Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B, RCL
1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”[i] When we read John’s gospel we should take care to understand that the word of God is not the Bible or the Hebrew Scriptures but Jesus. And today Jesus prays for the basic welfare of the disciples. He is worried about how they will be treated by the world around them after he leaves, and his concerns are valid. We can see the way the world treated Jesus. He was mocked and scorned; questioned and belittled both while alive and while he was being tortured to death. Just imagine, on a daily basis, fearing your civic leaders. Not knowing whether you will be questioned or threatened with charges. This was Christs’ life. His disciples were witnesses to this treatment. And after his death, we know the disciples feel this same fear. We see them hide in a house afraid of the world beyond their doors.
Many people in our nation are afraid. From package bombs to random acts of violence and school shootings; the world is a dangerous place; a place, where, like the disciples, we may experience fear around us. I’m not telling you anything new. All we have to do is turn on the news for a few minutes and see this reality.
In my conversations with people, there seems to be two dominant questions. The first is often an unspoken question, “When are these types of things going to happen here or to me.” We are frightened for our own lives and our own communities; for we know what the world is capable of and we see this violence almost routinely. The other question is a spoken question, “When is it going to get better?” Clearly, there was a time not too long ago when we never imagined school shootings or package bombs taking place in our own neighborhoods. Yet, I doubt any of us believes this to be an impossibility now. And thanks be to God this hasn’t happened near our community.
The reality we perceive of increasing violence, like we have never seen before,
is not necessarily the reality around us. If we look through history we are living near the most peaceful time in all of history. Not only in our nation but worldwide. Despite what we may think, Steven Pinker, a research psychologist, a professor at Harvard, and the author of the book The Better Angels of Our Nature[ii], says violent crime in the US has fallen by more than half in the last decade. And the rate of death in war, fell by a factor of one hundred over the last 25 years.”[iii] Even though we have seen a slight uptick in violence over the last few years, we are well below the rate our country experienced in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. If we trace violence back to Christ’s time, the homicide rate alone has dropped nearly 500 fold.[iv]
In our current perception, we don’t see this decline because our lifetime is a rather small point in time. We also perceive that what we have witnessed in life includes what we see in the media. We hear of tragedy after tragedy and we do not hear of the things that do not happen. (There were 102,000 commercial airplanes that landed safely today.) Hearing of constant violence amid the much more prolific good causes our perception to be skewed into thinking we live in the most violent of times. Pinker, an atheist, can point to the formation of states, the creations of civilization, culture, and education as the driving force in the decline of violence.[v] But I wonder if he is a bit myopic when it comes to God’s plan; God’s plan of peace.
The people who follow the God of Abraham have been striving to follow him and carry out his plan here on earth for at last three millennia; pretty much the same time period that Mr. Pinker’s projections begin. Pinker graph shows a jagged but steady movement from violence to peace in the world. Though we have not achieved total peace yet; looking at the data I can almost extrapolate the trend line to some point in the distant future when there will someday be peace. To me, this is a sign of God’s kingdom being fulfilled here on earth.
Christ is praying for peace; peace for his followers. He prays that while we remain in the world, we are given protection in the name of Christ. Christ’s protection isn’t safety, yet it is more than the ultimate protection of life after death. Christ prays “Holy Father, protect them . . . so that they may be one, as we are one.” His prayer for us, is that through his protection we will be united people; a people at peace with one another.
I find truth in what he says in his prayer for us today. As we follow and trust Christ we find peace within the violent world around us. From our personal experiences, we find that the vast majority of people are good people,, that the vast majority of people are good people, trying to improve their lives and their children’s lives, even when their circumstances are vastly different from our own.
When we look at our lives, we will find that we have our share of tragedies and hardships. Yet we also find that we have a great share of blessings as well. In my life, I have a wonderful spouse, the mother of my great children. I have aunts and cousins that care for me more than I can imagine. I live in a town where people know and care for one another. And I am also a part of this congregation in which we strive to follow Christ more deeply and faithfully. We strive to know that Christ is the word and that the word is truth.
Some of us may fear the world around us, much like the disciple did shortly after Christ’s death and resurrection. But as they found depth in their faith, so can we. Like the disciples, we can move out of our safe places into the world around us in which we meet our neighbors; not out of fear but in love. This is a shift from fear to trust; trusting that God’s kingdom is being fulfilled here on earth, in which day by day all people are being united.
[i] John 1:1, 14
[ii] Book on Amazon
[iii] NPR interview with Steven Pinker, 7/16/2016 https://www.npr.org/2016/07/16/486311030/despite-the-headlines-steven-pinker-says-the-world-is-becoming-less-violent
[iv] Steven Pinker, A history of Violence: edge master class. 9/27/2011 https://www.edge.org/conversation/mc2011-history-violence-pinker
[v] Steven Pinker, A history of Violence: edge master class. 9/27/2011 https://www.edge.org/conversation/mc2011-history-violence-pinker