NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON:
11:00 a.m., August 9, 2009
St. Andrew’s Old Catholic Church
Small Meeting Room, 138 Pears
1st Lesson: 2: 1 – 4
This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.
Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Gospel: Matthew 5: 1 – 12
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
SERMON PROPER BEGINS
In ceremonies held on August 6th, to remember the victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and today, August 9th, to remember the victims of the bombing of Nagasaki, paper cranes are often shared and on ponds and rivers released. It is a small sign of hope that there will be a time when there will be no more victims of war. Like many ceremonies, there is a concrete beginning to symbols. According to Wikipedia, the use of paper cranes as a symbol of the hope for peace began with a young girl who died of leukaemia a few years after living through the bombing of Hiroshima:
Sadako Sasaki January 7, 1943 – October 25, 1955) was a Japanese girl who lived near Misasa Bridge in Hiroshima, Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Sadako was only two years old on August 6, 1945 when she became a victim of the atomic bomb.
At the time of the explosion Sadako was at home, about 1 mile from ground zero. By November 1954, chicken pox had developed on her neck and behind her ears. Then in January 1955, purple spots had started to form on her legs. Subsequently, she was diagnosed with leukemia, which her mother referred to as “an atom bomb disease.” She was hospitalized on February 21, 1955 and given, at the most, a year to live.
On August 3, 1955, Chizuko Hamamoto – Sadako’s best friend – came to the hospital to visit and cut a golden piece of paper into a square and folded it into a Paper Crane. At first Sadako didn’t understand why Chizuko was doing this but then Chizuko retold… the Japanese saying that one who folded 1,000 cranes was granted a wish. A popular version of the story is that she fell short of her goal of folding 1,000 cranes, having folded only 644 before her death, and that her friends completed the 1,000 and buried them all with her. This comes from the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. An exhibit which appeared in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum stated that by the end of August, 1955, Sadako had achieved her goal and continued to fold more cranes.
Though she had plenty of free time during her days in the hospital to fold the cranes, she lacked paper. She would use medicine wrappings and whatever else she could scrounge up. This included going to other patients’ rooms to ask to use the paper from their get-well presents. Chizuko would bring paper from school for Sadako to use.
During her time in hospital her condition progressively worsened. Around mid-October her left leg became swollen and turned purple. After her family urged her to eat something, Sadako requested tea on rice and remarked “It’s good.” Those were her last words. With her family around her, Sadako died on the morning of October 25, 1955.
After her death, Sadako’s friends and schoolmates published a collection of letters in order to raise funds to build a memorial to her and all of the children who had died from the effects of the atomic bomb. In 1958, a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane was unveiled in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, also called the Genbaku Dome. At the foot of the statue is a plaque that reads, This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.
Long before Christ walked the earth a time when war would cease was envisioned. In Isaiah we hear of a time when war would cease and the weapons of war would be converted to peaceful usages. People in a time and place of conflict looked forward to a different world, one where violence towards others would cease to exist. Their experiences didn’t lead them to despair for the future of humanity but rather lead them to see that something different was possible, indeed inevitable. Isaiah tells us of a time when peace would reign—those who first heard these words didn’t know when it would occur, but had faith that if they kept alive the possibility of peace it would inevitably occur. And to keep alive the vision of what God intended for us they described a time of peace in language we can still understand—swords into ploughshares; spears into pruning hooks. From peace groups such as Project Ploughshares to a statue in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York, what inspired those thousands of years ago in Israel still has universal meaning today. If we envision something we can make it happen. The paper cranes floating in the pool at the Peace Garden or the statue of a sword being beaten into a ploughshare keeps alive the possibility that dreams will be made real.
Perhaps we keep a dream of peace alive because we are foolish people. We take as a the basic core of our faith a calling to simple acts in what is an all-too-complex world. We are to love our neighbour, we are to feed the stranger, we are to be meek, we are to be strong in the faith, we are to be peacemakers.
Around us are wars and rumours of wars, often justified on religious grounds. And yet around always are those who speak of peace:
Abdul Ghaffar Khan: “The Holy Prophet Mohammed came into this world and taught us: ‘That man is a Muslim who never hurts anyone by word or deed, but who works for the benefit and happiness of God’s creatures. Belief in God is to love one’s fellow men.'”
Abdu’l-Baha: “I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.”
Fr. Oscar Romero: “Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is dynamism. peace is generosity. It is a right and it is a duty.”
If there is violence in the world the violence exists in opposition to divine will. On August 9, 1945 one bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. According to Wikipedia “the death toll from the atomic bombing totalled 73,884, as well as another 74,909 injured, and another several hundred thousand diseased and dying due to fallout and other illness caused by radiation.” This was one act in a war that saw some 60 million die. And in every country, from downtown Berlin to Mennonite settlements in Western Canada, voices were raised that violence was wrong. They may have been drowned out by the wars around them, but they kept alive the spirit and vision of a peaceful world.
We here are fortunate. War is something for memories or history books or the news or letters from someone in the midst of armed conflict. We see the harm of war with limited experience of it. The picture of a girl running down the road with napalm etching into her skin; the cloud over Nagasaki; the destruction of the World Trade Centre; the news story of the wedding party accidentally bombed…the world provides us with knowledge and images that brings home what war can do. The paper crane, the sword made into a plough and the Sermon on the Mount provide us with knowledge and images of what peace is and can be.
On this day when people reflect on war and peace, let us go forth from here taking the Sermon on the Mount into every corner of our lives, trusting that the voice of the prophet heard 3,000 years ago and the voice of the peacemaker heard 2,000 years ago and the voice of the child heard just over 50 years ago are still voiced in our actions and our dreams.