Sunday, 8 December 2013

Sermon 8th December: Signs of Peace

Isaiah 11: 1-10
Matthew 3: 1-12 

Last week’s reading from Isaiah gave us a vision of hope
And this week, the vision he presents is one of peace...
Not just the “absence of war” sort of peace,
But peace that is absolute: peace where even the animals live without fear or mistrust
Where they no longer hunt each other, but lie together, all old enmities forgotten

Last week we reflected on a tragedy that had touched many lives in Glasgow over the weekend – yet still had signs of hope

This week, there is another sadness, not a tragedy, but sadness at the passing of one of the world’s greatest ambassadors for peace.
For Nelson Mandela – remembered in Glasgow very fondly - passed on Thursday at the great age of 95.

In his lifetime, not only did he spend many years in prison for crimes at the time considered to be terrorism, but later viewed as heroism...  but, on his release he became such a force for good; such a symbol for the oppressed nations and people of the world that he is rightly remembered –
If ever there was a modern day symbol of peace – of former antagonists living together in equality, it is the image of Nelson Mandela and F W De Klerk.

At his trial, before he went to prison he said this:
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

By the time he came out, 27 years later, into a very different world he knew this:
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison”

And his goal became something very different indeed:
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

He understood that to truly make peace between black and white in his country he needed to work with others; and, during his incarceration, F W De Klerk had reached the same conclusion; and recognising that the apartheid system was not just flawed, but totally unjust, he took that bold step to change; in releasing Mandela, he didn’t admit defeat, he rose to the challenge and accepted change, which in turn, eventually, brought peace and reconciliation to South Africa

Out of the ashes of apartheid – a dead stump if ever there was one, came new shoots of hope and peace

That new growth is the essence of Isaiah’s vision: that even in the most unpromising circumstances, new life, new hope, will come
That even in the midst of oppression and hopelessness there can be peace

The gospel reading brings us to the preaching of John the Baptist – his vision was of a world where people turned around; abandoned their old ways; came back to God, and giving up their former lives, chose the new path: he was the messenger
The one to come was the one who would bring about the new kingdom – the Kingdom of Peace...

Of course – the reality is that we – humanity, have not grasped this concept fully
We still fight – from petty arguments, to full blown political and religious wars

Yet – Isaiah’s vision is possible: the kingdom to come will have those exact circumstances: the lion will lie with the lamb
Children will be safe

Isaiah’s vision of peace and love and hope... was grasped by Nelson Mandela
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” 

If they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love...

Imagine what the world could be like....

There is a song that paints that image too, some of it does not resonate with me, for it imagines no God, no heaven, no religions... but what it also imagines is humanity’s potential:

Imagine all the people,
Living life in peace
You may say I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world... (John Lennon)

In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela realised that having a goal and achieving it is indeed great, but it is not the end. Life throws up many opportunities, many challenges, many tasks; each of the tasks just a step on the way

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment”

Never give up
Never give up on peace
If we can imagine it

God can make it happen

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