The Rev. Canon Patricia M. Thomas
It seems to be happening again! The build up of military personnel, arms and supplies is happening. Listening to the radio and TV news and reading our newspapers, it seems all so familiar. War, however restricted, brings with it images that are horrible to contemplate. We see in our mind’s eye the twisted wreckage of buildings and homes and of broken bodies, not only of soldiers but of civilians, women, men and children torn and mangled. Each of us carries images of war from our own experience. We may have served our country in a war or have lived with the ravages of war as it was perpetrated. Maybe we have just seen too much on TV and in news photographs or maybe we have visited the Holocaust Museum, right here in Washington, and seen the horrors portrayed there, horrors perpetrated by an unchecked dictator as well as those of war itself.
A fresh round of war may be happening again! Desert Thunder, I’ve heard it called, a take off on an earlier round dubbed Desert Storm. We’ll see the faces of soldiers, sailors, airmen and women as they leave their loved ones behind and depart for what awaits them. We’ll see tearful faces of spouses and children. We’ll see the sad faces of those who have seen it before. And we wonder: When, O God, will we humans learn how to beat our swords into plowshares? When will we learn to build rather than to destroy? But the cycle plays its circular game, moving from war to peace to war and we wonder why we do it and how we might prevent maiming and killing one of our own kind, another human being.
There are always lots of questions. If diplomacy fails, what is the good that is to be achieved by combat? What is the cost that will be exacted in the conflict? Is the enemy really engaging in action so reprehensible that they must be put down and destroyed? Is there such a thing as a “just war” in our age of nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare? And the questions with which we wrestle now: Is there no reasoning with Saddam Hussein and his regime?
The prophet Jeremiah tells us that even God wonders why it is so with human creatures. “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.” Who can understand Saddam Hussein? What does he want? He may well be saying, “Who can understand the United States?” What does it want? The human heart is devious above all else; it is perverse and, oh, so often, unfathomable, even to one’s self.
This is a difficult time for our nation’s leaders. They must steer a course that is fraught with dangers, one that is costly and will continue to be. We know this! We know there are extremely difficult decisions to make and we pray for those who govern, in our nation and in Iraq and throughout the world. We ask God to guide those in authority, to enlighten them, to strengthen them. Knowing the weight of government and the magnitude of the decisions being made leads us to want our leaders to be upright people. We want them to show in their lives that they know the difference between walking in the counsel of the wicked and in the way of those who delight in the law of the Lord.
We recognize that this is a matter of orientation. The prophet Jeremiah paints a picture for his listeners and it is straight out of the desert, out of the gulf area. He provides the contrast of orientation. The desert shrub with shallow roots will perish quickly when the desert heat comes. But the tree planted by water will survive, even in searing heat. The tree survives because it has roots that go deep into the soil where they find water that gives the tree life. As a result, its leaves remain green and succulent. The shrub are those who trust only in themselves. The tree are those who trust in God.
Today, following our custom of praying for one of our states each week, we pray for the great state of Oklahoma. Many Oklahomans are here today. You will recognize them by their special badge with the Oklahoma state flag. You and I know that Oklahomans have been through their own kind of war, in the form of a horrible act of terrorism, perpetrated not by a foreigner but by our own countrymen. Oklahomans have seen up close the act of those who followed the way of wickedness, and they live with the consequences of that act. There is no way to make up for the loss, the destruction, the terror. It will always be a part of the place and of the people. But, as bad as it was, the destruction is not the final word!
There is life and hope after the moment of destruction. One sign of it is the new cross that stands tall atop the Cathedral of St. Paul in Oklahoma City. The cross is a powerful symbol of the connection between God and humanity and among humans themselves. It is a sign of God’s purpose and action. Destruction and death do not have the final word. They are overcome by God, the sign of which is Christ’s resurrection from the dead. So this cross in Oklahoma City is not just a stone cross. It is a call to all who see it to orient themselves so that they delight in keeping the law of the Lord.
You see, the original cross on St. Paul’s was badly damaged in the bombing of the Federal Building three blocks away. The new cross was proposed by the Bishop of Washington and the Dean of the Cathedral as an act of our support and connection with one another, in good times and in bad. Carved by master stonecarver Vince Palombo, the cross was dedicated here at Washington National Cathedral, as a gift from the nation’s Cathedral, and then taken by Dean Baxter and Mr. Palombo to be placed atop St. Paul’s. As the cross was moved into place, it signaled the reality of restoration, hope and new life.
About three months after the bombing, I received a package from Oklahoma City. I did not recognize the name on the return address and I was filled with unease. I remember thinking, “Who do I know in Oklahoma? Had I offended someone? What could possibly be in the package?” And the big question loomed, “Should I open this seeming innocuous soft, flexible, large manila envelope?” I was not sure I could trust my instincts at that moment. I called my assistant into the office to be present, said a prayer for protection and careful began to open the package. A letter fell out first. It said, “I was at the folk Eucharist at Washington National Cathedral about a month ago. You asked people to send socks for homeless men and sanitary supplies for homeless women, so I am sending you some.” As my mouth dropped open in surprise, out tumbled the supplies. I was overwhelmed: with relief, with the humor of it, with the generosity of this person, a fellow Christian who wanted to help someone else. Most of all, I was grateful to God who reminded me through this incident of our connections, one with another.
So it is that today we are called, once again, to accept God’s continual invitation to us: Walk always in my way, says the Lord, and you shall be blessed beyond anything you have imagined. O God, help us to receive this invitation and to enter more fully your kingdom of righteousness and peace. <P