A Psalm for Peace

Psalm 122, Isaiah 2:1-5

How I rejoiced when they said to me:
“Let us go to the house of God!”
When I heard it was time to go,
I leapt up with joy like a young kid on Christmas!
I could not wait to set forth!
“Let us go to God’s place,” we shouted,
for we hungered for it
with all our being,
for we knew what it was
to be heart-broken,
to bear witness to the world’s violence,
to watch that which we love
topple to the ground.

And now,
after journeying,
our feet are standing within your gates, Jerusalem.
Jerusalem restored!
he city one united whole!
Jerusalem,
who represents God’s presence here on earth,
has been restored,
it has been re-built stone by stone,
with rocks that will last,
rocks of dignity, equality and justice.

Here the tribes ascend, the tribes of God.
They come to praise God’s Name, as God commanded Israel –
Here, where the tribunals of justice are, the judgment seats of David’s house.
The judgment seats
are not what you expect.
God’s judgment comes in form of mishpat,
the Hebrew word for
when the neediest,
the marginalized,
and those who no one cared for,
are cared for.

In Jerusalem restored,
in God’s holy presence,
the least of these are lifted up as
bright, brilliant, beloved children of God
who are beautiful to behold.

In Jerusalem restored,
those who dwelt in the darkness are
seen, honored and heard.

Pray for peace within Jerusalem:
Prayers for Jerusalem
echo through the ages.
To pray for the peace of Jerusalem,
is to pray for the diversity of its neighbors:
to pray for Muslim neighbors,
Christian neighbors,
Jewish neighbors,
and agnostic neighbors.

To pray for peace
is to pray for the well-being of each person.

To pray for peace
is not to pray for the cessation of animosity,
but to pray that all that opposes the Way of God
– hard hearts, discrimination and despair –
will be no more.

To pray for peace
is to pray for equality,
because for us to be peaceful to one another,
we must be reconciled,
and in the words of visionary John Perkins:
“to become reconciled,
I have to see the dignity in you,
not just accept you because it is comfortable.”

To pray for peace is to ask:
“Do I really see the people around me as my equal?”

Pray for peace within Jerusalem.
“May those who love you prosper!
May peace be within your walls!
May your citadels always be secured!”

As we journey,
as we pray for those around us,
we carry these words with us:
My friends,
May those who love you prosper!
May peace be within your walls!
May your citadels always be secured!

For the sake of my family and friends,
I say, “Peace be within you.”

Peace be within you.

Peace,
or the Hebrew word Shalom,
is not just about
peace of mind
or a cease-fire between enemies.
According to Cornelius Plantinga,
peace is the webbing together
of God, humans and creation,
in justice, fulfillment and joy.
Shalom is about a universal flourishing,
where needs are satisfied,
natural gifts are employed
and God delights in each creature.

May this sense of well-being flood over us,
because sometimes,
we are not at peace.

One time,
many years ago,
I met a peace pilgrim
traveling across the country.
He told me the story of a transgender woman
who was beaten because of her gender identity.

My friend,
silenced for a moment by the story, asked:
“What is it within ourselves that causes that to happen?”

What is it within ourselves
that perpetuates systems of violence and injustice?
Is it our silence?
Is it our ignorance?
Is it our finger pointing?

God,
What is it within me that makes me
hostile and
afraid of the other?
What is it within me that is not at peace?

O God,
help me to be honest about my own failings.
Forgive me for the ways I dehumanize others.
Soften my heart to repentance
and give me the courage
to turn toward you, others and my best self,
and to do better next time,
so that together with all tribes
we might journey together
on the pathway of peace,
within ourselves
and within the whole world,

For the sake of our God,
I will seek your good Jerusalem,
pray for your well-being
and remember the words of prophet Isaiah,
who said:

In the last days,
the mountain of God’s house, God’s Temple
will be established as the most important mountain
and raised above all other hills – the nations will stream toward it.

Many people will come and say:
“Come, let us climb God’s mountain to the Temple of the God of Jacob,
that we may be instructed in God’s way
and walk God’s paths.”

As we hike up God’s mountain,
we discover that the whole purpose of the pilgrimage
is to learn God’s way
of forgiveness,
compassion,
patience,
prayer,
equality,
and life,
always life.

Instruction will be given from Mount Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem.
God shall judge between nations and render decisions for many people.

God will arbitrate,
ensuring that what is brought to light
is truth,
is justice,
is love.

And they will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;

As instruments of war
are transformed
into garden tools,
it may be tempting
to call out,
“Wait!
We need our guns,
our swords,
our spears!”

And yet,
this is the moment
when our imagination
and transformed tools
are most needed.

Christian Shane Claiborne tells the story
of visiting Iraq during the war.
There was a doctor
holding a child
riddled with missile fragments.
Looking at the bombs falling from the sky,
the doctor said,
“This violence is for a world
that has lost its imagination.”
The doctor asked Shane,
“Has your country lost its imagination?
Has our world lost its imagination?”

What is God’s dream for the world?
Shane tells the story
of watching a 19 year old killed on his front porch.
We could tell the story
of the shootings that flood the newspaper.
This is not God’s dream.

The church talks about
life after death,
but what about life before death,
does that exist?

Do you see that
your AK-47
can become a shovel?
Do you see that
an assault rifle
can be transformed into a garden trowel?
That instead of studying war
that we could study life?

This is not some far-fetched,
future-oriented idea.
This is happening right now in Philadelphia
People are voluntarily giving up their guns
to be dismantled into garden tools,
because, they say,
“I am tired of the shootings.
I want my gun
to bring life
instead of leading
to more violence.”

Did you know
that violence
is a failure of imagination?

In Philadelphia,
there was a church
that wanted to host a homeless shelter,
but the city didn’t want the homeless in that part of town,
so they refused the church’s permit.
The church began to ponder
another way forward
and decided to host revivals every night
with a two-hour period of worship
and a ten -hour period of silent prayer,
and if you happened to fall asleep for that period,
so be it.

Peace requires us to dream bigger,
to engage our imagination
and to transform daily
tools of destruction
into tools of nourishment,
of flourishing,
of delight,
of well-being.

In the words of Indian activist Arundhati Roy:
“Another world is possible.
Another world is necessary.
Another world is already here …
on a quiet day I can hear her breathing.”

God’s dream is life,
holding every life as precious,
every life as sacred.

At precisely such a time as this,
we are called to re-imagine
our country and our world
and to re-make the tools at hand.

 One nation shall not raise the sword against another,
and never again shall they train for war.

O house of Leah and Rachel and Jacob, come, let us walk by the light of God!

Let us walk by the light of God,
even it is only one candle that is lit,
even if we walk by starlight like Mary and Joseph on the way to Bethlehem
or John the Baptist as he wandered the wilderness.

Let us walk by the light of God,
because it will lead us home
to life before death
and life after death;
to flourishing,
to well-being,
to joy.

Let us walk by the light of God,
which comes to us
from the darkest corners.
In the Advent season,
it comes to us from Mary,
an unwed, pregnant teenager.
who had no political voice or power,
and yet within her womb
carries God’s own self.

God says to those
who no one cares for:
I see you,
I hear you,
I honor you,
I dwell within you.

God says to Mary and all of us:
I will blaze a way forward
that no one,
not even death,
has imagined before.
Will you join me?
Will you journey with me
toward peace
that is really peace?

Amen.

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