Sermon for Peace Pole Dedication : Following the Prince of Peace
Scripture: Mark 1:14-20
Let Peace prevail on Earth! This is a great and wonderful day, a day to celebrate the presence of our Bishop, who is worshiping with us. It is a day to celebrate the planting of our peace pole: an outward symbol of our inner prayer to live in peace with our brother and sisters around the world. It is a day to celebrate with our neighbors, who work with us for peace. It is a day to celebrate our work together as peacemakers, as we follow the Prince of Peace.
Is it not extraordinary that we are all here? We have come from all kinds of places, Pakistan, the Philippines, England, Columbia, and Korea. Some of us come from others States: other cities yet right now and right here we are gathered together.
Of course we celebrate the journey of this past week, of the remembrance of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., of the inauguration of a new president, the confirmation of new members of President Obama’s cabinet. Here in Walnut the city celebrated its 50th birthday, and at the beginning of this year we begin the 45th year of this churches journey to follow the Prince of Peace.
Who could of dreamed of this moment? Who could of imagined that you and I would be here together?
Colin Powell said this week at a speech in Minnesota at a breakfast honoring Dr. King, that he is often asked if he ever dreamed of being attorney general, and then he said, Yes I remember being on the corner when I was 10 making an oath to myself that I would someday be Attorney General, Then he laughed and said of course not, I could never imagine this possibility given the racial barriers in place at the time.
As a young boy growing up in rural New England, I never imagined that someday, I would take the journey that has led me to this time and place. I imagine most of us would say the same.
Dr. King had a dream, not so much for his life but for those he ministered to, those who suffered, those who were mistreated, hated, abused and stigmatized. But because of his faith in God to work on behalf of the oppressed, on behalf of the poor, on behalf of the disenfranchised, that although he did not know exactly what would happen, but he trusted in God to bring justice, to bring redemption, to bring peace. And he had the audacity to believe in using words, not weapons, marching, preaching, praying, and using non-violence resistance to make this dream a reality.
As we worship today, I wonder: what does God have in mind for us? In the scripture, Jesus calls his disciples by simply saying: “Follow Me”. Now we could consider on how the disciples responded, and perhaps we can discover how we can act when God calls us but
Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that we're missing the point if we linger on such questions. This is a story about God, not the disciples or us. To focus on what the disciples gave up (and whether we could do the same), is "to put the accent on the wrong syllable." This "miracle story," as she calls it, is really about "the power of God--to walk right up to a quartet of fishermen and work a miracle, creating faith where there was no faith, creating disciples where there were none just a moment before."
What is amazing is that Jesus does call ordinary people, those who have little power, little wealth, and little impact on the communities they struggled to make a living in. Jesus chooses those not in the city but those in the country. Of course, here we are in Walnut, not the center of LA, not in the center of our Conference hub of activity, but on the outskirts. My colleague, Rev. Wayne Walters reminded us at the Pasadena District Christmas party, he isn’t sure where Walnut is, but he has heard we are a bit nutty. Well it was another place called Walnut Hill, where my father grew up in Orange Massachusetts, that I saw through the lives of my grandparents what it means to follow Jesus. On the week I was born my grandfather, a lay preacher under Bishop John Wesley Lord, was preaching as often did for the pastor who was away on vacation. It was my grandfather who preached about peace, which for him was an important issue.
My grandfather was a high school graduate, a wallpaper and house painter by trade, who had a passion to serve God. He said, in his sermon on July 6, 1958, one week before I was born: “If we are to find peace and freedom, it will come through faith in something that is above and beyond and within all life”. And my grandmother Marshall who I quoted above was a source of strength and comfort as I wrestled with my call to ministry, in March of 1985 she told me something that I will hold in my heart forever, “If I wake up in the night as I lay there it is all quiet and still and I turn to God in prayer asking His blessing on all those I love and asking guidance in all I do”
Here are we are in this place, far away from the terror of war, yet only a prayer away. Jesus does call us even here, in this far away nutty place!
Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, as my grandfather said: “As Christians we are committed to seek peace, work for, pray for it and if necessary die for it”.
Another perhaps more well known preacher, Harry Emerson Fosdick of the famous Riverside Church in New York, wrestled with this commitment as he addressed his congregation many who were in the armed forces. He was very familiar with the efforts to bring an end to the rule of Hitler yet still found himself against war, and his hope was not in war to bring peace,
“ Yet when I for one go back to Christ and his basic teachings never more profoundly did I believe in him than now. After this war and any other wars are over with heir ruin and disillusionment, Christ will be here-a lighthouse looking down on ships that have wrecked themselves upon the reefs, but shining still upon the channel where deep water is. He goes on to say the most decisive battles of history are always fought on the inner battlefield. He says of this inner battlefield in which we struggle to practice peacemaking in face of the temptation of war, Peace is not a mere logical deduction from new world interdependencies, but the most difficult task mankind ever undertook, the way to it is blocked by huge obstacles both in outer circumstance and in the deep –seated prejudice and greed of human hearts.
It is God’s dream it is Jesus’ dream, it was my grandparents dream, it is my dream and I hope it is your dream that we can overcome all the obstacles that keep us from peace. And I believe in God who alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, I will never be shaken. For alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.
So on this day, in this place let us renew our dedication to trust in the Lord, and the Lord alone. Let us renew our commitment to follow the Prince of Peace whenever and wherever he calls us; Let us renew our prayer to call others to this work for peace, in Walnut, in California, and beyond.
I believe this is the work that God calls us to right now, to carry on in Jesus’ name to pray for peace, work for peace, to worship and live in peace.
We are never alone in this walk, we have our Bishop who walks with us, we have our District Superintendent and conference staff, we have our United Methodist Brothers and sisters across the world, those who practice a peace in other faith and cultural traditions, all of whom have been called by God, who are about to be called by God to be peacemakers. I also know that the saints that have brought us this far still pray for us from the heavenly realm, God is with us as we follow the path of peace. Amen