Waging Peace in the Midst of War

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Rev. Amy Jacks Dean, Park Road Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
March 23, 2003
Available online at: http://www.parkroadbaptist.org/sermons%2003/Waging%20Peace%20in%20the%20Midst%20of%20War.htm
Texts: Amos 5:21-24 and Matthew 5:1-12

Let me tell you about a society of peace and prosperity that existed long ago. In this society, many people had much more than they needed. The construction business was experiencing an unprecedented boom; elaborate wine cellars and even personal vineyards were in vogue. All the markets were buzzing; the communications, entertainment, and travel industries had never enjoyed such escalating profits.

The men and women of this society—at least the ones who lived luxuriously—would have been shocked to hear that there were some in their midst who enjoyed none of these pleasures, people leading lives of quiet desperation. The people on the hilltops would have been greatly offended had anyone dared suggest that the dispossessed were their responsibility—that, in fact, it was their uncaring wealth that was responsible for the plight of the invisible poor.

The scene just set is not in the economic boom of the 90s or in any affluent section of any town, USA, but rather in Samaria in the Kingdom of Israel in the eighth century B.C. The prophet Amos was so shocked by conspicuous consumption on such a grand scale that he realized that this was social injustice pure and simple.

You know, prophets are, by their very nature, inconvenient party-poopers. It is a mistaken notion that prophets can see the future. Rather, prophets tell us what is true right now. Amos is the first in a long line of Hebrew prophets who tell the people the truth, however unwelcome, about how they actually stand with God. And so, this is what Amos says that God says about these affluent and blind people and their worship. (Read text)

If you are following along in our Lenten sermon series “Covenant and Promise: A Conversation in Contrasts,” then you will notice that we have jumped course today. Though today’s text and topic are certainly timely in this season of the church year – a season of self-reflection and confession and repentance – it is not the Lent 3 sermon I thought I would be preaching when we made out the schedule. The Church must be relevant. The Church must speak to the issues of the day – the issues of our own church, the issues of our own community, the issues of the world community. And given that we have been “at war” in Iraq for approximately 84 hours now, how could today’s worship focus on anything but peace?

For the 75 of you who gathered with us on Thursday evening (almost 24 hours into the war) in this sanctuary for prayer and silence, I hope you will allow me a couple of sentences of repetition as I really get started. We’ve all watched some amount of CNN and MSNBC, we’ve at the very least read the headlines of each morning’s paper, and it is 24/7 coverage – quite literally straight from the front line. It is the same news, over and over and over again. One station may have a 2 minute lead time on another with the latest breaking bomb dropped, but the news is the same – station after station – war, war, and then some more war. The Church must follow suit. Each and every time you come here, you must hear the same thing – over and over and over again – if only to bring balance to what we hear out there. You cannot change stations here for the message should be clear and consistent. It has been, is, and will continue to be a message of Peace. Not politics, but Peace. Not pro-war/anti-war, but Peace. Not Democrat or Republican, but Peace. That is at least my goal for today.

The prophet Amos: I set up the Scripture reading earlier to hopefully make the text come alive for you, but let me say a little more. God’s “rejection of worship in Israel had to do with what was happening – or not happening – on the outside of the sanctuary walls. Once church was over, the Israelites acted as if they had never been. What happened (or should have happened) on the day of worship when church was in session had little or no bearing on what happened the other six days when church was out. Going to `church’ on the Sabbath had no impact on how life was lived during the rest of the week. In light of this unacceptable worship that God had rejected, Amos called for a lifestyle of justice and righteousness . . . Yet justice and righteousness were all but non-existent in the 8th century B.C. Israel. Consequently, the Lord rejected Israel’s worship. From God’s perspective, even the most polished and well-planned worship services were meaningless if justice and righteousness were missing in the lives of the worshipers.” (Amos: Doing What is Right, Robert G. Baker, pages 98-99)

Translating that to today – we can talk about peace all we want to in here, but if we are not peaceful out there – then what we do in here is meaningless. And, according to Amos, God will despise what happens in here if we don’t live up to it out there. I propose that our war effort would be to wage peace. I don’t think today’s world in our culture understands about the homefront war effort. I called my mother and asked her to tell me about life at home during WWII. She mentioned rationing gas and sugar, she mentioned women who would have normally not been in the workforce suddenly doing all the things that the men had done, she mentioned Rosie the Riveter, she mentioned having no TV and what news you got while huddled around the radio was already old, she mentioned going to what she called “the picture show” and the first 10 minutes was the latest news of the war with the only images being so snowy and grainy that you couldn’t see much, she mentioned that getting a telegram was always, always bad news. (The “old house” – the 2-story-now-almost-falling-in house next to the dairy barn where my parents lived when they first married – is full of old junk. The house is all but falling in, but we love to go rummaging there through all that stuff. One day a few years ago, we were looking in an old trunk and found a bunch of old yellowed letters and papers, and someone said, “Here’s a telegram.” My mother instantly gasped, “Ooo, don’t read it, it’s bad news.” We all burst out laughing, “We’ll Mama, we already know whatever bad news is.”) But she was conditioned by a time in life that I know nothing about. Life on the front-line and the home-front, back then, were both lived in sacrifice in a way that we cannot relate to now.

