Lord, Make Me An Instrument Of Your Peace

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

Preached on Dec. 8th, 2013 at Foothills Christian Church

Glendale, AZ

by Rev. Andrew Shepherd

(Sermon Audio)

 

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

 

Maybe you’re familiar with the prayer I just read. It’s pretty popular, and can easily be found with a quick Google search: just type in “Prayer of St. Francis.” And it will pop up. The only thing: if you do some research (ok, I mean Wikipedia research; not actual research) you’ll find out it actually first appeared in 1912 in a French magazine. It wasn’t translated into English until 1927, when it appeared in an American journal. Since St. Francis, founder of the order of Franciscans lived from 1181-1226, there’s a pretty good chance he didn’t write it. I guess there’s the possibility it was lost all of those years, and finally turned up…but I’m guessing 12th century Francis wasn’t writing in 20th century French.

Does it matter that Francis didn’t say it? Does it diminish the value of the prayer? As a Catholic friend of mine told me while reading these very words, “Francis probably didn’t write it, but given the chance again, he probably would have.” After all, this is the guy who’s famous for preaching naked to protest the wealth of the world he lived in and for creating a catholic order in which members were not allowed to own any possessions. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” That sounds about right.

What maybe should strike us more about this prayer, whether said by Francis or not, is how it fits our Christian tradition, Scripture and Practice. Especially this time of year, when we are called to reflect on the coming of the savior, when we are in a time of waiting and preparation, as we gather on this Peace Sunday, the second Sunday in Advent, maybe “Lord, MAKE me an instrument of YOUR PEACE” can become our prayer as well.

 

Listen now to our scripture for the day:

Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

First century Israel was dominated by the Roman Empire. Actually, there’s a good chance that much of our Christmas story would not be possible without the influence of that world’s largest superpower. Joseph and Mary are on their way to Bethlehem because of a Roman census, a way for the government to make sure they’re getting the right tax income. Herod, the king we meet (kind of an evil guy) is a vassal of the Roman Empire, answering to Caesar and his streams of power. The story of the Birth narrative, and all of Jesus’ life is deeply ingrained in the Roman Empire.

Superpowers come with their own understandings of peace. In many ways, the point of an empire is to secure peace for some people, to end the possibility of violence by conquering those who would raise sword up against your nation. You begin by expanding to those nations right on your border, making sure that those in closest proximity to you can’t attack. Of course, once you boundaries are extended, you reach further because there are always more people to pacify. And then, when you have new neighbors, you’ve got to attack again to make sure they don’t come after you, and there’s all the maintenance needed to keep you colonies and vassals in order. Peace, for the Empire is a complicated business. Of course, the peace of an Empire is dedicated to one group: those who belong to the empire. For everyone else, “peace” feels much more violent that peace should feel. Tacitus, a 1st century Roman senator once wrote of Rome “they make a desert and call it peace.” As in, they wipe out their enemies so violently that the only thing which exists is a desert. And that, for Rome, is peace.

The story of Jesus is also intricately embedded in the history of Israel. And, in the history of Israel there is a lot of experience with military superpowers. Indeed, in our passage this morning, we hear Isaiah speaking to a people who are familiar with empire. You could say they are intimately aware of the ability of a superpower to conquer, destroy, eliminate, whatever term you want to use, for the sake of a “peace.” Israel, at the time Isaiah writes has been in exile, forced to leave their homeland by the Babylonians. They have been marched across the continent, forced to live in camps, pushed to the brink of extinction. Among the survival techniques during this time is the process of canonization, as in the people of Israel go from being a people of the temple (which has been destroyed, and which they cannot rebuild due to their location in Babylon) to a people of the text, of the holy scriptures, many of which are being written at this time. While an oral tradition worked when you were in familiar places, in exile things have to be written down, or else they are lost. And so historians believe this period is when much of the scripture is written down.

Isaiah writes in this context, his people very familiar with the peace the Babylonians seek. Anytime a group of people find themselves in this situation, there’s a common response, maybe the most popular response, the response that immediately comes to peoples mind when they think of their situation in exile: if only we had the weapons, we could conquer our enemies and enjoy some of that peace. It was true in Isaiah’s time, it was true in Jesus’ time, it was true in Apartheid South Africa, of which the attention of the world has been turned these past few days with the death of Nelson Mandela. But Isaiah, Jesus and Mandela do not opt for the peace of the Empire. Rather, as the Author of the prayer makes clear, “Lord, make me an instrument of YOUR PEACE.” Isaiah knows that the peace of the empire is fickle, that it requires constant military might, that it transforms people from brothers and sisters to enemy combatants. This is something Jesus knew, when he refused to raise up arms, when everyone expected him to be a radical insurgent, and instead came to preach a deeper peace, a peace of the soul, the Lord’s peace. And it was true of Nelson Mandela, who, once freed from 27 years of imprisonment turned not to conquest, but rather to reconciliation and the patient process of transforming the soul of his home country.

