Perfect Peace

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on July 22, 2018.
The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.
— Mahatma Gandhi
The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
— Numbers 6: 25-26
I have told you all this so that you may have ‘peace’ in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.
— John 16: 33

Every year during the month of July, the Erie Canal bike ride takes place. As many of you know, a few years ago I completed the ride from Buffalo to Albany. I’ve done it twice and each time it’s a different experience. I’ve met people from all over the world who have come together to accomplish the ride. Even though we don’t know each other, we become “family” for a week.  We look out for each other, stopping if we think someone’s having difficulty. Everyone encouraging each other as the days wear on. For me, I love to hear people’s stories; where they come from, what made them come on the ride, what is their impression of our state, our country?   

The other thing I enjoy is going through all the little towns along the way. These are the places that were only names on the Thruway until I rode the canal. The people in many of the towns set up water and sometimes food stands. They welcome us and they too are eager to hear our stories. I’ve even had people buy me breakfast a couple times as a way for them to welcome me to their village.

Today I’d like to explore the notion that we all belong to a global village. I always have to ask myself; why do people have the idea that because someone looks different than me, or comes from another country, or worships in a different style, has a different sexual orientation – that they should be treated any less than the way I expect to be treated? Why do we seem to have a problem welcoming them to our “village”?

Once there was a war and two armies came together in battle. They fought from the time the sun came up in the east till it set in the west. When the day was at a close, only two warriors remained, surrounded by their dead comrades covered in the blood and gore of war.

They stood facing each other, so exhausted from death that they could barely move. Finally one said, “Let us rest until dawn and then finish this fight and only one will go home.” The other warrior agreed.

And so they took off their dented helmets and unstrapped their shields and sheathed their swords. They lay down among their fallen comrades only a few feet apart from each other. But they were so weary that they could not sleep. It was the weariness that comes with too much killing. Finally one turned to the other and spoke.

“I have a son at home in my village and he plays with a wooden sword. Someday he wants to grow up and be like me.”

The other man listened and finally replied, “I have a daughter at home and when I look into her eyes I see the youth of my wife.”

The two men started to tell each other stories.  Stories of their families, their villages, their neighbors, the old stories that they learned at their grandparents’ knees when they were young. All night long they told stories till the sun started to creep to life in the east.

Slowly they stood and put on their helmets. They buckled on their shields and drew their swords. They looked deep into each others’ eyes and slowly sheathed their swords and walked away, each to his own home.

Grandmother always said you cannot hate someone when you know their story.

Adapted from The Healing Heart: Communities, edited by Allison M. Cox and David H. Albert (New Society Publishers, 2003).

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the end of WWI.  It was billed as “the war to end all wars”.  In the end, more than 16 million people—soldiers and civilians alike—were dead. There were approximately 21 million soldiers wounded, including my grandfather who was shot and suffered the effects of mustard gas the rest of his life.

There’s a true story of a moment of peace in the midst of battle. It was in 1914 prior to American involvement in the war

The Christmas Truce Story - Jon Mertz

Today, even after a decade and more of war, only a few understand the burdens of fighting, being on guard constantly, and leaving family behind. Go back in time and add in muddy trench warfare, coldness all around and little comfort nearby. This was the setting of the Western Front in World War I.

In 1914, World War I was being fought as Christmas Eve settled upon the battlefield. The divide between the opposing forces was known as No Man’s Land, the sliver of space between opposing trenches. In No Man’s Land, no one would want to venture. Enemy fire would ensue, and life would be at grim risk. Yet, this is where the Christmas truce took place.

From a short distance, candlelight twinkled in the night, and voices could be heard singing “Silent Night” and “The First Noel,” interrupting the darkness of war. As soldiers peered over the piled dirt, they saw tiny Christmas trees lining the tops of the trenches.

Peace broke out. Hands were stretched out and shook readily as a gesture of peace. Gifts were exchanged. Haircuts were given. Laughter burst out. Conversations in broken languages began. A soccer game was played. All this unfolded in a barren place known as No Man’s Land. All was done in a moment of peace and the spirit of it.

German, British, French, and Belgian… All joined together, putting their gun battles aside to capture a few minutes of peace.

Through frontline letters and a few articles, word of the Christmas truce spread sporadically and skeptically to others. Some thought it was a myth. Some worried if battle plans would be upset. The war continued for many years afterwards and, although attempted, a Christmas truce was never realized in the same way as on those days and nights in 1914.

As one German soldier said, “It was a day of peace in war. It is only a pity that it was not decisive peace.”

A Moment of Peace

While the Christmas truce is a short story of peace, it brings hope and challenge. The hope is, even in the muddy trenches of raging battles, peace can bloom. The challenge is, simply, how can we string together moments of peace?

For me, this is the ultimate tale of the Christmas truce. It is about creating the moments of peace, centered on values of a season and of humanity. It is about determining how to sustain those moments into a longer stretches of time, turning minutes into momentum within a society working together to achieve a higher purpose. This needs to be our story. This needs to be our resolved challenge.

Imagine the parents receiving the letters describing a Christmas truce between enemies, outside the trenches, and barely beyond the stench of the battles. Unbelief would be likely. Gratitude for the spiritual power of peace would be another.

Peace Imagined

We cannot afford to be dampened down below the spirit of Christmas. We must rise up over our challenging times and practice moments of peace, lending a hand, sharing a laugh, hugging a friend. We must rise up and call on our communities to embrace peace as a daily standard, not just something practiced during a holiday. We must rise up and have the conversations about how to advance our society forward rather than revel in blue/red state issues.

We have a larger purpose. It is time to recognize this fact of life.

Just as the soldiers from opposing sides stood up and out of the trenches to extend their hands and share a moment of peace, we need to do the same.

Rise up in the spirit of peace and exemplify peace even in the face of unquiet times.

By Jon Mertz December 19, 2012

If you get a chance, go to YouTube and listen to the song - “Christmas in the Trenches” by John McCutcheon.  In it he tells the story beautifully as it ends with -

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war.
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night
"whose family have I fixed within my sights?"
It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung.
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung.
For the walls they'd kept between us to exact the work of war
had been crumbled and were gone forever more.
My name is Francis Tolliver. In Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War One I've learned it's lessons well.
That the ones who call the shots won't be among the dead and lame
and on each end of the rifle we're the same.
-- John McCutcheon "Christmas in the Trenches”

We all search for that peace we find so elusive. Think about it, if humans can find a way to find peace in the middle of a war zone, why can’t we find it in our everyday lives? I’ll end with one last story, from an unknown author.  It’s titled “Perfect Peace”.

There once was a King who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The King looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked and he had to choose between them.

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror for peaceful towering mountains were all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.
The other picture had mountains too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell, in which lightening played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all.
But when the King looked, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest ... perfect peace.
Which picture do you think won the prize?
The King chose the second picture.
Do you know why?
"Because," explained the King, "peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace."

Plan, scheme, worry – we all do it to some extent. As much as we have experienced the peace of God in our lives, we have also experienced what I would call the less than perfect nature of our world. Less than perfect in our eyes, but all a part of the experience God meant for our journey. It’s easy to say “I believe in God” but it’s more challenging, when tested, to put that into action. So let me finish with the words we started with from Gandhi:

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”
― Mahatma Gandhi