Tuesday, September 16, 2008

International Day of Peace 2008

Today we observed the International Day of Peace, which will actually be this Sunday. On Friday, we will plant 600 "pinwheels for peace" in front of the Lower School for all to see. All we are saying is give peace a chance!

Micah 4:1-5; Psalm 37:7-12; Matthew 5:1-12

The animal I really dig above all others is the pig. Pigs are noble; pigs are clever; pigs are courteous. However… What for example would you say if strolling through the woods one day right there in front of you you saw a pig who’d built his house of straw? The wolf who saw it licked his lips and said… “Little pig, little pig, let me come in!” “No, no, by the hairs of my chinny chin chin!” “Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in!” The little pig began to pray, but Wolfie blew his house away. He shouted, “Bacon, pork and ham! Oh, what a lucky wolf I am!”

So goes Roald Dahl’s version of The Three Little Pigs, found in his collection of poems entitled Revolting Rhymes. It’s a funny but gruesome story, with a surprising twist at the end involving Little Red Riding Hood and a concealed weapon. Even the original version of the story is pretty rough, though – the wolf huffs and puffs his way through houses of straw and sticks before meeting an untimely end down the chimney of the house of stone.

There was a lot of huffing and puffing going on in the world around Jesus when he climbed a hillside in order to get a better view of the crowds to whom he was preaching. Many who had come to hear him were desperately poor, desperately hungry, desperately sick, or desperately lonely, having long since been cast out of their homes and communities for one reason or another. Others in the crowd were shunned by society for the sins they had committed. All of them lived under the rule not only of their own leaders but also of the Roman government, which was often suspicious of and cruel toward the Hebrew people and their God. No amount of straw or sticks or even stone could protect the crowds from the huffing and puffing of those who were so much more powerful than they, who had blown them down and left them to fend for themselves in a blustery world.

They must have hoped that Jesus was going to huff and puff right back, or at least raise a fist and shout defiantly on their behalf, “No, no, not by the hairs of our chinny chin chins!” Instead, Jesus looked out over the crowd of outcasts and sinners and seekers and said, Blessed are you… Blessed are you who mourn; God will comfort you. Blessed are you who are humble; God will give you what has been promised. Blessed are you who work for peace; you will be called God’s children… Blessed are you… Blessed are you…

There is still a lot of huffing and puffing going on in the world – between nations, within faith traditions, among organizations and institutions, between friends, within families, within our own hearts. Houses are blown down all the time, and wolves are cooked in cauldrons, and the happily ever after at the end of the story sometimes seems a long way off. We may be blessed in many ways, but when we experience in ourselves or in others that hunger for power, that sense of superiority, that urge to let loose a gale force wind, how then are we or anyone in the path of such huffing and puffing, blessed? What is this message of blessedness, of peace?

Today in chapel on this campus, and at Friday’s chapel on the South Campus, we are observing the International Day of Peace, a day set aside by a United Nations resolution more than a quarter century ago on which the whole world is called to consider what it would mean to live in peace. I can tell you what it would not mean, from the United Nations materials about peace but also from the teaching of Jesus on the hillside that day. Peace is not about passivity, inaction, sitting still in the midst of a pack of wolves, or on a particularly windy day. This isn’t the blessed peace of an afternoon nap or a good book on a rainy day or a closed door between you and your younger brother or sister. We do need that kind of peace from time to time in order to remind ourselves how to breathe deeply, in order to prepare ourselves for what peace really is.

Blessed are those who work for peace, Jesus said. Peace is not a state of being but rather a course of action directed toward transforming the world into a place where there is nothing to fear – no huffing or puffing, no wolves, no traps laid in chimneys, no suspicion, no superiority, no outcasts, no divisions. Blessed are those who work for peace; they will be called children of God.

The International Day of Peace will be observed in many ways around the world this year – prayer, rallies, forums, concerts… There’s even a text messaging event. Our children at the Lower School will be planting pinwheels that they have made, spinning colors and words of peace. Now a breeze from a pinwheel is hardly a wind of change, and it isn’t going to blow any houses down. But the breeze from 600 pinwheels at the Lower School, and pinwheels planted by schools and faith communities and other organizations in Brandon and Pearl and Phildelphia, and across country and all around the world…half a million pinwheels were planted worldwide last year. It’s a mighty wind, a breath of fresh air, an offering of peace and words much stronger than sticks or stones.

Words spoken by men and women of every nation, every faith. Words like those spoken by Mahatma Gandhi: “It is possible to live in peace.” And Buddhist teacher Tich Nhat Hahn: “Peace is every step.” And Quaker sociologist Elise Boulding: “There is no time left for anything but to make peacework a dimension of our every waking activity.” And Martin Luther King: “One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal.” And the words of Jewish master-musician Yehudi Menuhin: “Peace may sound simple – a beautiful word – but it requires everything we have, every quality, every strength, every dream, every high ideal.” And Jimmy Hendrix: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” And Mother Theresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to one another.”

Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord. Let us learn how to work for peace, one action, one breath, one step, one word at a time. Blessed are we, for we belong to one another and all of us to God. Amen.
Artwork: "The Beating of God's Heart", by Brie Dodson; photographs from the Pinwheels for Peace website.

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