Notes for A MORE COHERENT SERMON—July 29/2007

NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON 1 P.M.
Sunday, July 29 , 2007
St. Andrew’s Old Catholic Church
Small Meeting Room, 138 Pears (Toronto)

1st Lesson: 1 2 Maccabees 1: 1 – 5

The Jews in Jerusalem and in the land of Judea send greetings to their brethren, the Jews in Egypt, and wish them true peace!

May God bless you and remember his covenant with his faithful servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

May he give to all of you a heart to worship him and to do his will readily and generously.

May he open your heart to his law and his commandments and grant you peace.

May he hear your prayers, and be reconciled to you, and never forsake you in time of adversity.

Gospel: John 20: 19 – 23

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”.

SERMON PROPER BEGINS

Like the world of the Middle East 2,000 years ago, we are in a world where human action seems to be a normal cause of death—and particular actions that are competitive or violent in nature. In the last week our media helped to make sure that it would be hard to have a different view of the nature of our social world.

In Phoenix two news helicopters crashed into each other, resulting in 4 deaths. reporters on board were from competing news outlets, covering a police chase. After reading the accounts, I wonder why is competition which puts people at risk rewarded? What real social need is filled by having as it happens coverage of a car clash, and particularly the desire to provide the same basic coverage from more than one news outlet?

In Pittsburgh, a 25 year old Toronto man was sentenced to 30 months in jail for his part in a scheme to smuggle 12 handguns into Toronto. This is someone who would have definitely known the impact of handguns on Toronto. Of the four guns that have been recovered, one was found after a gang shooting and another on an individual arrested for breach of bail conditions. What is there in our society that conditions someone to put short term profit over the long term benefit of themselves and the society in which they live? His actions didn’t come out of a vacume, indeed they mirror the money-centred/greed centred values positively portrayed in popular media.

We read of suicide bombings killing those celebrating a soccer victory in Iraq. We read of 57 suicide bombings in Afghanistan in 2007. We read of two women, one nine months pregnant, whose suicide bombing attack was foiled. As such attacks are done in the name of religion, what has happened within a faith to make suicide so attractive, to convince those in the here and now that giving up hope in the current moment is a sacred act?

And we read of those in the military, killed by suicide bombing and killing civilians, facing traditional combat and uncertainty in areas of supposed calm. What have all of us done to make war not only a possibility but a seemingly permanent part of our culture and economy?

As a global community, we seem to find an almost endless range of justifications for violence either on a personal or national scale. And yet, no matter where one is in the world there is someone raising the possibility that violence isn’t the only possibility. They can be doing so out of deep religious conviction or for personal, pragmatic reasons. But somehow they do not take it for granted that violence will always be with us. And they are aware that for violence to someday end, they need to act in the current moment. The action will very—from Israeli soldiers refusing to cross the Green Line (the pre-1967 boundaries) to women in Afghanistan running house schools to Christian Peacemaker Teams working with human rights organisers in Columbia to all those that take the Christ’s call in Matthew 25: 34 – 36 to feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the sick and support those in prison.

2,000 years ago, when Jesus walked among us, he was living within a world not much different than ours. There was political violence, including assassinations and terrorism, there was state-sponsored terrorism, there was urban crime, there was poverty and people being displaced due to war. So when Jesus talked about peace, he was talking about something people assumed could only occur after dramatic social change—the creation of a new Jerusalem, after the end of the Roman occupation…something desirable but not yet real.

And yet Jesus didn’t promise a far off peace; he offered peace in the here and now. This wasn’t an easy peace, one imposed from outside. It was a seed planted within the early Christian community that needed to be nurtured but was yet definitively real. Some of what they were called to do we’d see as political—such as refusing to serve in the military; some of what they were called to do we’d see as charity work, such as feeding one another; we might see other expectations as being psychological or spiritually healing, such as seeking to put aside old patterns of life that exploited others to be replaced with new patters of life that were healthy and life enhancing. Jesus knew that peace was multifaceted—not just an absence of war, not just being able to walk the streets safely, but a way of life where all are able to live with dignity and in harmony within creation, where none exploit others but rather seek to co-operatively meet individual and community needs. It is no accident that the co-operative movement in Canada owes so much to the Movement Desjardins, Antigonish movement and the Student Christian Movement—where people of profound spiritual commitment explored ways of practically living out the call to live out their chosen faith. And it is not surprising that the call to active peacemaking, although expressed in many settings, is most commonly heard by those expressions of faith that are still seem as somewhat marginal—Mennonites and Quakers, Bruderhof (recently renamed Church Communities International) and Doukhobors—whose experiments in living a life closer to that of the early church has moved them from the mainstream. Historic peace churches have been behind active peacemaking efforts such as Peace Brigades International and Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Different forms of active ministry, from soup kitchens to housing, have arose within almost all Christian expressions. The Roman Catholic Church was the cradle of the Catholic Worker Movement. Evangelical churches were, and are, behind efforts such as Yonge Street Mission. Making a real difference in both the lives of those in need and in the lives of those called to active service is an expression of peacemaking in its most direct form—those without can never be at peace with themselves.

Transforming lives has also been an important aspect of a peacemaking faith. The roots of organisations such as the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Frye Society are in faith communities. Caring for those too often overlooked in our society, such compassion included the expectation of transformation of behaviour by individuals and changes in the way society views on the outcast and marginalised in order to feed into a more just, less violent world for all.

The spirit of Christ continues to flow around us. We can’t avoid it. The dominant view of the world in Roman times was at odds with the vision of Jesus in the hills of Galilee. Our contemporary media would have us believe that our world can not embrace the loving, compassionate, powerful and transforming God who reaches out to us. If we listen to the still, small voice of God rather than the shrill dominant voice around us we will hear and feel the presence of God. Being open to this gentle spirit will open us to great things.

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