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Sunday, November 11, 2018 | 4:00 p.m.
Communities of Creation
Associate Pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church
Oh, it sounds like such beautiful, wishful thinking. Swords into ploughshares; spears into pruning hooks. In these days I guess it would include guns into shovels.
It is hard to stay awake to the world when there is so much violence, so much suffering, so many shootings. Two weeks ago we grieved a shooting in a Kroger supermarket and a shooting in a synagogue. This week we grieve a shooting in a bar and grill in California. Violence continues in Yemen and many other countries. Violence continues in our own city, Chicago.
It can begin to make us numb. I feel it happening to myself. It is hard to remain open. It’s hard to remain attentive and present and to think about the people wounded, killed, or grieving the loss of their loved ones. But paying attention is important.
Today we also remember veterans and their families, on this occasion of Veterans’ Day. Veterans’ Day was first called Armistice Day on November 11 in 1919, one year after the end of World War I. They called that the war to end all wars, but sadly and clearly that was not the case.
On this day we also remember the Night of Broken Glass, called in German Kristallnacht. That happened on November 9, 1938. It was a pogrom, a mass killing of Jews in Germany. It was the turning point from the economic, political, and social persecution of Jews that had been happening. This shifted it into the physical with beatings, incarceration, and murder. It was in many ways the beginning of the Holocaust, a turning point. The night of broken glass.
There is a Jewish man who is ninety-four years old today who survived that night. He was fourteen years old and living in an orphanage in Berlin when a plainclothes policeman came to the orphanage and told him and the other children to leave the orphanage because “something bad will happen tonight.”
The boy, Walter, climbed up on the roof of the orphanage that night and saw that the synagogues throughout the city were burning. “The next morning,” he said, “when I had to go to school, there was sparkling, broken glass everywhere on the streets” (“Holocaust Survivor Recalls Night of Broken Glass Horrors,” www.usnews.com, 8 November 2018).
Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, was a turning point in the buildup of World War II, in which 6 million Jews were killed and several million other people too—including people with disabilities who were sent to the camps, LGBTQ people who were sent to the camps, Roma people who are sometimes called Gypsies who were sent to the camps, women who refused to marry were called “anti-social” and were sent to the camps, criminals, communists, and political adversaries of all kinds were sent to the camps, most killed.
It began in smaller tragedies—as though any tragedy can be small—but that was a tipping point that night, when it became clear that there was no going back.
We’re remembering the World Wars today, but there are so many wars and other forms of violence. And we are seeing an escalation of violence in our country. It’s important to keep paying attention.
The prophet Isaiah spoke in response to violence and injustice that he saw in Judah and Jerusalem. Isaiah described the situation like this: “Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them” (Isaiah 1:23).
In that context, God says to the people, through the prophet, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16–17).
There are things, scripture tells us, that can be done. There are ways that a society can repent and re-turn toward the way of God. Our scripture focus today, Isaiah 2, describes many peoples, representing all the nations, streaming up the mountain of God so that they can learn the ways of God and so they can walk the path of God.
It’s in this context of learning the way of God and walking the path of God that the people beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
This week there was an article in the New York Times about a Mennonite blacksmith, Michael Martin from Colorado Springs, who literally melts guns and turns them into gardening tools. His company, Raw Tools, has the tag line, “Replacing narratives of violence with communities of creation” (www.rawtools.org). His work is not a solution to our nation’s gun problem, but it is a way of practicing peace and making a symbolic gesture.
And symbolism is very important. It can be powerful and transformative. One woman, whose two sisters were killed by a gunman shooting at their family van, was moved by participating in a ritual of transformation. The New York Times reported that:
This year, at a rally to ban assault weapons, she stepped up to Mr. Martin’s anvil to hammer the magazine of an AR-15 that would soon become a hoe to coax new growth from the soil. It was a model similar to the gun used in the carnage from which she will never fully recover. But the experience at the anvil “was transformational,” she said—literally and psychically. “It was something tangible,” she explained. “I could feel the tension in my body releasing. A weight was gone.” (Patricia Leigh Brown, “Melt Thy Rifles into Garden Tools,” New York Times, 6 November 2018).
