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Call to Worship from Isaiah
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news.
ALL: Who publish peace, who bring good tidings, who publish salvation, and proclaim, “Your God reigns!”
God will judge among many peoples,
ALL: And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and nation shall not lift up sword against nation: neither shall they learn war any more.
Let us lift up our voices and praise the God of peace and justice.
~ from the National Council of Churches USA website
Eternal One we lay before you today a broken and violent world. We bring you those we call terrorists, we bring to you wildfires that burn in the United States, the wars that rage around the world, the tension between North and South Korea, the violence in our own towns and cities and countries. We lay before you today our own anxiety and ask you to fill our hearts with your peace as we gather together today. Amen.
The Wisdom of Marianne Williamson
“When not at peace, I am separate from my true self. When not feeling love, I am separate from God. Today I claim my oneness with God so that my suffering shall end…Today, I embrace the experience of my true self.”
The Wisdom of Rabbi Harold Kushner
“Knowing that people care can affect the course of a person’s health. Prayer, when it is offered in the right way, redeems people from isolation.”
The Wisdom of the Book of Ephesians (6.10-11, 13-20)
Be strong in divine power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against injustice. 13Take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand strong. 14Therefore, fasten the belt of truth about your waist, and put on the breastplate of right action.15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of oppression. 17Take the helmet of liberation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer. To that end keep alert and always pray for the spiritual community. 19Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel…20Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
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“Praying for Peace”
I have often said that the way to be in right relation with God is to be in right relation with each other. And the way to be in right relation with each other is to be in right relation with God. While this might, on the face of it, seem like a “catch 22” instead it is the ultimate image of hope. We can enter into right relation wherever we are on any particular day, at any particular time, in whatever place we find ourselves. The only thing that keeps us from right relation is our own fear that can cause us to become self-centered and self-seeking, forgetting that we are all connected, part of the One God.
Marianne Williamson says it this way, “When not at peace, I am separate from my true self. When not feeling love, I am separate from God.” She makes the assumption that at our core, in our truest self we are at peace. And that feeling love is a direct connection with God. This is certainly true for me. When I feel loved I open myself to be vulnerable enough to connect with God and my fellow human beings. When I am connected to the source of life, what Tillich called the Ground of Being, I have the capacity to be at peace.
In my own life there are so many people, many of whom are my friends and colleagues, who are struggling with illness. My heart aches for them. I want to be able to make it better. But that is not my job. My job is just to love them and to make sure they know that I love and care for them even when they’re sick, even when it’s scary to be close to them for fear that they may die. As Rabbi Kushner says today, my caring and ensuring that they know I care, affects their health. It keeps them - and me - from isolation.
It’s interesting to me that we have these first two readings that encourage us to let down our guard, to open ourselves, to become vulnerable. Yet our gospel reading today is filled with images of putting on armor, we assume, to protect ourselves. It seems a bit contradictory to me. But as we look a little more closely we see that the very things described here as the armor of God are the things that make us vulnerable, the things that open us to right relation with God and our fellow humans.
Truth, right action, speaking out for peace, faith, working for liberation of the oppressed, reading and studying God’s word in sacred and secular texts, and always finding ourselves in an attitude of prayer and meditation… these are the things that keep us strong, the ways we can protect ourselves from self-centered self-interest that causes us to descend into fear and act in less than loving ways toward each other.
Each time we meet together we pray. In fact that is the sole focus of our time together, to join in corporate prayer within our service. When we pray we always pray for peace on earth. That is the ultimate expression of the realm of God realized in our world. But that seems like it is well beyond our reach, well beyond our capacity to affect it in any way.
The ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu said in the 6th century BCE, "If there is to be peace in the world, there must be peace in the nations. If there is to be peace in the nations, there must be peace in the cities. If there is to be peace in the cities, there must be peace between neighbors. If there is to be peace between neighbors, there must be peace in the home. If there is to be peace in the home, there must be peace in the heart." Peace really does begin with us, inside us, at the very core of our being. It seems weird to think that Peace on Earth begins with my daily meditation, with my prayer for my sick friend, with a smile to a stranger in an airport, or with our gathering here sharing what is on our hearts with each other.
When we pray for each other, we pray for peace. And when we pray for peace we are praying for the wellbeing of every single creature on the earth. So whether we work for ecological justice or gender justice, or equal rights for LGBT people or advocate for fair treatment of blacks by the justice system, whether we pray for our sick friends or treat the stranger with respect and love… in all of these situations we create peace within ourselves and within others with whom we come in contact.
That’s the magic formula… create as much peace as we can in our hearts, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, our cities, our nations and suddenly the world is at peace. It all begins with me. Are we willing to give up the drama? Are we willing to give up our own self-interest? Are we willing to let go of old hurts and resentments? It’s a life long journey. And like every journey it begins one step at a time, one day at a time. May it be so for all of us. Amen.