Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
July 8, 2012


Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

It doesn’t make any sense, does it. Jesus says “Love your enemies.” He says “Do not resist an evildoer,” meaning do not resist an evildoer violently. He’s kidding, right? We’ve got no business loving our enemies. They hate us, and the only sensible thing to do it to hate them back. How else are we going to defend ourselves from them? Don’t use violence to resist an evildoer? Nothing else works! Oh, of course all that love your enemies stuff, all that beat your swords into plowshares stuff is very nice and all; but we live in the real world, not in some fairy tale where everyone is nice and peaceful. The world just isn’t like that.

Now let me ask you something, or rather let me ask you quietly to ask yourself something. How many of you just now as I said those things were shaking your heads and saying yes, that’s right? How many of you agree with that rejection of nonviolence as unrealistic and even foolish? It’s perfectly understandable if you do. What I just gave you is the voice of the world on the issue of violence and war, of nonviolence and peace; and we all live in the world. We’ve all been conditioned by the world. We’re all immersed in the world’s way of seeing things from the moment of our birth until the moment of our death. In the world’s way of seeing things that rejection of love of enemies and nonviolence as the way to peace just makes sense. It’s the only realistic way to see things.

But here’s the thing. The Bible is the foundational book of our faith, and the Bible really does have a different view of the matter. The Bible really does call us to a different view of the matter. We call Jesus savior and Lord, and Jesus really was a prophet of nonviolence. As we heard in our reading from 2 Corinthians Paul really did consider what the world considers weakness to be true strength. We can just dismiss all that out of hand if we want, but we can’t just dismiss it out of hand if, as we claim, we take the Bible seriously. We can’t just dismiss it out of hand if, as we claim, we believe that Jesus is our savior and Lord. So I invite you now to come with me on a brief journey into the Bible’s way of seeing issues of violence and peace, into Jesus’ way of seeing issues of violence and peace, and to consider them afresh.

Jesus is the Bible’s prophet of nonviolence par excellence, but the Bible’s teachings on peace go back much farther than Jesus. In the Psalms, for example, peace is one of God’s greatest gifts to the people. Thus Psalm 4 says “I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” In the Psalms peace is a goal to which all should aspire. Thus Psalm 34 says “seek peace and pursue it.” For the prophets too peace is God’s gift to the people. Thus Isaiah has God say “my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed.” Isaiah 54:10 And then there is the great prophecy of peace from Micah that we recited as our call to worship this morning: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not life up arms against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” It is one of the most enduring images of peace in all of scripture.

Of course, the world promises people peace too, but the Bible’s vision of peace is very different from the world’s vision of peace. Or perhaps better, the Bible’s vision of how to attain peace is very different from the world’s vision of how to attain peace. The world seeks peace through violence. The world thinks that war, which is the opposite of peace, can bring peace. Thus we call a war between imperial powers that decimates a continent and kills a generation of young men a “war to end all wars.” We fight a “war on terror,” thinking that raining death and destruction upon people who already hate us will make them stop hating us. That is the world’s vision of peace, peace through violence, and when you boil it down to its essence like that it really doesn’t make much sense, does it.

The Bible has a different vision, and a much better one. The Bible envisions peace attained not through the opposite of peace but through the ways that truly make for peace, namely through economic justice and nonviolence. We see the justice part of the Bible’s vision very clearly in our call to worship from Micah. The prophet envisions a world free from war, and he sees how such a world can be created. He prophesies peace, then says “but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees.” Using an agricultural image like his image of the implements of war turned into the implements of peaceful and productive agricultural pursuits, Micah prophesies a world that is at peace, without the need for the implements of war, because it a world of distributive economic justice. That is, it is a world in which all have enough. All are secure in their material needs. It is a world without poverty. It is a world in which the rich do not exploit the poor. That kind of justice, economic, distributive justice, may be a consequence of policies that may be pursued in peacetime, but the Bible knows that such justice is also and more importantly a cause of peace, a prerequisite of peace, a sine qua non of peace.

And the Bible knows that a true lasting peace cannot be created through violence. A true lasting peace must be achieved through nonviolence. That is Jesus’ message especially but not only in the brief passage we heard from the Sermon on the Mount. There Jesus says “love your enemies.” As a bumper sticker put out by the Church of the Brethren, one of the historic peace churches (which the UCC is not but I wish it were) says “When Jesus said love your enemies, I think he probably meant don’t kill them.” Jesus says “do not resist an evildoer,” and the word translated as “resist” means to resist violently, to resist through military force, as the late, great Walter Wink has taught us. When he says turn the other cheek, give the cloak also, go the second mile Jesus gives us examples of how we are to resist evil. Not with violence but through creative, assertive nonviolent resistance. (If you’re not familiar with that interpretation of Jesus’ sayings on nonviolence please let me know. I’ll be happy to explain it to you in greater detail after the service.) The Bible’s vision of peace is a vision of nonviolence. It is a vision of a world of economic justice and peace achieved through nonviolent resistance to evil.

And many people respond: Well, isn’t that nice. It’s nice they say, but it’s wildly unrealistic. It can’t be done. It doesn’t work, not in this world anyway. Maybe in some ideal world up in heaven, but not here. That’s what advocates of the Bible’s vision of peace always hear, but let me ask you something: Has the world’s way of violence ever brought lasting peace? The only possible answer to that question is no, it hasn’t. Violence has defeated enemies, but it has never put an end to violence. That “war to end all wars” ended in 1918 and led directly to an even bigger war that killed even more millions of people a few short years later. Since then our country has bounced from one war to another—Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Iraq again, Afghanistan, and those are only the major ones. There have been lots of minor ones too. We always say our wars are necessary to bring peace, and they never bring true peace. They never result in an end to war. It’s only a matter of time, and usually not very much time at that, before we’re back at war again. People say nonviolence doesn’t work. I say how do you know? Have we ever really tried it? And I say why is it so hard for the world to understand that it is precisely violence that doesn’t work? I don’t see how history teaches any other lesson.

The Bible has a better vision than the world’s vision. Jesus had a better vision than the world’s vision. It is a vision of real peace, lasting peace, just peace. It is a vision of peace through justice for all God’s people and of nonviolence as both its end and as its means. It is a vision of peace that says you attain peace by being peaceful not by being violent. It is a vision that knows with the sages of many times and many faith traditions that there is no way to peace, peace is the way.

Starting tomorrow many of our children will spend four days studying peace. They will create a peace pole, a symbol of our faith’s abiding commitment to peace. To peace the way the Bible sees it. To peace the way Jesus saw it. Peace the way God lives it and calls us to live it. May they learn well. May we learn well. Amen.