Sermon Sept 26, 2010: Christ is our Peace

Theme:   Believing Together: Strengthened to Live the Nonviolent Love of Jesus

TEXTS:            Isaiah 2:2-4 ; Micah 6:8;  
Matthew 5:9, 11, 43-48; Ephesians 2:13-14; 3:16-21

Why is there no peace?

Jesus looked out over Jerusalem, wept and lamented, “If you only recognized the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:42).

Long before Jesus wept over Jerusalem and before Christianity or the Church emerged, God called God’s people to be people of peace. It’s pretty basic and rarely lived.

In our worship this morning we have sung and spoken this call and conviction as God’s people have for centuries, even millennia. Why is there so little evidence of God’s peace in the world?

I am grateful that our Mennonite World Conference “Shared Convictions” includes a statement on peace: “The Spirit of Jesus empowers us to trust God…so we become peacemakers who renounce violence, love our enemies, seek justice, and share our possessions with those in need.”  

In being God’s people of peace, we turn to scripture and story for inspiration and instruction. The living witness of the Bible and people’s lives inspires and instructs us. I am also discovering anew as I read John Paul Lederach that soul in addition to scripture and story is another dimension of inspiration, instruction, and imagination for being God’s people of peace.                           

Isaiah 2:2-4

The book of Isaiah is a powerful prophetic pronouncement upon Jerusalem and its meaning for God’s people centuries before Jesus lamented over that city. God’s promise is continually made known and God’s people continually fall short of God’s peaceful purpose. Jerusalem is the center and symbol of this failure of faith. Divine promise and divine judgment dominate Isaiah. (Walter Brueggemann, intro “Isaiah” NRSV Spiritual Formation Bible, 981-984)

Isaiah begins by boldly denouncing the degenerate city: “How the faithful city has become a whore! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her – but now murderers!” (1:21). Isaiah proclaims the demise of Jerusalem and the collapse of the political and economic system seated in Jerusalem (Spiritual Formation Bible, 987).  

Then we hear Isaiah’s well known words that we heard read a few minutes ago in worship. Without addressing the full complexity of “the mountain of the Lord’s house” as the temple in Jerusalem, we pick up on the rich imagery that people will stream to the mountain of God to hear God’s word of promise and judgment: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (2:4).  

Would that we knew the things that make for peace and heard and heeded Isaiah’s prophetic word of God today! As rare as it is in Christian history that anyone claiming to be Christian beats swords into plowshares we do have faithful peace witnesses who live it out. 

Thirty years ago this month eight people walked into a missile making plant outside Philadelphia and hammered on missile nose cones. They were arrested and tried as the Plowshares 8: Dan and Phil Berrigan, Molly Rush, Carl Kabat, Anne Montgomery, Elmer Maas, Dean Hammer, and John Schuchardt. It was Molly Rush, grandmother and founder of the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, who turned to Isaiah 2 and named their public witness “Plowshares” – a name that continues in a line of nonviolent witnesses to this day.   

I followed their Plowshares action and trial closely because we lived in Philadelphia at the time and I was working in Mennonite Central Committee’s Peace Office. I knew some of the Plowshares 8 and covered their trial for The Other Side magazine. The Berrigan brothers had become prophetic witnesses for many of us during the war in Vietnam. John Schuchardt was a lawyer who worked with us in the Center on Law and Pacifism. Now in her late 80s, Anne Montgomery, is active with Christian Peacemaker Teams and was on our CPT delegation in Amman, Jordan, although she left before we went into Iraq in March 2003.

For thirty years many other plowshares witnesses have taken their vision from Isaiah in an effort to turn today’s weapons of war into plowshares of peace. On September 14th the trial of 14 peace activists including Kathy Kelly, took place in Las Vegas. On April 9, 2009, Holy Thursday, 14 Christian peacemakers entered Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas to “beat swords into plowshares.” Deep underground at Creech AFB deadly robotic drones are unleashed to kill people on the other side of the world in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Our friend Gene Stoltzfus, who died last March, was part of that public witness at Creech during Holy Week 2009.

Peter Lumsdaine, with Gene Stoltzfus’ help, founded ARROWS a year ago at Mennonite Church USA in Columbus. ARROWS, which stands for Alliance to Resist Robotic Warfare and Society, exposes the deadly robotic warfare where people sit and play their underground video war games on our side of the world and kill people with drones on the other side of the world.

Another prophetic peacemaker, Martin Luther King, Jr., declared that the nonviolent love of Jesus, however persecuted or prosecuted, cannot be killed but rises with the risen Christ. 

As our Christian Peacemaker Team rode across the Iraqi desert toward Baghdad in March 2003, Jim Douglas, Leah and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and I were talking about people of peace who inspire us. Certainly Jim Douglass is one those people for me. At one point Jim smiled and said, “You know the best Christian who ever lived was not even a Christian: Gandhi!”

Gandhi spoke truth to power and to our timid faith, saying, “Change does not come in the classroom or the pulpit. It comes about by standing in the courts, in jails and sometimes on the gallows.” (John Dear, ncronline.org, 9/14/10).

