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January 1st marks the expiration of the old and the beginning of things anew. If we’ve had a particularly rough year we can’t wait for January 1st to get here as if the changing of the date on the calendar is going to make all of our troubles disappear, am I right? Nonetheless each New Year we set goals, and make resolutions and we set out on a mission to make this year better than the previous. So in typical New Year’s fashion I too set out on a mission. January 1st I boarded a plane to the holy land to join 15 other young adult leaders on a mission: a mission of accompaniment, advocacy, and awareness, the key tenants of the ELCA’s Peace not Walls Campaign. Now as a person of faith, visiting the holy sites was a significant spiritual experience for me. So this morning’s gospel is especially personal for me because just short of a month ago I stood on the mount of beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee where Jesus preached “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9 KJV)” Blessed are those who build peace…not walls.
So this morning it’s within that spirit that i greet you…in the spirit of God’s peace…not walls. Peace…not walls. But what types of walls are we talking about? The Great Wall of China that can be seen from space? Or is it a memorial wall like the one in DC dedicated to Vietnam veterans? Maybe we’re referring to a wall of prayers such as the Western wall of the 2nd temple in Jerusalem, also known as the whaling wall. Or the wall in Seattle full of sticky poly-isobutylene… The Chewing gum wall. We might even be talking about a wall of tribute like the Lennon wall in Prague inspired by the late member of the beetles, John Lennon. It could be the sea wall in Galveston, that separates the Gulf of Mexico from the shore or the Dutch named “de waal strat” better known as Wall Street, a street that got its name from the Dutch erected 12ft wall that once ran along side it. There are many types of walls ya’ll but WHAT type of wall do I speak of? This morning i want to lift up or tear down rather a wall in the holy land erected by the Israeli government that they refer to as the security wall, but Palestinians would probably call it something else. You see in there eyes it’s a wall not about security or safety but about separation and control. A separation wall. And i must say what my eyes have seen they cannot unsee, and I’d have to agree with the people of Palestine. Earlier this week I read a quote on fb from Erik Backus of the metro DC synod, he said, “Safety is not about building walls. Safety is about creating relationships that don’t require walls.” My brothers and sisters in Christ this morning I want to deal with the issue of building walls and discuss the steps we must take in order to create relationships that don’t require them. And I’d like to do so through the lens of the Israel/Palestine conflict. Is that alright with yall?
Now before I begin allow me to offer this disclaimer: I am not Israeli nor am I Palestinian. I am not Jewish nor am I Muslim. I cannot identify with either of these particular contexts ethnically, religiously, or culturally. My context is that of a young, Christian, African American male. However I can identify with oppression. I can relate to that. And I will always stand up for and stand with the oppressed. But identifying with the oppressed does not simultaneously make me anti-oppressor; just anti-oppression. Just pro-justice. And surely I tell you, what my eyes have seen, they cannot un-see. There’s apartheid in the Holy Land. But how has it come to that? Well we’ve got to go as far back as 4000 years to the book of Genesis. So I invite you to take a brief stroll through history with me, beginning with Abram or Abraham descendant of Noah.
