|Those of you who were here a couple of
weeks ago remember that I spoke about the Peace Day message of Pope John
Paul II and quoted the part where John Paul spoke about the situation of
terrorism in this world. He suggested that the only way we were going
to bring peace into our world and end terrorism was through what he called
the two pillars: the pillar of justice and the pillar of that special
kind of love which is forgiveness.
This past week, I reread the Peace Day message
more carefully and I got out of it a sense of extreme urgency that Pope
John Paul seemed to be feeling -- an urgency about how important it is
that we come to grips with the only way we will be able to overcome terrorism.
There are a couple places in the Peace Day
statement where he says, for example, “There are certain situations of
conflict which endlessly feed deep and divisive hatreds and a seemingly
unstoppable sequence of personal and collective tragedies.” It’s
almost as if he can’t stop this. In another place, he says, “We live
in a world in which the power of evil seems once again to have taken the
upper hand and we won’t be able to overcome it.” He also says, “How
do we restore the moral and social order subjected to such horrific violence?”
I have a sense, as I read this statement of
Pope John Paul, that I know it to be true. He’s very much aware of
the fact that the violence we’ve seen could continue to escalate and become
worse and worse and worse.
We know that the situation in the Holy Land,
where some of our parish members are today, is a situation that keeps on
getting more and more violent.
Or India and Pakistan, where both sides are
threatening to use nuclear weapons and they are ever closer to war.
Desperate efforts are being made to avert that war, but no one is sure
that it will be averted.
And so this violence just seems to be getting
worse and worse and John Paul is very desperately saying to us, “Heed this
message if you want to end the violence and terrorism. It will be
only through those pillars of justice and that special kind of love which
we call forgiveness.”
If we listen to today’s lessons, it is very
clear where Pope John Paul gets this message. He doesn’t dream it up.
No, it comes right out of the scripture, the Word of God.
In today’s first lesson taken from the prophet
Isaiah, we are presented with the Servant’s Song, as it is called.
The servant who is described here is understood in various ways.
But, ultimately, the church has come to understand that this servant is
Listen to what God says about the servant through
Isaiah. “Here is my servant, my chosen one in whom I am well pleased.”
He goes onto say how this servant will bring true justice to the nations.
“He will make justice appear in truth and will not waver or be broken until
he has established justice on earth.”
So the servant of God, who is Jesus, is called
to bring true justice. He is called to be a light to the nations,
to open eyes that do not see, free captives oppressed from prison, bring
out of light those who sit in darkness. The servant is to transform
our world and make it a world of justice and love and light and peace and
But the important part of this passage is how
this will happen. It will not happen through force of arms.
As Isaiah says, “This servant does not shout
or raise his voice, does not make proclamations in the streets.”
Those are words used when someone is calling others to arms. “This servant
will not call anyone to arms so as to bring about war in order to make
justice happen.” Instead, the servant is one who acts in such a way
that a broken reed he will not crush, nor will he snuff out the light of
the wavering wick.”
Poetic words, of course, and yet so clear,
This servant will act with gentleness, with
love, with compassion, with forgiveness, never crushing the bruised reed,
but bringing it to life. Never snuffing out the wavering flame, but
bringing it to life.
It is so clear when you listen to today’s gospel
that this really is Jesus. Matthew, clearly, is connecting Jesus
with the words of Isaiah. He describes Jesus at his baptism as going
down into the river. But, then, when he comes up from the river and
begins to pray, God comes down upon him like a dove and rests upon him.
Then God proclaims these words, “This is my Son. This is my servant,
my beloved, my chosen one.” Now listen to the words of Isaiah, “Here
is my servant, my chosen one, in whom I am well pleased”
Clearly, Matthew is saying his servant is Jesus.
Then Jesus goes on to begin his work, a work he is called to by God.
We understand this when Jesus says to John the Baptist, since John did
not want to baptize him, “Look, we must fulfill all righteousness.”
And, again, those words have a special meaning -- it is to carry out the
will of God.
