Saturday, November 30, 2013

Study War? No More!

Isaiah 2:1-5
Advent 1
December 1, 2013

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

These are the words of a grand dream for all of God’s children. It is the dream for peace, a dream rooted in God’s love for every single person. It is an extraordinary dream: all people invited to live by God’s instruction, weapons turned into farm tools, nations refusing to go to war with other nations, and refusing to teach war and violence to their children.

This is Isaiah’s Advent dream. It lingers because it can be our dream too. Imagine a world where people get along, a world where there are no more enemies. Imagine a world where people care for one another and look out for those who are weak. Imagine a world as God sees it: a world without borders, a world without divisions, a world where nobody is forgotten.

Today we hear from some voices who have woken up and had the same dream. Their voices will instruct us to walk in the light of the Lord.

Mary Lou Williams

Hi! I am Mary Lou Williams, an African-American jazz musician who passed away in 1981. As a kid in Pittsburgh, I played for vaudeville shows. At age 15, I played for Duke Ellington. He was only the first of many, many notable musicians that I worked with during my career: Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie. You name them, I probably knew them. I was one of the few women who had a career in jazz. Apparently I could play and compose as well as any of the men.

But I want to tell you about some other important work that I did. God grabbed my shoulders in 1956, and I had a deep religious conversion. Joining the Roman Catholic Church, I stopped playing music for a couple of years. There were Christian people like Dorothy Day who helped me see that we have work to do every day, in caring for sisters and brothers and need.

I started the “Bel Canto Foundation” in 1957. The work was simple: help musicians that got into trouble. Some fell into the gutter. Others needed help to beat their addictions. Some were homeless. Others were going hungry. It was my calling to help them out. We started thrift shops in Harlem and gave the money to those in need. If they needed food, I cooked hot meals and made sure they were fed. That’s where peace begins: with helping the people around us who have troubles.

In time, when I returned to performing, I believed that I was praying when I played the piano. It was another way that I could do God’s work. I wrote a jazz mass for the Pope, called “The Mass for Peace,” and the Pope didn’t know what to do with it! I also took an interest in the welfare of children, and played jazz on Sesame Street and Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.

We have such little time here on earth. We are here to bless God, who made us all, and to take care of one another. That’s why we are here.

Peacemaking is the work of all people. There is no age limit. When God gives you the vision, you do what you can to strive toward it. Anybody can do this. Meet Trevor Ferrell.

Trevor Ferrell

Did you ever turn on the evening news and see something that upset you? My name is Trevor Ferrell, and that’s what happened to me.

One night when I was eleven years old, the TV news ran a story about the homeless people in nearby Philadelphia. They said it was a “code blue night,” a night so cold that people had to be taken to shelters to keep from freezing. I nagged my dad to take me to see a man who needed a blanket. He gave in, drove me in from our suburban house in Gladwyne, and I gave one man a blanket. I had no idea there were hundreds, thousands, of homeless people.

I couldn’t imagine it. I kept pushing my parents, saying, “We have to do something.” Pretty soon, our family was preparing hot meals and sandwiches for a hundred homeless people each night and delivering them to Philadelphia.

The idea caught on. In less than two years, “Trevor’s Campaign” became a million-dollar nonprofit outreach to the homeless with hundreds of volunteers. I was so involved that I was never in school, and failed sixth and eighth grades. But this was what I had to do.

I couldn’t get the picture out of my mind. This is one of the richest countries in the world, and it is wrong that anybody has to sleep on the streets. Peacemaking starts with giving people a hand up, with helping people claim the God-given dignity of their lives. We have to turn away from our selfishness, living more simply so others can simply live.

These days, I’m still out there. I am 42, married with two daughters. I run a thrift shop on Lancaster Avenue, and it’s full of day-to-day essentials. If somebody graduates from a homeless shelter, they come and see me. Free of charge, I give them what they need to start their lives over.

Peacemaking begins in God’s call to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. It can be a concern for those who are homes. Or it can grow from more dramatic circumstances. Hear from a man who knew what the Gospel required of him.

Oscar Romero

Hello, my name is Archbishop Oscar Romero.  I was born in 1917 in El Salvador, one of 8 children.  From an early age, I had a strong interest in the church and could often be found there, even though the church was persecuted at the time and many people were being killed.