God calls Abraham into Canaan which is modern day Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Syria territories, which God promised to Abraham’s descendants. Abraham essentially was the first Hebrew, and Jewish people today consider him to be their patriarch through Isaac, the son born to him and Sarah in their old age. It’s important to note that before Isaac came Ishmael, son born to Abraham and Hagar, through whom many Arabs are believed to be descendants of and through whom the Islamic faith was born. However Ishmael was not the heir promised to Abraham by God, Isaac was. So Isaac marries Rebekah and they have twin boys Esau (Eesaw) and Jacob. Jacob was a player and married 2 women: Rachel and Leah and between them they had 12 sons, but not before Jacob would wrestle with God and be renamed Israel. Now Israel’s 12 sons represent the 12 tribes of Israel, from which the Israelites would spawn. One of those tribes was Joseph and his two sons. Joseph had favor with his father which his 11 brothers envied. So in an act of jealously, Joseph’s brothers sold him into Egyptian slavery where he would eventually rise to power as 2nd in command to pharaoh. With family like that who needs enemies. You know some of ya’ll have some family members who’d sell you into slavery RIGHT NOW if they got the chance. I’m just being honest. But look at where it got the Israelites, you see famine came over the holy land and Jacob and all his descendants fled to Egypt where Hebrews themselves would become slaves. Until, Moses leads the exodus of Hebrew people out of Egypt and eventually into the Promised Land. Fast forward about 700 years when David becomes king over areas of the holy land and conquers Jerusalem making it the capital. Over about the next 1000 years Israel and Judah and all its surrounding territories change hands more times than worth counting. Then 1 BCE, in walks Jesus and Christianity is born. And soon after Christianity, Islam follows. All that means is now there are even more people to fight over stuff. And they would do so from the time of Jesus until 1917 when Britain takes Jerusalem and its surrounding areas from the Ottomans after the “quest for a Jewish State” was launched almost 20yrs prior. Uganda was considered among other places but the consensus was Palestine. So Palestine would be under British mandate until 1948, a time span during which the UK foreign secretary effectively declares the establishment of a Jewish state in the region, post holocaust. Of course this didn’t sit well with the native Palestinians who were there as Canaanites even before the genesis of the Israelites, so they unsuccessfully revolted against British forces. In 1948 the British withdraw from the region, Israel declares its independence, and wide spread fighting ensues between Israeli’s and Palestinians. And yall, they’ve been in conflict ever since. Only now, Israel is almost in complete control over the region as the population of Israeli’s has exceeded Palestinians, and as the state of Israel has gained support from power houses like the United States and others. So where does all this history leave us? Where does it leave them?
You know, we walked through that historical context because frankly, history is important. If you don’t know your history you are destined to repeat it. You’ve got to know where you’ve been to know where you are going. You know SANKOFA. My time spent learning more about the Israeli narrative revealed to me that there may be no other group of people who allow their past to inform their present, more than the people of Israel. Take Masada for example, a BC fortress where almost 1000 Jewish rebels and their families are said to have committed suicide in lieu of impending enslavement by the mightier Romans. to this day, 2000 yrs later the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) go to Masada before beginning their service to pledge their allegiance to Israel in honor of those fallen rebels. Then there is Yad Vashem a living memorial to the victims of the holocaust. Being there was like reliving fascist Germany between the years of 1933-45 from start to finish. 2/3 to half of an entire race of people exterminated. All I could do to even begin to relate to the pain felt by such genocide was draw parallels to slavery. But even that wasn’t enough. The holocaust was that bad. Separation from their families, their land, their faith. Abducted from their homes and thrown onto the streets and into concentration camps. Deprived of work, and even denied of services from non-Jews. Looted of all their possessions by Nazis. Erased. And for what? Because one anti-Semite convinced an entire country that Jews were parasites that needed to be exterminated. And Hitler…is he the worst person ever??? Just one question that raced through my mind. I had many others: If I felt this angry how did Jewish people feel?? Majority of the visitors at the museum that day were children of this unfortunate history. How healthy is it to constantly be reminded of such atrocities? At what point does remembrance and memorial cease to honor history, and begin to perpetuate it? Then I realized I was in the twilight zone. I’d been here before. The day before in fact. I’d heard similar stories the day before in Palestinian Hebron. And the week before in Aida Palestinian refugee camp. Stories of Palestinians separated from their land and other Palestinians by a concrete wall. Palestinians pulled out of their homes without explanation. Homes demolished. Refugee camps erected. Palestinians denied education, employment, and social services like access to water simply because they are Palestinian. I was angry then by the oppression I was witnessing the way I at the museum by the horror of the holocaust. I remember thinking “you’ve got to be a deeply hurt people to oppress others in this way.” It was clear, the hurt was in the history of the Jews, and hurt people hurt people. James