Sermon: What Makes for Peace?

Scriptures: James 3: 13-18; Mark 9:30-37

Preached: Sept. 19, 2021 at NPC by Rev. Merritt N. Schatz and friends

 

         The beauty of God’s creation can be awesome [picture of universe], delightful in its simplicity [picture of flower], and charming in personal interactions [picture of children]. Unfortunately, the images that tend to linger in our minds are more often those that portray the brokenness of creation: war [Guernica]; anger [road rage];

violence [mob] ; and natural disasters [Oxford tornado ] . These images make us wonder, “Where is there peace in God’s world?”

What makes for peace? We have seen little peace in the recent months – or perhaps years. For some, there has been little peace for generations. Fear, anger, envy, and violence have been part of the human existence ever since sin broke God’s beautiful creation. We are more prone to see the devastations around us that threaten our unity, than to see the signs of hope. Whether human caused trauma of injustice and violence, or the natural disasters which occur with ever increasing frequency, we are likely to hide our eyes in despair, or seek refuge by blaming others, or condemning ourselves. When we do so, we miss the beauty of creation and the hope which God provides for forgiveness, renewal and restoration.

         Jesus tried to address this with his disciples. He tried to prepare them for the violence which was to come upon himself, and later upon the disciples. Jesus tried also to strengthen and encourage the disciples with the promise of the resurrection and hope in God’s power.

Picture this in your mind – Jesus and his disciples walking along the dusty roads of Galilee. They chose back roads because Jesus wanted to avoid the crowds. He knows that what he has to tell the disciples will be hard for them to hear. Jesus once again warns them that the Son of Man will be killed but will rise again from the dead. Heads bend toward the ground. Furtive looks pass between the disciples. Does anyone understand what Jesus is saying? Does anyone dare ask? The disciples miss Jesus’ promise of resurrection. Instead, they begin a conversation among themselves about who was closest to Jesus, who best understands Jesus, who is greatest among them.

         The group comes to Capernaum – a home base for them. They enter a house – probably the house of Peter’s mother-in-law. There Jesus asks them what they were talking about on the road. Shamed faces stare silently at Jesus. Jesus knows. Jesus always knows.

         Jesus sits down and gathers his loyal followers. “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Then Jesus provides a visual illustration: a little child of the household. [picture of little child]  Jesus gathers the child in his arms and declares, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” This, Jesus is saying, is how you work for peace in the world – and among yourselves. Not by trying to be the greatest, but by caring for one another and for the world as you would care for a beloved child.

         James offers a similar message to the churches to whom he is writing – and to us. He says, ‘You all are so spending your time trying to prove who is the wisest among you – who is the best, the greatest. [man throwing money] Stop it! Listen to Jesus’ teachings. Show your wisdom and understanding through your humility. Stop being envious and seeking ambition. Do not boast about how great you are, how much you have done, how wealthy or influential you are. Do not deny the truth of how you live your life, how you may have gained your wealth or influence. Such denial of reality leads to every evil practice. Wisdom, real wisdom that come from God, cares for peace and is considerate of others, full of mercy and loving acts, impartial and sincere.’ Then James adds this promise: Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. Peace comes from God, he is saying,[picture of helping – Habitat & Carter]. Those who serve God through working for justice and peace will be working alongside God, and in accordance with God’s will.

         [picture of agonizing Jesus on cross] From the cross a bedraggled, scarred, and torn Jesus Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This prayer was on behalf of those who had mocked Jesus, betrayed him, crucified him. The prayer was for those who stayed silent as the violence and injustice against him was carried out. The prayer was for those who had lied about Jesus in court. The prayer convicts all, including all of us, yet this prayer of Jesus also tells us of Christ’s grace.

         Even when in excruciating pain, Jesus reflects the love of God which does not desire to impose hatred in the hearts of creation – not toward other people, and not toward ourselves. God wants us to look at ourselves with truth, not denying the truth of our own sinfulness or that of our ancestors, but facing that truth with the confident knowledge that we can confess these sins, that God will forgive and transform us into new creations. We can again be like little children, learning new ways of being God’s community together.

