A Psalm for Peace

Psalm 122 & Isaiah 2:1-5

[Watch sermon here.]

How I rejoiced when they said to me:
“Let us go to the house of God!”

Let’s go! Call your friends and family!
What’s holding us back?
It’s like Christmas!
It is Christmas!

Let’s go!

The greatest gift awaits us …!

And now, after journeying,
our feet are standing within your gates, Jerusalem.
Jerusalem … the city that is bound firmly together!

What a thrill!

We have ached for the gates of Jerusalem.
Jeru-shalem. It means foundation of peace.

We have longed to stand on a foundation of peace.
We have cried for it after shootings.
We have raged for it in the midst of bombs.

Dear sweet God,
we want to stand in that place.
The place where people are bound together
with solidarity, dignity, and delight.

Here the [people] go up.
They hike up the mountain of God.
They sing a psalm, a song of ascent,
a song meant to elevate their souls and bodies.

They journey higher to the place of their desire.

Here the [people] come to praise God’s Name, as God commanded …
Here where the tribunals of justice are,
the judgment seats of David’s house.

The judgment seats here
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 this city,
those who experience oppression are
seen, honored, and raised up.

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 atheist neighbors.

To pray for peace
is not to pray for the cessation of animosity,
but to pray that all that opposes the Way of God
will be no more.
No more Islamophobia.
No more racism.
No more sexism.

To pray for peace
is to pray for equality,
because for us to be peaceful to one another,
we must be reconciled.
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!”

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.

Wow. This is what we ache for!

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 Marla,
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?
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 us to be honest about our own failings.

O God, we confess that
people are seldom going to the place of peace.
People are seldom elevating the place of peace.

In fact, the Catholic priest Fr. Daniel Berrigan asks,
Why is there such a disconnect between the worship of our God of peace
and our practice of violence and aggression?

Our nations stockpile weapons
and study war.

How glad I will be when someone says, “Let’s go!
Let’s go to the place of peace.”

We have not said “Let’s go” enough.
We could. Some people have.
Some people have led the way into the city of peace.

The prophet Isaiah is one of those people.
Isaiah has said, “Let’s go!”

Isaiah writes:
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 …
that we may be instructed in God’s way ….’

They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.

In Isaiah’s future vision,
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 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.
It 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
to transform daily
the tools of destruction
into tools of nourishment.

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

O house of Israel, come, let us walk by the light of God!

Let us walk by the light of God,
even if we walk by starlight,
like Mary and Joseph on the way to Bethlehem.

Mary did not have a voice or political power,
and yet God chose her and honored her.
God dwells with us through Jesus.
God is born through the one no one cares for.
That is the judgment.
God choses us. God dwells with us.

God thinks outside the box.
Just like Jesuit priest Fr. Greg Boyle.
Father Boyle tells us the story
of trying to create peace in LA when he was a young priest.
He would ride his bike from gang to gang
and try to get them to negotiate peace deals.
It never worked.

Then one day, he started Homeboy Industries
and started offering jobs, community,
and a sense of dignity to each gang member.
This brought peace.
The slogan of Homebody Industries became
Nothing stops a bullet like a job.

This is how you study life.

Likewise, God does not negotiate with warring nations in the middle east.
God has the creativity to bring a baby to the warring nations.

God puts on the flesh
of a brown-skinned baby,
born to a beautiful refugee mother.

This is the imagination of God.

Draw close.
Discover peace that is really peace.

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