War and Peace Sermon

Sermon  War and Peace by  Rev. June Fothergill    July 10, 2016

Scriptures:  Ecclesiastes 3:1-13; Isaiah 9:2-7; Matthew 5: 9, 45-47; Romans 12: 14-20

I found some letters and prayers to God the other day written by children.  One said, “ Dear God, I bet it is very hard for you love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it.”    Another was heard to pray, “ And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”

Today I want to talk with you about the big issue of War and Peace. Yet, the children remind me that it all starts right here where we are and how we decide to deal with the trash people put in our baskets!   The ancient philosopher of Ecclesiastes looked out at the world and realized that there was a time for  everything.   There was a time for hate and a time for love; a time for war and a time for peace.   After that now famous passage,  he goes on to talk about God’s gift to humanity- that all people eat and drink and take pleasure in their toil. Ultimately, in life with all its complexity, it’s time for everything-  God wants to offer us the gift of a community where people find what they need: food, drink, and joy.  That sounds to me like a time of peace

Ecclesiastes also points to the reality that in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament there is a conversation going on about the nature of God.  Is God someone who calls for violence and war or a is God one who offers ways of peace?   Many of us have heard about the stories of war in the OT- Joshua at Jericho, the bloody battles to protect and conquer the land, the fights to overcome oppression.   Yet, there are also stories of God offering alternatives to war:  Abram and his nephew Lot separating their operations rather than fight ( Gen 13); Isaac moving on and digging new wells rather than fight over old ones. (  Gen. 26: 12-22)  Elisha ‘s dealings with King Aram’s attempt to fight the King of Israel.   ( 2 Kings 6)   The Israelite king wanted to massacre the Aramean force but Elisha told him instead to prepare food and drink for the Arameans.   The passage concludes, “ And the Arameans no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.”  ( 2 kings 6: :23)

In his article about Jesus and the Old Testament, J Denny Weaver points out that there was an ongoing conversation in the tradition- is it time for war or time for peace, does God want war or peace?    As I look at our world today, even the tragedies of this very week-  I think it is time for peace.   When I look at the cycles of violence and fear in our world,  join the Police Chief in Dallas Texas this week who said, “ This must stop.”

First of all-  We have had plenty of war time.  We as a human species have been there, done that.  As a nation we have been in almost continuous war most of our history.   I remember a parade I saw in Washington DC on Memorial Day several years ago. It was a parade with entries representing all the wars and the veterans in our history. It was a  long parade!

Now the fact that wars and rumors of wars have been part of human history for so long makes some people say- war is just part of being human.  Yet, Ecclesiates begs to differ.   The ancient philosopher says  there is a time for peace.   I say, Why not now?

We are more interconnected as a human family than ever in our history.  We can make friends with folks all over the globe.  Why not choose to make friends and learn to understand enemies?    We also have unprecedented global problems:  human trafficking, poverty, disease, nuclear weapons, climate change and other environmental problems.  These can only be solved or mitigated through global cooperation.   Many of these problems are exasperated by wars and cycles of violence. Surely this is a time for peacemaking!

It can start with making friends of enemies right in our own neighborhoods.   Rev. Bobbi Corson tells a story about her family. There was a man in the neighborhood the children called , “ The Mean Man.”  He would shake his fist at the children when they played on the sidewalk in front of his home.  Bobbie told her children to stay away from the man’s yard.  But one day she saw a neighbor girl run over to his front sidewalk, ring his bell and stand in the street wagging her fingers in her ears at him.

In a moment they met on the sidewalk, the “ mean man” and Bobbi , both had moved down the steps to confront those children, both were surprised that they confronted each other.   Not wanting to call him the mean man, Bobbie asked him his name.  Mr Grayson shared his name and also told her about the anguish of receiving the taunts of the children, about the teasing, the loneliness of growing older , the financial struggles.  In three minutes the mean man had a name and a face and a history and a heart.  After bringing her children into the house, they decided that they would  bake muffins and give them to Mr. Grayson top say that they wanted be to good neighbors.  She concludes , As our children watched the change from the “ Mean Man” to Mr. Grayson ( Nice man her daughter started calling him) they too changed from fear to care.

