I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Advent Sermon II

Here is this past Sunday's sermon. It ended a series I did on the Five Aspect of Civilization, at least, as listed by Alfred North Whitehead. In Alfred's defence I should say that the connection to him doesn't go much farther than that...

These notes are a bit shorter as the first Sunday of the month is Communion Sunday at Eliot. Also, we had a baptism and a little Advent Candle-lighting thing that took up some of our worship time. All in all, it was a good Sunday that was capped off with a special congregational meeting. Oh, Church in December is never boring!

Advent II: Peace on Earth
Eliot Church 2004
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

During this past week I have walked past
Quite a few holiday decorations
Some in homes and some on storefronts
And some that were for sale
Upon many of them
Were the stock phrases of the season
“Merry-” or “Happy Christmas”
Joyous Noel, Happy Holidays
Happy Hanukkah,
And, of course, the subject for today
Peace on Earth

Peace on Earth
When I see that slogan this time of year
I sometimes wonder what it is that we mean by that
Do we mean “Peace” as in the “peace and quiet”
That so many of us crave this time of year?
Or do we mean something more?
Is it the institutionalized expression of the need for World Peace
A small protest, if you will
Against the situation of violence in the world?

The hymn goes
Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me
And the sentiment is well founded
After all, we do not have to look as far as the Middle East
Or Africa, the former Soviet Republics, Serbia and Montenegro
To find recent examples of violence
We certainly can and we will, as the news reports tell us
We will find it in all its forms, not just the fist, stick, knife and gun
But the institutional violence of starvation and poverty

But a close reading of the MetroWest Daily News
Will show us that we have all these things right here
Right here in Natick and in our neighboring communities
And the alarming statistics concerning the increase in
Domestic violence that does not distinguish
Between race, neighborhood or class
Should have all of us concerned
Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me
There is plenty to do right here

Now, there have been times when I and, no doubt, many others
Have been a bit confused about another word
One that is often used interchangeably with the word “war”
And that is “conflict”
Sometimes people will clarify what they mean
By saying “armed conflict”
And an Armed conflict is a lot like a war
Sometimes the only difference being the absence of a formal declaration
Such as in the case of factional violence
Or, in this country, gang violence

But the word “Conflict” also has a positive, non-violent connotation
Conflict, itself, is in many ways necessary for a real peace
One enforced not from above
But from within
We need only look at the non-violent protesters
Of the 20th and 21st centuries to see the real need
For constructive conflict of this sort

Arundhati Roy, the international activist and journalist from India
Once observed when speaking of
Mohandas Gandhi, Marin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela
That It is interesting how icons, when their time has passed, are commodified and appropriated (some voluntarily, others involuntarily) to promote the prejudice, bigotry, and inequity they battled against.
Her observation is a good one
We tend, after a while, to wish to identify with some great hero
It can be an easy thing, then,
To use this self-perceived solidarity
As an excuse to act contrary to the teachings of that hero

Think of all the acts of violence by nations
And individuals done in the name of Jesus Christ
Or the even in the Buddha’s name for that matter

When Martin Luther King
Was given the Nobel Peace prize in 1964
It was because he was willing to risk conflict
Because he was willing to struggle against
The unhealthy systems that surrounded him
In the Birmingham Jail he wrote:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed

Such a statement doesn’t immediately make one think
Of tinsel and colored lights
But maybe there is a connection
Maybe the peace of earth we pray for this time of year
Is not the Pax Romana the Peace of Rome
But instead the Peace of God
The gift of Divine Love

This different view of peace is what Jesus speaks of
In one of the most intriguing passages of the Bible

Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth;
I have not come to bring peace but a sword
For I have come to set a man against his father
And a daughter against her mother
And one’s foes will be members of one’s own household
Those who find their life will lose it
And those who lose their life for my sake will find it
(Matt. 11:34-39 assorted verses)

In this passage Jesus isn’t declaring his opposition
To peace or peacefulness
So much as the peace of the status quo
That is to say, Jesus has come to stir things up
To make the powerless,
(The sons and daughters of the ancient clan structure)
Find their own power and to struggle for their independence
The sword he speaks of need not be a literal one
It is a call to conflict to struggle for that bigger peace
He urges us not to look solely to our own family, tribe or clan
For support and approval, but to strike out on our own
To find a way to connect to the Divine
Even to lose your life for God’s sake
To remember what is important

While conflict is a great instrument of growth and change
It also can be a prelude to violence
And this brings us to an important aspect of human relations
That is respect
We must learn, all of us, to respect everyone
And, indeed, all of creation
(A creation we are all equally a part of)

We would do well to think of those two warrior-presidents
Grant and Lincoln, negotiating terms with their southern enemies
[Lincoln] always showed a generous and kindly spirit toward the southern people Grant writes and I have never heard him abuse an enemy

It is possible that an admiring Grant exaggerated
Lincoln’s patience and understanding with both the south
And those people of the north who said cruel things
That pierced him to the heart
But, still, in a world turned upside down
In times of conflict both armed and unarmed
True peace cannot be achieved without respect
For those who you work with
Regardless of whose “side” they are (or were) on

This requires that we listen and try to understand
That we try to be patient and assume
That those we work and live with are competent
Loving, caring human beings
With needs and hopes of their own
Yes, peace at home, in the heart, and in the nation
Requires Humility
For the problem may not lie with them, but you

True peace is based on justice and equality for all
True peace comes from reaching out
It comes, interestingly enough
From giving
Not so much giving the kind of gifts we see on Christmas Day
But giving those things we care about and hold most precious

The passage from Romans started today
We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor (15:1-2)
That is, we should concern ourselves with another’s well-being
Even if that means we must give something up
Peace requires a balance of power and resources
Whether the parties are nations or people

Romans goes on to say
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another … (15:5)
May this be so both during this season and beyond
May there truly be peace
A fair and just and holy peace
On this our earth, our home