Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sermon on South Sudan preached in Addis Ababa on December 29, 2013.

“The Creation of a New Creation”
Leviticus 26:3-22
Revelation 21:1-8
Anuak Worship
December 29, 2013
Rev. Debbie Blane

The message from these lectionary readings has been clear to me since I first read them on Monday of last week.  I knew that the sermon was to be about South Sudan.  I just wasn’t sure about preaching a sermon about South Sudan in Ethiopia.  During the week I received different signs of confirmation that this would be appropriate.  In a sense, as the river that flows between South Sudan and Gambella,  the Baro River  on the Ethiopian side and the Sobat River on the South Sudanese side, is a fluid boundary between South Sudan and Gambella in Ethiopia, the troubles of the one country are the troubles of the other country.  In addition to that, this sermon is about something much more universal.  It is about human sin and the impact that this sin has on people who are innocent civilian bystanders.

I do not believe that our God visits evil upon God’s people.  I do believe though that God takes what is meant for evil and uses it for good.

Looking at our first Scripture reading for this morning in Leviticus, we go back to ancient Biblical times in our search for answers for today.  In Leviticus chapter 26:3-12 we have a picture of what God wanted for the Israelites.    Verse 12 says, “I am the Lord your God , who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” 

In using the principle of applying Scripture to our own lives in the here and the now this could be God speaking to South Sudan.  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Sudan so that you would no longer be slaves to the people of Sudan; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.

The hopes that God has for God’s people include abundant crops and peace in the land; still very relevant for today’s world.

When we read on to Leviticus 26:13-22 we see what happens when God’s people ignore God and do whatever they want to one another and to the land.  I have come to understand that God does not do horrible things to us, WE do horrible things to ourselves when we ignore the good ways that God has provided for us to live with one another. 

South Sudan received the gift of independence from the oppressive yoke of the Sudanese government in Khartoum.  The problem is that the many ethnic groups of South Sudan are no longer focused on a common enemy as they were for decades focused on Sudan.  Now that they no longer have a common enemy they are turning in upon themselves and one ethnic group is fighting another ethnic group.  They have not yet become South Sudanese, they are Dinka and Nuer and Anuak and Shilluck, etc., etc. 

I am going to refer briefly here to Genesis 1 and 2 and the beautiful garden that God created for humanity.  When we look at those Scripture passages we can see that God’s intentions for human beings are always positive, creative and uplifting.  It is when we, as God’s creation, turn away from our Creator,  that our lives morally disintegrate and descend into chaos.

So we know that God’s good intentions for us are for peace and abundance.  And we know that when we as human beings turn away from God’s good intentions for us we descend into chaos and do unspeakable things to one another.  We behead people, we rape women and little children, we murder men on the basis of their scarification marks or the language that comes from their mouths when they speak.  These are not the ways that our God has taught us in Jesus Christ to be with one another.

When we turn to our reading of Revelation 21:1-8 we see what the future will hold for the people of God.  We see the creation of a new creation.   We see that what was originally intended as a peaceful garden for two people has now been transformed into a healing city for the world. 

The original intention, the original creation, was destroyed by human beings.  In its place is a new creation, a new vision, a new way for human beings to relate to one another.    And, just as in the garden at the beginning of time in Genesis, God is in the midst of it all.

If we apply this vision of a new thing, a new creation to the country of South Sudan that is currently disintegrating into chaos and human made disaster, we may begin to see and acknowledge that sometimes the chaos that exists must be destroyed in order to make way for the new thing that God is creating. 

While God did not call forth the fighting, the butchering of human life and disregard for property and creation, it is possible that God will work through this sinfulness to purge South Sudan of the elements that are preventing the country from becoming a unified country that desires peace above tribalism, factionalism and self-centered power plays. 

As the garden with two people was destroyed by sin and will be re-created and transformed into a peaceful and healing city for a world full of people, perhaps the spectre in South Sudan of two little boys with loaded guns holding a country hostage behind the bars of a horrible yoke, will be re-created and transformed into a peaceful and healing country known for the unity of its people that are called South Sudanese; instead of for division and tribalism.

Let us pray that the transformative power of the Holy Spirit through the Scripture can bring the country of South Sudan into the will of our God for a people that are living in peace with one another and with the rest of the world.   Let us pray for a country that contributes to the world instead of needing the world to contribute to it on a chronic basis. 

Let us pray for the healing of the sin sickness of South Sudan and at the same time pray for the healing of the sin sickness of so many other places in the world such as Syria and Turkey and Egypt.

When there are grown men holding guns to the heads of one another and the citizens of their countries we really are looking at the brutality of little boys playing with loaded pistols.  It is only God we can call upon to help those little boys heal and mature into useful and God fearing citizens of their countries and the world.  Or God may choose to remove those children from power and put into positions of governance servant leaders who already understand what it means to love and serve the Lord and the Lord’s people. 

This is not only a message for South Sudan, it is a message for the world.  Our sinfulness causes pain to ourselves and other people.  It also causes pain to our God because our God had a garden and has a city ready for us.  Our God had a garden and a city ready for us for a different purpose.  God wants us to lay down our guns, to stop fighting and shedding blood and hurting one another.  Our God wants to wipe every tear from our eyes so that there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.  For our God wants the old order of things to pass away.  Revelation 21:5a says, “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’”    Revelation 21:6 says, “It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”

Our God has such good plans for us!  Let us pray that we as human beings can let go of our selfish, self centered ways and ask for Jesus to heal us and transform us into the mature servants that the Holy Spirit envisions for us.  Let us pray that we can put away our guns and stop hurting one another.  Let us pray that we are able to walk away from the bars of our yokes when God breaks those bars and sets us free.  Help us Oh God not to remain prisoners even when we are healed, but to walk with our heads held high and leave those bars behind.  Let us prayer to take on the servant yoke of Jesus.