Tuesday, 02 December 2008 18:22

November 30, 2008 Sermon

“Imagine Peace in the World”
Advent I
Luke 19:41-44
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
November 30, 2008
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

In the weeks before Christmas we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Prince of Peace.  So we’ll look at peace in the world, peace in the nation, peace in the city, peace in our families and peace in our hearts as we experience the advent, the anticipation the return of that blessed event in a manger lo those many years ago.  If we remember and imagine what it means to celebrate the coming of the prince of peace, then we may well experience the real Christmas spirit.

So today we imagine peace in the world.


We look at this when there are terrorist attacks across India.  

We imagine peace in the world as we look at war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, pending war in Iran.  

We imagine peace in the world when there are people in the streets protesting corruption in recent Nicaraguan elections.  

We imagine peace in the world when the Russian President escalates aggressive tactics and rhetoric against with whom he disagrees.  

We imagine peace in the world when there are African countries fighting each other and are even fighting against their own citizens.  

We imagine peace in the world when the balance of power and influence are determined in large part by resources.  Globalization means that we import our oil, our food, and we export our debt.  As these avenues change, peace is compromised.  

We imagine peace in the world as we have lived through an extremely rough era with the present administration with their shortsighted doctrine of preemptive war.  

We now have elected a president and administration that seeks to restore the U.S.’ standing and respect in the world.  How that might happen is yet to be seen.

We imagine peace in the world, but what if the peace that we seek means that we might have to make sacrifices?  What if peace in the world is not pax Americana—where we establish peace by having the rest of the world do what we want?  During the 41 years of Augustus Caesar’s rule, the beginning of Pax Romana, the army was constantly deployed.  This is what pax Romana, pax Americana requires.   Is this what we want?  

What would Jesus do?

Jesus came during the time of Pax Romana.  The Romans kept the peace by crucifying anyone who dared question the sovereignty of Rome.  Jesus was in line for just such an execution and he went down and rose again in a blaze of glory.

But before he faced the inevitable, he spent some time in mourning.  In particular, he wept over Jerusalem, the seat of Jewish power that had acquiesced to the power of Rome.  It was a shadow of its former self.  It was doing what it needed to do to survive.  But surviving meant being part and parcel of Rome’s excesses.  It meant keeping the “peace” by sacrificing the troublemakers.  It meant not questioning Roman authority.
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when he said, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”    It doesn’t say if you had only known the things that make for peace.  It says if you had only recognized the things that make for peace.  The implication is they knew the things that make for peace, but in the midst of crisis, it’s hard to recognize them.  What are those things that make for peace?   

We know that peace has many dimensions.  

On a national or international level, there is peace that comes from the end of a gun or a sword.  There is peace that comes after a long war.  There is peace that comes after a storm has raged.  

On a personal level, there is peace that comes from contentment.  But if your contentment requires another’s misery, is it really peace?   There is peace that comes from a sense of serenity and a sense of centeredness.  Folks in the recovery communities know about this because the peacefulness comes from hard prayerful work.  

But which part of this peace is the peace we imagine when we sing the songs of the prince of peace at Christmas time?  We need that Christmas peace again.  But if it’s real peace, it needs to go beyond the saccharine sentimentality that’s pushed on tinny mall speakers.  We need peace that lasts beyond the wrapping paper.  That is the peace we imagine.

We know that peace is not the lack of conflict but the presence of justice.

“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace.”  This is Jesus’ cry to us.  It is his hope for all of us.  That we recognized the things that make for peace.  

Think about this.  Peace by the end of a gun or at the end of a war is short-lived.  Even in this country, the northern and southern peoples still have deep seated mistrust for each other.  The civil war was over 145 years ago and we still hold those old wounds in our national psyche.  

The things that make for peace are not achieved overnight.  They are lifestyle choices that we make every day.  They are the decisions that we make to live life by principles of shalom, of God’s peacefulness over and against the forces of evil.  

But it doesn’t end there.  It can’t.  For lasting peace means transforming enemies into friends.  It means recognizing people as human beings.  It means respecting another’s right to be.  It means respecting another’s way of life and belief system and living side by side without having that belief system threaten your very existence.

Our church is a partner congregation of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.  We seek to live by the principles of peacemaking and justice-seeking, in as much as we can recognize them.  Many of us read the materials of the Peace Fellowship.  We financially support their work and we go to the Summer Peace Camp in order to get more ideas and skills about peacemaking. I’m considering attending the Global Baptist Peace Conference in Rome in February where we will have the opportunity to learn from and network with peacemakers and justice seekers from across the world.

