2 Chronicles 36:14-23; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 6:4-15

“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;”

The reading from the Hebrew Scriptures this morning is from the very last section of the Book of Chronicles. These books of scripture are aptly named, for they do indeed chronicle the history of the kings and people of the land of Israel; and places in historical context the visits of the Prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah. 2nd Chronicles begins with Solomon building the great temple in Jerusalem and ends with its destruction and the deportation and exile of the people of Israel. The passages we have heard today are perhaps some of the saddest and most poignant of the Old Testament.

“They burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with the fire, and destroyed all its precious vessels. He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons . . . ”

A nation destroyed, a people flung from their promised land; bereft of both homeland and their God. For you see, at that time, in the understanding of the Jewish people, God dwelt in the temple — and only in the temple. Once the temple was destroyed — God left. Gone. The God of Israel would not follow them in the exile, or so they thought.

The ancient history of Israel is our history as well. Not only do we share, through Jesus of Nazareth, in the promise of Abraham — being grafted, as St. Paul would say — into the branch of the children of Abraham, but also, as people of faith, we share in their history. God s saving acts for Israel are our saving acts as well. We understand our ultimate salvation in Christ through the reality of the Passover and Exodus from Egypt. Their journey of life and death becomes our journey of death to life. We share in the history and promise as God’s chosen people. The Apostle Peter will write to a small rag-tag group of former slaves millennia latter announcing to them that the are “a chose people, a royal priesthood.”

Our history as a people of God is filled with moments of wonder and awe at how much God cares for humanity. And it is filled with moments of shock and awe at how far we as people of faith will stray from God’s ways. The biblical witness in the books of Chronicles and Kings; in the books of the prophets — just name any one, shows us as a people who so easily take God for granted. Having been called and chosen — arrogance and sloth quickly replace our gratitude and love of God.

Hear the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“ Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”

The writer of the Chronicles says that “The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent persistently . . .” Persistently! “to them messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets . . .”

My Brothers and Sisters, who are we not listening to, who are we mocking — who are our prophets, and where are they?

“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;”

This familiar hymn text comes from a greater work of poetry entitled “The Present Crisis,” written in December of 1845 by James Russell Lowell. It was penned as a protest against the war with Mexico that Lowell deplored as pre-emptive and unjust aggression. Many American’s opposed the action calling it sinful and accused then President Polk of deception and aggression. One young congressman in particular stood up publicly and said “Allow the President to invade a neighboring country whenever he shall deem it necessary . . . and you allow him to make war at pleasure . . .” That young, anti-war congressman was named Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln would find himself as President in the midst of a far greater and devastating Civil War — a war were brother was literally pitted against brother and over a million casualties would be recorded. During his second inaugural address he utters the words “and the war came.” Came as if by a life of its own to bring judgment on our whole nation — both North and South — for both suffered and both were less for the offence of war. He goes on to say, “[God] now wills to the remove the offence . . . he gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came.” As the Rev. Fleming Rutledge said this past Advent season “[Lincoln,] call[ed] upon both sides to shoulder the blame and to acknowledge that ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:9)

Are we as a nation able to shoulder our share of the blame in our “Present Crisis”? Are we as people of faith able to see where we have failed to “to loose the bonds of injustice”, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.” Are we able, as we are called to, to lead a self-examined personal and national life and ask: where have we not shared our bread with the hungry? Where have we not brought the homeless poor into our house? Where have we seen the naked, and did not cover them? And perhaps the most egregious sin of all: Where have we hidden ourselves from the needs and concerns our own kin? — our human family in this country and our brothers and sisters through out our small island home called Earth. Have we honest partners with hose around us? Are we really repairers of the breach — or do we create it?

In certain circles it has increasingly been seen as unpatriotic to ask why certain parts of the world would have an experience of us that would allow such great violence to be a response toward us? These are difficult and dangerous questions for some Christians to ask these days, and many Christians are unable accept these questions at all. They live with a distorted faith perspective where flag is above cross, where Christian love is turned into self-righteousness, where economic advantage equals democratic freedom and “Caesar is Lord over Christ.” It was to these very issues that the prophets spoke over four thousand years ago, and we still don’t want to hear them.

We must head the voice of our prophets — those prophets who call us to justice, freedom and peace for all, not just some. We must be open as people of faith to honest and sometimes justified criticism from our human family both near and far. Honest questioning is not treason. In our earnest prayer that God bless America, we must honor the vision of God that that blessedness entails; a vision for a world of peace and prosperity that transcends national boarders. We are a nation in service to God, not God in service to any one nation.

We are a nation and a people at war. That is a fact. This war and all war is not testament to our power – it is a sign of our ultimate weakness. That war is ever an option is a sign of our fragility and falleness as human beings. It is a dramatic testament to our desperate need of God, of his redeeming love, and for our repentance for failing to see the work and wonder of God in our midst.

Today’s Gospel lesson from John tells of the feeding of the five thousand. It portrays a sign of God’s bountiful wisdom and blessing and a fulfilling of our deepest needs. But most importantly it is a witness to the power of God in our midst — and that is the significance of the story — that Jesus is the messenger of God with us. And not just a messenger, but also “The” messenger — God’s very self here to proclaim that which we would not hear from the other prophets. “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What came into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

Jesus’ death on the cross and God’s resurrection of him on the third day is both our ultimate condemnation and our final salvation. Condemnation in that we as human beings we could silence the voice of God by putting him to death on the cross. But we were wrong and we continue to be wrong. Nothing can silence the still small voice of truth and love, nothing. The cross proclaims that violence is never, never the way. Our salvation is that God refuses to turn to violence and rend evil for evil. No, God appears time and again in that garden of paradise to call us each by name to restore us to wholeness of life and love. Greek, Jew, slave, free, rich, poor, gay, straight, black, white, Muslim, Christian, Arab, and American.

We are at a moment of decision my friends. We are at war. In the midst of this conflict we must continue to pray for peace and beseech God that “war may cease in all the world.” We must continue to ask God’s guidance and support for our President and the leaders of the nations, that justice and truth will prevail.

We prayer for the men and women of the military, far from home and in harm’s way that they and all who are in danger may be relieved and protected, and that they may return home soon. And we must pray that God’s will so guide us in all our doings — both individually and as a nation — that the God’s will be always done, and that the Peace of God be inscribed upon our hears and souls.

“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide.”

We are at a moment of decision my brothers and sisters. Let us choose wisely. Let us hear the voice of the prophets in our midst, let us do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with our God, and let us follow in the life and likeness of our Savior Jesus Christ who came that all people may have life — and have it abundantly. Amen.