School of Missions – CA-NV UMW
As a preacher I usually speak for about 15 minutes or so, that is if I know what I’m talking about. If I don’t know what I’m talking about it can take a lot longer. But I was told that we have an hour. That feels intimidating to me. Maybe you are getting a bit nervous now.
But I have seen it done … I have sat through talks that went on for an hour … even endured a sermon or two that seemed longer than that.
So by the grace of God I’m sure we can manage today.
And we can hope and pray for God’s mercy – that it will be an hour well spent.
At the end we should have some time for questions and some answers (should any occur to me at the time).
The topic is Shalom … Salaam … Peace, or overall: “Harvesting Peace”.
First I express my appreciation to the organizers, to Nancy Watling and her team for inviting me to be here to speak with you about shalom, salaam, peace.
All I expect to be able to do is to share some insights -- at least I call them insights – you may think they are fantasy or illusions, but I will share them nonetheless. Also I will tell a story or two, and point to an example here and there, and cite some words from others wiser than I in the arena of peace, and I will make some modest proposals about how we, followers of Jesus, might more intentionally live as peacemakers.
Shalom is the Hebrew word which is translated Peace in the English translations of the Bible. It was a dream and a hope of the people of covenant whose early faith story is told in what Christians historically have called the Old Testament.
Salaam, as I understand it, is the corresponding word, or concept, that comes from the Koran, the holy book of Islam.
We need to think big and wide and deep when we think of shalom, when we think of peace. For truly – when we consider shalom salaam, peace – we are invited to meet with, to embrace, and to be embraced by a concept and an understanding that is inclusive of the good possibilities of life. If we think of peace only as the absence of obvious conflict and war in human affairs, we do our faith a disservice.
Shalom, or a realization of shalom, will mean that there is fullness of life available for all. It will mean that there is justice – that all have enough to live without want, that all have access to possibilities for meaning, that we are free from fear of the other, that we can well live in harmony with our neighbors, that we are dedicated to live with respect for those of other cultures and beliefs, and certainly that the human family is living without war or even the trappings of war.
And it must mean that we come to terms with the earth … with our use and nurture of the earth’s life-giving reality … with our place as part of that ecological mix.
Since I am who I am, and we are who we are – followers of Jesus, I will say what I have to say in the language of our faith, Christianity. But I hope you will understand that I make no claims of faith superiority of Christianity over against any other ethical religion.
And, since I am who I am, and we are who we are – most of us, I am guessing – citizens and residents of the USA, I will say what I have to say as an American who loves his country but has great concern that we are not stretching to reach the goals we claim in constitution, bill of rights, declaration of independence. In fact I am deeply concerned that we are in danger of losing our soul as a nation.
I love that song we sang this morning, “This Is My Song”
The first two verses, which are the original song, make up one of the best expressed understandings I know of patriotic hope and global respect.
I have problems with verse 3. It was written by the great Methodist theologian, Georgia Harkness and added later. I respect her, but this verse does not seem to fit the song. And one line in that verse seems to me to be an expression of Christian superiority which I think we need – at the very least – to be critical of and cautious about.
So. That is all by way of introduction and set-up. Now let’s move on to speaking of peace, in a follower of Jesus, Christian context.
When – in Christian context – I think of shalom, as the complete meaning of peace I turn to Jesus and observe how the story in each and every one of our biblical gospels begins. So we begin a little Bible study.
In Matthew, after the opening birth, baptism, wilderness trek … there comes the first great teaching passage, the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5, 6 & 7. If you have not read it lately please do so. Read carefully and prayerfully it may well knock your socks off … blessings for the least and the lonely and the faithful … love of enemies … in everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets … pray faithfully for forgiveness and forgive … ask God for daily bread … and much, much more …
In Mark, similar location, we find Jesus returning to Galilee to preach (Chapter 1:14-15, Mark is much briefer than Matthew). He reports of Jesus saying: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the goods news.
The kingdom of God is one of those wonderful concepts which is difficult to define or even to imagine. But Mark does not leave us hanging.
In Jesus’ final round of public teaching in Mark we get some clarity of how we may know when it has come near.
Listen, over in Chapter 12 when a scholar asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment … you know the answer, right? Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
When the scholar-scribe agreed, Jesus said to him, You are not far from the kingdom of God. So embracing this, these, great commandments brings the Kingdom of God near.