So Jesus understands that he is to carry out
the will of God. He begins his mission and we know how it is to be
carried out. It’s a mission of compassion, forgiveness, love, and
healing. He proclaims it by his actions when he is being put to death.
“Father, forgive them.” He forgives the ones who are putting him
to death. And before that, he had proclaimed to all of us, “Love
your enemies, forgive those who hurt you, return good for evil.”
Clearly, the way of Jesus, as proclaimed in
today’s gospel, is the way of peace, forgiveness and love, the special
kind love that is forgiveness. It is the only kind of ‘love’ that
will bring healing into our world. It is the only kind of ‘action’
that will bring healing into our world -- the action of forgiveness and
Sometimes, we think that this will not work
and that you have to use force.
In another part of the Peace Day statement,
John Paul says, “Yes, that is always the temptation and, in a short-range
point-of-view, violence seems to work. But it will never work in
the long run. Ultimately, it will bring more and greater violence.”
You do not have to look very far into history
to see that that’s the case.”
I was thinking about our own city of Detroit.
It wasn’t many years ago that we had a city that was known throughout the
country as the murder capital of the world. I’m sure many of us remember
that. We had set record numbers of murders. And I remember
one special event. It was maybe twenty years ago now, where it would
have been about this time in January, there was a special service held
at Saint Paul Episcopal Cathedral on Woodward Avenue. The place was
packed with people and religious leaders from every religious denomination.
Do you remember what that was about? It was a memorial service for
43 youngsters under the age of 16 who had been murdered by other children
under the age of 16.
We were living in a city of horrific violence
and it seemed as if there was no way to end it.
But out of that service something happened
and you may remember this too. Some of the parents, led by Clementine
Barfield, started an organization which they named ‘Save Our Sons and Daughters.’
The acronym is SOSAD.
It was ‘so sad’ what was happening in our city.
But Clementine, who had one of her children
murdered during that previous year and another critically injured, said,
“The only way to end this is through forgiveness and reconciliation.”
And so she formed that organization, SOSAD. It’s still going on in
our city. They reached out to those who were doing the violence and
doing the killing and they forgave. And reconciliation began
Our city is not a totally, peaceful city now.
But, certainly, it is not the violent place that it once was. No,
we were able to be reconciled. Forgiveness and love brought a deeper
sense of peace. Our city is better for the fact that Clementine Barfield
and SOSAD continue to do their work of helping children to understand ways
to settle conflict without violence. They are carrying on programs
all the time and it is making a difference.
I’m sure that on a national level the same
thing could happen. If we were to really live out our Christian commitment,
if we were to really follow what Jesus shows us as the way to peace, it
would happen. I’m also sure that that’s the only way it will happen.
In that Peace Day statement, Pope John Paul
says, “My ministry of being at the service of the gospel obliges me and,
at the same time, gives me strength to insist upon the necessity of forgiveness.”
He goes on to say, “Forgiveness, above all, is a personal choice, a decision
of the heart, to go against the natural instinct to pay back evil with
evil.” What he is saying is that it has to be a personal decision
for each one of us -- that I have to make the decision to go against the
natural instinct to pay back evil with evil. I have to decide whether
I will go that way or whether I will follow the way Jesus.
In a few moments, during the baptism ceremony,
all of us will be renewing our own commitment to our baptism, which is
a commitment to follow the way of Jesus. I’m going to use these questions
as our baptismal promises.
Will you strive for peace within yourself and
seek to be a peacemaker in your daily life?
Will you accept suffering rather than inflict
Will you refuse to retaliate in the face of
provocation in violence?
Will you persevere in nonviolence of tongue
Will you actively resist evil and work nonviolently
to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face
of the earth?
I hope we will think about it carefully and
pray with great fervor that each one of us will be able to say, “Yes, I
will follow the way of Jesus, the way that can end the violence within
myself, within my family, within my community, and within the world.”
If all of us make this commitment, the beginning
of the change can happen for each of us today. It will spread the
way of Jesus and bring peace into our world. There is an urgency about
this, as I mentioned at the beginning. And so I hope all of us can
pray fervently and commit ourselves to follow the way of Jesus.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.