Wednesday, 15 September 2010 17:16

September 12, 2010 Sermon

“Audacious Peacemaking”
I Samuel 25:1-35
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
September 12, 2010
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

Part I:  The Story of Abigail

My name is Abigail.  I’m no one special.  I’m just an ordinary woman from Caleb.  But if I’ve learned one thing, it’s this: sometimes you have to do extraordinary things just to survive.

My lot in life was determined long ago.  When I was very young I was forced to marry a real jerk.  Even his name Nabal means fool.  He was that way.  He was corrupt, abusive, always looking to make a buck.  I wanted out of this arranged marriage but what could I do?    He was rich.  I was poor and good-looking.  The marriage was set.

Nabal wasn’t very smart.  His greed took him too far.  That’s when I saw my opportunity and seized it.

It was sheep sheering season and it was customary for you to pay some wool to the people who protected your sheep.  David and his army had kept watch over the sheep and wanted a portion of Nabal’s wool. But Nabal wanted to keep everything for himself.  So he rebuffed King David.  What Nabal didn’t know was that when you take away someone’s profits, you also insult their manhood.  Both of these guys felt a need to flex their muscles. Nabal, the fool, thought that he had won.  But I saw what was really going on.  While Nabal got himself sauced, I saw David mounting an army to kill Nabal and all of his family.  Including me.

Sometimes you have to do extraordinary things in order to survive.

So I went out to meet David and his army.  I waited until Nabal was good and drunk.  I snuck in and stole the food that he had set aside for his own sheep-shearing banquet.  I made my way to David’s camp.  They were putting on their armor and getting ready for battle.  I was nervous.  Wouldn’t you be?  But I also knew that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach.  I gave them the food and complimented them on their protecting of the sheep.  I gave them two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, a hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs.  I “oo”ed and “ah”ed about their shiny armor.   I called him “my lord” like eleven times.  I thought the gifts would help him save face.  Maybe if I made the gesture, I could save the family, the servants, everybody.

David and his army didn’t know what to do.  They certainly didn’t expect someone giving them gifts or paying them respect.  If they stopped and counted they would have realized that I paid them more than what they had earned by watching the sheep.  What did I have to lose, really?  I didn’t have much time to think about it.  I just knew that someone needed to act.  Pride would have made both David and Nabal react with violence.  I just have to believe that there is a better way.  Don’t you think?

When David and his army were eating, I appealed to him and said that God had sent me to make peace with him.  I knew my husband was a fool. I asked forgiveness for his insolence and asked that he spare the lives of our family.  I told David that if he killed in anger an outnumbered family because of an insult, then he would be no better than foolish Nabal.  It would hang over him like a cloud all the days of his life.

Well, it worked.  David and his army left our family alone.  Unfortunately, when I got home and told everything to Nabal, he went on the bender of all benders.  The truth is he drank himself to death.  The fool.  He couldn’t take that he had been shown up by his wife, even if I did save the lives of the whole family. I ultimately couldn’t save him from himself.   But I have found my voice and my role.  It’s as a peacemaker.  I can see what others can’t see.  Maybe I can help them see the possibilities out there.

Do I regret it?  No.  I feel bad for Nabal.   And I tell you this story so that you might think twice before your anger and your rage make you do something you will regret.  Listen to the peacemakers in your life, even those younger, smarter and more inexperienced than you.  They may well show you a better way to live in peace in the world.

Here’s the ironic thing.  Now I’m one of David’s wives.  Maybe I can help him to be smarter.  God knows he needs it, too.

Part II: A Reflection

Where were you nine years ago yesterday?  Who were you with?  What thoughts raced through your mind?

I was on my way to church here.  I remember it because it was the very day that my mother in law was moving into her skilled nursing facility where she lived for the last five years of her life.  I remember seeing the buildings fall on the grainy TV at church while talking on the phone to Kim.  We were housing homeless people at church with Families Moving Forward and I had the church TV in my office.  I remember pulling together a prayer service on the steps of Northrup at noon, surrounded by other leaders from the Interfaith Campus Coalition.  I remember holding a service here at UBC that evening, lighting candles and praying for peace.   Not everyone who attended the service were Christians, but we were united in our grief and our desire to connect with a larger, more powerful reality.

