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Will There Ever Be Peace?!

Will There Ever Be Peace?!

March 17, 2019

St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church, Tucson

Luke 13:31-35

  • Introduction
    • Grateful for St. Mark’s and this opportunity to share God’s word this morning
    • Context for this sermon
      • GA action last summer tasked REAC (Racial Equity Advocacy Committee) and ACSWP (Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy) to study the status of Jerusalem
      • The study team, on which I serve, asked pastors to submit sermons if they preach about Jerusalem between Advent and Lent
      • I sent Bart this call for sermons and also said that I would love the opportunity to preach, which is how I am up here today instead of sitting in the chairs. My sermon will be submitted to the study team
  • OT reading Genesis 15
    • The Old Testament reading, Genesis 15 is a story of renewal and faith
      • Abram is almost 100 and his wife, Sarai, is almost as old
      • Abram is wondering what will happen after he dies – his culture leans heavily on children to care for their parents, so the childless Abram has some concerns
      • God’s message: Do not be afraid; your biological heir, not a member of your household, will control this land that you are nomads in
      • This promise that Abram’s descendents will control the land is key for understanding today’s conflict
  • NT reading Luke 13
    • Context:
      • Jesus is annoying the Pharisees – the Jewish legal scholars who obsess over the rules
        • Earlier in the chapter, Jesus violated the Sabbath rules of rest to heal a sick woman – restoring her to wholeness instead of obeying the rules to do no work and to maintain “purity” by not associating with the impure, the sick, the sinner
      • Jerusalem is the center of Jewish life
        • The temple, the second built in Jewish history, is here
        • The pharisee’s control all aspects of Jewish life from Jerusalem – sending out their rulings and making pronouncements about Jewish law, albeit under the eyes of the Roman occupiers
        • As our first hymn reminds us, Jerusalem was and is a bustling city
    • Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!
      • Ouch!
      • When I first read this passage, I was reminded of John the Baptist’s “you brood of vipers” passage during Advent
      • This is Jesus’s turn: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets
    • One application, which is why it was chosen for this Sunday in Lent, was that Jesus is predicting his final days and his own dead on the cross outside the walls of Jerusalem.
      • Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets
  • Today
    • So how did we get to today? How did we get from this long promise made to Abraham about the land that makes up the modern nations of Israel, southern Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt?
    • The history of Jerusalem tells the story of the entire region – a city’s history that began before Abraham and continues uninterrupted to today.
    • Jerusalem tells the story of political occupation
    • Jerusalem tells the story of the rise of monotheism – it is central to the story of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
    • The land that Abraham was promised is the same land that Israel and Palestine continue to battle for control –
      • For political control – who gets to call Jerusalem their capital?
        • Israel declared its independence in 1949 and declared Jerusalem to be its capital
          • The United States immediately recognized Israel as a new nation, but opposed its capital being Jerusalem
          • In 1995, Congress passed a law recognizing Jerusalem as its capital and mandating that the US embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Bill Clinton opposed this and signed a waiver to delay the move every 6 months.
          • In the United States, both George Bush and Barack Obama recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but did not attempt to move the US embassy due to political opposition
          • December 2017, the current president order the construction of a new embassy in Jerusalem
        • The Palestinian Authority claims East Jerusalem as their capital
        • Who gets political control?
      • For control of the religious sites
        • Jews, Christians, and Muslims have fought over control and access to their sacred sites and the right to practice their faiths
        • Within the Christian community, our history of fighting other Christian groups over control of Christian sites will make you wonder if we have ever met the God of peace that we claim to worship
      • For control of the land
        • The land where Abraham, claimed as the forefather of all three religions
        • The land where David set up the capital of the Old Testament Israel and his son, Solomon, built the first temple
        • The land where Israelites returned from exile and the second temple was constructed
        • The land where Jesus walked and where he was condemned to die
        • The land where generations of Jews, Christians, and Muslims have walked amidst the holy sites as they go about their daily lives in the city of their ancestors
