“The Things That Make For Peace”
A Sermon Preached by Rev. Julie Emery
The Larchmont Avenue Church
March 24, 2013, Palm/Passion Sunday
Luke 19:28 – 48
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this, “The Lord needs it.”
So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, Blessed is the king who comes in the name of The Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
As he came near and saw 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. Indeed, the days will come upon you when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
Then, he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, ‘my house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.”
Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
It it a deeply moving story, one we know by heart, one Luke has been leading up to from the very beginning, even before Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. It was always leading here. Here in Jerusalem is the heart of his people, the source of his Jewish faith. Here is the temple of The Lord. Here will be the climax of Jesus’ story and life.
And what a climax it is! Jesus riding into the city of Jerusalem on a a colt, through the crowds of people – those who have witnessed his deeds of power and healing – as they wave branches and throw their own cloaks in front of him to pave the way.
They shout, “Hosanna!” While the chief priests and leaders tell him to keep them quiet.
Jesus retorts, “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
All of creation shouts “Hosanna!” “He saves!” And surely, they hope and pray that he does.
But it will not be in the way that they think. We know where this is going. We know the way that Jesus will walk. We know that his parade will end in his own betrayal, his own death. And all this will happen in Jerusalem.
But before all that. Before the meal and the foot washing, before the betrayal and trial, before things fall apart…Jesus stops on the Mount of Olives,
He pauses to take in the expansive city before him. He stops to breathe in the panoramic view. And it causes him to weep.
Can you imagine? Can you feel the overwhelming emotions as they well up inside? It is all laid out before him… There – The place where he was lost in his youth and his parents found him days later in the temple reading the scrolls and teaching his elders; over there – The great temple of The Lord; And there – The place where he knows his enemies lie in wait for him.
Jesus is overtaken, and he weeps: big tears rolling down his face, convulsive sobs shuddering through his body. He comes down off the colt and falls to his knees and weeps with his whole body and soul. “If you, even you, had recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
I know I’ve wept like this. And I know that you have too. These are the kind of tears that take us almost by surprise. When we are blindsided by the brokenness and fragility of our humanity, as we were after Newtown or September 11. When we are overrun by yet another loss of a dear friend, yet another diagnosis of a parent of young children. When we learn of another senseless teenage suicide. When we hear of another heartbreaking divorce. When it seems we are reminded over and over again of our own inability to reach beyond ourselves and pull out of the darkness. When it seems we will never, not ever, learn the things that make for peace.
Jesus pauses, and weeps. And he is still weeping.
I am not a pacifist, but I long to be. This is usually my response to those who ask how I feel about war or peace. Perhaps it is having big brothers who liked to pummel their little sister, or maybe it was the women I met in the battered women’s shelter who had been told never to fight back, and so they stayed and took bruises and broken bones again and again. Maybe it’s my cousin, who serves in the Air Force, or the others I’ve known who have served in the armed forces. I believe in pacifism in theory, I long for it on a grand and social scale, but somehow it seems to leave unanswered my longing for just consequences. I want those who do wrong to be stopped, and punished. I want peace to be forged, demanded, waged. I want to serve as a protector, and sometimes the mother bear in me is ferocious and violent.
Maybe this is why this story of Jesus has been stuck in my throat all week. Jesus speaks deep into my heart, weeping… “if you, even you recognized on this day the things that make for peace.”
The gospel writers cry out for peace over and over again, and Luke in particular. Commentators are quick to remind us of the angels who sang upon the birth of Jesus, “Glory to God in the Highest Heaven! And Peace on Earth, good will to all!” This call for peace upon the birth of Jesus is a bookend to the cry of the people of Jerusalem upon his entrance into the city, who call, “Peace in Heaven, and Glory in the Highest Heaven!”
Peace on Earth!
Peace in Heaven!”
It seems as though peace in heaven should anticipate peace on earth and vice versa. And indeed in the Jewish tradition Jerusalem is a liminal space: the point of contact between heaven and earth. The name ‘Jerusalem,’ in Hebrew means ‘City of Peace,’ as I was reminded yesterday by Julie Faith Parker. And so the words that Jesus weeps here in our text are a pun: this city of peace does not know the things that make for peace. Even here, where the kingdom is so close at hand, where God’s presence is close enough to touch. Even here, we cannot make our way toward the things of peace.