I remember a few days later sitting in Tai Shigaki’s apartment and her tearfully telling me that this was going to result in the demonization of the Arab or Arab-looking people.  She had been on the receiving end of that racism as a Japanese American in World War II.

I like to think that the world woke up, however briefly, to the need for audacious peacemaking.  The narrative in this country is all about how there is intolerance for the Muslim community.  From cooks and crazies who threaten to burn Qu’rans to the people who gather in the streets to protest the building of places of worship, it seems that Islamophobia is the constant disease of all of us.  And it sure seems that way, if we look at the news media.

But what if there is a different narrative out there?  Imagine with me that 9-11 unleashed a dynamic movement of peacemaking.  Imagine if all of the ideas for peacemaking got the same amount of press as the fear mongering.

Bible-believing people are peacemakers and justice seekers.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”  To ignore the Biblical imperative of peacemaking is a misdirection.  Misdirection is what a magician does.  He or she focuses your eyes on one thing while the trick is happening in the pocket, or with the other hand away from your attention.  Talking about Christianity without talking about peacemaking is a misdirection.  It is not what the Gospel is about.  Think about the discussions about taxes these days.  We argue about how we are giving too much money to the poor and we need to cut programs.  But over half of our budget goes to the military to support our war machines here and abroad.  It’s a misdirection.  If we can get people to argue about social security or health care or immigrants, we don’t have to talk about the military.  But that’s the what the puppeteer wants us to focus on.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.  What we need is audacious peacemaking that does not get duped by misdirection.

Some of us are downright audacious.  We take our cues from the likes of Abigail.  We creatively engage those with whom we disagree.  We try to find ways to make the world a better place.  We are convinced that the Gospel of Peace is central to the way we live our lives.

How do you believe in audacious peace if you only hear fear and hatred?  I think that we have not listened hard enough.  We have ignored the Abigails, the audacious peacemakers.  Who has a story of a peacemaker?  You have heard these past few days about the doctors and nurses who have been jailed in Zimbabwe.  But did you know that they were on a mission trip from one of the Baptist Peace Fellowship’s partner churches, Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland?  They have been going to Zimbabwe to deliver AIDS medications and treatments for over ten years.  They are audacious peacemakers.

Think of the audacious moves toward peace.  Think of the millions of people who have taken to the streets to oppose the Iraq wars.  Think of the work of Conflict transformation that gets done by the likes of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.  Think of the work of groups like Nonviolent Peace Force, Every Church a Peace Church, The Interfaith Youth Corp, and so on.  These represent thousands of people committed to peace and justice.

How are you going to do the audacious work of peacemaking?  What are you willing to do?

Part III:  A conversation with each other

I encourage you to spend just a few moments right now.  Talk with your neighbord and inspired by Abigail and others, imagine what you can do to make peace a reality.  My friend and colleague Jim Hopkins says that we live in a 9-12 world.  The question is, how do we become a 9-13 world?  What will that look like?  It’s up to us.  So let’s talk with each other and hold each other accountable for just one thing that we can do to make our part of the world a bit more peaceful on this 9-12 Sunday.

(Pause for a few minutes of conversation)

Part IV: A Litany

Please join me in the litany provided for us by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.

In the name of the Prince of Peace, we come as people of faith to support our Muslim brothers and sisters in this time of increased “Islamophobia” and anti-Muslim behavior.

We are dismayed...
by the burning of holy books;
by the protesting of building of Muslim community centers and mosques;
by the direct attacks on Muslim people.

We say that those who use Christianity to persecute and prejudge Muslim people do not speak for the vast majority of peace-loving Christians, and they do not speak for us.

As people of peace and justice, we resist the disease of Islamophobia and urge our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same.

O God, we recognize that, even amidst the current wave of hate-filled hysteria, the possibility of positive change exists if people of good will take action.

Show us how to use this moment to act in ways that will bring about healing, mutual understanding and cooperation.

Turn our thoughts and actions from the things that lead us farther away from the peace we all seek.

Give us the voice to speak, the courage to act and the opportunity to create and deepen relationships among people of different faiths. For in doing so, we honor you by reflecting the love and grace that you have shown to us. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen