April 10, 2022
"The Things That Make for Peace"
Rev. Scott Landis
Most preachers will admit, preaching on Palm Sunday presents a bit of a challenge. That may surprise you. What’s the problem you might ask? It’s a great day of celebration. Jesus rides into the city of Jerusalem demonstrating a whole new way of being – initiating a brand-new expression of his own religious practice. The crowds are wild with excitement. Palm branches waving. “Hosanna,” they shout, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!”
Pretty exciting stuff for a guy riding into town on a donkey. But there is also a deep conflict, I believe, rumbling inside that guy on the donkey – a conflict of which he may be the only one who is fully aware. It’s by this time, Jesus knew his days were numbered. No one else understood that just yet. Caught up in the excitement of the parade they didn’t notice the conflict that was building between the powers of this world and the authority with which Jesus spoke and embodied. [Pause]
Biblical scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan had this conflict in mind when they described the scene a little differently. They envisioned two parades. One formed at the east gate the city where Jesus, riding on a donkey, was cheered as he symbolized humility and the authority of heaven. “Hosanna,” they shouted — a cry of praise that literally means “Lord save us!” While, from another gate, entered Pilate, riding a horse, flanked by soldiers and all the military strength necessary for an earthly ruler to maintain power. Praising another god they shouted, “Hail Caesar.”
Both were striving for peace – but were going about it in radically different ways.
It's a clash of kingdoms. Pilate’s based on physical power and domination to maintain the Pax Romana. While Jesus sought a “kingdom” not of this world – based on justice and mercy – God’s love – to establish the Pax Christi. The two couldn’t have been more different.
It is a very similar tension that WE face today as we peer from our place in history onto this scene we call Palm Sunday. Are you beginning to understand the preacher’s dilemma on this day?[Pause]
If you read just a little further in the gospel of Luke, you begin to capture the essence and basis of the tension. In just a few verses, Luke lifts the curtain a bit as we catch a glimpse of the “back-story.” Jesus did not try and squelch the enthusiasm of the crowd. In fact, when the Pharisees pleaded with him to silence his loudest supporters he responded, “If these were silent, the stones themselves would shout out.”
He knew there was no stopping what was already in play. And he understood that on SO many levels. We hear that sentiment expressed in Luke’s continuation of the story when he writes,
As he came near the city, he wept over it saying, “If you, even you had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
That’s the part of the story that captures my imagination AND breaks my heart as I read it, once again, this year. For, while this is a day of great celebration – an expression I wish to deny no one – If we do NOT couple that with a dose of reality, we run the risk of being insensitive and irresponsible given all that is occurring in THIS situation AND in our world today. [Pause]
Several years ago, a remarkable coffee-table type book was published that illustrates this tension I am referring to. Entitled, “A Day in the Life,” the creators used photographs (and no words) of hundreds of people in ordinary life situations on ONE typical day in the life of the United States. And so, there were photographs of weddings, and funerals, accidents, and hospital scenes, kids at play, folks at work, beach scenes, and skiers shushing down mountains, people driving, others sleeping, lovers embracing while others quarreled — all occurring at the same time. I think you get the idea.
On any given day some while some are experiencing unspeakable joy, others are in the midst of incomprehensible tragedy. Through the eye of the photographer, we caught a glimpse of that reality – the reality that comprises all that is going on in a single “day in our lives.” None of us can escape that tension. And neither could Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago.
While many were hailing Jesus at one gate as the “Prince of Peace,” at another gate folks were beating their breasts and shouting, “We have no king but Caesar!” A tension that Jesus felt in the pit of his stomach as he lamented, “If you, only you recognized the things that make for peace.” [Pause]
What are they for you? The things that make for peace.
Maluhia – peace – it was one of the first words that I inquired about when I accepted the opportunity to become interim pastor here at Keawala’i. It’s the word I often use — in closing — when sending a letter or email. You see, peace, for me, is vital to my whole being. If you are a student of the Enneagram – I am a “9” which means peace is a core value for me and that for which I constantly strive. Which makes sense since I am a “libra” on the astrological calendar – my scales need to be in balance, or I begin to feel uncertain and anxious.
Little did I know, upon accepting the call to serve here, that even the name of our church “Keawala’i,” which means “peaceful harbor” or “tranquil haven,” would provide such solace for me, but God knew. And it’s why simply walking onto our church grounds offers such vital comfort for my soul. I would agree with poet laureate Mary Oliver when she said, “And almost daily, it saves me.”
But whether you are a 9 on the Enneagram or a libra on the astrological wheel, we all need to sense peace within our being. For without it we cannot realize peace around us. [Pause]
Zen Buddhist Master, Thich Nhat Hanh spoke often of the necessity of inner peace in order for there to be any possibility of peace in our world. He said, “When we have hatred and anger in ourselves, they rebound in all quarters. When we have peace and joy in ourselves, our peace and joy will radiate throughout the whole cosmos.”
So, there will not be peace in our homes unless there is peace in our lives. There will not be peace in our churches unless there is peace in our lives. There will not be peace in our country unless there is peace in our lives. There will not be peace in Afghanistan, or Ukraine, or Russia, or anywhere unless there is peace in our lives.
We can pray for peace. We MUST pray for peace. But peace will not come to fruition until there is peace in our lives and that will require effort — and likely sacrifice — on our part. Jesus knew that and it gave him the ability to ride into Jerusalem with a broken heart knowing that his path was the only way to peace. [Pause]
Since the war in Ukraine erupted several weeks ago, our pianist Dannette Kong has been concluding worship with a familiar song, “Let there be Peace on Earth.” I thought I’d look up the origins of that song this week. Turns out the song was written in 1955 by Jill Jackson-Miller after she became nearly suicidal following the failure of her marriage to screenwriter Felix Jackson. She wrote it after discovering what she called the “Lifesaving joy of God’s ‘Peace’ and unconditional love.” She had to let go of that which was strangling her ability to embrace peace. She had to let go of her failure in order to risk the possibility of a new life. She realized that the only way for peace to prevail in her world was if she knew peace within her soul. And so, she wrote, “Let there be peace on earth – and let it begin … with me.” [Pause]
Today, like every day, is a “Day in the Life” of you – AND of me — and if the whole cosmos. Many conflicting things are happening — all at the same time. We are all traveling different paths. We will all encounter very different experiences. Some will experience joy while others will encounter deep sorrow. And while we are called to weep with those who mourn and rejoice with those who laugh, we really cannot enter fully into the life of another. But we can influence the lives of others and change the world for good – one step at a time – as we seek the things that make for peace — within our individual lives.
It takes time – and effort on our part. We need to slow down. Turn off the noise. Listen to the waves, the birds, the breeze. Come to the peaceful harbor wherever that is for you and let peace begin in you so that you will have the strength to work for peace in all the world.
“Hosanna,” they cried. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven (and on earth) and glory in the highest heaven!”
No matter what conflicts emerge in our world, we can become instruments of peace as we seek peace within our souls.
May it be so – and may it begin with me.Amen.