Baldwin once said, “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” The people of Israel are trapped in their history, and their history in them, and as a result a new reign of oppression lives. Now I’m not comparing the holocaust to the apartheid taking place in the Holy Land today. Nothing compares. But I’m just saying. The similarity in some of the stories I heard at Yad Vashem and some of the things I saw in Palestine, were startling. Because Hurt people hurt people, yall. After being released from prison Nelson Mandela said, “As I walked out the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Likewise my beautiful black brothers and sisters, I say to you on this first Sunday in black history month, if we continue to carry around the hurt of slavery, constantly reliving the event, allowing it to negatively inform our present, then we too continue to be enslaved. It isn’t until we free ourselves of not only the physical hurt of our unfortunate pasts, but the mental and emotional health as well, that we can truly declare our freedom. So today I pray not for the liberation of the Palestinian people, instead I pray for the liberation of the people of Israel, for their liberations are bound. When we think about oppression, we often only think of the oppressed as being stuck. But the truth is, both are. One of the other young adult leaders put it to me this way, the oppressed is laying on the ground unable to move because the oppressor’s foot is holding them down. But the reality is, both are stuck. The oppressed can’t get up, and the oppressor can’t let up. In order to end oppression, both the oppressed and the oppressor have to be liberated. Today, let us pray for the healing of the historical hurt of the Israeli people and hurt people all over the world; by doing so we’ll be simultaneously liberating those held down by oppression.
But how do we initiate such a healing process? How do we begin to liberate those shackled by the chains of oppression? How do we tear down the walls of separation present within the body of Christ so that we might begin to enjoy safe space by creating relationships that don’t require walls? Oh I thought you’d never ask…3 steps and then I’ll take my seat.
Step 1. Recognition that sometimes we as people of faith, allow our beliefs to tear down the kingdom of God and build up walls of separation, instead of the other way around. While in Jerusalem our group received a tour from Danny Seidemann, a secular Jew who is considered to be the foremost expert on contemporary Jerusalem, and he said this, “Almost every enemy of peace are people of faith who have weaponized their religion.” Have you ever weaponized your religion?? Have you ever used your faith as a weapon against another one of God’s children? Go ahead, I bet you don’t have to think that far back to find an answer. Because of the HIV and AIDS work I do in faith communities, I have to address sex and sexuality often. And the most common question I receive is, “as a believer, how do you feel about homosexuality?” And my answer is always unequivocally that I try not to use my faith as a weapon to break people down, but rather as medicine to build them up. I try to love them in spite of their circumstance and my perspective, and view their situation from the perspective of Christ which comes from a place of love. Romans 12:9-16 puts it even better:
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited.
We when recognize that sometimes we as people of faith are our own worst enemies….when we begin to use our faith to build up the kingdom and tear down the walls of oppression, then and only then will liberation take place.
Step 2. Acknowledgement that the viability of the body of Christ is bound up in all of us. Not the haves, and the have nots, but the we all we gots, I got you, and you got me. One of my theologian friends reminded me that the question of, “Am I my brother’s keeper” is said to be the first question of God in all scripture with the rest of the bible being an attempt to answer that question. Us Christians go out and do a lot of mission for the “needy”, and when we are done the needy go back to being needy and we go back to being comfortable. Christians: saving one wretch at a time. Lilla Watson said and I quote, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” And yet again, Romans 12 shows us the way,
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
But remember, “So in Christ we form one body, and each member belongs to all others.” So, are you your brother’s keeper?
Step 3. If we are to begin to liberate by tearing down the walls of separation we must be willing to recognize that sometimes we as people of faith are the enemies of peace. We must acknowledge that the viability of the body of Christ is bound up in all of us and finally, we must not only be willing to forgive and be forgiven, but we must actively seek reconciliation. While in the holy land we met with an organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis who’ve lost loved ones in the conflict. And we’d asked a Jewish father who lost his daughter to a suicide bomber if he had forgiven the assailant. He said that forgiveness alone is not enough to bring peace to the situation. But forgiveness plus reconciliation is the right step to move in the right direction. You see forgiveness only requires one side. Think about it. How many people have you forgiven in your lifetime that don’t even know you’ve forgiven them? Sure it make you feel good to release that burden but if we are to continue with the theme of bound liberation, then complete freedom only comes when one side can say “I’m sorry” and the other side can say “I accept your apology AND I forgive you” AND then that person must allow themselves to release the guilt that they’ve been carrying by accepting your forgiveness.” That’s bound liberation and that’s how we begin to create relationships that don’t require walls.
