"Making Peace—with Self and Others"
Isaiah 11:1-10 & Romans 15:4-13
December 5, 2010
Reverend Ross Varney
Will you join me in a word of prayer?
As we sing of this child laid to rest on Mary's lap sleeping. O Lord, help us in our thoughts about peacemaking this Advent season. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. For You are our rock and redeemer. Amen.
We seek peace in so many different ways and we are not the only ones. So many people, secular, or people of faith, speak of peace in this season. In fact in our interfaith yoga sessions on Thursday afternoons, we learned the word, "shanti" means peace. "Shanti, shanti, shanti." Apparently it is said three times because it is speaks of peace with the self, peace with the neighbor, and peace with the earth, or we might say God. So it really has some of the very same goals that we have—to love ourselves, love our neighbor, love our Creator God.
This season we read about peace everywhere. In Isaiah we hear that utopic vision of the lion and the lamb, the wolf and calf, and we remember the paintings of all the peaceable kingdom, all the animals lying in peace with one another. Yes, it is art. Yes, it poetry. Yes, it is a utopic vision that is not now. We admit that. In theological terms we say it is an eschatological vision. That's a fancy word for the end of time. The eschaton is the end of time. Not now, but we are working towards it, and at the end of time, everyone will be at peace with one another including the animals.
Romans, our message from Paul this morning, is also very much about peace. He emphasized the Gentiles three times. That they are part of God's children and that this word, this light to the nation, will include the Gentiles. Again, it's peace with people of different faiths or those who might come into the Jewish faith—maybe. But he is clear that the Gentiles will be included in God's light. We remember Paul also said there is no Jew, this is no Greek, there is no male, and there is no female. Paul always had these visions, utopic visions, just like Isaiah did of love that would expand and expand.
And yet we are not there yet. So where are we? We are at the place where we are still working for peace and we hear from Isaiah that Isaiah says the rod of his mouth, the root of Jesse, the rod of his mouth will smite the earth. Some of the work for peace may have a little punch to it. It's not easy, and sometimes it takes something that's awakening, something that rouses us to wakefulness.
The rod of his mouth, this prince of peace, will strike the earth. We are fighting against evil, and this new king or prince of peace will help us to kill the evil in the world. And one way we do that is with the rod of our mouth. We can name evil, but it's not very pleasant to have to do that. Thank God, I did not have to do that the other day in an argument I overheard when I heard evil being named by one party. And I knew it was not my place to jump in. Someone spoke a real truth about some domination taking too much control. These words were spoken; they need to be spoken, especially by the offended parties.
Our scriptures say that God will come in and speak words of truth. And we know that if we are trying to play peacemaker and we speak too much to any party, there is trouble because we got caught in the middle. Isn't it interesting that scripture says that God is the one who will speak these words? Or hopefully the offended party will speak words of the truth and name powers. As Walter Wink says, "We will name the powers that are abusive. And we have to start with ourselves and name our own abusive powers and take ownership of that. We must name the racist inside of ourselves. We must name the sexism or the heterosexism or the religious superiority. We need to name it inside ourselves and that is the start of making peace."
We will do some of this in the month of January. We will be hosting the Martin Luther King, Jr. interfaith workshop, here at Belleville church and we will have a documentary on Monday of Martin Luther King, Jr. week. It's about someone who has roots of many colors, multi-colored ancestors, who did not know it. It's an awakening documentary about the subtle racism that we don't even see. Belleville had to own to that we were exclusive to other churches regarding Martin Luther King observations. We used to have just four churches involved. We thought we were the justice churches. Well, that is not fair, that is not true. All of our spiritual communities support some part of Martin Luther King Junior's vision of racial justice. So naturally, it is now an interfaith celebration on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that we advocate.
Also, we have plans in this church to name injustices, through inviting "Just Peace Players." They are a drama group in the United Church of Christ that goes from church to church. They emphasize justice and have a cast of people who are a part of the gay straight alliance, and they will make allusions to all manner of justice, all manner of discrimination. We will name these things and say it is not fair and it is not just that any should be pushed aside or put down, just because they may not as smart, they may not be as powerful, they might have as much influence, or they may not be a part of the right group. It is not fair to push them aside and we will name these things.
Perhaps the primary thing in making peach is to receive God's peace deep in our own soul. In making peace, we have to allow God to help us, to really accept grace and that we need to let go. We can't force peace to come. We can't force all the justices to happen. We need to receive God's extra presence and power and that starts deep within.
