Text: Luke 19:41-42
“As he came near and saw the city, Jesus wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
And here we are in 2018, in the midst of increasing tensions between the leaders of our nation and North Korea, each threatening the other with nuclear war, and we hear these words from Jesus, “If you, even you, had only recognized…the things that make for peace.” It was just last August that the U.S. Region of the Columbans, in dialogue with their fellow missionaries in South Korea, issued a statement of deep concern. It read, in part:
“We call on leaders of all nations, but particularly the United States, North Korea and South Korea to pursue all paths to peace and all channels of dialogue and inclusive negotiation. The fate of millions of lives, the environment, and world peace is at stake…we must not lose hope for the human family, and future generations of life on earth. Diplomacy has worked before with North Korea. It can again save lives and promote peace.”
Diplomacy has worked before, United States. Can we recognize the things that make for peace?
Thursday night I attended the Triangle Interfaith Alliance annual dinner at the Islamic Association of Raleigh along with several other Pullenites. When I arrived, I was informed that I would be sitting at the head table. This being so because I had helped secure the keynote speaker for the evening. Upon arriving at my table I sat down by a man named André. We introduced ourselves to one another followed by some idle chatter. It wasn’t too long before another friend walked up and said, “Oh, I am so glad you are meeting one another. Nancy, this is my Buddhist friend André. He teaches meditation in our prison system.” For the next twenty minutes as we waited on dinner to be served I learned more of André’s journey. A retired GED teacher, André has been teaching meditation in the prisons for the past ten years. Two years into his retirement calling, his son was murdered in a random act of violence. André shared with me that when his son was murdered that everyone assumed he would stop going to the prison to teach meditation to the prisoner’s—men on death row for murder, possibly the man who killed his son. But in a voice that can only be described as a wisdom voice André said to me, “How could I not keep going? In the aftermath of my son being murdered it was more important that I go. There had to be redemption. There had to be some peace.”
It is in those moments when we open our hearts to the possibility of our pain and woundedness being redeemed that we experience the thing that makes for peace. André, the Buddhist prison meditation teacher and father of a son murdered by senseless violence, recognized the things that make for peace.
“If you, even you, had recognized the things that make for peace.” This past week our church was home to twenty-five environmental activists from all over our nation. They were in Raleigh to protest the Atlantic Coast Pipeline—a 600 mile natural gas pipeline covering three states—West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina—and once in NC would run through eight counties: Robeson, Cumberland, Sampson, Johnston, Wilson, Nash, Halifax, and Northampton. These protestors, along with residents of these eight counties fear that the pipeline will endanger their health and property values, while the environmentalists say that methane released into the air by such natural gas pipelines potentially accelerates global warming. At the most basic level, the farmers worry about the gas leaking into their soil and water and the health effects of such potential, not to mention what it could do to their crops.
Out of 100 counties in NC, Robeson Co. is ranked 99 by per capita income. Northampton, 91. Halifax, 90. Sampson, 70. The ten poorest counties in our state include: Selma in Johnston Co. coming in at number 10; Fairmont and Maxton in Robeson Co. coming in at numbers 7 and 6; and Enfield, located in Halifax Co. is the poorest county in NC. You might ask why the pipeline is not running through Wake County or Orange County or Mecklenburg County—NC counties with the highest per capita income. If you ask that question, you are asking a peace question.
Our nation nor our world will know peace as long as progress is built on the backs of the poor and on the soft belly of our natural world. Our nation nor our world will know peace as long as our economy depends on the over-extraction and depletion of irreplaceable natural resources and the over-exertion and undervaluation of irrepressible human resources. We have to realize that peace making is about economic and environmental justice. To be peacemakers in the 21st century we have to understand the intersectionality between peace and environmental justice and economic justice.
Do we recognize the things that make for peace today?
On Tuesday night I gathered at a local brewpub with fifteen of our Pullen young adults for Theology on Tap. As always, I go prepared with a topic but first I ask if anyone has a topic they would like to discuss. On this day, one brave soul raised the issue of sexual consent. With the #MeToo Movement and new sexual assault allegations coming out in the news almost daily and certainly weekly how could we not discuss this topic. The question emerged and I am translating here, “Does Pullen teach a sexual ethic? And if so, what is it?” The conversation that followed was enlightening, diverse, honest, vulnerable, funny at times, and thoughtful. They dared me to preach on the topic this Sunday. Praise the Lord it was peace Sunday and I had an obligation to preach on peace.
