August 2, 2015 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text: Psalm 34: 11 – 14 & Romans 12: 9 – 21
A young Jewish man excitedly tells his mother he’s fallen in love and that he is going to get married. He says, “Just for fun, Ma, I’m going to bring over three women and you try and guess which one I’m going to marry.” The mother agrees. The next day, he brings three beautiful women into the house and sits them down on the couch and they chat for a while. He then says, “Okay, Ma, guess which one I’m going to marry.” She immediately replies, “The one on the right.” ”That’s amazing, Ma. You’re right. How did you know?” The Jewish mother replies, “I don’t like her.”
Oh my….. I can imagine years of friction ahead in that family!
We chuckle at the truism of that joke, and yet domestic unrest and conflict is not a laughing matter. For way too many in our nation, the home is not a place of peace, security and happiness. And yet, if asked, we would all claim to be in pursuit of peace and happiness.
In Brian McLaren’s latest book, We make the Road by Walking, he writes: What we all want is pretty simple, really. We want to be alive. To feel alive. Not just to exist but to thrive, to live out loud, walk tall, breathe free. We want to be less lonely , less exhausted, less conflicted or afraid … more awake, more grateful, more energized and purposeful. We capture this kind of mindful, over brimming life in terms like well-being, shalom, blessedness, wholeness, harmony , life to the full, and aliveness.”
Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? Is it achievable, realistic?
Alex Huxley’s speculative fiction The Brave New World captivated and terrified readers for generations. You remember it. His answer to living in peace and harmony was to pop a little pill…..Soma…that would neutralize your existence….. no worries, no disease, no conflicts, no negative emotions of any kind. He created a utopia or dystopia depending on how you look at it. Huxley presented us with a challenging and endlessly interesting question: What can possibly be wrong with a world in which everybody is happy, even if there is no free will involved in actuality? If we can make ourselves superficially content and never have to suffer a moment of desperation or uncertainty, why not just do that? People are bred and programmed to be content. Sounds pretty good, huh!?
I guess there would be no seeking…. no need for questions….no need for arbitration….. no need for lawyers!!! At times that may seem appealing.
When I picked up the lovely new book entitled Psalms for Praying by Nan Merrill that Natalie McNerny graciously gave me last week and read the opening line of the preface, I knew I was hooked! The opening line is:
Who among us has not yearned to know the Unknowable?
She goes on to say: “For most, these moments are fleeting glimpses that may last a lifetime, in some, a fire is kindled and life becomes a quest to live in holy surrender; and though fewer in number, saints dwell among us who know the Beloved, who aspired to co-create in harmony with the One who is love and Light and power. To cherish the Beloved as you are cherished is to live in a mutual bonding that calls for action.”
The words of Psalm 34 ( 11 – 14) that Nancy read this morning provide a direct path: “Go on, Children, listen to me; I will teach you how to respect Yahweh. Who would not desire life? Loving days, in which to experience goodness? So, therefore, avoid evil, do good! Seek peace, and follow where it leads.”
( translation by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi)
Avoid evil, do good!! Seek Peace! Easier said than done, right?
One afternoon, a man went to his doctor and told him that he hasn’t been feeling well lately. The doctor examined the man, left the room, and came back with three different bottles of pills.
The doctor said, “Take the green pill with a big glass of water when you wake up. Take the blue pill with a big glass of water after you eat lunch. Then just before going to bed, take the red pill with another big glass of water.”
Startled to be put on so much medicine, the man stammered, “Jiminy Doc, what’s my problem?”
The doctor replied, “You’re not drinking enough water.” (1)
Many of us have medicine cabinets full of prescription pills! Doctors love to illegibly write our prescriptions to try and solve whatever medical or emotional problem we are having. Those concise words from the Psalms may be viewed as a prescription for loving days, harmony, goodness and peace. Avoid those things that are harmful to you and embrace the good! Simple!
From Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, one of my favorites…..provides another clear prescription for peace:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. [If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
“ If it is possible”! Is that a question, Paul? “So far as it depends on ME”.
Ahhh, it’s my responsibility is it? Implicit in the message is the reality that there will be a whole lot of ugliness and violence that we have to deal with. Don’t be defeated by the evil….the ugly…be encouraged by the noble things that happen every day! And you….me…. be a promoter of peace in the face of all the violence. My job. Your job. Our job.