We know the famous song lyric, "let peace begin with me." So let's start with ourselves with a couple examples dealing with power. First of all, what if we feel we are stronger than another? What if we feel that we can call all the shots? Then we have to own that and accept God's correction. We know it is tempting to bully people, we know it is tempting to criticize; we know it is tempting to fix people because we are a little smarter. We have that inside ourselves, but we have to let go and we have to let God come in and fix the situation. Or maybe if we think another person needs to be fixed; we have to let God come in and do the fixing. We have to allow grace to do some of the work.
Or, alternatively, on the other side of the coin perhaps we don't feel as strong, we don't feel as powerful, we don't have as much money, we don't have as much smarts and it is really tempting to just lie down and be bullied. It's really tempting to conform to one who is wielding power. We can choose that route, we can ignore some abuse, and we can forgive absolutely. But we can also speak truth to power and we can also speak the truth, not in a nasty way, but in a firm and gentle way. That's allowing God's grace to help too. I'll speak the truth, but I won't get nasty. I'll just say my truth if there has been an offense or a hurt. I will ask for all God's grace and say it with gentleness, say the truth with love.
Thank God for this grace and this gift, that it can be done! We look at Christ, at this time, even as we see the communion table in front of us and we see a person who was able to make peace. He made peace constantly with the world and yet we know he had made peace within himself and peace with all of the parts of himself. He was all glory and yet he came in the stable. He was the lion of Judah, and yet he was also a lamb, a sacrificial lamb. So we see in Christ that he accepted all parts of himself, and used them at the right time, in the right place. He was a lion with the Pharisees. There is no question that when he was angry with them he would speak the truth right to their face; he would even speak of sin, of course. But he was also a lamb. And he knew times when it was not the time to choose a battle, when it was not the time to fight. He knew there were deaf ears or people who would not understand and we remember that he was silent before his accusers. He chose silence and said forgive them, "They know not what they do." Jesus made peace will all parts of himself.
Peacemaking is seeking to know the truth better. What if we could use the rod of our mouths with words of truth but words that could still be careful or kind? I'll close with a story that I actually got from an interfaith friend. It's a beautiful example of a kind of peacemaking but also truth telling. It's a story from a friend of mine who is a Sikh, which as you may know is part of the Hindu faith. They have great teachers in their faith called masters that passed along the traditions.
Well it so happened that one of their teachers was discovered at a young age, and they began to honor him as a teacher. He was only eight years old and they were already honoring him as one who would come to teach them. Does that sound familiar? Like the prophet Isaiah; a little child will lead them. They knew that this little child could lead and teach them.
Then one day when they were on a journey and they came across a group of religious scholars, and one of the scholars began laughing at their truth, laughing at their pilgrimage, saying, "You are honoring this child, this boy. You are crazy people." And then he said, "I would like to ask your 'teacher' some questions. I would like to question him." They said, "Come back tomorrow and this is where we will be." So the scholar comes the next day and who does the teacher choose to have at his side but a mentally disabled person. With the mentally disabled person at his side, he says to the scholar, "Would you please ask your questions of my friend?"
The scholar started with a fairly profound question and naturally the mentally disabled person gave a very simple answer, simple... but very profound. That is all I know of the story but the point is clear. The answers were profound, but very simple. The teaching is similar to Jesus quoting Psalms, "Out of the mouth of babes thou hast brought perfect praise." (Matthew 21:16). Also Jesus says, "Thou hast hidden these things from the wise...and revealed them to babes!" (Matthew 11:25). This could happen to any of us. We know from our own children or from people that we've met along the way that age and education is not always a factor in speaking with wisdom and truth.
Sometimes the truth is as simple as saying we are sorry. It can start this unleashing of all sorts of peacemaking that we wouldn't have imagined was possible. When we've tried every trick in the book, of negotiating to yes, yes and win, win and let's compromise here and there and maybe it is as simple as saying we are sorry that we had trespassed. So a little child will lead us. Out of the mouths of babes as the Scripture says, we will hear truth, for we are all God's children. We all have the potential in us of God dwelling in us.
Paul knew that and that is why he said that our mission includes the Gentiles. We are all welcomed. We are all in God's light. "Accept one another" as Christ has accepted you. We could say "honor one another" as the spirit of Christ has honored each of you. And we could say "learn from one another," as we have been given the potential of wisdom in each of us.
This advent season may we follow the Prince of Peace and remember that he said, "Learn from me. My peace I give you, not as the world gives you peace for I am gentle and lowly of heart."