I think it is time for peace, because that is what Jesus teaches me.     Denny Weaver in his article about the variety of views about war and peace in the OT points out, “ that acknowledging the conversation brings to the fore how Jesus continued it. When we see the full story present in the OT, it is clear that Jesus did not invent nonviolence; that is, nonviolence as the way of the reign of God did not begin with him. Rather Jesus brought additional visibility to God’s rejection of violence and the resurrection gave yet additional validation to a rejection of violence by testifying to the life of Jesus as truly the life of God. “   (p. 33,  Jewish and pacifist, by J. Denny Weaver in Christian Century Nov. 27, 2013 p. 33)

I get my understanding of what God wants by looking to Jesus the Christ.  He is the one who shows me God’s presence and ways.  It is very clear to me that Jesus highlights and lived an alternative way of peace.   It starts with compassion for the enemy.  This does not mean that we do not include our own needs in the equation but  peacemaking means we find ways to turn the enemy to friend.    That we decide our actions not based upon their hatred or violence or threat but upon our own connection to Christ and the compassion he grows in us.

The letters of Paul rarely refer to the teachings of Jesus we know in Matthew, Mark , Luke and John. Yet, the teaching to bless and pray for those who persecute you, to not seek vengeance put to show love to enemies  is a teaching they have in common.  It is part as Matthew puts it of growing up to wholeness, to maturity of life and faith- as Wesley says to go on to perfection.    Gandhi called this Non violent resistance.  It is a third way between passivity and  violence toward another.


Granted this way is not easy on a personal level or an international one.  Yet, it seems to me that the  time of peace needs to be given a chance.  There is so much to gain!    Surely we have seen that the acts of terrorists are not deterred by armies and war.  Could it be that reaching out in love and compassion: offering food and jobs, dignity and listening ears could have an impact?  Have we actually ever really tried this?    Can we do it in the harshest, most dangerous places?   I know there are stories of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan  trying to do it.   Yet, how hard it must be with a gun on your back?  Bobbie’s story from her neighborhood shows, acts of kindness can make a difference.  One act, one email, one friendship at a time.    What would happen if we recruited as many people to be in the Peace Corps as the military?       What if our military had more training in peacemaking strategies and intercultural communication?    What if?

Finally,  I understand the argument, what about defense?  Don’t we have the right and obligation to defend ourselves against those who would kill or harm us and our families?  This may be true, but  we need to be very careful about this for what I have seen is that it so easily slips into revenge or justified aggression because of rumor or false data because we are threatened or something we think we want is threatened.   Paul says clearly, for his fellow Christians, “ Do not avenge yourself.”

He and Jesus taught these things knowing that the early church folk were experiencing persecution. People were getting hurt.     I have observed that  some folks are draw to the sacrifice and honor of being a warrior for the nation or tribe.  Being a warrior lets us make sacrifices for what we are told is a greater good  ( our nations, tribe, clan, ideal, etc.)

Yet, I submit that being a peacemaker is also a risky business.  We may have the opportunity to lose our lives, to come to harm if we reach out in love to an enemy, if we enter a conflict zone without weapons to shoot, if we put ourselves on the line for a negociated settlement.      The difference is that in war, we not only sacrifice our lives, but because we kill and destroy along the way our souls are harmed.    The non violent peaceful way of Jesus  may demand sacrifice, it did for him!  But it never takes our souls, rather it enhances and values our souls and the humanity and the souls of others.  Building a time of peace will not be easy.  It will take creativity and sacrifice, determination and courage.  It invites us to become perfect, to grow in wholeness and maturity of faith and life.

I know that most of us are not going to change our national policies or stop the wars around the world. Yet, as the song says, we can pray for peace in our world, we can raise our voices for it, and we can like Bobbie and her family seek to live it in our relationships.  Never forget the power of one witness, of one act of kindness, or one moment of  caring for an enemy.

When I was in seminary over 30 years ago, we were still in the “ Cold War” with the USSR.   A group of us went to visit a group of cloistered nuns.  They had dedicated their lives to prayer and community.  And they had decided way back when the “ ColdWar” had first started to focus their prayers on the USSR and its people.  They learned about the country and prayed every single day for years and years for them and for peace.    When the Berlin wall fell and the USSR broke up and it all happened without war- I thought of those nuns and their persistent, loving prayers.




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