Peace Sunday

Donna Joy

This has been quite the week.I don’t know about you, but for me, it feels somewhat overwhelming as I continue to process the news from earlier this week with the U.S. election – along with the news of the death of Leonard Cohen – and, of course, our Remembrance Day observances on Friday. Throughout this country and beyond, and certainly for my family in very personal ways, on Remembrance Day, we remember times of war – wars of yesterday, wars of today, and sadly, wars that are yet to come; we remember those who have sacrificed their well being – and often their very lives so that others may enjoy the freedom that is part of God’s plan; we remember the families who grieve the injuries and often the deaths of their loved ones; we remember courageous people such as, firefighters, Search and Rescue Professionals who risk their own safety so that others may live.

And this week, in particular, even though I – along with my whole family – devoted November 11th to this task of remembering, admittedly, other events of the week have also consumed much of our attention. Often throughout this past week I have read articles which speak of a kind of helpless/hopeless sense of despair. And, to be perfectly honest, I too have had moments when I have allowed this sense of hopelessness to seep into my thoughts and my dreams for the future. At the same time, though, I know that as a people of faith, we are called to live in hope; we are called to live according to the promise that as WE are part of God’s creation and plans for the future, WE are called to be the very channels through which God’s plans for peace and justice are made known.

Christopher Bryant who prior to his death in 1985 was a member of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, said, “God is to be understood as moving us not as an external force from without, but as a sustaining strength from within. God dwells in the center of every person an unseen, largely unknown Strength and Wisdom, moving them to be human, to grow and to expand their humanity to the utmost of its capacity. Again, we are the channels through which this gift of God's strength and wisdom is to be made visible in the church and beyond.

Leonard Cohen identified this in his usual profound way, when he wrote...

     Ring the bells that still can ring
     Forget your perfect offering
     There is a crack in everything
     That's how the light gets in...

He once explained the meaning of these words as he said that ‘to ring the bells that still can ring’ is to speak out and act out against those things that are unjust and unfair. In other words, dare to be outraged, and channel that outrage by speaking and acting out. He said that no matter how dismal any situation may be, we all must fulfill our responsibility to BE the voice that rings the bells of justice, fairness, and peace.

Leonard Cohen said, “Forget your perfect offering...” The solution is not found in perfection – not in the place where you work, or your marriage, or your country, or your church, or anywhere. (As Archbishop Walter Jones once said to me after he had spilled an entire chalice of consecrated wine, “Nothing this side of heaven will ever be perfect.) So, forget perfection, and be a channel through which God’s light shines through the imperfection.

Leonard Cohen went on to say that within all the imperfections of the world, there are cracks, and it is through these cracks where the light gets – enters – in. He said, “That is where the resurrection is to be found... Finally, he said, the light can enter in, only “...with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things – identifying the cracks... (from Diamonds in the Line)

So, this past week, for those who have experienced deep and profound disappointment with the results of the American election, we have (along with millions of Americans) identified huge cracks through which the light is required to shine. Although many of the new President elect’s supporters may have been drawn to him because (for them) he represents a way out of the perceived usual status quo, no matter how that may wish to be justified, voters were prepared to turn a blind eye – overlook - his overt comments that indicate a deeply rooted racism, sexism, self promotion...

I have read numerous articles responding to the outcome of this election in ways that perpetuate this sense of hatred and despair. I encourage each of us to avoid this response. What is it Michelle Obama has said? (Yes! When they go low; we go high.) This is one significant way in which the light may shine through the cracks.

So, it is with all this in mind that I turn to our readings this morning, and in particular, our reading from the Prophet Micah.

Micah is one of the most far-sighted prophets. He sees far beyond the current terrifying, unjust, disparaging state of affairs... he sees well beyond this and toward a time where justice and peace will prevail. Living in Judah at the same time as Isaiah, Micah foresees the destruction of both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. And yet, beyond the judgment and suffering that is coming to God’s people, Micah predicts a new and everlasting kingdom of peace. And, furthermore, this will be the universal reign of God’s Messiah.

