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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Sunday, January 14, 2007
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Dedicated to Samuel and Elijah Horne on their baptismal day and always to the glory of God!
The Moral Arc of the Universe
Isaiah 43:1-7, Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

"The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice." These words were penned by an abolitionist in the 1850's and made famous by Martin Luther King, Jr. old hundred years later. When I envision the moral arc of the universe in my mind's eye, I do not see a solid form but rather a colorful, beautiful, ethereal collection of particles gathered by God across time and space. Fragments of scripture, wisdom of prophets throughout time, faces of the suffering, the long and bloody trail of tears caused by inhumanity and injustice, and the dancing, laughter, and love of the peacemakers come together in this arc.

These scattered particles from across the universe of my thinking, have been finding form in my heart and mind these past few weeks. Through listening, reading, looking, and seeking to connect the historical particles in these times, fragments have been coming together to form an understanding of that which must be done in relation to the war in Iraq.

We must learn to listen, again. And "who we listen to will determine what we hear" (Robert M. Brown). Before the President spoke on Wednesday night, many Americans had already closed their ears to what he had to say. Waiting for the bloggers, the columnists and the commentators they like to reinterpret President Bush's words, folks tuned out and turned off the President. With his popularity at all time low of 26% , 61% of Americans against a troop "surge," a new Democratic Congress carried into the office by the American voters reaction to the way he has handled Iraq, and even a majority of the active duty military disagreeing with the way he is handling the war in Iraq, it is easy to see why interpretation of his words started before his spoke one word on Wednesday night.

For those who listened they heard the President call for an increase of troops by 21,500 soldiers. Having listened to his advisors, he concluded that the only way out of Iraq is sending more troops - without a timetable or reasonable expectations from the Iraqis to "control their own future." Simply stated, in Mr. Bush's belief, we must send more of our sons and daughters to assist the Iraqi Army in quelling the violence.

President Bush reached this conclusion for a military solution while the Iraq study group called for diplomacy, while top military commanders in Iraq question his strategy, and while our remaining Allies in Iraq - particularly the British - are either withdrawing troops or keeping troop strength the same.

Mr. Bush sincerely believes that more fighting forces will help end the war. I, along with a growing number of Americans, sincerely believe that diplomatic, not militaristic answers are needed. Sending diplomatic forces makes much more sense than sending more military forces. But, the diplomatic forces remain at home. Even though listening solves more problems than fighting, President Bush continues to keep the fight alive

The evidence that more troops won't work in demonstrated by our most recent deployment. You may remember, we deployed an increase of 10,000 US Troops in Baghdad last fall. Less mayhem and violence was not the ripple effect of more soldiers. In fact, violence increased and more American soldiers died in December than in the last 18 months of the war. More weapons fired from more soldiers means more violence and this escalates into more death for our soldiers, their insurgents and especially for innocent men, women, and children.

It is difficult to grasp the depth of this madness. New York Times Columnist, Thomas Friedman, speaking on Tavis Smiley's show earlier this week, offered two helpful metaphorical images when speaking of the malaise in Iraq. First, "we are no longer midwives of democracy. We are babysitters of a civil war." Second, "The Shiites and Sunnis have a failed marriage. Their hated for one another is clear. In such a failed marriage, a husband and wife decide the way to solve their problems is to have a baby." Unfortunately, "the baby" in this situation is our US military.

The Book of Ecclesiastes says, "For everything there is a season and time for every matter under heaven . . . " The preacher concludes his litany of such times in 3:7-8: "...a time to tear and a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak; a time to love and time to hate, a time for war and time for peace." Our time for sewing, speaking, loving, and peacemaking is now. We need to mend broken relationships. We need to speak truth with love to power. We need peace.

With no real commitment to democracy being demonstrated in Iraq, with the bloodbath between sectarian forces intensifying, and with no end in sight, we need to speak out - with love - to bring an end to this war.

It is important to answer questions about the troops in relation to this war. In a poll taken by The Military Review and published December 29, 2006, only 13% of the soldiers believed we are "very likely to succeed" 37% say "somewhat likely to succeed" and 41% feel we are not "very likely" or "not likely at all" to succeed in Iraq. Interestingly, aside from the war, 52% of the soldiers approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling his job as President.

On January 16, more than 1,000 active duty service members, Guards, and Reserve in commemoration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, will deliver the following message of "Appeal for Redress." It reads: "As a patriotic American proud to serve in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases in Iraq. I believe that staying in Iraq will not work and it is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home."

For five years, I have voiced my opposition to this war in Iraq. Sometimes out loud, sometimes muted. Before the war was engaged in March 2003, I spoke out plainly about why I was opposed. In February `03, I seriously doubted that there were weapons of mass destruction. When the war exploded over Baghdad, I cried out - "Why, O Lord? Why?" Now, I can't be silent. I hope and pray you can't be silent either.

In today's texts from Isaiah and Luke we hear God speaking. In Isaiah 43, Yahweh says, "do not be afraid because I have redeemed you. If you pass through raging waters, you will not be overwhelmed, when you walk through fire you shall not be burned . . . I will save you!" To Jesus, God proclaims, "You are my beloved . . . In you I am well pleased."

But God has even more to say through the prophets Samuel and Elijah. Holding our Samuel and Elijah, their stories came to life again. In Samuel, the young boy is called upon by God save Israel by cleansing the people and anointing their first king. He responds to God, "Speak, for your servant is listening." For Elijah, we have learned through the years, that this prophet fleeing for his life to the caves listens for God's voice calling to him. Elijah does not hear God's voice in the thunder, or the earthquake, but in "God's still small voice" whispering in the wind.

Recently I was reminded that by rabbinic interpretation that the true meaning of this is that Elijah hears God in "The sliver of silence."

In one of the last sermons I have read of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, delivered Christmas Day, 1967, he called once again for America to make peace in Vietnam. 100 days later he was slain. In a sermon which weeps from the angst he feels, Dr. King appeals to America to see that as long as we are spending over 100 million dollars for each Viet Cong we kill, we conversely are spending $54 a year for each poor person in America. These haunting words ring true for us today. The blood of every terrorist killed in Iraq comes at the cost of hundreds of millions of American dollars which could be spent to educate our children, house and feed our poor, and bring security in our homeland.

When will we learn?

The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Right now, I appeal to you to reach up and reach out and grab hold of the universe's moral arc and bend it to the earth! Amen.

Copyright 2007, The First Congregational Church