Replacing narratives of violence with communities of creation. That’s what Mennonite blacksmith Michael Martin is trying to do. Replacing narratives of violence with communities of creation. They are telling a different story, replacing one narrative with another one. They are presenting an opportunity to create something meaningful and to do it in community. It was a source of healing for this woman, from her tragedy.
I’ve been thinking, like so many of us, about what we can do to influence our world. What is possible? What is our role? What is my role? How do I follow God faithfully? How can I let Christ shape me?
I, like all of you, am on a journey of discovery about this. Here is what I’m thinking today.
I know that we cannot make our world the kingdom or the kin-dom of God, based on kinship; only God can do that. But I believe that we can approach that reality. We can prepare ourselves and support each other in approaching God’s kin-dom of peace.
We can make our world a better place—not a perfect place, but a better place. We can’t do it alone. We can’t do it without each other. And we can’t do it without God. But together, and relying on God’s help, we can practice peace.
We always have the opportunity to follow God in the Way of Jesus. We can do our best to love God with all our minds, hearts, and strength, with all our will.
We can use our minds, hearts, and will to practice God’s peace—God’s vision, hopes, and dreams for a world at peace. And here are some ways to practice.
We can open our minds with curiosity toward the people around us, so that we can learn a deeper truth about who they are. Who are our neighbors? We can open our minds with curiosity about what new and creative ways we might be able to shape our world. Things are changing, and we can be part of that creativity.
We can open our hearts with compassion, seeking to understand and experience the humanity of the people all around us—people who are in some ways very similar and in some ways very different from us. This takes a risk, but we can do better. We can take a risk for relationship.
We can open our hearts to the struggles and the suffering that others experience, and we can be changed by that ourselves; we can be bound together more tightly, more deeply, through compassionate knowledge of our shared humanity. The more you know a person’s story, the more you care about them. They become real to you.
We can open our will and direct it with courage, rather than clench up with fear and passivity. We can apply our life-force—the very breath of God that has been placed in us at our creation—we can direct it into actions filled with hope and possibility.
We can follow the calling of our souls; we can listen for the whispering of God in our hearts, nudging us and telling us “this is not right, that is not right, but this other thing, this is better. Go there.” We can direct our will with courage toward those things we know are better, when we listen to the depths of our being, to that still small voice of God inside us speaking truth to our souls.
To listen to that voice, to listen like that—with curiosity, compassion, and courage; with our minds, our hearts, our wills—we need to create silence in our lives, time to simply listen and allow curiosity, compassion, and courage to well up in us.
To listen like that, we need to create spaces where we can listen deeply to each other, take time to delve more deeply into someone else’s experience. Where we can let others listen to our hearts as well. Places where we can take a risk to tell our deepest truth and be known. It’s a vulnerable place. But if we can enter it, it is a place of strength.
We all have our blind spots, but together we can see in many more directions. Together we get a bigger picture. Together we can dream a bigger, better, more beautiful world.
These spaces of listening could be in our homes, where we invite people to cross our threshold and enter into our lives, to encounter the truth of our lives. We could invite them to dinner and not make the house all fancy. Just let it be your house, as your house is.
These spaces of listening could be more directed toward ourselves in our spiritual practices, listening in prayer, listening through meditation, listening in journal writing, in yoga, in mindful walking, listening while chanting at a Taizé service here at the church, or in walking a prayer labyrinth in Buchanan Chapel or in Anderson Hall on the night of Taizé.
These spaces of listening could be in our church, in small groups, in activities, in fellowship, in education, in one of the many things listed in your News and Opportunities section in your bulletin. These spaces of listening could be in our one-to-one meetings with each other, in our visits to the coffee shop together, in our greeting one another before or after worship and taking the time to know something about someone, to connect.
Listening with mind, heart, and will does take courage, compassion, and curiosity. But I know that we can do those things. I believe that you can do those things. We are opening up new petals of the flower of the world.
So listen: “let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that God may teach us God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.” Let us take the next step and continue in this Way. Amen.
Thanks to Otto Scharmer (www.ottoscharmer.com) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management for his Theory U ideas of Open Mind (curiosity), Open Heart (compassion), Open Will (courage).