Monday, December 8, 2008

Peace on Earth

Scripture cited here includes Isaiah 40:1-11, and II Peter 3:8-15a.

This is our annual Peace Sunday, the Sunday nearest the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. This year’s recipient is Finnish diplomat and former President Martti Ahtisaari, a man who has stood time and again at the epicenter of the world’s most violent conflicts—Namibia, Indonesia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo—keeping his own balance and teaching those around him to find theirs. In his 72nd year, he is being celebrated as a remarkable mediator. The Nobel Committee hopes that he will inspire yet more outstanding mediators, for we are a world in need of them. You’ll find a photograph of Mr. Ahtisaari in the display cabinet at the back of the church today.

The goal of peace seems to transcend our ordinary sphere of influence. But that is not so, and the best reason we have for annually recognizing the Nobel peace laureate is suggested by the apostle Peter in his letter. I’ll paraphrase him: “Since heaven and earth seem to be shaking in their foundations, we must consider what sort of persons we ought to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness. While we’re waiting for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home, let’s find ways to be found at peace when our Lord Jesus returns.”

Let’s make it our purpose today to so listen to the words, the music, the liturgy that surround us here, that we discover even one way to do the work of peace-making in our world.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, famous for his book Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, writes about peace. Perhaps you will hear something useful in these words.

“A prominent Jewish prayer concludes, ‘May He who made peace in the heavens grant peace to us on earth.’ What does it mean to create peace in the heavens? Ancient man looked up into the sky and he saw the sun and the rainclouds. And he would say to himself, ‘How can fire and water, sun and rain co-exist in the same sky? Either the water would put out the fire, or the fire would dry up the water.’ How do they get along? It must be a miracle. The sun says, ‘If I dry up the rainclouds, as I probably could, the world will not survive without rain.’ The clouds say, ‘If we extinguish the sun, the world will perish in darkness.’ So the fire and the water make peace, realizing that if either one of them achieved a total victory, the world could not endure.

“When we pray for God to grant us the sort of peace He ordained in the heavens, this is the miracle we ask for. How can men and women live together happily? They are opposites; their needs are different, their rhythms are different. It takes a miracle for them to bridge those differences and unite the masculine side of God’s image with the feminine side.

“How can Arabs and Israelis learn to live together? Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants? Black South Africans and white South Africans? It takes a miracle for them to realize that if they won, if they had it all and the other side had nothing, the world could not survive their victory. Only by making room for everyone in the world, even for our enemies, can the world survive.

“May God who showed us the miracle of Shalom, of making room for each other and giving up the illusion of victory in the heavens, grant a similar miracle to all of us who inhabit the earth.”

There are two very reachable disciplines: making room for people, especially whoever appears to be our opposite, and giving up the illusion of victory, the kind our opposites cannot survive.

Each day I live will give me one opportunity after another to practice these disciplines—

--in how I handle interruptions as I do my work

--in how I write an email to any one of you, taking time to listen to myself before hitting Send

--in how I pay attention to my attitude, especially under pressure, in haste, and when dealing with opposition-- whether I’m combating life at that moment or respecting and treasuring life (the choice really is mine)

--and in how I treat the person opposite me when the peace between us is at risk—do I remember that all people are grass, that the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand for ever? And is standing right there between us, asking to be spoken…

“May God who showed us the miracle of Shalom, of making room for each other and giving up the illusion of victory in the heavens, grant a similar miracle to all of us who inhabit the earth.”

--Rabbi Kushner’s meditation is printed in “Prayers for Healing: 365 Blessings, Poems, and Meditations from Around the World,” edite