So since we don’t have to ration anything, since life basically moves on in a way that, if we were not listening to the news, we’d hardly know there was anything happening on the other side of the world, since we don’t have to go to the “picture show” to get our snowy news, let’s do something creative, innovative, life changing. Let’s wage peace in the midst of war.

I’ve witnessed two things this week that have disturbed me. One is that there are people who have spoken hateful words toward people and groups of people with whom they disagree – even to the point of wishing harm for them – simply because they do not see eye to eye on our world-wide political situation. This is not an example of waging peace. And I’ve heard it from both sides of the war argument. Do these folks not realize that it is in the voicing of differences of opinion that we will most likely find the truth? the common ground? the consensus? the right answer? This very concept is precisely why I am proud to be an American.

The second thing I witnessed this week was at a luncheon – a large gathering of mostly Christian women – when the speaker talked of being grateful to live in a country where we all didn’t agree, where if we disagreed with the war we could say so. At that, a woman in the crowd stood up and yelled at her, “This is inappropriate. This is not the venue for you to discuss such matters.” She yelled out some more that I could not hear and promptly stomped out, followed by two others. This is not an example of waging peace.

This is how we will wage peace: we will begin with ourselves by praying for it – that it would begin with us. What makes this so difficult is that many of us are not at peace with ourselves. We are burdened with low self-esteem, our past, shame, guilt, depression – we churn, we wrestle, we battle ourselves not really believing that we have been created in the image of God, that we are persons of inherent worth – oh, we speak it, but we do not live it – and because we don’t even know what living at peace with ourselves is like, we certainly cannot envision it for a nation, much less a world. So, today, pray that peace would begin within your own heart and soul, believing that if you repeat it enough, you may just convince yourself that you are indeed a beloved child of God.

This is how we will wage peace: we will be generous – yes with what we have, but I want to go deeper. I must credit Ken Godwin for bringing this concept to light for me: we must be generous with our words – even about those with whom we radically disagree. And if you don’t think this is difficult to do, then just go home and practice generosity toward someone to whom you have no desire to be generous. A generous spirit would change the world.

This is how we will wage peace: we will make amends. We will ask forgiveness when are wrong, when we’ve hurt someone, when we’ve neglected someone.

This is how we will wage peace: we will love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:44) We will call him, and others, by name. Saddam Hussein. Say his name in prayer – and mean it – and see if it doesn’t change how you think and act. A man who has done evil and wicked things is the very person for whom we should be praying.

This is how we will wage peace: we will practice grace – grace which is free, yet usually very costly.

This is how we will wage peace: we will hold one another accountable that what we say and do in here – in this sanctuary of worship – will be lived out beyond these walls. In our homes, in our offices, in this community, we must lead ethical, moral lives. We talk about following Jesus yet we leave here and cheat and lie – or worse – we ignore the poor and turn our head away from those in need so that we don’t have to look. We’ve got to become more of who we say we are. The image in Amos of “justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (verse 24) is powerful. “The supply and flow of water in the arid land of Israel was a life and death issue. Following a rainstorm, riverbeds called wadis – which were normally dry – became the conduits through which life-giving water was distributed through the land. `Listen,’ Amos proclaimed to Israel, `justice and righteousness must be more than wadis that flow only on certain occasions, slow to a trickle at other times, and often dry up completely. Justice and righteousness are to be like rolling, surging streams of water that flow continuously.” (Amos: Doing What is Right, page 99) We must be willing to speak out – loudly and clearly – for justice and righteousness.

Our second Scripture lesson today was from the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes “represent Jesus’ basic program. . . Jesus sees that, in some sense, the future is already here . . . Jesus [preaches to] two audiences: the powerless, who need to be reminded that God loves them and will see to their ultimate triumph, and the powerful, who need to be encouraged to abandon their own comfort for the sake of others. The main purpose of the good news of Jesus is the same purpose as that of the entire prophetic tradition: to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” (Sojourners, Thomas Cahill)

Can you imagine what would happen in your own family and your own circle of friends if you left here today committed to waging peace in the midst of war? Do you know how difficult this will be? That is our homefront war effort. Can you imagine what would happen in Charlotte if we left here today, committed as a church family, to waging peace in the midst of war? Do you know how much time and energy this will take? That is our homefront war effort. Can you imagine what would happen in our world if all the leaders – or any one leader – would commit EVERYTHING to waging peace?

Idealistic? Yes! But that is the only news on this station. May it be so.

Pastoral Prayer

We pray this day, that you O God, may be pleased by our worship, for it is our hope that we would take what is here into the world out there and make a difference among your people. Help us, even today, to wage peace in every part of our lives. Amen.

This sermon is part of a new series compiled by the NC Council of Churches in conjunction with our lectionary-based worship resource Acts of Faith.  We believe that issues of peace and justice can be expressed in the worship life of congregations, and we remain committed to providing accessible and relevant resources to make this a reality.  This sermon was used with the permission of the author, and the views expressed in it are solely the author’s. Please contact us if you are interested in submitting one of your sermons for consideration.

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