This is the truth of the peace of an Empire: it transforms the people, it creates constant animosity, it breeds enemies, it breeds pride, it breeds false truth, that one group has been chosen by God, and the rest are subject to its will. To maintain its “peace,” resources are turned to the expansion and growth of its weapons. What results is a military might that can handle enemies, that can win wars, but something else happens as well, a side effect of the building of military might: the soul of a people changes. Those who were once peaceful, begin to imagine themselves in everything as combatants. Life becomes a war.

Over the past few years, the video game Call of Duty, a first person shooter, has been based on everything from World War II, to fantasies of future wars. The game sells millions of copies a year, making it one of the most successful video games in history. I don’t want to spend a lot of time railing against violent video games, but what shocks me about call of duty has been its marketing campaign: their TV commercials feature real people, as in people out of everyday life, participating in brutal warfare, carrying machine guns and bazookas, firing at faceless enemy combatants. One add a year or so back even featured popular NBA players, running around city streets participating in war.

War is bad. We owe our troops more thanks than we could every give. They risk their lives day in and day out for our freedoms. But the stories of those who come back suffering from various mental ailments, from PTSD and moral injury, those who come back unable to live with what they’ve done and what they’ve seen, should tell us that war is not a game. And yet, what do we find in Call of Duty commercials? The chance to pretend we are participating in the very thing which has caused so much harm to our troops.

The peace of a superpower requires that more of our lives be dedicated to upholding a culture of violence. This constant need to imagine war not as a great evil, or a last resort, but rather as that which makes our way of life possible means damage to our very souls. Rather than view others as fellow humans, we picture faceless combatants. Rather than acknowledge the cost of war, the lives taken, both through loss of life in combat and in psychological damage after service, war is seen as a chance for profit.

This is why President Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell address as president warned that while a strong military may be needed, caution must be taken not to cede to much influence to a military industrial complex. Or why Martin Luther King, jr, icon of civil rights and among the most important, if not the most important spiritual leader in our countries history warned that “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

This is why when Isaiah speaks of Gods peace, it’s not a call to arms. Instead, he sees a world in which swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. It’s the kind of peace that comes when all people are brothers and sisters. The kind of peace that comes when war is no longer necessary, when we spend our time not preparing for the next armed conflict, but rather working for the common good. Peace that can be felt, that looks like the people of the world living in God’s grace, participating in resurrection, uplifting all people. The kind of peace that’s good for the soul. This is the peace Isaiah’s talking about. This is the kind of peace Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have in mind. It’s the kind of peace Jesus ushers into the world.

When these people talk about peace, they’re not talking about this war, or that war. They’re talking about the point at which war goes from being a tragic option, the last possible action to preserve human dignity, to a game, to an opportunity, the most preferable option by which a people can further its own interests at the expense of others. War is no longer a horrible event, but something we fantasize about.

What do we do in this situation? What do we do as a people called by God, who live in a redeemed world, who try to represent the grace of God in all that we do? We are a people who gather today, on this peace Sunday, the second Sunday in advent, as we prepare for the entrance of the savior into the this peace Sunday, we hold this prayer, this quest, this transformation in mind:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

The peace advent calls us too, when the challenge to the great power of Rome isn’t an army, it isn’t an insurrection, but a baby born in a manger.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

The peace Isaiah calls Israel too: not the accumulation of more weapons, but the transformation of those weapons into tools for the common good.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

The kind of peace that brings freedom, freedom from fear, freedom from a violent world, freedom from greed, and freedom from hatred and discrimination.

Lord, Make me an instrument of your peace.

The kind of peace that begins with us. That we bring into this world. The kind of peace that we use to transform our existence, that we use to help usher in the Kingdom of God, the kind of peace that we participate in through the saving works of Jesus Christ, the incarnation, who came to dwell among us, whose life was cut short on a Roman cross, and who, after three days, rose again.

Lord make me, make us, make your church an instrument of your peace. Amem

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One Comment

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