I leave you with this: although I was in the holy land, my primary reason for being there was not to visit the holy sites. It was to accompany the oppressed people in the region, particularly Palestinians, to be an advocate for peace and justice, to bring awareness to the situation in the holy land and to prepare myself to co-lead a group back to the holy land to do the same, creating a critical mass of peacemakers and justice seekers here in the states. The holy sites were an added bonus and welcomed balance to an otherwise stressful yet enlightening experience. But far to often do we as tourists travel to places, particularly the holy land, just to see the dead stones. The rock devoted to the birth place of Jesus. Dead stone. The rock Jesus fed the 5 thousand upon. Dead Stone. The rock upon which Jesus builds the church of the primacy of Peter. Dead stone. The rocky remains of Golgotha where Jesus was crucified and the stone slate they laid his body on before placing him in the tomb. Dead stones. The Dome of the Rock. Dead stone. All dead stones. While those things were special for me as a person of faith, my most special moments came from the living stones. Drinking tea in community with refugees and Bedouins. Living stones. Worshiping in many languages, participating in many cultures, and eating native foods. Living stones. Sharing in the healing of critically ill individuals at a hospital that serves those that others will not. Living stones. There was even life in the hopeful art expressed on the stone separation wall. Living stones. Palestinian Christian Elias Chacour asks in his book Blood Brothers, “did you come for the shrines–or do you want to learn about the living stones?” So while it’s okay to go see the dead stones when we travel, also be mindful of the living ones, for they might have a far greater story to tell. A story for you to tell, even. Living stones.
The WCC assembled for the 10th time since its establishment in 1948. 5000+ people representing over 560 million Christians, 110 countries and 345 member churches descended upon the Republic of Korea with one unifying call to Christ, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace.” Day in and day out I heard these outcries from various contexts around the world pleading to God for justice, peace and reconciliation and I wrestled with this prayer…I wrestled with it because I’m not sure I know what such a journey looks like with so much injustice and unrest around me? You see Guns n Roses is not just a rock band it’s a culture of violence at night and mourning in the morning, just send us a bouquet of roses for your condolences. The hunger games is not just a movie it’s more than 1 in 5 children here in America who don’t know where their next meal will come from. We are the world and heal the world are not just Michael Jackson greatest hits but manuscripts for care of God’s ailing creation, Mother Earth. So my brothers and sisters in Christ I don’t know what a journey for justice and peace looks like with so much injustice and unrest around me. Is justice and peace just around the corner or do I have to go through hell and high water to there? And why can’t I just use my GPS? Why do I have to follow God? You know we follow strangers on twitter and Instagram faithfully but have a hard time following God to church on Sunday morning. I’m just saying, Saints won’t you join me on this pilgrimage for justice and peace? And if you do I promise we can still use GPS: not Global Positioning System but God’s Positioning System.
And so if we are to ask God to guide us on this pilgrimage it’s probably a good idea to know what God’s position is on justice and peace before we embark upon this journey. And being the epidemiologist that I am, I researched some statistics; you know…numbers. A great muse once said men lie, women lie but numbers don’t. That’s from the prophet Jay Z. So let’s take justice first; the numbers say that the word justice or some synonym of justice is used 1,576 times in the bible, in 1,379 separate verses. That’s twice as many times as the words “love” or “heaven” are mentioned, and 7 times more often than the word “hell”. So if what the prophet Jay Z says is true…the statistics show justice to be pretty important to God. To go even further, the Jewish Prophet Micah writes in Micah 6:6-8:
6 With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly[a] with your God.
So even here, 7 centuries before God sent his only begotten Son to save us from ourselves, Micah suggests that God doesn’t want your offerings….he doesn’t need your first born child, all he requires of you is that you act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. This is our invitation Saints to follow God on this leg of our journey, a pilgrimage for justice. And our first stop, the marginalized.
