Reflections of Peace

December 6, 2015 — Rev. Jan Hryniewicz

Text: Micah 4: 1 – 5 & Philippians 4: 4 – 9


What Put an End to War :  Jen Comeau


Recently, I awoke from a brief, but powerful dream. So compelling was this dream, that my wildly hopeful heart longed to tell it as a story that had actually happened. A story that perhaps our great, great grandchildren might tell one day about a long ago and distant memory.


So I invite you to close your eyes for a moment, suspend your disbelief, and journey with me in time to a future scene. Imagine your great great grandson, now himself an old man, sits on a worn-out wooden chair alongside a majestic oak on a balmy spring afternoon. His grandson sits on a hand-made swing, feet pumping enthusiastically up into the sky and down toward the earth, swinging from one of her sturdy limbs. The story begins:


The old man looked tenderly upon the young lad, who had stopped his swinging so as to listen more intently. The oak’s early spring leaves seemed to whisper, “hush, hush”. The boy’s question lingered in the air and then, as if caught by a gentle waft, settled onto the old man like the wool blanket that was his constant companion. (Tell me again, Grandpa. What put an end to war?)


Gnarled hands played for a moment with the blanket’s frayed border; an ancient, lined face relaxed into a smile. Rocking slightly to and fro, the old man cast milky eyes up into the oak’s broad, sentinel branches, and began:


“Some say it was a wee lass, just about your age who possessed a certain magic. Others say it was the prayers of the land and all the earth-beings that did it. Still others say it was neither of these, but the sudden and simultaneous Re-Membering that descended upon all human beings. I do not know for sure, lad, for I was a mere babe, and hidden away in the hills with the other children.


A great battle waged upon the land. It was a battle of brothers and sisters; it was a battle of peoples, no more or less murderous or devastating than any other of the many wars that had been fought throughout the ages.


In the years following, my own Grandpa, who raised me, told me The Story over and over so that it became imprinted upon my heart. He was there, and this is what he saw:


‘Suddenly our fighting ceased. We were all brought together, and some Ineffable Power compelled us to line up, each side facing the other at a close distance – only a few yards away. Two lines of us snaked across a vast scarred landscape as far as the eye could see. We were guided by this Ineffable Power to close our eyes upon things mortal, and be silent. We were guided to listen with our hearts.


After a few eternal moments, I opened my eyes again, as did others. I looked out at the opposing sea of faces, and witnessed something other-worldly: The faces had changed! Those of the “enemy” whom I had known personally before the war – brothers or neighbors – I saw their faces. Many of the “enemy” whom I had not known, I saw my own face. Think of it, lad! Each of us was looking at a winding river of our own face – there, and there, and there, and there — interspersed with one or two faces of the people whom we had known and (once) loved.


We stood, stunned and wooden, only our heads moving, seeing face after face, mouths agape. Suddenly, like a great ocean swell, we fell into each other’s arms weeping, and with joy just as the faces changed back once again! Then both lines, no longer, “sides” linked arms, and walked together across the battlefield, bearing brutal witness to the carnage and destruction we had wrought.


In the ensuing days, as One Body, we worked to restore the land, to bury all dead, and to make amends to Mother Earth and her beings.


And this, they say, is what put an end to war.’”


The boy was quiet. Instinctively he knew to revere the moment. The old man’s crinkled eyes were closed as he continued to rock back and forth, cocooned in a memory of long ago.


“And because we tell The Peace Story over and over, the glow of that Ineffable Power has remained within the hearts of all peoples, everywhere,” he finished softly. “And all is in harmony. All is well.”


Would that it be so.


Reflections of Peace


In November of 2008 I preached a sermon here entitled Facing Our Giants…reflecting on the fears and anxieties we deal with daily and how they define the quality of our lives.


I shared an  insight from the late and very wise Peter Gomes who wrote in his book Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living,: In my circle of professional friends, psychiatrists, psychologists, medical, ministerial and legal friends, the one thing that they confess holds all of their professional lives together, defines relationships more than anything else is fear. Fear is the unnamed demon that gnaws away in the midst of their spirits and ours. It holds us together but keeps us from being whole. We are held hostage by fear.”


