Matthew 5, excerpts
Today is a day we have named, “Veteran’s Day.” It commemorates the armistice of World War 1, which ended one hundred years ago today, one hundred years ago this hour. When it ended, it was named, ‘the war to end all wars.’ No one could imagine a human being, or a human nation ever entering such a blood bath again.
But just 21 years later – less than a generation – when most of those living still remembered the horrors of the first war – World War part 2 began. So much analysis has gone into how and why this could happen. Many theories. One reality. The world entered again into a war which engaged most of the northern hemisphere, and impacted the entire world.
Hearts yearned for peace, but war is what came. ‘Never again,’ became ‘one more time.’ And World War part two did not end war either. If you look around our world it would seem that warfare is a popular pastime. Now when we look back a hundred years to the end of war, the war to end all wars, we know that we were deluded. Our human hopes were dashed again. What drives us to this?
Does the human penchant for violence bring us to despair? Honestly…, sometimes it does.
As Christians, we yearn for the day when all people will serve with the Prince of Peace. We don’t see it around the corner. In fact, it would seem that the world is devolving into violence everywhere. So, do we give up? Join the violence? Carry a gun? A knife? A baseball bat?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”
We protest, ‘The enemy is growing so strong. We have to protect ourselves.’ But Jesus says, “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 your Father in heaven.” And, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”
This may just be one of the most difficult teachings of Jesus. We love to hear about grace, healing, the Holy Spirit’s power, that God is LOVE. All true! And this is all just as true for our enemies as for us.
As I was growing up, Veteran’s Day didn’t mean much to me. I didn’t know any veterans. The only people I knew who served during war times were conscientious objectors and those involved in Mennonite Voluntary Service. The commitment to nonviolence did not negate the obligation to serve their country. The historic peace churches negotiated with the United States government to develop a system where the young people would serve their country for two years, but in non-combatant roles. Serving in peace. Striving for reconciliation.
My uncle did voluntary service. My grandmother was cook and housekeeper for the house where volunteers lived in our community. My grandfather farmed for his Japanese neighbors while they were in the internment camps, so that they could come back to vineyards which were alive and well.
These were the ways I knew about serving my country.
When I came to Mt. Tabor, it was a big adjustment. The wars, especially WWI and WWII shaped the life of this congregation. Many of the church couples met through the USO in Portland, and continued to participate in social activities with fellow veterans.
But warfare is not the only kind of violence peacemakers are called to dispel. While I was distant from the violence of war, our community was steeped in a different kind of violence. My tradition got focused on the details of nonviolence and lost the big picture of peacemaking. My experience of community was, sadly, full the emotional violence of bullying. The cut of words can be as violent as sticks and stones.
All this to say that I have some wonderful models in my life and some horrible wounds that are just below the surface.
The war to end all wars is the one we fight in our souls.
Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jewish woman, who was passionate about helping people, even at the risk of her own life. She served those who were being deported, until her permission was suddenly revoked and she herself was deported and sent to Auschwitz, where she died in 1943. Her diaries include many colorful, passionate conversations with God. But she did not blame or reject God. She saw instead that she had the privilege of action. “…We must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last,” she wrote to God. To us, she advises: “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.” [Etty Hillesum’s Diary, p. 218]
When there is peace in us, we don’t need violence.
Eugene Peterson, whose works we are remembering since his death just a few weeks ago, wrote a book he titled, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. The title alone gives us a perspective on peacemaking. It isn’t simple. It won’t come in a flash. It will cost something. Even when it comes to peacemaking, we want to get the right formula, apply it and snap our fingers, zap! Peace! But it is a long, slow, obedience to the Prince of Peace. Jesus did not see peace come in his lifetime. He saw, instead, growing violence and death. But he didn’t give up.
“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). Peace is centered in the heart, the gift of God, like Hillesum discovered, too.
Peacemaking will involve a long slow intention to follow Jesus. To live Jesus’ way, even when friends, neighbors and politics say it is impossible, foolish. Never give up, never give up, never give up – hope. The more peace we have in ourselves, the more peace there will be in the world. Choose peace. Peace may never win, but we know that violence can never be joined. So be it.
Peacemaking is perhaps more than anything else a choice that stems from love. Love not just for those who love us, but for enemies, and those faceless, unknown ones half-way around the world. Love for all the created ones like us who are made by our One Creator. Make room for peace.
In 1980, the Presbyterian Church (USA) adopted a commitment to peacemaking, “Peacemaking, the Believer’s Calling.” In 2016, when the General Assembly met in Portland, they adopted five affirmations which guide our peacemaking presence in the world. (There are copies for you on the back table.)
First, we affirm that peacemaking is essential to our faith. Essential.
Second, we confess that we have sinned by participating in acts of violence – either directly or indirectly. We hope for peace, and we participate in violence, or things which make for violence. Until Jesus comes, our work for him will not be pure. But we do it anyway, in any way we can.
Third, we follow Jesus, Prince of Peace and Reconciler with the power of nonviolent love.
Fourth, we commit ourselves to learning and practicing nonviolent conflict resolution. And at the same time, promise to support veterans of war who suffer in body, mind and spirit, even as we work for the day when youth will no longer be called to fight.
And finally, we renounce violence as a means to further selfish national interests, to procure wealth, or to dominate others.
As followers of Abraham, Jesus, the Prophets and the Poets, we will look for the day when “we shall beat our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall we learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
One more peace story from Thich Nhat Hanh. Sister Tri Hai, a Vietnamese nun, was a peace activist. For her advocacy, she was arrested and put in prison.
During the day, the prison guards didn’t like her to sit in meditation. When they see someone sitting in a prison cell stable and calm, it feels a bit threatening. So she waited until the lights had gone out, and she would sit like a person who has freedom. In outer appearance she was caught in the prison. But inside she was completely free. When you sit like that, the walls are not there. You’re in touch with the whole universe. You have more freedom than people outside who are imprisoning themselves in their agitation.
Sister Tri Hai also practiced walking meditation in her prison cell. It was very small—after seven steps she had to turn around and come back. Sitting and walking mindfully gave her space inside. She taught other prisoners in her cell how to sit and how to breathe so they would suffer less. They were in a cold cell, but through their walking meditation, they were grounded in the solid beauty of the earth.
When we walk mindfully on the face of the earth, we are grounded in her generosity and we cannot help but be grateful. All of the earth’s qualities of patience, stability, creativity, love, and nondiscrimination are available to us when we walk reverently, aware of our connection. It is an act of peacemaking, absorbing peace from earth who embraces the whole circle of life.
This afternoon, or this week as weather permits, I invite us to visit one of the veteran remembrance sites – Willamette National Cemetery, the Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Washington Park, or some other sacred ground. Go to pray for peace. Walk on the soil, rocks and bricks, with peace in your heart, radiating through your feet. Step slowly. As you breathe out, send peace into the earth. Breathe in, receive peace from the earth. Remember today, with peace in your heart.
It may sound foolish, but I will say it anyway: may we never raise our hands in violence to another beloved of God. Amen.