One of the ecumenical conversations I contributed to during the WCC was about bonding with the marginalized for a just and inclusive church. But what does it mean to be a just and inclusive church??? Simply a church of and for the marginalized right? So who are the marginalized? By definition to marginalize is to treat a person, group, or concept as insignificant or peripheral. Suffice it to say to be marginalized is to not be in the center, to be on the outside, living on the margins. To be discriminated against on the basis of age, caste, class, ethnic and national identities, gender identity, physical, sensory or intellectual/ mental impairment, race, religion, and sexual orientation, and the list goes on and on and on. A just and inclusive church is essentially a church of and for the least of these. But isn’t that the original mandate of the Church? Wasn’t that the foundation of Jesus Christ’s ministry? To bring the good news that suffering and oppression could be brought to an end? So if our churches don’t seem to be inclusive it’s not because we haven’t arrived, it’s because we’ve deviated from the Church’s original mandate and now we’ve got to re-center our focus.
You know we all have an anatomical landmark called our center of gravity or, center of mass. Basically your center of gravity is where your body weight is most concentrated. So somewhere near our belly buttons usually. And men have a different centers of gravity from women for obvious reasons: women have….and men don’t. Women will be with child and men won’t. But never mind that the important thing to remember is that your center of gravity is aaaaalll about balance. Unless you are Michael Jackson in the smooth criminal video, if you lean over too far to any side, shifting the most concentrated area of your body mass off center…you will lose balance and you will fall. Our relationship with God, with us being the body of Christ is a lot like our relationship with gravity. Until God is placed back at the center of gravity of the Church…we as the body of Christ will forever be off balance, perpetually falling and failing to fulfill our mandate to minister to the marginalized.
But that’s not all…in order to truly be a just and inclusive church, a church of and for the marginalized we’ve got to realize that God at the center, pushes all of us to the margins. Okay some of y’all didn’t get that…okay, the laws of geometry say that there can only be one unique center to a circle. See with God at the center there’s no room for you or me or any fear monger or power structure to be anywhere but on the margins. A few of ya’ll still missed it… okay remember when we identified those most likely to be marginalized. And I know you were listening to that list like “oh well that’s not me…I run things around here.” But I guarantee you where you are at the center in one context, there is another where you are not. That’s why we’ve got to be careful with lists…when you start making them, you are bound to leave someone off of it that should be on it and sometimes that includes our disillusioned selves. I heard many a story these past few weeks of marginalized groups moving to the center within their own contexts. There’s a church in Canada where the majority of the congregation is educated, well to do same gender loving men and women. See they were tired of being persecuted by communities of faith about their sexual identities so they went and formed a safe space of their own. Problem with that is in doing so they’ve completely neglected the needs of other people in the margins. People who are illiterate, or hearing and visually impaired simply can’t have a meaningful worship experience because they weren’t thinking about “those people” when they set out to be a church inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgenders. Then there’s the Korean Presbyterian church founded by Koreans for Koreans in Japan. See you have to know the history of the Korean War to know that the Japanese were to Koreans what whites have been to blacks in this country. So the same way the black church was a house of refuge for African Americans, so is this church for Korean migrants in Japan. Only now the Korean Church is not welcoming to the Japanese who attempt to fellowship with them. The same can be seen in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where a historically oppressed Jewish people are now marginalizing the people of Palestine. It becomes a vicious cycle and the only way to avoid the perpetuity of marginalization is to stop thinking that we are at the center of anything and understand that when God is at the center of everything, we are all on the margins. God’s preferential option for the marginalized as witnessed in Jesus recognizes life in the margins as a testimony to the brokenness of the world, thus struggling against marginalization offers a testimony of hope for the promise of the fullness of life. As such the Church is called to witness through its struggles against forces of injustice and to be an instrument of God’s transformation (WCC EC 11 PGC 01.1).
