Dr Fiona Liddell’s sermon following the opening of the Wales for Peace exhibition ‘Belief in Action’
Called to be Peacemakers
Readings: Matthew 5: 1-10 Isaiah 55: 1-13
There are many good reasons to be thinking today about what it means to be a peacemaker:
Next week is Remembrance Sunday, and 100 years ago we were in the midst of one of the bloodiest wars this country has engaged in. To coincide with this, the church is hosting an exhibition on Belief and Action for 10 days. It reminds us of the difficult decisions people have made, and still do make in the light of conscience, and celebrates the witness of those who have made a stand for peace, often against the prevailing views of government and nation, and often at great personal cost.
Read some of the stories for yourself.
On top of all this, peace is central to our faith. It is mentioned 429 times in the King James Version of the Bible.
(Incidentally the word sword is mentioned 200 times, but not once in the Quran)
Peace has many meanings of course, and often is regarded as something passive. “All I want is a bit of peace” we hear the harassed parent saying. But the idea that comes across in the Sermon the Mount is that Jesus commends those who actively make peace, or as some translations put it, those who work for peace. This is what I want to explore further.
I have three examples of peacemaking to share
After each one, we’ll sing hymn 328 Make me a channel of your peace, staying seated
The first is an example of anti-war protest – the story of an American by the name of Jim Wallis.
In the UK, in 2003, the proposed war in Iraq caused many who had never protested before to take to the streets.
In America the Vietnam war was the big cause of political awakening and protest by many young people, especially among the student population.
Jim Wallis had a privileged background. He describes himself as a ‘Son of the American dream’. He stood to gain everything from what America stood for “I was an all American boy – born and raised an evangelical middle class, white kid in the Mid West”. He grew up believing that America was the greatest nation in history, God’s chosen people. There was no question that being faithful to God and to country was an easy thing to do because God’s purposes and America’s destiny were closely linked.
So far so good. Until teenage hit. Then this bright boy began to question what he saw as the cultural norms around, within his church (Plymouth Brethren) and within his community He became restless and rebellious. ‘Well that’s teenage’, you may say.
He noticed racism. He wanted answers. He learned of war, and began to distrust what his government said about Vietnam. As a student he was at the forefront of a strike by students at Michigan University – part of a national student strike in response to the US invasion of Cambodia and the killing of four students by the US national Guard at Kent State University in 1970. At the height of a series of protest actions, he describes this episode
[Read extract from Jim Wallis The New Radical pp 54-55. He describes an orderly protest, with public cheering and police co-operation. There is trouble at the front, with a car driving into the marchers and injuring some, before being bundled into a police car. Those further back are unaware. Jim walks back and around the marchers to dispel rumours and encourage the marching to continue . He meets with young Catholic children newly out of school hold out their hands for him to slap, saying ‘peace brother’. ‘It was just what I needed’, he said].
Make me a channel of your peace
The second is an example of building bridges across a cultural divide.
I’m thinking of a man, and you will probably know his name. He is a conductor, plays the piano, was born in Argentina, is Jewish, Israeli … and also holds Palestinian citizenship
And he established an orchestra to bring Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab musicians together to make music. Yes – its Daniel Barenboim.
Meeting together first in Weimar, German in 1999, DB and Edward Said drew together individuals who had only interacted with each other through the prism of war. Here as they listened to one another during rehearsals and discussions they found themselves building bridges across deep political and ideological divides. The occasion was intended as a one off but quickly evolved into the legendary West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.
The orchestra has been described as a near impossibility, defying as it does such fierce divides in the Middle East. In 2002 it was offered a home in Seville, Spain by the regional government of Andalusia– itself a place where Muslims, Christians and Jews have long lived side by side.
So how did this miracle of an orchestra come about?
It began with conversations between its founders, which developed to friendship between this Israeli musician and Palestinian author and scholar. As they discussed music, culture and their experience of humanity they realized that there was an urgent need to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a new way. And so they initiated that first music workshop in Germany.
The orchestra is the first to have performed within the Occupied Territories. For Palestinians in the audience it was in many cases the first time they had encountered Israelis in a non-military setting. One young girl remarked to DB “you are the first thing I have seen from Israel that is not a soldier of a tank”. It aspires to perform in every country represented by its musicians
When open war broke out again in Gaza 2009, DB began the orchestra’s performances by reading a shared statement which said “ We aspire to total freedom and equality between Israelis and Palestinians and it is on this basis that we come together to play music”.
DB was the first Jewish Israeli ever to be given Palestinian citizenship, in recognition of his peace work.
Make me a channel of your peace
And the third is an example from the streets of Cardiff, of how ordinary people responded to an aggressive situation in a public place.
It is best seen through a 6 minutes video from the Wales on Line website
What you see is one man taunting a muslim who is praying in a series of public places, and the response of the members of the public who happened to witness the action in each place.
It was a social experiment carried out by two friends, both of them muslim.
Young Fahim, who we saw praying in the video, was pleased with the results, with most people standing up for him and deploring the abusive actions of his friend.
Make me a channel of your peace
What does it mean for us to be peace makers?
The idea of peace is big enough to have within it something that each of us can latch on to, as our way of helping to turn the world into something that reflects inner peace and well–being, social justice and harmonious relationships, that are reflected In the lovely all-embracing word SHALOM.
A call to peacemaking is relevant, our professional lives, as it was with Barenboim, to our personal lives, as it was to those who witnessed religious abuse on the streets of Cardiff and to our national and international politics too, as in the case of Jim Wallis.
Churches are well-placed to help people to reflect on and to work out for themselves what is their particular calling as Christ’s witness in the world. Our notion of peace-making, or Shalom building needs to be a broad one. It will embrace threats to security such as the destruction of the planet through global threats such as climate change, as well our response to issues of violence, injustice and discriminatory behaviour – all of which compromise or threaten peace and well-being.
Let me close by suggesting four dimensions to active peacemaking, as outlined by the Joint Public Issues Team, (which includes the URC, Methodist and Baptist Churches working together):
- a) fostering just and peaceful relationships, b) being active in resolving conflicts c) supporting strategies for preventing violent conflict and d) engaging with political leaders about how and when violent force might be used.
There is a substantial agenda for action here!
As we have seen in our examples, peacemaking can be a difficult business. It can be life changing, it isn’t always welcomed by others and it has cost some people their lives. But if we are serious about our role, we need to encourage one another to make for peace however we can – in our own lives and together as a church.
This Faith and Action exhibition, put together by Wales for Peace, is one way in which this church is doing just that. Let us pray that it will stimulate interest, reflection and many conversations about our part in healing the world divisions and building God’s Shalom. Who knows where those conversations might lead……. Amen