The Longing for Peace

September 20, 2009

Denise Kelsall

Pentecost 16     James 3:13-4:8     Mark 9: 30-37 


Next Sunday marks the launching of the first “World March for Peace and Nonviolence. ”The March officially begins in Wellington on October 2nd - Gandhi’s birthday, takes 90 days, goes through 90 countries, over 6 continents to end in the Andes mountains in Argentina on January 2nd 2010.


But it all really starts to happen right here where the engine begins to roar into life - here at St Matthew’s in the City, 6 days before that. The International marchers will arrive and celebrate with supporters here on Sunday from 12.30 to around 3pm. There will be a marquee outside and banners - inside will be students from AUT creating the peace symbol on the floor in candles (for those of you who remember the labyrinth). Many different groups concerned with peace and nonviolence like Amnesty will be represented here, there will be music and food. It sounds very exciting and a cause close to our collective heart for it was September 23rd 2007, here at St Matthew’s, that Auckland declared itself a Peace city. On the website for the march there are many famous people who put their names and faces to this happening from Sir Paul Reeves to Desmond Tutu to Helen Clark and the female President of Chile. Many of the marchers will fly to the Chathams for a very spiritual event celebrating the ancient forbears of this land who espoused peace and were just about annihilated because of this. Next Sunday augurs an international event dedicated to peace.


This is Peace from war, from violence, so that people may be safer and happier, to try to build a better world that does not include the building of gigantic military institutions with star wars scenarios and all the horror and ugly power that these indicate. To condemn the promotion of the hatred and conflict that leads to war, and to the massive and unconscionable suffering that seems to have become part of the air we breathe, to brutal cruel and unnecessary death.


When we think of peace it is generally seen over against war, the weapons of war, might and military power. We know it is all about power, vested interests, greed, prejudice. It is very hard to believe any more the myths of our childhood – that we in the west do battle to save the world or to rescue the village. We are far more sophisticated and aware of the machine that grinds on and on relentlessly for all of the major global powers and shadowy elite interests that want to maintain preeminence power and control. It is a savage and inhuman creation that is able to kill and maim and imprison thousands and millions of people with impunity and lack of conscience.


This World March for Peace and Nonviolence is a concerted global protest against this insanity.


Today, our readings from James and Mark bring it down to the particular.


James is wisdom writing at its finest. He speaks of two different kinds of Wisdom – one comes (euphemistically) from above and one from below – and shows that only one is true wisdom. It is defined by desire for goodness, for peace and rests in human compassion - for spiritual values. The other is the kind that is rampant in our society where selfish ambition, greed and insatiable desires are slaked and whetted. We are manipulated darkly and it can be seen to be like a bit of a game for the economically powerful. The same sort of minds that create the nuclear bombs and the bullets seem to think it is acceptable to mercilessly exploit resources and people in poverty, to condone and thrive upon injustice. This is rather neatly accompanied by the rivalry and need for accumulation that we wealthy nations have all been seduced by - which seems to claim or create a restlessness or emptiness in our soul or psyche that needs constant filling.


Well, James is right – I too am not impervious to the lure of stuff nor am I a saint - I know what it is like to really want, long for that red leather jacket that I know is too expensive, too unnecessary, too indulgent! Is being aware any excuse? It is also obvious that ambition is a normal and useful human trait. Where would humanity be without the burning desire to discover and to find a solution – a cure.


James gives us a sort of version of ‘by their fruits ye shall know them,’- he refers to qualities like wisdom and understanding that grow from a peaceful heart and how these show in your life And he gives us the recipe - “Draw near to God, and he’ will draw near to you.”


I know what James means. When I am more attentive to my inner world, when I try to discern, to give space to my God, to hear the still small voice in my heart, to long and pray for peace and harmony in my orbit – when I take the time to dwell within I am more together, more peaceful and certainly much wiser. I believe that to be true for most people.


Mark deals with ambition and worldly status too. The disciples are hanging out with Jesus and privately arguing about whom was the best among them - echoing the honour and shame culture of the time which is still so very prevalent in middle-eastern cultures today.


Jesus demolishes their transparent ambitions, overturns all they understand about social standing and the pecking order, and tells them to be humble and not to concern themselves with personal gain – to deny themselves for all others, for each other – that to be the last is to be the first.


Just think of this swarthy band of eager young men being told to be humble like a servant. Radical! Beyond belief! Crazy loco some would still say.


Jesus uses the image of little children to illustrate his point - children had the status of a slave in the ancient world. They were nobodies and here Jesus asks the disciples, us - to be humble and kind enough to give room to, to stand up for the nobodies, the voiceless, the vulnerable in our society and now in our world.


It is no stretch of imagination to think of the imminent World March for Peace and Nonviolence in these terms. People are representing and calling for justice for those who cannot speak, who have no names or status, whether in the ongoing tragedy that is Darfur, in the senseless destructive military action in places like Afghanistan, to women who are raped as a weapon of war, - or for an ecologist – the destruction of forests and the poisoning of seas that sustain all life.


As philosopher Spinoza remarked in our sentence for today; ‘Peace is not the absence of war; it is a virtue; a state of mind; a disposition for benevolence; confidence; and justice.’


This reflects what James says about wisdom and peace, and also what Jesus is calling his disciples and us to be. If we can be boldly compassionate and caring enough to be concerned about our fellow humans rather than be driven by titles and money and all that junk – it is the old biblical maxim about one way bringing life and the other death. Being here today means that we try to choose life, that we do care, that we support and welcome important events like the Peace march next week – who knows – we might even come along.

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