we would have hoped. Europe turned out pretty well, but I’d probably have to say that was because we were a bit more humble in approaching the post-war reconstruction years with them, a bit more cognizant of them as having some say.
But Central America, Iran, Iraq, Lybia, do these names sound familiar from our new reports today? In regions and countries we sought to arrange the players to suit ourselves and time and time again proved that we are not soothsayers, we do not know how things will turn out, we are terrible at picking leaders for other people because we have been cleaning up the messes in these places for the bulk of my lifetime as people we hand-picked turned and bit those same hands.
I actually do hope that some of the bullies from High School do find another way to be, another way to relate because at 47, I can tell you I am less mighty in my arms and shoulders than I used to be at 17, but I am mightier in so many other ways and almost none of them have to do with making choices for other people.
I do hope that Kevin and Jimmy turned out okay because I now have a better way of relating to people, a simpler way, actually.
I try and find the Christ in them and even if I cannot, I try and show them the Christ within me.
How well that would translate on the world stage, I cannot say.
I just know that it is my calling to follow that path, not just here in this place or in some place like it but in every walk that my legs take and every speech that my lips give and every deed that my hands are called upon to perform all the days of my life since the very first day.
Not, it should be noted, the day I was born.
No, the first day I knew what it meant to be called to faith, the first day I knew what it meant to have salvation, the first day I knew what discipleship meant, the first day I was alive, truly alive.
The first day I was alive in Christ.
Also not, it should be noted, the day I was baptized.
I knew before that day. This is not a question of proofs and ceremonies, of candles given and certificates locked away in the files. Faith is not about when we celebrate it, not about me validating it. Caitlyn has always known it, there has never been a day that she did not know about the love of God in Christ, Debbie the same.
When we baptize we formalize, we codify what is true already, that you are the beloved of God, a co-inheritor with Christ of the entire Kingdom of God. You are called child of God, though you were already. You are called by your Chrisitan name, first and middle for those of you keeping score, but they were already yours. We pledge our support and love for you as we greet you as one of us, but how many of us would withhold that support or love to an unbaptized child? Certainly not Christ.
What is the change? Where is it found? How can we decide when we stopped believing that might makes right and started believing that there was a better way? When did it start to show?
Trust me, Isaiah understands that question. Isaiah suffers from the same delusion most of us have, that when we are transformed by our faith in Christ, the results will be obvious and clear, when we work for the Kingdom of God, the harvest will be plentiful and we will gather the harvest into the Kingdom.
Isaiah, however, does not see the fruits. “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.” He says to the Lord, in person, like only a prophet of Israel can do. He does not see the fruits of his labor and fears that all is for naught, all vanity. He only knows for sure one thing, that he is the servant of God, and his trust lies there.
I sympathize. I cannot always, or even often, see whether or not my labors are in vain. I preach and teach and manage and occasionally clean my office and wonder whether or not faith is ever communicated by the sound of my voice, by the effort to be a light to the nations as I think I am called to be by God.
Then something like this morning’s Gospel comes up and I remember that we are not the Lord, we are not the ones who bring faith or bring people to faith or any of the other things that we think we ought to be about as the children of God.
I read the evangelism books and get the little snippets emailed to me daily, some folks get a tweet every day because nothing says faithful disciple like 140 characters on my phone. All of that nonsense seems to be about Isaiah’s dilemma, how do I act as the one who brings people to the Lord, to Christ, to the salvation I treasure so much.
Isaiah laments. John points.
Isaiah wonders if it is all worth it, if in the end only he is the beloved of the Lord and all of his labors have been for nothing.
Isaiah wishes that there were some result to his labors, that he could count the ones he has brought back, the members of the tribe of Jacob he has raised up. He doubts his own calling because he does not know if it is working.
John points, and declares “Look, here is the Lamb of God.”
No one here has ever saved anyone. We may have brought people to church and we may have baptized them and we may have spoken clearly and honestly about what our faith has meant to us and we may have even heard them confess their own faith.
But it was not us. Our joy should not be in the results, in the counting and the tabulating and the numbers that are just another way of measuring power, another way of being better than, greater than, more than someone else. They are just another way to be a bully, to draw our strength up and to use it to dominate and to rule.
Our joy is in the labor itself. In the witness itself, in speaking and living and acting and communing and baptizing and eating and drinking and voting and driving and everything else we were going to do already, but that we now do as someone else, as someone who knows Christ and his salvation.
Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation. Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.
I love it when the message is stated best in the Psalm. In the knowledge of our salvation, in the celebration of the gifts we have been given, it is ours to do the work and for God to save. The very best any of us can hope for is to give folks the moment and then let God to the rest and if all we ever accomplish is to live truly and faithfully, well that’s a pretty good reward in itself for it carries with it the knowledge that our sin is forgiven, our lives are snatched from the power of death and our family is much, much larger than we could ever imagine, extending to the ends of the earth and even into heaven itself.
Like Simon we are remade in our faith, we are made into something new and might no longer makes right. Instead right, true, loving and blessed make us mighty indeed.