For Luke, in the same flow of the story, Jesus returns to worship at the synagogue in Nazareth, is given the text from Isaiah where he reads – you’ve heard this many times. If you have been around Jean & Jim Strathdee you probably have heard it sung. I’ll try that [sing]: O the Spirit of the Lord is upon me/ because God has anointed me/ to preach good news to the poor./ God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives/ and recovery of sight to the blind./ To set at liberty those who are op-press-ed/ to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
And many modern scholars agree that this “acceptable year of the Lord” refers to the Jubilee … outlined in Leviticus, chapter 25.
It was to be a time when captives and slaves are freed, when debt is forgiven, when resources are re-distributed so that all may have access to enough.
Even the land gets a rest from time to time so that it may be re-vitalized. In short jubilee is an effort to promote, to bring about shalom.
The gospel of John is quite different from the other three. It begins with a bang and does not let up. It is somewhat more poetic. Here is how it begins to speak of Jesus: (slightly edited for brevity) … In the beginning was the word … and the word became flesh and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth.
So, friends, my first modest proposal to any and to all followers of Jesus who would take to heart the hope of harvesting peace and take to heart the call to be peace makers – first proposal, upon which, for me, all other things rest – GET TO KNOW JESUS BETTER. GO BACK INTO THE GOSPELS AND MEET HIM!
It seems so obvious, doesn’t it. I state it because it is my observation that the church needs to hear it, again and again.
Some years ago, biblical scholar Marcus Borg wrote a book titled: Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.
It seems to me that there are some who have only meet Jesus in elementary Sunday School, maybe in Junior High,
but not as mature adults who are willing to consider becoming committed disciples and peace makers.
I think it would do the church a world of good and that the church would then be more likely to do the world some good if we dedicated ourselves to meeting Jesus as mature Christians (again for the first time, perhaps) to taking him seriously, and allowing the gospels to permeate our hearts and souls.
Next I make this claim. Peace is a promise, a gift, a goal, a discipleship calling, and a life’s work.
Did we not read this morning the words from Jesus to his followers, his disciples – to us: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
I give to you … a gift – not earned by our goodness … not won by our cunning nor by our intellect … no test to pass, simply a gift. The only thing it asks of us is to have an open welcome to God’s Spirit.
Peace as this promise, this gift gets affirmed in the particular act of worship which we call “passing the peace”.
You know, when the pastor, or another worship leader, bids us in the gathered congregation to get up and move around, as we are able and exchange greetings of peace with one another.
It is not intended as a time for us to catch up on personal plans or congregational gossip or to plan a committee meeting or to complain about the hymn you just sang, though we sometimes use that moment in such ways.
But, at its best and in its intention it is truly a time, a moment, for us to share deeply heart-felt greetings, and wishes, and hopes for the other to know the Peace which Jesus promises, and truly a time for each of to receive the same from the ones with whom we are worshipping.
If we are going to pray and work for peace … if we are going to plant seeds of peace … if we are going to see some harvest of peace … than we need, often to be reminded of the aspect of peace which is promise and gift … to offer it and to open ourselves to receive it.
So … friends, I invite us, here and now, to do just that. Let’s take a few moments, right now … to stand and move about as we are able and to offer and to receive this promise and gift, the Peace of Christ. May the Peace of Christ be with you. (And, also with you.) [DO IT … ]
Having shared in this significant action of worship it is time for my second modest proposal, which is:
IF ONE IS A FOLLOWER, A DISCIPLE, OF JESUS THEN ONE IS CALLED BOTH TO PRAY FOR AND TO ACT FOR PEACE.
Not one without the other … but both – pray and act for peace.
Now some are more attuned to praying and some are more attuned to acting. But, please friends, not one without the other.
Maybe you need a jump start in how to pray to be involved in peace making. If so I have a ready suggestion. In fact, even if you are an accomplished pray-er still I have the same ready suggestion.
I invite you to take up one of our hymnals, you know that book that probably you use for some of the congregational singing each week in worship. Turn, please, to number 456 and find that simple, but profound prayer “For Courage to Do Justice” given to us by the great South African writer and peace maker, Alan Paton.
So you have it? Then let’s pray it together:
open my eyes that I may see the needs of others;
open my ears that I may hear their cries;
open my heart so that they need not be without succor;
let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor
afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.
Show me where love and hope and faith are needed
and use me to bring them to those places.
And so open my eyes and my ears
that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee. Amen.
Then you can pray on from there.
Maybe it is the case that you need a jump-start in acting for peace. Let me begin like this.
What many of us have is a case of thinking too little of our possibilities. That is to say … thinking that if I cannot do something big and bold for peace then why bother?