I have been terribly distressed this past week by the news of the beautiful, beloved 13 year old Lion named Cecil that was ruthlessly killed in Zimbabwe by a trophy hunter. …. a precious, beautiful animal taken to satisfy the hobby of a human. Cecil and his pride had been a part of an ongoing research project with Oxford University since 2008. Of course the hunter did not know that before he raised his bow and took Cecil’s life. The murder of Cecil has created an international uproar.
It has been said that technically, killing Cecil wasn’t illegal, but was it immoral? Was it evil? Certainly in the eyes of thousands of animal lovers, it was. It certainly was not good!
Ongoing political mud slinging, nasty name calling banners flown over the Patriot’s practice field…. escalating the feelings of hatred between the two teams and their coaches, senseless road rage on our nation’s highways threatening lives, horrific acts of terrorism slaughtering the innocent….and the list of evils goes on and on.
Two elderly, excited Southern women were sitting together in the front pew of a church listening to a fiery preacher.
When this preacher condemned the sin of stealing, these two ladies cried out at the tops of their lungs, “AMEN, BROTHER!” When the preacher condemned the sin of lust, they yelled again, “PREACH IT, REVEREND!”
And when the preacher condemned the sin of lying, they jumped to their feet and screamed, “RIGHT ON, BROTHER! TELL IT LIKE IT IS… AMEN!”
But when the preacher condemned the sin of gossip, the two got very quiet. One turned to the other and said, “He’s quit preaching and now he’s meddlin’.”
Sin and the evils of society are not popular topics to preach about. I have not been known to preach hell, fire and brimstone sermons….but since I am leaving……. (no only kidding!!)
I am definitely of the mindset that there is much, much more good than evil in the universe…..that there are many more people pursuing peace than those promoting evil. And yet, there is much reconciling work to be done. If only we moved toward world peace as rapidly as we create all the technological advances that update our lives every moment!!
Many of you may know Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall.”
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall that wants it down. Do we have walls in our lives that need to be demolished? Fears to be faced, hurts to be forgiven? Conflict that needs the sweet breath of reconciliation ? What and where are the walls that separate us one from another ? Can they be removed? This is the work of peace….to restore the good and abolish the evil. Reconciliation happens when we break the walls of hostility between us.
70 years ago, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki causing unimaginable suffering and loss of land and life. It was beyond devastating ….a gross illustration of the brutality of war and the human capability for evil….. a misguided pursuit of peace.
A sweet little girl, named Sudako, suffering from cancer presumed caused by the radiation, wanted to lift her gentle voice for peace. She wanted to do good. Though she was an innocent victim of evil, she wanted to make a statement…..to pursue peace and healing. And you know her story. She wanted to make 1,000 paper cranes as a symbol of peace. She made 946 before the Leukemia claimed her life at age 12. Her friends, other children, completed the 1,000. A monument was constructed in her honor and memory and millions of paper cranes have been made as a symbol for peace and reconciliation all around the world for all these 70 years.
It’s a tragic, yet heartwarming story. This young girl, this simple act has gone down in history….as a message of hope and peace….as light in the darkness…. as good in the face of unthinkable evil. …A simple act that has become a bridge to peace rather than a war of war.
There is a Peace Memorial in Hiroshima which has these words inscribed on it:
“This is our plea, This is our prayer/ Peace on Earth”
American poet, Joseph Langland wrote a poem about Sudako:
Sadako, you have gone beyond the fire’s fear;
we follow where you walk upon that magic hill.
The Hiroshima birds come back across the sea
into the city square. Sleep now, Sadako, sleep.
Now on the darkest night the shadows of wave
lift from your fallen eyes upon a cloud of cranes.
They march across the sky, a thousand in a line
to keep their watch upon the children in their dreams.
Sadako, here’s a star to cradle in your hand
and fly around the sun and nest upon the moon.
Sadako, paper girl, ride on your thousand wings
and cry your gentle prayer. We fold your paper cranes.
This is our plea, this is our prayer…. Peace on Earth.
Let us carry that prayer to the Table of Peace today, as we gather with open and loving hearts….to share bread together. Amen.