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Peace Within You

Sermon - 12/02/07
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Psalm 122

Just to be a little different this year, I thought I would use the lectionary readings for the Psalms for the first 3 Sunday's of advent.  I think they're 3 Psalms that I've never preached on before, so I wanted to do that.  The Psalm for this Sunday is a pilgrimage Psalm.  It's a Psalm intended for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem, anticipating coming to the house of the Lord, and then their joy upon arrival in that spot.

And it's chosen, I think, for the lectionary for the first Sunday of advent because we often think of the advent season as a time of pilgrimage, of journey.  Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem.  The Magi following the star (although that properly belongs to the season of Epiphany).  We also think of Christians journeying to Bethlehem to celebrate the Christmas season in that special place.

We think of the difficult, hard journey it is to make it to a decent bowl game in this time of year J.  And we have hope.

As I read this Psalm, I invite you to think not of a person who wakes up and thinks "Gosh, I think I'll go to church this morning".  But rather that person who is making that long, difficult journey of days or weeks or longer:

1I was glad when they said to me,
   ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’
2Our feet are standing
   within your gates, O Jerusalem.

3Jerusalem—built as a city
   that is bound firmly together.
4To it the tribes go up,
   the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
   to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
5For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
   the thrones of the house of David.

6Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
   ‘May they prosper who love you.
7Peace be within your walls,
   and security within your towers.’
8For the sake of my relatives and friends
   I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
9For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
   I will seek your good.

 

Is there today, precisely on this Sunday after that Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, a more appropriate Psalm?  A better time to pray for the peace of Jerusalem?

I'm continually amazed at how often the texts that are selected for a given Sunday are so relevant to today.  I didn't pick this Psalm this week -- it was picked by a lectionary committee years ago.  I chose it back in January that this would be the passage that I would reflect on this Sunday.

So here we are, in this week in particular when all of these people have come together to contemplate how peace might indeed be possible in that troubled area of the world.

We may wish that President Bush had initiated this process a little bit earlier, but regardless, I think we should all pray for the success of this new effort, and for the continuing leadership of our president.  That the full influence of our government may be used to keep all the parties at the table to continue the dialogue, that true peace might be found, and the rights of all peoples in the holy land to their own homeland will be finally recognized and respected.

There are many practical reasons why this issue is of great importance to us.  But I only want to focus this morning on the theological, biblical, spiritual reasons.

There are some Christian groups that show interest in Israel only as a stepping-stone to the final cataclysmic battle which they believe will usher in the second return of Christ and the destruction of all heathens in the world.  I could easily spend the next two hours refuting that kind of perspective, and I know that you really want me to do that J.  But I'll resist that this morning, and simply cut to the chase and provide my humble opinion and conclusion on the matter:

End-times theology, with its vision of Armageddon for the ungodly and rapture for the faithful, as portrayed in the popular "Left Behind" series, is biblical nonsense, and is the most damaging, un-Christian concept ever conceived, period.

You can't pray for the peace of Jerusalem (as directed in this Psalm) on the one hand, and for the return of Jesus to wipe out all those heathens on the other.

And so the important thing for us, especially in light of this text, is to present the alternative to that terribly dangerous and theologically absurd view with a more theologically sound and biblically sound vision that is evident throughout scripture.

For peace has always been at the center of God's vision for the earth.  And therefore, it is the hope above all other hopes for the coming reign of God.  Peace through justice, not peace through victory and defeat and war.

Now recall all those familiar texts of Isaiah:

"They shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.  And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the lion shall eat straw like an ox, they will not hurt or destroy in my holy mountain", says the Lord.

 

And that wonderful chorus from Handel's 'Messiah' that we hear so often in this time of year:  "Born unto us, a child is born, unto us a child is given.  And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace".  You could just sing along.

Actually, the text that we read earlier from Isaiah says "His authority shall grow continually and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom".

Those are the promises echoed in the song of the angels to the shepherds.  "Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace and goodwill to all".

It's the blessing of Jesus in the beatitudes, in the sermon on the mount -- "Blessed are the peacemakers".  It's the final vision of Revelation, of a new Jerusalem, where death and mourning are no more and the tree of life (that is portrayed in our last window here -- that people think looks like Multnomah Falls J), that's actually the tree of life if you look closely on either side, with its "leaves of healing for the nations".  Not destruction.