The tragic incidence this past week in San Bernardino reminded me of his words…the reality of and crippling effect of violence and terrorism that escalate fear.


Almost daily we are assaulted by the news of acts of violence that steal the lives of innocent people of all ages.   It becomes a political football, and we line up on our various sides and argue motives and solutions. We cast a wary eye on each other, suspicious and fearful, given to hasty judgments, and stereotypical assessments.   We succumb to fear never knowing when the next act of violence will rear its evil head.  Our beautiful planet becomes a battlefield and God’s vision of the peaceful kingdom grows dim in our eyes.


Jen’s dream story of peace is a beautiful, powerful one that ignites a glimmer of hope in our hearts that someday a child might ask “what  put an end to war?”


How can we stop the cycle of violence that is so destructive to all life on this dear, beautiful planet of ours? How can we silence the rhetoric of abuse that is so damaging to relationships and progress toward peace and unity? What are the giants we face…..that need to be confronted….and defeated….. with the resources with which God has so generously gifted us? 


In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy demanded that Linus change TV channels, threatening him with her fist if he didn’t. “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asks Linus. “These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.”


“Which channel do you want?” asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?


We can chuckle at the feisty attitude of Lucy  and  the easily intimidated, Linus, while acknowledging the fact that the weapons that threaten the universe today are beyond our wildest imagination …nothing to chuckle about.


Today’s theme, Reflections of Peace,  inspired by our Advent theme of Peace…. is about a clash of kingdoms….which is an over simplification…. but a valid thought, I think….. and the desperate need for each of us to be reflectors of God’s kingdom of peace  every day.


Preachers rant and rave often about God’s vision of Shalom, the ultimate dream for Creation to live in peace  with justice for all.  It’s an accepted fact that the kingdom of which ancient prophets and sages and Jesus spoke so often and into which humanity has been invited since the beginning of time, is a kingdom that is vastly different from the kingdom and powers that rule the planet today.


The powerful words attributed to the prophet Micah that Caryn read this morning,  call the ancient peoples to Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob, who will teach us how to   walk in God’s paths.”…. Come to a place where weapons of war will become plowshares….. enabling a harvest of peace! This is a call to be a part of an alternate vision of civilization. …God’s dream for creation.  In order for that kingdom of peace and harmony to emerge and dominate our civilization, we have to be co-creators with God to make it even possible, we have to reflect God’s peace!


A businessman well known for his ruthlessness & self righteous attitude, once announced to writer Mark Twain, “Before I die I mean to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I will climb Mount Sinai and read the 10 Commandments aloud at the top.”


“I have a better idea,” replied Twain. “You could stay in Boston and keep them.”


It is not enough to pray for peace, though it helps… not enough to talk peace , though that too helps….we have to work for peace and be reflectors of peace in all situations.


Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily meditations were very helpful, as usual, to my contemplation this week.  The focus one day was on healing relationships, redemptive listening, making amends, forgiving… creating peace at the personal level.   He wrote:  Unfortunately, few of us were taught nonviolent communication at the personal level. When you move to higher states of love and transformation, you do not jump over the earlier stages of growth [ in the relationship] but must go back and rectify any earlier wrongs, or there will be no healing or open future for you or for those you have hurt.


 Our family, friends, associates, and enemies…[and we ] need a clear accounting to be free and go ahead with our lives. Often we just need to talk it through,  express and hear our understanding, and  offer and receive our sincere apology. Usually others need to offer their understanding of the situation and how it hurt them. No shaming or guilt is helpful here. Neither side needs to accuse or defend, but just state the facts as we remember them and be open to hear what the other needed, heard, or felt. This has developed into a true art form that some rightly call “redemptive listening” or “nonviolent communication.”


There is no doubt about the fact, in my mind, that universal peace will never happen until we are able to participate in “redemptive listening” and are able to create peace and harmony in our personal  relationships.