If you have any feelings like that I hope this morning you will shed them, toss them in the trash can of life, where they belong.
I do not mean to say one should try to act small. But I do mean to say that one should act in the ways in which one is able to do.
Some are able, and called, to be out in public demonstrations, vigils, doing non-violent civil disobedience, etc. Others may write letters to policy makers and to newspapers, or articles for news-letters, or make telephone calls, send emails, or bake cookies for planning meetings, or stuff envelopes, or create flyers, offer prayers in your congregations worship, teach classes, etc.
But all, and each, is needed … is necessary … and each part, each sort of action, depends on the others.
I reject any hierarchy of peace action.
That which is done in good faith … done with nonviolence in act and attitude … done in keeping with one’s understanding of Jesus call to disciples… that is valid and is to be valued.
No action is too small. Mohandas Gandhi said that … whatever we do will seem insignificant, but is very important that we do it.
Maybe you know this little story. I first read it over 20 years ago in a UM publication called “Alive Now”.
One winter day a chickadee and a wren were huddled in the shelter of a fir tree. The chickadee said to the wren, Tell me sister wren what would you say is the weight of a single snow flake? To which the wren replied, Why it is nothing more than nothing.
Then, said the chickadee, I will tell you this story. Yesterday when the snow was falling heavily I was huddled in the shelter of a limb much like we are today and I watched as the snow pile piled up, higher and higher, on a limb on the next tree. The snow on that limb got deeper and deeper, then I saw a single snow flake fall – which weighs nothing more than nothing, as you say – drop onto that collected snow and the limb broke and crashed to the ground.
As the chickadee flew away it said … perhaps, sister wren, like that snow flake, there is only one more small step needed for there to be peace in the world.
Another story – you remember, or know about, Rosa Parks whose action on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama kicked off the bus boycott, which called MLK, Jr. to the front as a nonviolent civil rights and peace leader.
But there is a back story which many do not know.
Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, an English professor at Alabama State College was president of the black Women’s Political Council in Montgomery. They had, for months been lobbying the city to integrate seating on city buses, but were being met with persistent refusal. So they drew up plans for the distribution of 50,000 flyers calling for a bus boycott, only the specifics of time and place needed to be added.
When she learned of Rosa Park’s arrest, Jo Ann Robinson, with the assistance of two of her students, worked into the early morning mimeographing tens of thousands of leaflets announcing the bus boycott. Thanks to the distribution system already set up by the women, by the time the sun came up on December 2, 1955, practically every black man, woman, and child in that city knew of the call for a bus boycott.
Robinson later wrote: No one knew where the notices came from or who had arranged for their circulation, and no one cared. Those who passed them on did do efficiently, quietly, and without comment. But deep within the heart of every black person was a joy he or she dared not reveal.
Months, years – of trying but no success – then a moment, the moment, came and the preparation paid off, was put into action and was honored.
If one believes in providence she might say … God will honor faithfulness … maybe in God’s own time, but God will honor faithfulness. Well, I do believe in providence and I believe that God honors faithfulness.
Remember Mother Teresa … who, when she went to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, was asked how she kept on going with her work in Calcutta when there seemed to be so little success … everyone she took in died. To which she replied with a profound simplicity: God does not call me to be successful, God calls me to be faithful.
So, my second modest proposal is: IF ONE IS A FOLLOWER, A DISCIPLE, OF JESUS THEN ONE IS CALLED BOTH TO PRAY FOR AND TO ACT FOR PEACE.
No matter how small or un-successful the act may seem … no matter how feeble the prayer may seem …
I have a third modest proposal, but first I need to make two insertions.
I have been saying the word non-violence without being specific about its importance. So, let me quote A. J. Muste, a Quaker peace maker, organizer, and leader, who said: There is no way to peace, peace is the way.
MLK, Jr. said: We do not reach just ends by using unjust means.
And Gandhi said, You must be the change you want to see in the world.
And remember it was Jesus who said way back there in the Sermon on the Mount: You have heard it 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 your Father in heaven …
So the watchword for peace makers, in prayer, in attitude, in action is nonviolence.
Second insertion is this: Find allies in peace making -- allies in the church and out of the church. Don’t try to go it alone. Find a group already at work with which you can relate, or organize your own group – for study, for reflection, for prayer, for action.
Now for the third modest proposal … one which I feel an urgency about. WORK AND PRAY, PRAY AND WORK, TO END THE WAR ON IRAQ.
Song: “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” [sing]
Last night I had the strangest dream I ever dreamed before.