That's the vision, the biblical vision.  And that hope of peace for the world is symbolized by the well-being of one city.  Jeru - Salem.  Do you hear that?  Salem. . . Shalom.  Do you know what the name Jerusalem means?  "Foundation of Peace".  Shalom.  It is the meaning of Jerusalem.  Jerusalem, the Psalmist says, built as a city that is bound firmly together.  The Hebrew of that verse can actually also be translated as meaning "where people come together in unity".

It's rather ironic, isn't it, that Jerusalem is the most divided city perhaps today.  Jews, Christians, and Muslims clashing over one tiny piece of real estate without any oil, gas, coal, or any other strategic importance, as if it were the most valuable piece of land on the planet.  Is this some kind of perverse joke that God is playing on us?  Or is it possible that God wants Jerusalem to be the ultimate object lesson?

Think about that, Jews, Christians, and Muslims represented in this one city, that perhaps it is precisely that place where the 3 Abrahamic faiths do come together in unity (if not intentionally then unintentionally) to show that in fact we are bound firmly together.

As I have said so many times in the interfaith services that meet here on the 11th of every month, quoting Roman Catholic theologian Hans Kung, "there will be no peace in the world until there is peace among the worlds religions".

Most of the news that we hear coming out of Jerusalem these days is not particularly peaceful.  It does not make Jerusalem sound like a hopeful place.  And yet, what we are not hearing is that some of the most incredible, hopeful work for peace and justice is being done precisely in Jerusalem.  A couple of weeks ago, Temple Beth Israel and others in the community sponsored a gather that was held right here in this sanctuary -- a Palestinian Muslim and an Israeli Jew traveling together to spread the message of peace in Jerusalem, and talking about the work of their program called "Jerusalem Peacemakers".  You can check it out on the web yourself at www.jerusalempeacemakers.org.

 

Exciting work that they have done, one of the projects (I wish I had time to show the video) was called 'The big hug for Jerusalem'.  A thousand people gathering from all faiths in a celebration of peace, and literally hugged the Temple Mount in a show of love for the city.  Exciting work.

 

One of the newest, most promising groups created just this year is the Counsel of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land.  I know that's a name that really spawns a lot of excitement J.  But the members of that group include the chief Rabbi's of Israel, the Supreme Judge of Shaaria Muslim Court in Palestine (and other top Muslim leaders in and out of government), the Catholic and Greek patriarchs in the holy land, and the Anglican and Lutheran bishops of the holy land.  These top leaders in each of those three religious traditions have come together, and they issued a communiqué just prior to the Annapolis conference in which they pledged themselves to work together for the peaceful coexistence of their respective communities.  And to end all derogatory representation of one another's religious traditions, and promotion of mutual respect and acceptance of one another through education.

And they proposed designating the old city of Jerusalem as a world heritage site, open to all faith communities.

I believe their efforts probably hold more promise for hope and peace than the efforts of politicians precisely because they are more apt to represent and to speak to the common people.  The people who are living in the land and struggling with these issues.

As Christians, we cannot help but remember when we think of these issues of the lament of Jesus.  When he went on his final pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and he saw the city, and do you remember what the gospel says?  He wept.  He wept and lamented:  "Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, would that you knew for the ways that make for peace".

That lament represents a challenge to us.  To not only pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the renewed peace process begun by our president, but to also ask ourselves:  are we any different?  Do we know the ways that make for peace and follow them?

The Psalmist proclaims:  For the sake of my relatives and friends, I will say 'Peace be within you'.

Thus God's hope for peace in reality, says Old-Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann:  "God's hope is that men and women, members of the common human family, will take seriously our mutual responsibility to care for one another".  To take seriously our mutual responsibility to care for one another.

This is the hope of advent.  That wishing peace for our Jewish brothers, our Muslim sisters, our Hindu neighbors, our Buddhist friends, our Catholic relatives, and even our non-religious siblings as well, will be much more than a Hallmark card greeting.  Or a casual spoken 'hello'. 

That it will be the God-inspired desire to seek the well-being of each and every person.  And to hear in that greeting -- "Peace be with you" -- the concluding hope of the Psalmist.

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good. 

May it be.

 


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