Now all justice ain’t people justice…In fact eco-justice, that is ecological justice for God’s creation, is at the forefront of our discussion right now as we’ve witnessed the devastation in the Philippines. Anytime there is a loss of life it’s a tragedy and a reminder as to just how precious yet fleeting life can be. But when life is lost in the wake of natural disasters, I believe we miss an important lesson about the fragility of Mother Nature. It’s no coincidence that as consumerism and industrialism increase the occurrence of natural disasters have increased dramatically as well over the last few decades. Super storms are more frequent, temperatures more extreme, earthquakes more powerful than ever, and the level of CO2 and methane trapped in our atmosphere has reached critical levels, the highest it’s ever been.
And so what are the consequences? Is it the sacrifice of 4000 and counting Filipinos who were victims of the largest typhoon recorded in history? One can’t be sure, but what is certain is that the effects of global warming have resulted in rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers, heat waves and droughts, a loss of biodiversity, and a destruction of ecosystems. Global warming has even contributed to disease where temperature and precipitation changes have allowed disease carrying mosquitoes, ticks, and mice to thrive. Our ecological injustices have directly impacted our economic bottom line where restoration for devastated areas easily reaches into the hundreds of billions of dollars annually. It’s also no secret that land ripe with precious minerals and metals, fertile grounds, and healthy agriculture has been the fuel for war and conflict in many areas where natural resources are fiercely fought over because whoever controls the land controls the people. It’s possible that in our lifetime water could become the most important physical commodity ever; I dread the day they ring the opening bell on Wall Street and announce public trading H2O, of all things.
So again, as we pray to God to lead us on this leg of our pilgrimage for justice I think it’s fair to know just how important creation is to God, and what better place to reference than Genesis 1:1-31, 2:1-3. We all know it well, God created the heavens and the earth and all that dwelleth within it in 6 days and He rested on the 7th. I think we can all agree on that. But what we don’t seem to uplift often enough is that 5 outta those 6 days God spent creating earth! We only got one measly day. Now you don’t have to be a deep thinker to interpret that God spent more time and care into creating the earth because he knew it would be the earth that sustains us and not the other way around. But somehow in our self-centered ways we’ve made it all about us; consuming, consuming, consuming with little regard for what we can be doing to give back to the earth.
I was at the WCC to promote HIV and AIDS as a justice issue because that’s important to my context, whereas Christian representatives from the Middle East were there to seek justice for the persecution of religious minorities, but those participants from the pacific region, which includes the Philippines were there to bring awareness to climate change because that’s specific to their context. Not that we don’t have eco-justice concerns here in the states but our wealth allows us to ignore our problems because of our ability to do things like pump sand into beaches where shorelines have receded due to rising sea levels. My brothers and sisters in Christ there are people in other regions of the world that don’t have that luxury and I think it’s hi tide and time that we don’t wait until the next natural disaster to start paying attention to our poor stewardship of earth.
Which brings me to my final points and then I’ll think about taking my seat. The struggle for justice is a pre-condition for peace. And vice-versa we can say the struggle for peace is a pre-condition for justice. You see sometimes we confuse JUST PEACE, which is peace that is achieved WITH justice vs just PEACE, or peace that stands alone. I’ll give you an example, I had the opportunity to have an impromptu lunch with Bishop Wani of the South Sudan which many of you know is an area of great civil unrest. And he said to me that despite the war and violence that persists in the area, HIV justice is still the primary issue in sub-Sahara Africa, but that the war has been a distraction from the fact and until there is peace and resolution we won’t fully begin the healing of HIV and AIDS. Justice is pre-condition for peace, peace is a pre-condition for justice. But to be fair if we also look at the amount of times peace is mentioned in the bible, we find that it pales in comparison to the mention of justice, at only 501 times, nearly 1000 times less than justice appeared. However the times in which peace is mentioned it is mentioned definitely and emphatically.
