Iran and the hour of decision

By R. William Carroll

Brothers and sisters, we are likely too close to the history unfolding before our eyes in Iran to understand it in all its complexity. I for one do not assume that Moussavi will live up to the high hopes many have for him. Of course, he may not live at all. But, even if he does live, he may well disappoint. Perhaps Moussavi will not turn out to be the leader the Iranians in the streets long for him to be—at least not in every respect. At the same time, the first person testimony of the protestors who have taken to the streets is undeniable. Listen to these urgent and heartfelt words from an anonymous college student, blogging in Farsi:

I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too…All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelor’s degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them…This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…

Who, my friends, could remain unmoved by such words as these? They reveal a self-sacrificing attitude. This young person clearly enjoys life to the fullest and yet is willing to lay all that down—conscious of the cost—to secure a better future for generations to come.

Add to this the following comments from President Obama, which are at once grave and inspiring:

The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

Obama too may not be everything some of us hoped he’d be, but we should be glad that he is calling the world to these high ideals, enshrined in our own Bill of Rights and aspirations as freedom-loving people.

We live in a moment filled with possibilities yet fraught with risk. In such moments, the actions of small people and big people alike have the chance to make a difference for tomorrow’s children. Much depends on our faithfulness in such an “hour of decision.” It would be overwhelming if everything depended on us. Fortunately, it does not. Ultimately, our future lies in God’s hands. We shape that future and mould it by our free decisions. But God directs and perfects it, bringing our history to fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.

Despite our failures of nerve—despite many refusals and denials—God is patiently working out God’s purpose for us. As followers of Christ, we know that more than the world is watching. GOD is watching. And God will not be mocked. It may not seem like it for a time. Evil may indeed triumph for a season. But in the end, all things will be brought to their perfection in Christ. In his remarks, Obama goes on to quote Martin Luther King: “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Last Saturday, I participated in the ordination of four new priests, including Fr. Steve Domienik, who will begin serving alongside me and the people of our parish this summer. In the ordination liturgy, the bishop prays a powerful prayer that speaks both to the events unfolding in Iran and to the very real challenges we ourselves face in this country today. We offer the same prayer in the liturgy of Good Friday. In it, we pray:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Now maybe providence, which concerns God’s guidance of the world, its history, and everyone in it, is an idea that’s hard to grasp. Some Christians think about it in ways that are magical and superstitious and fail to give sufficient weight to the role of human freedom.

And yet, trust in God instills quiet confidence when all around us swirls in chaos. As we struggle along on the ground, things may seem hopeless. But with God, we can face the future calmly, because the whole of history is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ—who is both Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. In Christ, God has already brought life from death. And so, God is able to overcome; no matter what obstacles we present to the Kingdom.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we do so trusting that God’s Kingdom will come. For we know that, in Jesus, the Kingdom has already drawn near. In Jesus, God has drawn near in mercy, judgment and love. In his ministry, we see God’s Kingdom breaking out among us with sovereign power. And so, no matter how far the arc of the universe bends—no matter how far tyranny distorts it—no matter how far our ways may be from God’s, we keep on trusting in God’s grace—right here and right now—and we know God will prevail.

In Sunday’s Epistle, Paul reminds the Corinthians of his sufferings as an apostle. They are for him means of participating in Christ’s resurrection victory. In Paul, we see an icon of our own journeys of faith. The closer we draw to Christ, the nearer we come to the little ones. The closer we draw to Christ, the more we find rejection and defeat in the sight of the world. And yet, we do not lose heart. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

The Christian life is about the kind of trust that lays it all on the line. In light of the Gospel, the values that so often drive us become matters of indifference. We set aside reputation, honor, riches, happiness, and even life itself in order to gain the great pearl of the Kingdom.

As Christians, we believe the last days have come upon us in the Lord Jesus. Behold, says Paul, “Now is the acceptable time; now is the hour of salvation.” Even now, things that are cast down are being raised up. Even now, things that have grown old are being made new.

My brothers and sisters, I ask you: Given the nearness, newness, and now-ness of God’s Kingdom, how will we let it change our lives?

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

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