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
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
‘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
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
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
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
"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
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
As I have said so many times in the
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
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
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
And they proposed designating the old
city of Jerusalem as a world heritage site, open to all faith
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
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
For the sake of the house of the Lord
our God, I will seek your good.
May it be.