Andrew Harvey, in his extraordinary book The Hope, a Guide to Sacred Activism writes:  “ I had the honor once of being at an intimate gathering in Paris with Nelson Mandela.   He spoke to us calmly and humbly, about the 27 years of imprisonment he had endured and of the lessons he had learned.  At the end, none of us could say anything.  Then someone asked him if he could sum up what he knew now, at this stage of his life (he was in his early 80’s at the time).  He thought for a long time and then began: ‘ There is a force in the universe – call it God or spirituality or whatever you like – that wants the victory of [peace], truth and justice.  That force will help you if you are steady, humble, brave and patient. Never, ever give up, however bad things get.’  And then he smiled a smile that had the force of soft lightening.”


There is a story about George Lansbury, who was a tireless worker for peace in England. He had spent all of his adult life wrestling with the complicated problems, which led England to war. He had lived through World War I and as he was dying, the guns of World War II were echoing through the world. To the realist it may have seemed as though he had thrown away his forty years of struggle. A close friend asked him how much nearer he thought peace was as a result of his effort. Lansbury answered, “Forty years nearer.”


We can never, ever give up.


Story from Peace Tales:  Two boys in a village were fighting…violent disagreement.  Wise elder…..told each boy to get a large stick and to come with him.  He took the boys into the woods up on a high grassy knoll. Told them to each plant their stick in the ground a few feet apart….and to remember where these sticks are planted.  He told them to return to this spot in six months…..and if they could remember what their argument was about…..they could continue their battle….but for now, they had to plant their hostility with their stick. As the story goes…..the boys never returned to the sticks.  The hostility between them, buried and forgotten.


From the highly acclaimed Course on Miracles comes this quote:  “The holiest of all the spots on earth is
where an ancient hatred has become a present love.”


In what is attributed to the Apostle Paul’s letter to his favorite church in Philippi, we have, I think …some of Paul’s best advice to us.  This portion of the letter was directed to two women in the church….Eurodia and Syntyche…..who were stirring up trouble in the church.  ( hard to believe, isn’t it gentlemen!!?)  Paul writes; “ I plead with you to agree with one another in the spirit of the Lord!”  He is urging others in the church to work with these women to establish harmony within the church: His advice to them and to us all is:


“Rejoice in the Lord always,  I will say it again….rejoice!


Let your gentleness be evident to all.  Don’t be anxious about everything….but present your supplications to God….   “ and the  peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard all your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”


As Christians, we are encouraged to have the peace of Christ in our hearts….to embrace the mind and attitude of Jesus.  For sure, he presented to the people of his time and our time….an alternative wisdom….which was definitely at odds with the current, popular culture of his day and of our day.


In his attempt to help his disciples find the pathway to peace and happiness, Jesus presented some very difficult lessons and parables.   Love our enemies….. pray for them….. repay no one evil for evil.


Leo Tolstoy told the story of a Russian youth, a conscientious objector to war, who stood trial. In the courthouse the young man expressed his position, declaring that his philosophy of life came from the teachings and spiritual laws of Jesus. The judge replied, “Yes, I understand, but you must be realistic. These laws you are talking about are the laws of the Kingdom of God and it has not come yet!” The courageous young man answered, “Sir, I recognize that it may not have come for you, nor yet for Russia, nor for the world. But it has come for me.”….. and I hope for all of us.


Songwriter Daniel Nahmod wrote a profound song back in 2006. Here’s the chorus:

What if the race is over, and we all automatically win

What if the game is ended, long before it even begins

What if the test has been taken and we’re all passing again and again…If the race is over… what then 


What if the race is over….and everybody automatically wins? What if you win and I win and God wins?


And that’s up to us, isn’t it? It’s not up to Washington or the UN….or the media…..or Hollywood….it’s up to you and me.  It’s about our own personal dance with God…. finding and nourishing our divinity….. God’s indwelling Spirit…..not allowing our giants….our fear and negativity…. our hatred and prejudices to rule our lives and define our attitudes.


What if everybody wins!?


Then maybe….our grandchildren’s children or our great grandchildren’s children will ask the question Mother/Father, How did war end?.