      • For control of the history of Jerusalem
        • Who gets to tell the history?
        • Does history belong to the victors or the victims? Who gets to decide who is a victor or the victim?
        • Why should we care about this complicated history?
  • Conclusions
    • You may have noticed the title of this sermon yet I have not mentioned the word peace until now
    • So far, all I have focused on is the conflict over and around and in Jerusalem that spans thousands of years – as long as Jerusalem has existed, there has been conflict
      • The former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti called it “the geography of fear”
        • This fear grips everyone on all sides
        • This fear propels all sides to focus on their needs and to claim that security within their groups is the #1 priority
        • This fear prevents any side, Israeli  or Palestinian, Jew or Christian or Muslim from seeing the others as fully human who love Jerusalem as they love Jerusalem
        • This fear denies the humanity of the others
        • This fear propels the conflict forward in perpetuity unless there is another solution that can break down fear
      • During my undergraduate studies, I spent a semester in Washington, DC studying domestic and international conflicts. A friend of mine, a committed Christian who loves Jesus as much as I do stated after studying the Middle East “There will always be conflict, so why bother?”
        • My eyes widened, although I had not perfected the “are you kidding me?” look that teachers have – you know, the one what makes you question if there is a such thing as a stupid question
    • The geography of fear is so overwhelming that Christians, Jews, and Muslims often lose sight of what unites them – a belief in the God of justice and peace
    • Where do we find glimmers of peace?
      • We can begin to find hope in two places – one ancient and one more recent
        • Remember Jesus’s words “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets”
          • That’s right – the Old Testament prophets who called ancient Israel to repent and to live a life of justice individually and as a community
          • The prophets offer us a vision of what is possible when humans live into the God’s vision of peace
          • The prophets called on God’s people, including us today, to reject injustice
          • When there is justice, there is peace
            • When the least of us is cared for, there is justice
            • When the other is cared for and safe just as we are, there is justice
          • This work comes with a risk – death because they dare to dream bigger than the status quo
        • The second peak at peace comes from the Croatian theologian, Miroslav Volf
          • When his country, Yugoslavia, was torn apart by a civil war, Volf sought to understand how his country might be healed when religion and ethnicity divided the country and plunged it into a genocidal war with both sides seeking to eradicate the other
          • Volf uses the image of the hug or embrace to build a model of reconciliation that can lead to peace
            • When the geography of fear grips two people there backs are to each other – they cannot see each other – it is us vs. them
            • The embrace has 4 parts
              • 1) Opening arms towards the other – creating space in your life for the other
              • 2) Waiting – a hug is reciprocal – both sides must commit together as equals
              • 3) Closing the arms around the other – 2 people create 1 hug
              • 4) Opening up the arms to end the hug – 2 people return to be 2 people changed
            • The embrace, the hug, cannot be done on one’s own. If it were that easy, conflict would be over soon instead of being allowed to fester over generations
            • In this season of Lent, as we walk with Jesus to the cross
              • Jerusalem, Jerusalem, why do you kill the your prophets?
              • Hear the good news, the Gospel of Jesus – the cross is the place to leave the our fears that we cling to
              • Jesus offers a different way – the hope of renewal and a transformed life of justice where peace can reign
    • So, St. Mark’s, where do we go from here?
      • Do we cling to our fears? Do we allow others to cling to their fears? Do we allow fear to reign in this world? Do we allow this fear to destroy?
      • Or do we choose to follow the prophets of the Old Testament? Do we choose to walk with Jesus to the cross, where we too can be transformed? Will we choose to share the good news that has transformed us with our neighbors drowning in fear?
      • Will there ever be peace?!
        • Yes, there will be peace when we cling to the cross and not our fears. May it be so.
  • Sources:
    • Benvenisti, Meron. City of Stone: The Hidden History of Jerusalem. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
    • Chapman, Colin. Whose Promised Land?: The Continuing Crisis Over Israel and Palestine. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books USA, 2002.

Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.