Estes Park, CO
October 13, 2011
Well, we’ve come to the mountain. Is it the mountain of God’s house? There’s a place in the foothills of Colorado Springs, not too far from here, called Garden of the Gods. It’s an amazing collection of rocks to climb or contemplate – or both. It’s hard not to appreciate the wonder of divine creativity in a setting like this.
Quite a few nations have streamed in to this mountain – many of the 16 nations of The Episcopal Church, as well as the Navajo, Sioux, and others. I believe England is here, and the Philippines, and China and Brazil. Most of us have suffered the indignities of travel in those cattle cars called commercial airplanes, and some have labored to overcome motion sickness and altitude sickness to get up here. All of us are here to learn – from the word of the Lord, and from the ways in which the spirit will speak in our midst. We are here to learn peace, and to unlearn the ways of war.
We have been sent here to discover how to send others more effectively – so that each one can go out into the world to heal and reconcile brokenness. There are times when that work can feel as hopeless as trying to collect all the sand and rock at the base of these mountains, and put it back up there on the mountain. Yet we’re here because we believe God works even through erosion and what looks like the destruction of creation. It is the destruction of human communities and ecological systems that has brought us here, hoping to find ways of healing.
Sometimes the great mountains around us need to be eroded, like the great dividing walls Paul acknowledge exist between us. Once we learn to see them, we’ll find those walls all around us. The barriers between rich and poor in every city on this planet need the kind of healing that came from breaking down the Berlin Wall, or that might come from tearing down the wall in the Holy Land. The borders of this nation have become dividing walls as some Americans retreat into irrational fear. All those walls need to be eroded and dismantled and turned into something more life-giving, like sand for making stained glass or the clay that Native Americans use to create beautiful pots.
Barrier removal is primary – it has to precede peace construction. Reconciliation can’t happen without the vulnerability of meeting your former enemy face to face. Strangers have to look each other in the eye and discover the face of God looking back. We will never know the eternal comfort of good and right relationship with God and neighbor until we’re willing to let down the barriers we are always building.
Mission moves toward peace through letting go of self-protection, and taking down the walls between us. It can take very concrete forms like reforging the weapons of war into instruments of peace as well as the less obvious dissolving of walls. Peace building needs people who are willing to non-violently confront our unchallenged expectations about protection. Why are we still at war in Afghanistan and Iraq? Can we ever be completely safe? Is the illusion of protection worth the indignities we suffer in airports? Will the economy of this nation or the world really improve through trade barriers – or ending them? Will more people be fed?
Jesus, who both sends us and leads us in peace-making, lived without the world’s normal protections – things like a permanent address, a family to go home to at the end of the day, a concealed weapon – how or where do you hide a spear?, or a worldview that sees only a few as friends and most as enemies. He didn’t protect himself from social outcasts, he learned from them, and expanded his own mission to the despised enemies of his society. He told his companions to travel light – without checked bags or carry-ons, and no snacks or credit cards. That’s radical vulnerability – particularly given what the airlines are offering these days. But that kind of unburdened way of going about in the world makes one both radically dependent on others’ hospitality, and exquisitely sensitive to what life is like for the “least of these.”
Monday evening in Tulsa, Trinity Church offered a Homeless Action witness. They shared needed goods with those who live on the street, and they challenged those who aren’t living on the street. They did it in a public enough way that some of the barrier came down. Their ministry at Trinity is ironically called Irongate, for the location where the feeding program began. Apparently one of the guests told another hungry person that food was available “over there, by the iron gate” that protects a stairwell at the church. Now it opens regularly to invite guests for a wholesome meal, and to give away sacks of groceries.
What gates and walls need to be opened in order to take up the work God sends us to do? Some of them are in our own hearts. Some are the structures that keep people hungry or unemployed or uneducated. That west bank “security barrier” is a lot like the wall that keeps generations in poverty. How do we turn the concrete surety of such a wall into hope – can the creative artists among us erode the wall and create a radiant new window? Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and others were held for so many years, is now a museum and a world heritage site. The former punishment yards, where prisoners broke rocks for hours each day, have become gardens, filled with life.
I met a remarkable man in another part of Oklahoma Monday night – a former Principal Chief of the Cherokee nation, who went to Washington 25 years ago to break down boundaries and forge more life-giving connections between two nations. Ross Swimmer is still doing that work of reconciliation and hope building, in advocacy work and through an enterprise that encourages and markets Native art.
The service we’re celebrating tonight is yet another witness to the interplay of vulnerability and peace-making. We’re using the liturgy of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, the Japanese member of the Anglican Communion. Four years ago, representatives of the Japanese church and of The Episcopal Church (especially the U.S. part) were invited to participate in a peace conference in South Korea. The primate of South Korea had a passion for reunifying the Korean Peninsula, and he asked former enemies to gather and travel to North Korea to offer some practical aid to a flooded village, and an olive branch. We did, and together celebrated the first Anglican service in North Korea since the war. Then we returned to Seoul for a peace conference, involving Anglicans from across the globe, learning from each other, breaking down dividing walls, and seeking healing not for ourselves but for a profoundly broken world. The next chapter in that TOPIK meeting was to have been held later this month in Okinawa. It has been postponed because of the earthquake and tsunami.
That natural disaster has broken many walls – tsunami barriers, radiation containment vessels, and the walls between proud human beings. The church is a tiny, tiny part of Japanese society, and it has often been misunderstood and mistrusted. Japanese Anglicans, like many Episcopalians, have been hesitant to speak about or give evidence of their faith in public ways. Something new is happening as the NSKK provides relief to all sorts and conditions of people. A dividing wall is eroding and a new community is being built.
The harvest is plentiful – the world is full of mountain ridges and their rubble. What bridge or window will you help to build out of that destruction? We’re going to be sent out from this place in peace as dismantlers of walls and harvesters of peace. Go, take down the walls, make peace, be peace, build peace. Peace be with you – and with us all.