Sermon August 23, 2015
Psalm 84, Ephesians 6:10-20
What is your favorite pair of shoes? If I were to guess, I would think most of us would choose a pair that is really comfortable. I could be wrong. This summer an exhibit called “Killer Hills” came to the Albuquerque Museum. The exhibit included films that showed the damage high heel shoes can do. It doesn’t stop people from wearing them and wanting them. High heels are the epitome of fashion. Spikey heels didn’t make it to the mainstream until after World War II. While studies describe the negative effects of high heels, a survey conducted by the American Podiatric Medical Association showed 42% of women admitted that they would wear a shoe they liked even if it gave them discomfort. As one who made the shift in my twenties to sensible shoes, this fascinates me. What influences your choice of clothing and shoes?
The writer of Ephesians calls followers to put on the armor of God and then proceeds to describe that armor as truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and a call to prayer. We are to draw strength from God to withstand the struggle we call life. The shoes called for in this letter are “whatever will make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” (6:15) It was the line about putting on the shoes that would make us proclaim peace that stuck with me this week. As I inventoried my shoes, I wondered which might most lead me to walk in peace and call others to do the same. Each week, the headlines call my attention to many acts of violence and I am filled a with deep longing for peace. Sunday after I Sunday, I pray that God will teach us to be peaceful people. I wonder how we really become people of peace. We fly a peace flag outside our church to tell the world that we are a peace with justice congregation. But what does that mean? In what tangible ways are we living our commitment to peace?
What might peace shoes look like? I suppose they can be stiletto or sensible. John Lennon called us to “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'll join us, and the world will be as one.” Peace is not going to happen in one fell swoop, though it would be wonderful if it would. Instead it is likely to happen in steps. I learned this week that September 21st is Peace Day. Jeremy Gilley is an actor turned filmmaker, who in the late 1990s became preoccupied with questions about the fundamental nature of humanity and the issue of peace. He decided to explore these through the medium of film, and created a documentary following his campaign to establish an annual day of ceasefire and non-violence.
In 1999, Jeremy founded Peace One Day, whose objective is to institutionalize the 21st of September as Peace Day, making it a day that is self-sustaining, an annual day of global unity, a day of intercultural cooperation on a scale that humanity has never known.
In 2012 Jeremy approached global consultancy firm McKinsey & Company to analyze the results of Peace Day that year. This process resulted in a report that found across the world, approximately 280 million people in 198 countries were aware of Peace Day 2012. For Peace Day 2013, McKinsey & Company recorded a 68% increase in the number of those aware of the day - that’s 470 million people. Of that number, approximately 1-2% (4-8 million) behaved more peacefully in their own lives as a result, improving the world for thousands of others.
In 2014 the Peace One Day Report supported by McKinsey & Company found that over 1 billion people were exposed to Peace Day messages. Of those exposed, 610 million are now aware of the day, with an estimated 10 million people behaving more peacefully on the day as a result. (http://www.peaceoneday.org/welcome)
Those numbers are staggering to me. Imagine a day where 10 million people are more peaceful. Imagine a day where every place you go people are committed to peace. Imagine if one day became two, then a week, then a month, then a year, and we just couldn’t stop. Peace begins with the individuals. It begins with you and me. Working together we can start to change things. I think of the words to the song:
“Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.”
It does begin with us. It begins with intentional effort to create peace within and without in every moment that we can.
I watched a Ted Talk this week by Zak Ebrahim. Zak has a powerful story of peace, but it didn’t begin that way. As a very young boy, Zak says, “My father took me to a shooting range and when the orange light above my target went off, my uncle turned to the other men and said, ‘like father, like son’. A few years later, my father and several other men placed 1500 pounds explosives in the parking lot of the World Trade Center’s north trade tower – killing 6 and injuring over a thousand others.” That event turned Zak’s life upside down. He moved 20 times by the time he turned 19. He didn’t make many friends and kept his identity a secret. Zak had been raised to judge people based on race and religion. He described his own transformation through a series of events by saying, “What opened my eyes? During the 2000 Presidential Election, I participated in a forum on youth violence. One day, I found out that one of my friends was Jewish. I realized there was no natural animosity. Being bullied as a kid, created a natural empathy in me toward others in their suffering. One day I had a conversation with my mother about how my world-view was changing. My mother said, ‘I’m tired of hating people’. In that instant, I realized how much negative energy it takes to hold that hatred inside of you. I choose to use my experience to fight back against bigotry and terrorism rather than perpetuating violence. I stand here as proof that violence isn’t inherent in one’s religion or race and the son does not have to follow the ways of the father. I am not my father.” (https://www.ted.com/talks/zak_ebrahim_i_am_the_son_of_a_terrorist_here_s_how_i_chose_peace)
Violence takes so many forms – it can be thoughts in our heads, words that we use, or actions that we take. Peace begins with individual choices. We change the way we talk to ourselves. We change the language we use with the people around us. We take time to listen to one another and rather than jumping to conclusions or making judgments about what we see and hear, we open our minds and hearts to be changed. We act in ways that are peaceful. We choose the way of love and kindness when we are tempted to do otherwise. Sometimes these are big, scary choices. Nonviolent responses to beatings during the Civil Rights movement were powerful witnesses that violence does not move humanity forward. Other times, choosing peace is much smaller. I am thinking of a friend who is a cancer survivor who said, “Someone at a coffee shop thought my compression sleeve was a tattoo today and told me that I need to repent because it says in Leviticus that tattoos are a slap in the face of God. I could be really annoyed but mostly it reminded me how much I love this crazy world.”
I smiled about that for a while after I heard it. There are so many small opportunities to respond with peace and love. We follow one who is called the Prince of Peace. What does it mean to put on shoes of peace and walk in his footsteps?
Etty Hillesum was a Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz in 1943. Her diaries were published later under with the title An Interrupted Life. As she witnessed the violence and destruction around her, she wrote, “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
Or as Thich Nhat Hanh says, “People say walking on water is a miracle, but to me walking peacefully on earth is the real miracle.”
It’s time to put on our peace shoes and start walking! It is my prayer that we live each day as a miracle. May peace begin with each one of us.