         Why are so many of us fearful of facing the truth of our history? Do we imagine that if we refuse to learn the truth of our history – that part of our history which for generations was not in the books we read at school – that we can make this unrecognized history simply not real? To learn about the atrocities of the past is not re-writing history. History that does not include the more atrocious aspects, the less savory or honorable parts, is not true history. The Bible itself is an example of wholistic history. It is extraordinary in its consistent revelation of the sins and misdeeds of God’s chosen people and God’s chosen servants!

Unearthing, revealing, the reality of our complex, and often extremely violent history which existed, and exists, alongside high-minded and just principles unevenly applied, is the only way we can move toward peace. Following Christ’s teaching, we must look inside ourselves and our communities without turning hatred upon ourselves or one another. We cannot deny the truth and continue to insist on sanctifying our ancestors as if they were perfect. We cannot find our self-esteem by ignoring the faults and sins of those who have gone before us and by which we have profited.

[picture of slavery] We can no longer deny the trauma which was inflicted

 

upon African Americans as slaves or as freed people denied basic

rights. [Trail of Tears] We cannot deny the trauma inflicted on indigenous persons and tribes who were stripped of their land, their culture, even their families.

[Civil Rights picture] We cannot deny the continuing effects of these earlier traumas on persons today. These were shameful acts. Continual denial of this truth and perpetuating the myths that were created to justify them, create holes in our own souls, and in our communities which foster hatred and shatter chances for peace. As Jesus and James say to us: ‘Face the truth. Hear the whole of what we are saying. We are not trying to shame you into self-hatred. Hear that death does not prevail. The Son of Man rises again after three days. The peacemakers who sow peace will reap righteousness! Make peace in your own hearts. Make peace in the world.’Know the joy for resurrected life!

[Welsh/Birmingham picturebirmingham stained glass] Look again at the picture on the front of the bulletin, or on the projection. The story behind this special stained glass window is extraordinary and powerful.

On Sunday, September 15, 1963, a bomb ripped through the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Racists had planted this bomb knowing that people, including children, would be in the building. They wanted to stop a movement that was calling out the injustices in this country. [picture of girls] They killed four little girls: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair. It was decades before some of the perpetrators of these horrendous murders were brought to justice.

[picture of Welsh/Birmingham] It was not nearly as long for John Petts, a renowned stained glass artist, to spring into action. He contacted a Welsh newspaper to begin a campaign to raise funds to replace the stained glass window of the church which had been shattered in the bombing. It was to be a gift to the congregation from the people of Wales. So many people responded that they quickly had the funds to create the window. Petts flew to Birmingham to discuss with the church leadership what the window should depict. The window which had been smashed had the typical picture of Jesus of the time – an Anglo-Saxon image of Christ on the cross. In consultation with the church, Petts conceived a more contemporary design – one which would portray an African Christ upon a cross more suggested than clearly expressed. Christ’s hands reach out in ways that can suggest embracing the world, a blessing upon the peoples, or, as the artist Petts himself interpreted, “the right hand presses against the frame, pushing out hatred and injustice, while the open left hand reaches out with an offer of forgiveness.” The Biblical quote in the window says simply, “You did it to me.” David Potts, the author of the article on a Godspace post on Facebook, notes that we can read in this shortened version of a Matthew 25 verse a reference both to the hateful act against the church as an act against Christ himself, but also a sign of hope as the gift from the people of Wales is also a gift for Christ as noted at the very base of the picture. (Godspace post on Facebook, August 3, 2021.

God’s action in Christ is the reconciling act of a loving God who is pushing against the hatred and separation caused by sin. God calls us to work for peace – within our own hearts and in our communities. God has promised that the day will come when the lion shall lie down with the lamb. When peoples of all nations shall come together for peace as we see the image of God in all sorts of people. Let us open our hearts to let God root out all hatred, envy, self-justification. Our charge as Christians then is to work for God’s peace by pushing out hatred and pronouncing the forgiveness that God offers to all in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

 

        

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