Micah 6:8

About the same time as the prophet Isaiah railed against the unfaithfulness of God’s people the prophet Micah issued a similar prophetic word about “beating swords into plowshares.” He added that when we beat swords into plowshares everyone will live beneath their vine and fig tree and no one will be afraid. Fear is the great stumbling block to God’s peace. The powers always want to instill fear in us to justify beating plowshares into swords far faster than we beat swords into plowshares.

The prophet Micah gives us another well-known and little followed word from God. We just sang it after the children’s story – “What does the Lord require of you” (6:8). Each verse ends with the three-fold Way of Life with God as embodying justice, kindness, and humility. 

We sang it now let’s say it together as our prayerful call and commitment. I will line it out for you to repeat together. 

[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does [God] require of you
but to do justice,

and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

What might happen if all Christians of the world truly prayed that commitment every day? What might happen if all Mennonites truly prayed that commitment every day? Or what might happen if we in Seattle Mennonite Church truly prayed that commitment every day?  What God requires is justice, love, and humility. It is that simple and that difficult. With God’s help can we do it!

Ricardo Esquiva, a Mennonite and attorney in Colombia has long risked his life faithfully living God’s requirement to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. His commitment to build peace with justice in the violent conflicts that have long plagued Colombia led him to found Justapaz, a center for justice and peace through nonviolence. He has had to leave the country a few times due to threats on his life. (Alfred Neufeld, What We Believe Together, 92).

Ricardo’s son Daniel will be with us in two weeks when John Paul Lederach is with us at John Paul’s request. Daniel is an artist and John Paul knows that art and poetry as well as scripture and story are central to making peace in our violent world.

Matthew 5:9, 11, 43-48                                                                                                                               

From God’s prophets we turn to the one who is the heart of it all and God’s heart in the world. Jesus Christ still is God’s holy nonviolent loving presence of peace in the world. Jesus taught and lived what we are to live and teach. We draw on only a few words of Jesus that take us to the heart of Jesus. These familiar words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount need to be heard again. 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of [God]….; for [God] makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as [God in heaven] is perfect (Matthew 5:9, 11, 43-48).

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ Way of telling us how to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” 

“Blessed are the peacemakers” packs a poetic power far beyond our usual simplistic understanding that renders it irrelevant in the real world. “Blessed are the peacemakers” means “blessed are those who work for peace.” The word work or make come from a root term poiesis which has to do with the art and craft of weaving peace. Another way to say this is “blessed are those who poetically craft peace.” It is a creative response and alternative to violence that is more art and craft than it is technique, as John Paul Lederach teaches and embodies.

Jesus is telling us that those who take up the art and craft of weaving peace are truly blessed by God. The art and craft of weaving peace calls for noticing deeper than seeing and for simplicity beyond complexity. The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity” (JPL, The Moral Imagination, 31). 

To notice deeper than seeing requires care, respect, and appreciation for whomever or whatever we are noticing (Jesus modeled noticing deeper than seeing with the woman who touched the hem of his garment, blind Bartimaeus by the Jericho roadside, Zacchaeus in the Sycamore tree and all the other people that go unnoticed.   

John Paul Lederach’s newest book, When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys through the Soundscape of healing and Reconciliation, was written with his daughter Angela. In it they tell a story from Sierra Leone. Throughout a recent 11 year war in Sierra Leone, the Falui Poets Society met to notice, speak, and act poetically in the face of great violence and suffering.

John Paul and Angela recount that story. “The Falui Poets Society….[are] blessed peacemakers in that they noticed, crafted a record of Truth that linked the personal with the political, and in so doing gave life to their inner souls and the community around them, easily driven toward a numb speechlessness and an even more numbing amnesia. The essence of their poetics was to forge human resiliency, the capacity to stay in touch with voice and to create life in the barrenness of violence….Blessed are those who have the courage to notice, to look again, to read and craft with childlike wonder the poetics of life and love” (John Paul Lederach and Angela Jill Lederach, “The Poetics of Building Peace,” Brethren Life and Thought, Vol 54, No 3, Summer 2009, p. 9).

Ephesians 2:13-14

The Apostle Paul reinforces what Jesus taught and lived as God’s way of peace. Paul recognized that we cannot do this alone. Loving our enemies, praying for our persecutors, and becoming weavers of God’s peace right here and now in this time and place are our work and way of life. We need help to truly do and be the blessed people of God’s peace that the Mennonite World Conference statement of “Shared Convictions” professes.  

Paul’s prophetic word in Ephesians (chapter 3) that we are empowered for God’s peace was our Call to Worship. It is a word that acknowledges the power and the possibility to be God’s weavers of peace. It also knows that this power and possibility comes from God in Christ through the Holy Spirit to root us and ground us in true love and peace.

Earlier in the Ephesian letter Paul put it in a nutshell:                                                                  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For [Christ] is our peace; [Christ]… has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us (Ephesians 2:13-14). 

A. J. Muste said, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” And that Way is Jesus Christ. We can live more fully and deeply as blessed weavers of peace “For Christ is our peace.”

May we as Seattle Mennonite Church embark on a renewed sustained prayerful discernment to live more fully into Christ’s Way of peace.