Prior to this morning’s reading, Micah has launched a detailed attack on people who have been deceitful in the ways they have been seizing land... perhaps in our own time and context Micah may be referring to those who excel in real estate ventures through the misfortune of others... Micah sees this as an abuse of the Promised Land, which was carefully allocated so that EVERYONE could share it. Now, apparently, God is planning to outwit those who are grabbing the land in deceitful ways, and give away all their gains.

Perhaps, most importantly in the midst of such corruption and despair, God will not leave his people leaderless and defenseless. God – him or herself – will be the shepherd who gathers the survivors after the years of destruction. He will break open the gates of their Babylonian prison, and lead them out to freedom.

And, again, just prior to this morning’s reading from Micah... particularly interesting at this moment in history, Micah accuses those in government of behaving badly. He suggests that the very leaders who should be establishing a good and just society are attacking it and tearing it apart. He also challenges those he perceives as false prophets, who lack the necessary courage to ring the bells of alarm... Micah, on the other hand, is in a strong position, full of the Spirit of God, and able to deliver a true and clear message.

I believe that God was using Micah to be the light that was able to shine through the cracks of such corruption and despair. His message of warning, along with his message of hope was the very light of God in the midst of all that corruption and deceit. This leads us to this morning’s passage, which speaks specifically of God’s future plans, and this is where things get exciting.

Here Micah looks ahead to a golden age for Jerusalem, when the terrors of the siege and destruction are long past; the temple is rebuilt; and God’s mountain is raised high above all the mountains of the world. In this vision of the future the good government of God will lead to peace, and the weapons of war – which are designed to kill - will be turned into agricultural implements for the purpose of life and growth. What exactly might this vision look like? How, and when, exactly may it come into being? Well, these details are certainly open to discussion...

Suffice it to say, though, that this is a message of hope... And, perhaps most importantly, a message of hope which challenges the people to become the channels through which this vision may come into being. This is a message that requires the cooperation of those who are hearing Micah’s prophetic message. Peace begins with each individual allowing God’s peace to transform their individual lives, and through the life and work of those individuals that peace then transforms our governments, our schools, our communities, our churches. For those who are deeply troubled over the results of the U.S. election this past week, Donald Trump is not actually the problem; no, he is simply a symptom – an outward and visible sign – of the individuals who supported him. As with the context in which Micah offered a prophetic message and voice, there are cracks in the systems of our time, and as with Micah, WE are called to become the light that is able to shine through those cracks.

As Christians, we believe that this vision has been fulfilled in Jesus. This morning’s reading from John’s Gospel includes the final words of Jesus’ farewell message to his disciples. Of course, they cannot possibly understand the magnitude of what he is saying to them. But his concluding words here are critical, where he says, “Take courage; I have conquered the world.” Indeed, on the cross, and through the resurrection in that one brief and perfect moment in time, the dis-ease of the world was defeated. The challenge for those first disciples, the challenge for Jesus’ followers throughout the past two centuries, and the challenge for us today, is how to understand the seemingly grave imperfections of this world in which we live in contrast with the promise of love, justice, and peace that God has fulfilled in Jesus. And here’s the thing... We – as Jesus’ followers – are given the responsibility to be channels through which his love is made known throughout the church and the world in which we live. We have been given a job to do. How we live. How we love. How we vote. How we forgive. All these decisions we make throughout the course of our lives are opportunities to perpetuate the selfless, sacrificial love make known through Jesus on the cross, and made perfect through his resurrection.

Stanley Hauerwas, an American, and highly influential theologian of our time, said in a sermon the day after the U.S. election, that followers of Jesus – each and every one of us – are to be channels through which this challenge to those in power must continue. He said that if we want to speak in the language of an election, “Jesus has elected us to be that voice that challenges the injustices of our church and our world.” In the words of Leonard Cohen, we are to BE those bells that ring, allowing the light to shine through the cracks.

     Ring the bells that still can ring
     Forget your perfect offering
     There is a crack in everything
     That's how the light gets in...