17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
So here we have specific directions as to how to please God. It’s not as mundane and routine as eating and drinking, things that we do without thought, but rather we are to make EVERY effort, not a halfhearted effort, or at least I gave it a try…but EVERY effort to do what leads us to peace. And in return we inherit the kingdom, God’s favor, and approval by our peers. Now take a look at:
14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.
Short, sweet and to the point but very definitive that peace is not just something that you go looking for and then abandon once you have it in your sights. It might be altruistic and noble to say you seek peace but if you are not in hot pursuit of it you are missing the mark.
But I’m also interested in the first part of this Psalm, “Turn from evil and do good,” as a prerequisite to seeking peace. You know it’s real hard to be a peacemaker if we’re always hating on each other and being ugly towards each other. And those emotions and those feelings have the potential to manifest themselves into evil deeds and actions towards one another. So before we can even think about peace we’ve got to learn how to love each other. 3 points and I’m sitting down:
The weekend before I left for S. Korea I was in Atlanta for a wedding, and a friend who I went to high school with invited me to her church on Sunday. Now little did I know she attends a Church whose pastor I’m not a huge fan of. But I said it’s cool God can bless you with a word from just about anybody even this guy, and sure enough once I got past him reminding us that he was keeping church short that morning because he had to get to the Falcons game, he blessed me with a word. He talked about how in the Old Testament, Levitical Law commanded that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then the Gospel according to John in the New Covenant says that at the last supper, Jesus gave a new commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.” See God knew that like many things in the old covenant, we weren’t going to be able to live up to the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, because a lot of us don’t even love ourselves. Saints in order for us to aggressively seek peace in the world and in others, we’ve got to first find peace within ourselves. Until then just love your neighbor as Christ loved you, because we know his love is an unconditional love that never waivers. The same needs to be true for our enemies as well. I saw a bumper sticker in Korea that read, “When God said love thy enemy, he probably meant don’t kill them.” And that resonates with me especially as I think about governments all over the world and ease in which they toy with the idea of war to resolve conflict. I hope that one day we will be able to resolve our issues in a more peaceful way that doesn’t attempt to resolve conflict with conflict. That’s point 1.
2nd point: During the opening ceremony at the WCC, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholmew I of Constantinople said, “There’s no comfortable way to sit on the cross.” I’d go even further to say that there’s no comfortable way to hang on the cross. If we are to pursue just peace as Jesus Christ did, we’ve also got to be willing to die unto ourselves as Christ did, so that others might experience God’s righteousness, joy, and peace on earth. So if you are making every effort to do what leads to peace….if you are not only seeking peace but pursuing it, your pilgrimage should not be a comfortable one, and if it is you ain’t doing it right, because there’s no comfortable way to hang from the cross.
And my 3rd and final point: If you’ve sought peace within yourself and love your neighbors and enemies as Jesus loves you, if you died unto yourself and have gone to the cross you know the path to just peace is an uncomfortable one, and last but not least you’ve got the wounds show it. After Christ’s crucifixion he resurrected from the dead and had to answer to his disciples; his faithful followers and subsequent deserters. And as he was judged they doubted it was him. And He said, “Behold, my hands and feet, that it is, I, Myself.” And if it were not for his wounds as a seal of his suffering, they might not believe it was him.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, one day we’ll leave this place and have to answer to a Most high God at the gates of His Kingdom. When you get there will God have to ask you how you spent your time on earth? Will he question you about whether or not you worshiped Christ or Caste? When you get to the pearly gates of heaven will you have to defend your pilgrimage of justice and peace or will he be able to identify you by your wounds when you extend your arms for a warm embrace, and he simply says, “Well done, well done, well done…your pilgrimage for justice and peace is complete.” Let us pray the closing prayer of the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches:
O God of life,
lead us to justice and peace,
that suffering people may discover hope;
the scarred world find healing;
and divided churches become visibly one,
through the one who prayed for us,
and in whom we are one Body,
your Son, Jesus Christ,
who with you and the Holy Spirit,
is worthy to be praised, one God,
now and forever. Amen.