If Jerusalem is indicative of our own human tendencies than perhaps we are truly hopeless. The state of affairs in that promised land is enough to keep Jesus weeping, and us along with him. But let us not be too quick to point fingers, we are not far behind. Almost half of American households legally own guns, and every day in the United States 85 people die from guns. That’s 30,000 deaths a year, and that number does not include the gun-inflicted injuries that change lives forever.
The debate rages on, and we hear again, “It’s not guns that kill people but people who kill people.” But guns don’t shoot themselves. It’s people who bring them into movie theaters, public parks, schools. But a protector with a gun could have stopped it all too… and on and on.
What is it about us that always needs to be right? What is it about us that cannot let go? Why do we grip so tightly our pride, our anger, our fear?
William Carter tells a story about when he was studying the New Testament and his father worked for a military contractor, he would come home for vacations and pepper his father with arguments about peace. He describes how he spoke eagerly about his dreams for world peace, and his father listened patiently. But one night, after listening to one of his son’s rants, his father softly said, “I do not disagree with anything you have said, but we will never have peace on earth until we can quiet the wars within our own hearts.”
“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
Perhaps we do not know these things because we are not willing to know them. Because if Jesus teaches us anything on this Palm and Passion Sunday it is that the cost of Peace is great.
Jesus said, “Those who want to find their lives will lose them, and those who will lose their lives for my sake will find them.” He said, “You have been told to hate your enemies, but I say love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” He said “Do not forgive seven times, but seventy-times seven.” He said “Take up your cross and follow me.”
Bassam Aramin was seventeen when he was caught and jailed for throwing a forgotten hand grenade at Israeli troops. And he was only a child when he was taught that the way out of his anger about the plight of the Palestinians was through violence. He and his friends first threw stones and empty bottles. They called themselves freedom fighters. The world called them terrorists.
He spent seven years in an Israeli jail, and he says that his jailers taught them how to continue hating and resisting. He describes a day – October first, 1987 – when the alarms went off around the prison and the 120 prisoners were lined up and beaten until they could hardly stand. Bassam Aramin was beaten the hardest and longest. But in that moment of his suffering, he remembered a movie he had seen years before about the Holocaust; He saw the Jews lined up and herded into the gas chambers. Some minutes into the movie, he had found himself crying. “Why didn’t they fight back?” he had wondered.
After the beating, Bassam Aramin began to reach out to one of the guards, to speak with him about who he was and how he understood things in this place where heaven meets the earth. They began to explain to one another their own stories and perspectives, asked questions such as: “Who are the settlers?” and, “How can this violence end?”
After he was released, Bassam Aramin remembered the conversations and kindness he found in his friend the guard, and in 2005 he began meeting secretly with some of his friends and some of the Israeli soldiers. This was the beginning of Combatants for Peace, an organization of former Israeli and Palestinian combatants leading non-violent struggle against the occupation. He said that both sides did not begin the movement to protect the other, but to protect their own dignity and morals. It was only later that they began to feel a responsibility for each other’s people.
In 2007, Bassam Aramin’s ten year old daughter Abir was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. It was a senseless, purposeless tragedy. And surely it broke her father’s heart all over again. Surely he wanted to turn to violence. Surely he wanted to be the one to inflict consequence upon the perpetrator. But he did not. Surely walking towards the path of forgiveness was like choosing to take on suffering. Surely choosing non-violence was like choosing to die.
What are the things that make for peace?
After Jesus wept over Jerusalem he got angry too. He stormed through the temple and threw over the tables of the money changers. He accused them of making the temple of The Lord a den of robbers.
But then he said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another, just as I have loved you.”
But then he said, “This is my body, broken for you.”
But then he said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Maybe it is the small things that make for peace. Small things like being the first to say, “I’m sorry.” Small things, like wishing happiness and light for that person who brought you such grief and suffering. Small things like seeing in the face of your enemy the eyes of your son, the nose of your grandmother. Maybe these are the seeds that plant peace.
After his daughter Abir’s death, 100 former Israeli soldiers came to her school to join Bassam Aramin in planting a garden in her name. I’m sure it felt like dying. I’m sure it felt like all had been lost. I’m sure in some ways it feels like too small a thing, in the face of so enormous a tragedy. But, maybe it is the small things that make for peace. Maybe in some ways that garden is evidence of that point of contact between heaven and earth.
Maybe when he stands in that garden he can hear the angels and the people of his world joining together in song:
“Peace in Heaven! Peace on Earth!
Peace in Heaven! Peace on Earth!
Peace in Heaven! Peace on Earth!
Peace, Peace, Peace.”
If only we would join them…
In the name of the Creator the Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.