Christmas 2 15
Happy New Year! We know from today’s collect that God has “wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature.” That sets the over-arching theme of our coming year. In Jesus Christ God has restored the dignity of human nature, and he has set before us the opportunity to live out, and show forth, that restored nature. We don’t yet know how we are to do so, but God invites us to share his work in the world he created and his son Jesus Christ has redeemed.
A good predictor of future action is past performance, and we have some anniversaries this year to celebrate and reflect on. Fifty years ago in response to both President Johnson’s January State of the Union “Great Society” speech and to the March 7 Selma, Alabama, confrontation Congress passed and the President signed on August 6 the Civil Rights act. The war in Vietnam and the protests against it increased. The Second Vatican Council was drawing to a close. Malcolm X was killed February 21, Adlai Stevenson died July 14, Albert schweitzed died September 4.
In 1915 we saw the first use of poison gas in western Europe at the Battle of Ypers April 22, and the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey cost many Australian and New Zealand soldiers life and limb. Many lives were also lost when the passenger ship Lusitania was sunk May 7. The United States began a 19 year occupation of Haiti in July. Leo Frank was lynched in August, and President Wilson married in December.
The Civil War ended 150 years ago this spring. Fort Fisher fell in mid-January. The Battle of Bentonville was March 19-21. General Lee surrendered at Appomattox April 9. President Lincoln was assassinated April 14. General Johnston surrendered at Bennett Place near Durham April 26. President Jefferson Davis was captured May 10, and the Grand Review of the Union Army was held May 23 and 24. Aaron Rightmyer, my great-great uncle, marched with Sherman’s army. Finally on December 13 the 13th Amendment was ratified, and the last slaves in Kentucky and Delaware were finally freed. And in 1865 the Salvation Army was founded in England.
Going farther back we remember in 1815 January 8 the Battle of New Orleans, in February the Treaty of Ghent to end the war with Britain, and June 18 the Battle of Waterloo, the final defeat of Napoleon. From September to mid-November 1715 James III the Stuart Old Pretender tried and failed to regain the thrones of Scotland and England. Many Scots then came to America, and more came after James’s son Bonnie Prince Charlie failed in a similar attempt in 1745. In 1615 we remember the first Jesuit missionaries in China. Nothing much to remember happened in 1515 or 1315, but on July 6, 1415 Czech reformer Jan Hus was burned at the Council of Constance, and June 15, 1215 King John signed the Magna Carta. In November the 4th Lateran Council established transubstantion was the official Roman Catholic explanation of how Christ is present in the eucharist. That may have been a philosophical triumph for medieval scholasticism, but it raised more questions than it answers. And finally 1215 is also a convenient date to remember Francis of Assisi and the renewal of Christian concern for the poor.
Church history reminds us that about every 400 years the church seeks to renew itself. We remember again what we pray in today’s collect: God has “wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature.”
We remembered again the Christmas Day armistice of 1914, and we can rededicate ourselves to the cause of the Prince of Peace. War continues – in Syria and Iraq, in South Sudan, the unresolved conflicts between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, between North Korea and the United Nations, and Cuba, and Somalia, between Israel and its Arab neighbors, new conflicts in Ukraine and lower level conflicts elsewhere. War continues, and so do efforts and prayers for peace.
We are still dealing with unresolved issues of race and economic inequality from the time of the Civil War and before and since. We have made significant progress in the past 150, and 100, and even 50 years, but we are not yet a country where liberty and justice, and the dignity of human nature, are a reality for all our people.
I’ve spent some time in Christian ecumenical work, and I am sad to see a real lack of interest in Christian unity, even among those of us who share our Anglican history. We seem more interested in remembering past hurts and grievances than in seeking to move forward toward greater unity of effort to share the good news of forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ.
But new creation and restored human nature are possible. Bishop Weinhauer led the Episcopal Church and the Lutheran churches that form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to full communion and shared ministry. The Episcopal churches in Lincolnton and Newton-Conover are served by a Lutheran pastor. Bishop Weinhauer’s work was the pattern for our agreement with the Moravian Church, and a Moravian pastor serves an Episcopal church near Franklin.
Those are simple examples. You can tell or more. But in the year we have just begun let us look for, and work to develop, other places where we can celebrate God’s work in Jesus Christ and in Jesus’ body the church, where, as we prayed in today’s collect, God has “wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature.” Amen.