An Advent sermon related to Isaiah 11:1-9 and Dalai Lama quote on peace
To uplift the unexpected possibility/emergence of peace
and to connect it with the realization of justice.
Isaiah 11:1-9 (The Inclusive Bible)
Then a shoot will sprout from the stump of Jesse;
From Jesse’s roots, a branch will blossom.
2 The spirit of YHWH will rest on you,
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of counsel and strength,
a spirit of knowledge and reverence for YHWH.
3 You will delight in obeying YHWH,
And you won’t judge by appearances,
or make decisions by hearsay.
4 You will treat poor people with fairness
and will uphold the rights of the land’s downtrodden;
With a single word you will strike down tyrants,
With your decrees you will execute evil people.
5 Justice will be the belt around this your waist
faithfulness will gird you up.
6 Then the wolf will dwell with the lamb;
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
the calf and the lion cub will graze together,
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear;
their young will lie down together;
The lion will eat hay like the ox.
8 The baby will play next to the den of the cobra,
and the toddler will dance over the viper’s nest.
9 There will be no harm, no destruction anywhere
in my holy mountain,
for as the water fills the sea,
so the land will be filled with the knowledge of YHWH.
For the Word of God in Scripture,
For the Word of God among us,
For the Word of God within us,
Thanks be to God.
In January of 1915, in Great Britain, the Wellington Journal & Shrewsbury News published a letter of a British military officer. Captain Robert Patrick Miles wrote home on Christmas Day from the Great War’s trenches, the front lines of World War I. He wrote:
We are having the most extraordinary Christmas Day imaginable. A sort of unarranged and quite unauthorized but perfectly understood and scrupulously observed truce exists between us and our friends in front. … The thing started last night – a bitter cold night, with white frost – soon after dusk when the Germans started shouting 'Merry Christmas, Englishmen' to us. Of course, our fellows shouted back and presently large numbers of both sides had left their trenches, unarmed, and met in the debatable, shot-riddled, no man's land between the lines. Here the agreement – all on their own – came to be made that we should not fire at each other until after midnight tonight. The men were all fraternizing in the middle … and swapped cigarettes and lies in the utmost good fellowship. Not a shot was fired all night.
The letter was published posthumously.
Captain Miles was killed 5 days after he wrote this letter on December 30, 2014.
Unexpected peace broke out that Christmas during the First World War.
The tragic fact that it did not last is, of course, reason for deep disappointment, sadness, and grief. Yet, the fact that this unexpected peace occurred is soul food for our imaginations. It is manna in the wilderness of violence and violent expectations. The story’s unexpectedness, the fact that we call it that, unexpected, points to the expectation of a lack of peace in our collective imaginations and even the cynicism that can make a home in our hearts, especially in the light of mass shootings like Club Q in Colorado Springs, King Soopers in Boulder, others around the country, and in light of the Jan. 6th insurrection at the Capitol building.
Yet, the prophetic voice we hear in the passage from Isaiah this morning has no such limitation of imagination and expectation. Isaiah’s prophetic poetic imagination offers a vision, a hope, even an expectation for his people who stand in their time also amidst the darkness of deportations and war. Even in such a time, the prophet Isaiah offers a vision of peace that comes about by justice. In this case, justice brought by an ideal sovereign whose connection to God imbues humility, wisdom, compassion, and a sense of equity. Amidst these qualities, there is a reconciliation in the land so profound that even the lion shall lay down with the lamb.
In the story I shared, the War to End All Wars resumed and Captain Miles was killed because, of course, nothing changed in the systems in which these humans lived. No policies or orders were changed, no heartfelt connection and conversation was had by the warring nations’ leaders. They would not make room in their imaginations for another vision. These leaders, and many of their citizens, were prisoners of their limited sense of self and of the other, captives of their nationalistic, competitive worldview and its expectations.
As a Peace with Justice church nationally and here locally at Plymouth United Church of Christ, we uplift an understanding that what makes for peace are conditions of justice.
The Dalai Lama said it this way:
Peace, in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold. It will not remove the pain of torture inflicted on a prisoner of conscience. It does not comfort those who have lost their loved ones in floods caused by senseless deforestation in a neighboring country. Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.
Indeed, what makes for justice are peaceful actions of justice-making by peace-filled nonviolent people like Rosa Parks, Dolores Huerta, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and like First Nation youth and elders at the Standing Rock Reservation a few years ago. And many unnamed others. All of these people made room for a dream of peace based in justice, made room in their imaginations in such a way as it led them into actions for that vision of Just Peace.
This also can be the case in our personal lives where our conscious imaginations fail us and we set expectations, often unconscious, based on our internalized family systems that demean or inflate ourselves and/or the other, that make no room for a new vision of what might be possible, of making a way to inner peace and healing, unexpected though it might be. In that world of habitual confinement and conflict, there is no room for imagining reconciliation of lion and lamb, no room for the advent of a light of peace amidst that darkness. The status quo expectations of our internalized family system and the status quo expectations of culture and history can and often do keep us captive.
Is it too much for us to make room for a story like the Christmas truce of 1914, to make room for something unexpected, something beyond our usual expectations of age or situation or personal or historical habit?
Is Isaiah an unrealistic dreamer with all his lion and lamb talk?
Are such stories and visions all just wishy-washy, touchy feely, cotton candy Christmas talk?
Dr. King and others didn’t think so.
Their communities of faith trusted Isaiah’s prophetic vision of an unexpected peace, let it embolden their prophetic imagination. Then they directed their hopes and charted their actions toward that unexpected vision of a just peace, even as they waited for it amidst the darkness of injustice.
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
When John Lennon penned his lyric for Imagine and said he imagined no religion, no possessions, no heaven and hell, he was naming the toxic forms of religion and possession that limit us, divide us, and lead us to injustice and violence. Indeed, we are better off without them. He was encouraging us, from the darkness of our limited cultural expectations, to imagine differently, to make room for an unexpected vision of how there could be peace.
As we now come together at the Banquet table of God, let us faithfully imagine differently, like Isaiah, and make room for an unexpected coming of peace. AMEN.