In my role on the Board of Directors of the Peace Fellowship, I chair the World Peace Networks committee.  No pressure there.   One of the new Board members who serves with me on the World Peace Networks Committee is from India.  You have heard this week about he awful killing in Mumbai by supposed Islamic terrorists.  He told us all about the bombings and killings that are targeting Christians in southern India.  He told us that Hindu fundamentalists are carrying out these attacks.  I had never heard of Hindu fundamentalists.  It turns out that they are targeting Christians in part because the theological positions of Christians, Jews and Muslims all call into question the hierarchy inherent in the Indian caste system.  In the caste system you are relegated to a certain class based upon your ancestry.  But once people become Christian, Muslim or Jewish, they recognize themselves as full children of God who are not necessarily destined to be subservient to another caste that does not regard you as a child of God, but as a servant.  It gets awful complicated, doesn’t it?

“If you, even you, had only recognized the things that make for peace.”

I confess myself often overwhelmed by the responsibility and the great need across the world.  I find that any work that I do might just be like spitting in the ocean.  It’s easy to get discouraged.  But then we hear of people doing heroic and amazing things.  Right now, Lee McKenna from Ontario is representing the Baptist Peace Fellowship in Sudan.  She’s working with a Swedish group to train people in Darfur about conflict transformation, a method of addressing conflict which seeks to transform the relationships of enemies into friends or at least civil respecters of the other’s right to live.   
The Baptist Peace Fellowship has trained people in conflict transformation in places like the Philippines, in Nicaragua, in Chiapas, in the Naga regions of northern India.  They do this to spit it the ocean and to teach others the way to spit into the ocean so that we might do our part to build a worldwide culture of peace.  On January 23 and 24th Dwight Lundgren from the Baptist Peace Fellowship will lead a Conflict Transformation training right here at UBC, so we can learn about and apply this method to our very lives.
“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace.”

This past summer, Deidre and I were in Nicaragua on a trip sponsored by the Baptist Peace Fellowship.  One of the places were visited was Ciudad Sandino.  This densely populated neighborhood outside of Managua is a place where people were relocated after wars, earthquakes, hurricanes and mudslides.  It was way past capacity years ago, but people still get relocated there, bringing poverty and the violence that it often accompanies.  We met with a group of creative young people who have started an organization in Ciudad Sandino called Cantera.  They use street theater to bring people to their center and then teach them art, dance, music and methods of conflict transformation.  On the walls of their center are murals painted by the youth that say “We dream of peace.  No more blood.  No more violence.  We heard their amazing stories and were humbled, like we were each day when we met people doing heroic things against great odds.  At the end of their presentation, they asked us what we were doing to make peace in our corner of the world.  We went around the circle and spoke about our activism.  One person spoke about how she stands out in front of her church with a sign calling for the end to war.  Another talked about organizing migrant workers.  Another spoke about work in New Orleans.  Another was a blogger; a few others were teachers.  I spoke about our church and how we had offered sanctuary for striking workers and those in solidarity with them at the University of Minnesota.   They thanked us for our work and told us that we were connected in a web of peacemaking across the world and across cultures.  

“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace.”

What makes for peace?  

Sure there are policies that make for peace and policies that make for war.  Scarcity and plenty have a lot to do with it.  I am a firm believer that much of terrorism would cease if there was a just and equal distribution of food throughout the world.  We fight over resources and who controls them.  We do not see each other as part of the fabric of life when we dehumanize our enemies.  

When we humanize the other, then we discover the things that make for peace.  

We need to seek justice in order to make for peace.

We need to hold people accountable for their actions, but never dehumanize another.

We need to remember the words and the work of Gandhi, and Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King and Jesus, especially in this time of chaos.  We need to be about building the beloved community here and abroad.  

In August of 1945, bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  They were dropped so that peace would come—at least that was part of the hope.  It did end the war, but at the cost of thousands of lives.   Many died instantly.  Others died years later because of the effects of radiation.  One young girl contracted leukemia ten years after the bombing.  She knew the legend passed down from many generations.  If she could fold 1,000 paper origami cranes, it would bring healing to her.  So she folded cranes day after day, week after week.  When she finally succumbed to her disease, she had folded 644.  Her friends folded the rest and placed the 1,000 cranes on her grave.  Her gravestone reads, “This is my cry.  This is my prayer.  Peace in the World”.

“If we, even we, had only recognized thing things that make for peace.”  Maybe we would create things of beauty and healing and hope for this world.  And we would say, “This is our cry, this is our prayer, peace in the world.”