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Repair the World

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2: 1-12

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time/ World Communion Sunday/ 5th October 2003

© Reverend Kenneth E. Kovacs
Catonsville Presbyterian Church
Catonsville,  Maryland

It’s been said that on September 11th, 2001 we Americans entered into a new world, that our world would never again be the same, believing that everything has changed.  It’s true that we are all a little more nervous than we were before, it takes longer to get to our flight at BWI, we’re learning more about Islam, and learning about cities and countries we probably would have had difficult finding on a map, let alone spelling it.  We’re defining or redefining what it means to be an American, a citizen of the world, what it means to be human, what it means to be a Christian. 

But it’s also true that for most of us, life has not changed all that dramatically.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Human nature has not changed.  We’re still fighting with one another in government and in the church; children are shooting children in our public schools; and more Americans this year have fallen below the poverty line.

In order to understand this new world, I’ve been reading Thomas Friedman’s award-wining book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree:  Understanding Globalization.  Surely one of the wisest and sanest voices of our time, Friedman was for many years the foreign affairs correspondent for The New York Times and has truly seen the world.  In this book he warned that we need to understand that we live in a new world, a world defined by a globalized economy, where nations and cultures are powerfully shaped by the economies they share.  This is not the first time in history that we’ve had a globalized economy, but it is perhaps the most dangerous for the future of the world because we are trading across cultures and even civilizations that are not only thousands of miles apart, but also centuries apart.  Trading across geopolitical, transcultural, tranhistorial boundaries has produced a new world, a new world, Friedman suggests, that actually began on 11th October 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down.  (In October 1998, Merrill Lynch took out ads in many national newspapers marking this anniversary with the heading, “The World is Ten Years Old.”).[1]

What holds us together is relative peace in this new world is trade.   From his experience, Friedman stumbled upon what he calls “The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention.”  “No two countries that both have McDonalds have fought a war against each other since each got its McDonalds.”  Where is the biggest threat for war in the Middle East?  Israel-Syria; Israel-Iran; and Israel-Iraq.  Which three Middle East countries don’t have McDonald’s?  Syria, Iran and Iraq.  Does North Korea have a McDonald’s?  So, I guess, if you want to work for world peace, maybe we need to forget about Jesus and follow Ronald.[2]

9-11, we are learning, was just a small part of a larger, complex, geopolitical relationship that has been developing for years, a clash of civilizations, religions, values, and outlooks.  It is a huge wake-up call for us as Americans.  We are learning a lot about ourselves and have still much to learn.  The process is painful, but good.  

9-11 was also a wake-up call for the church.  We are trying to figure out what it means to be a Christian in this new world.  We are really living in exciting and scary times.  On this World Communion Sunday we must ask ourselves what it means to be a global Christian, as we share our faith in Christ with brothers and sisters in Baghdad and Jerusalem, Paris and London – Christianity with a global perspective.  In such a new world, travel is become increasingly important in order to gain a global perspective.  Travel is integral for our life as Christians.  Mission trips are critical.  I hope some here are considering the next trip to Guatemala in February with Baltimore Presbytery or maybe going with Don Padgett to the Congo next summer, or joining our senior high youth on their excursion to New York City in February.  We need to break out of our comfort zones, go to new places, and get to know different people.

Around 9-11, you might have watched the thoughtful and reflective PBS documentary, part of the American Experience series, that interviewed New Yorkers and asked what they have learned since 9-11.  Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York, was asked this question.  His answer really struck me.  He said, “Tikkun olam.”  It’s an idea that Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other religions can all hold in common.  The sixteenth century Jewish Kabbalist, Isaac Luria (1534-1572), coined the phrase “tikkun olam.”  It means, repair the universe, repair the world.  Why were you born?  Why were you given life?  Why do you have children?  The reason why you were given life is so that through your life the universe might be healed, repaired.  Tikkun olam means that when you leave this world it is better than when you arrived.  The world is better because you lived.  This means, every act of judgment and criticism, every harsh word, every act of violence and destruction destroys the world.  But each small act of kindness and generosity, acts of understanding and tenderness, every act that builds up another human being actually helps to heal the universe.  

When we act this way, we are actually engaged in God’s work, co-workers with God.  And isn’t this a part of what salvation is?  Is this not what it means to be sanctified?  To be made holy and set apart for the glory of God?  Is this not, as we learn from Hebrews, what Christ’s life initiated and will bring to completion, bringing “many children to glory”?  Why are you here?  Why do you exist?  How is your life repairing the world?  Or is it?

Imagine a church that views itself as a repairer of the world.  Isn’t this is what ministry is all about?  I can really resonate with this.  When a church is a loving community that seeks to build people up, instead of knocking them down, then we are fulfilling our purpose.  In worship, in education, in fellowship and hospitality we are playing a small part in healing the world, for both children and adults.  It’s been said that mission is the wind that fires a church, the life-blood that brings life to the body of Christ.  To be a missional church means to be a healer. 

When we support Baltimore Reads, increasing literacy in Baltimore, we’re healing, repairing the universe. 

When we’re clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless of Baltimore through the Cold Weather Shelter, we’re healers, doing our part to repair the universe.  

When we send sewing machines to the Nganza Centrale Church in the Congo and buy shirts they made with these machines, 

when we support the Heifer project, 

walk in the CROP walk and support walkers, 

we’re healing, repairing the world.  

When we reach out to care for one another, remembering the sick and the dying, spend time with the lonely and forsaken, we’re doing God’s work.  

We’re playing our part in repairing the world.  

When the Church in Society committee helps to raise our consciousness on critical issues and encourages us to fight against injustice, 

to let the oppressed go free, 

to march in the light of God’s freedom, 

to seek justice and pursue peace, 

when in every area of lives we seek to bring an end to violence, 

then we are repairers of the world.  We’re doing God’s work.

I love World Communion Sunday, I always have, because it reminds us what we’re about as Christians. 

It is for the sake of the world that God sent Christ.  

It is for the sake of the world that Christ died and rose again.  

It is for the sake of the world and the healing of the nations, that Christ has commissioned every one of us to do the work of God.  


[1]Thomas L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree:  Understanding Globalization (New York:  Anchor Books, 2000), pp. xvi

[2] Friedman, pp. 248ff.