But guess what? Peace intersects with this topic, too. How can we expect to live in peace with one another if we don’t know how to communicate with one another about the most intimate parts of our lives? How can we live in peace with one another if we don’t respect the sacredness of our bodies and our sexual relations with one another? How can we live in peace if we continue to perpetuate our cultural exaggerations of male and female that teach our boys to take what they want in order to be real men and our girls to place male pleasure over their own welfare in order to be socially desirable.
Do we recognize the things that make for peace?
Earlier on that same Tuesday, before Theology on Tap, I sat in a room with five rabbis, three Imams, and three Muslim leaders. This day, I was in the minority as the only Christian in the room. We were together to discuss a significant breach of trust between two of our communities. The conversation was intense. The tension in the room was palpable. I could feel my heart beating in my throat. And while my role was one of listener and bridge builder, I could feel the anxiety of my Muslim and Jewish brothers and sister. I sat in my seat thinking, “We are all friends. We have made a commitment to interfaith friendship and being allies to one another. And yet, peace feels distant.” We left that day with a resolve to meet again but the peace making we sought had to wait for another day.
Do we recognize the things that make for peace?
Here at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church over the last several weeks I have recognized some things that I believe make for peace. I recognize peace every time I walk by our chapel and see the Pullen meditation group gathered in their circle listening for the sacred within and the holy ordinary without. I recognize peace on Tuesday and Thursday’s when our Roundtable volunteers offer hospitality to our guests. I recognize peace when I walk into our youth room and children’s classrooms and I see Bryan and Tommy building community with our youth and among our children. I hear peace when our youth have open mike night and read of their poetry and other writings, freely expressing who they are and what they think and what they feel. I recognize peace when our choir sings one of their beautiful anthems for us in worship. I recognize peace each week in a weekly email that Steve Braun sends out to the group of Christian men who gather at the local mosque for prayers with their Muslim brothers. I recognize peace in our partnerships with Nicaragua and Cuba and the Republic of Georgia. Yesterday, I recognized peace in the faces of those who came here to be trained as sanctuary volunteers. These are the things that make for peace in 2018.
Scott Wright in an article for Sojourners writes this:
Every day that we look out on the world, we are overwhelmed by the immensity of human suffering. More people are displaced from their homes, crossing borders, and fleeing from the impact of extreme poverty, war, and climate-related disasters than at any time in recent human history. And these numbers are projected to as much as quadruple in the future.
Yet, we are reminded, invited, called to bear witness to the things that make for peace…demonstrating the mercy and compassion of Jesus for those who have fallen by the roadside, the primary victims of violence and war — and for those excluded by a global and domestic economy in which the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, and those persecuted on account of their race, ethnicity, or faith.
So where do we turn for hope?
[He writes] Peace and nonviolence are at the heart of the gospel. Significantly, the desire for peace and the commitment to work for peace through nonviolent means were deepened in the twentieth century, in the midst of terrible destruction and the horrors of two World Wars. The United Nations…was born of a desire “to save future generations from the scourge of war,” and a commitment “to promote a culture of peace.”
[Wright concludes:] Nearly 75 years after the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the non-nuclear nations of the world gathered at a historic meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in July. There, they signed a treaty calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons throughout the world. None of the nine nuclear nations signed. But the more than 122 nations that did were clear — in a nuclear exchange, there are no boundaries to the destructive impact and humanitarian and environmental consequences of war.
“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”
If we are to avoid a third World War, the world’s leaders must begin a peace making process. But for us, our peace making must begin here at home advocating for economic justice—raising the minimum wage and advocating for affordable housing in our city. Our peace making must begin by taking action for environmental justice—clean water and air and soil for all. Our peace making must include a sexual ethic that is rooted in just and loving and respectful relationships. Our peace making must continue in the protection of religious freedom and in our efforts to celebrate diversity through relationship building with those who are different from us. These are some of the things that make for peace that we can participate in every single day.
I say to you on this peace Sunday, Jesus has wept enough. So, let’s go to work recognizing the things that make for peace and set our minds on those things.