My father thought I should become a carpenter, but I felt a call to the religious life. After seminary, I was ordained as a priest. I served quietly for many years and supported apostolic groups, Alcoholic Anonymous, and the building of a cathedral in San Miguel. I was appreciated for my work, and became rector of the seminary in San Salvador in 1966. As the editor of the diocesan newspaper, I was considered traditional and conservative.

When I became Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, many of the priests grumbled because of my conservative views and connection to the government. But God began to open my eyes. In March of that year, a progressive Jesuit priest and personal friend, Rutilio Grande, was assassinated.  He was an advocate for the poor and oppressed in my country, and his death woke me up to the brutalities of my own government. I had not wanted to see them; now I could not ignore them.

I became more progressive in my thinking, supporting every effort for people to be treated with equality. I even wrote to President Jimmy Carter expressing concern about the US aid to the military forces in El Salvador during the Salvadoran Civil War.  My concern was ignored by the United States. 

My work brought international attention and I met with Pope John Paul II to discuss the problems in my country. As I spoke up, priests continued to be persecuted and executed, simply because they stood up for their church members who were trampled by our government’s abuses.  On March 24, 1980 I was celebrating mass in a small chapel in a hospital when an unknown assassin shot me, too. I was lifting the cup to say, “The blood of Christ” when the gunshot rang out. Even at my funeral, army gunners opened fire on the 10,000 mourners who came to see me laid to rest. 

The road to peace is never an easy one.  Recognizing the needs of others before your own may put you in harm’s way. We may have to lay down our lives so that others may have a better life.

What will it take to walk in the light of the Lord? The prophet Isaiah does not spell it out. The walk will depend on when and where we live. The instruction on Mount Zion has not changed: to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our Lord (Micah 6:8). Each of us must seek and discover what this means, not just for us, but for all people. Finally, meet two friends of our congregation who are doing, loving, and walking . . .

Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase

R: My name is Rick Ufford-Chase. I am the son of a Presbyterian minister.

K: My name is Kitty Ufford-Chase. I am a life-long Quaker, and together Rick and I are co-directors of the Stony Point Center, a Presbyterian conference center about 30 miles north of Manhattan. Many of you have been there.

R: I went to Princeton Seminary, thinking that God wanted me to be a pastor like my father. But after one semester, that life plan didn’t seem to fit. I dropped out of seminary and went as a volunteer mission worker to Nicaragua. Beginning with that trip, God started changing my life.

K: Rick experienced first-hand what I had come to know through my peace tradition as a Quaker. There is great power to change the world by standing up for justice, working for equality, and grounding our work in prayer and a commitment to non-violence.

R: I helped to start an ecumenical mission called “Border Links,” working with the poor on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. That was my work, and our work, for about twenty years. We worked to help American church people see the deep injustices that affect our society, and to find constructive ways to work for change.

 K: Along the way, Rick became an elder at the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona. Then in 2004, he was elected as the youngest-ever moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). A seminary drop-out became the church’s top leader!

R: As I traveled the country during my two years as moderator, I discovered that many Presbyterians, especially young adults, are deeply concerned about that our country is perpetually involved in the business of war. God calls all the nations of the world to live in peace, to work for human dignity. But too many people wink at that notion and say it’s unrealistic.

K: Rick and I disagree with that point of view. We know the Gospel calls us to a life together in peace. So after some time to listen for God’s will, we accepted the call to move across the country to Stony Point, New York. Our vision is that the center can be a model for diverse people working and living together in peace. We have re-conceived the conference center as an interfaith community that provides a Presbyterian welcome to faith groups of all kinds.

R: The work of peace is long and demanding. But every day we meet people who hunger and thirst for righteousness. And when our nation wakes up and discovers that God calls all people to work together for the common good, we want Stony Point’s fingerprints to be all over that vision.

We see the vision. Then we walk toward it. That is God’s invitation to all of us. Peace is God’s vision. Peacemaking is our work. We must do the heavy lifting, and never settle for something less than what God wants for all people: to discover that we are neighbors, to work for the well-being of all, to learn alternatives to violence, to walk in the light of the Lord.

Today's sermon is a communal effort, as peacemaking is. Thanks to Judy and Charlie, who helped compose it and served as readers; and to Linda, Tyler, and Jack, who served as readers.

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