I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war.
I dreamed there was a mighty room, filled with women, children, and men; and the papers they were signing said, “We’d never fight again!”
And when the papers were all signed and a million copies made – they all joined hands and bowed their heads and
grateful prayers were prayed.
And the people in the streets below were dancing round and round; with swords and guns and uniforms all scattered
on the ground. Last night I had the strangest dream …
Ending this war, any war, or all wars is not the end of peace making but it would be a really, really, really good start.
Our own church and our annual conference have been consistent about this, from the get go. Even before we began this pre-emptive war began, UM leaders were speaking out against it. Later, in 2004, the UM General Conference asserted:
By attacking Iraq without the approval and participation of the United Nations, the United States has squandered its positive reputation as a responsible member of the global community … (Book or Resolutions, pg. 850)
Our annual conference for at least the last three years has adopted resolutions calling for an end to this war. The latest resolution was item #59 on this year’s agenda. Adopted by about an 80 percent vote in plenary – it put our conference on record as endorsing a national effort and movement to end the war. This effort is called: The Declaration of Peace.
So I make this recommendation to go with my third modest proposal: Prayerfully consider becoming part of the Declaration of Peace network.
There are brochures available on the literature table. They look like this [hold up and wave the declaration document].
One can sign up by mail or by logging onto the web-site, which I will say, but you don’t need to write it down because it’s on the brochure: www.declarationofpeace.org
Those with email may get on a Declaration list serve, or if you need to talk to someone you know about this, and not rely fully on email messages or phone calls to the declaration office you may always call me. I am in the journal and in the phone book.
The goal of the declaration is to take action which calls for the US to have a withdrawal plan by September 21, this year … which is International Peace Day. I support this goal fully. Still – after this war is ended – I think there is more to be done.
To talk about this I ask that we think back to September 11, 2001. We all remember that day. On that day and in the days following all the world – at least all in the world who care about international cooperation – were willing to stand side by side with the United States.
But that good will was squandered by a misguided, so-called war on terror … and most specifically squandered by the preemptive war on Iraq.
So this war on Iraq needs to come to a close – soon and very soon.
But then we … our national leaders … need to go to the United Nations with the attitude we should have taken right after 9 – 11. And that is to say to the international community that now we, the US, have a clearer understanding of how many in the world have long suffered from acts of terrorism.
And to say, and to promise, and to commit that we will be consistent and faithful partners in international efforts and work to bring wars to an end. And to say that we will step up to the plate and meet our fair share of the costs and the diplomacy and the negotiations.
No more reneging or holding back on UN dues … no more bullying behavior in the Security Council in order to get our way … no more speeches like the one on Weapons of Mass Destruction which do not bring truth to light, but deception. No more. From this day forward, we will be join hands with the world in the work of bringing an end to terror … and more broadly – in the work of peace.
This was my proposal immediately following 9 – 11. It was in my sermon the following Sunday. And, I sent it to the president … he ignored me. I think that then it would have been welcomed and embraced.
Still I think it should be offered and I dare to have hope that the world would be willing to join hand to hand, with the United States in the circle partnership.
I know it will require what we, as a nation to practice what we are not good at and that is humility … and we’ll need the stamina to bear the criticism that will come … to hear it and own it, not defensively but constructively. In short it is time for our nation to act toward the international community in a manner suggested by the prophet Micah: time for us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God … and to meet our neighbors with respect.
So remembering the words in our reading from James:
A harvest of righteousness – or justice … or, even, shalom – is sown in peace for those who make peace. (James 3:18)
Here are my three (well really 4) modest proposals:
1. GET TO KNOW JESUS BETTER. GO BACK INTO THE GOSPELS AND MEET HIM!
2. IF ONE IS A FOLLOWER, A DISCIPLE, OF JESUS THEN ONE IS CALLED BOTH TO PRAY FOR AND TO ACT FOR PEACE.
3. WORK AND PRAY, PRAY AND WORK, TO END THE WAR ON IRAQ.
4. CALL FOR OUR NATION – THIS COUNTRY WHERE OUR HEARTS ARE – TO LIVE OUT OUR INTERNATIONAL PARTNERSHIPS WITH INTEGRITY, IN HONEST, AND WITH APPROPRIATE HUMILITY.
I believe that shalom, salaam, peace is God’s will for creation … certainly for the human family living here on earth.
And, I believe that when Jesus said: Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called the children of God.
(Matthew 5:9) … that he was calling his disciples – us – to be peace makers.