Third Sunday in Advent
[Paul writes, ]
Do not worry about anything,
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 4:6-7
This past Sunday, which was the second Sunday in Advent, the theme was Peace. I wanted to say more about the Peace of God.
On the first Thursday of each month, I enjoy meeting with the Harrisonburg- Rockingham Inter-Faith Association. In the IFA, I get to mingle with neighbors who represent various Christian churches, as well as Jews and Muslims, and even one or two men who call themselves “Humanists.” We practice peace. “We covenant together to embody in our community God’s peace through our faith traditions.” The IFA gave rise to the Faith In Action organization, which operates the Open Doors thermal shelter program for people experiencing homelessness,
Over the years, you may have heard how Jews, Muslims, atheists and others often pick up extra shifts in workplaces at Christmas time, so Christians can take off work. Our Faith In Action membership has its own wonderful story of friendly cooperation at Christmas time: that week, the Islamic Association of the Shenandoah Valley hosts the Open Doors shelter, and the Congregation Beth El Synagogue provides and serves the meals there for them. Merry Christmas !
When things are already peaceful, it’s not such a big deal to cooperate and be friendly with neighbors. Very often, though, tension and fear, if not outright warfare, make it hard for people coming from different positions to face one another and get along. That’s why Jesus lays a special blessing on peace makers (Matthew 5:9), and teaches us to love our enemies and do good to them (Luke 6:27-36 and elsewhere).
This past Thursday at the InterFaith Association meeting, we heard from Lisa Schirch, who teaches at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU. Lisa is a Mennonite Christian— her parents were present at the meeting, to vouch for that ! — and she is married to Bill Goldberg, a practicing Jew, who was also present at the IFA meeting to support his wife.
Lisa is a long-time peace activist. Her specialty is in bringing Christians, Muslims, and Jews together to find common ground in Israel-Palestine. Lisa has studied deeply in the histories of Jews, Christians, and Muslims and how they have arrived in and lived in Israel-Palestine. She works to get people from different roots to listen deeply to one another and understand one another. She is convinced that Israel-Palestine can be a place of safety for both Israelis and Palestinians.
An organization Lisa is involved with, called Friends Of Roots, puts it this way: “At Roots we envision a social and political reality that is founded on dignity, trust, and a mutual recognition and respect for both peoples’ historic belonging to the entire Land.” www.friendsofroots.net
If you have paid attention to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict over the years, you have seen the violence and hate that usually leads the news about it. Addressing that, Lisa calls on each person to take responsibility for their own actions and learn their own history. For example, she shared with us her research on historic Mennonite prejudice against Jews, from Europe to North America. She illustrated ways that progressive Christians in North America often listen to Palestinian views but refuse to seek understanding of historic Jewish experiences of leaving hostile places, going to Palestine, and participating in the Zionist project and the State of Israel. And she noted how outside Christians fail to listen to Arab/ Palestinian Christians whose roots are in the Holy Land.
Lisa stresses the importance of supporting people on both sides of conflict to be safe and free. This requires that we listen deeply to people on both sides, we face the complexity of situations, and we examine the double-standards we may hold.
As I listened to Lisa’s presentation, I reflected, how fear and violence drive us to regard the other person with hatred. What a joy-destroyer !
And the angel said unto them,
for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people.”
- Luke 2:10
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
- Isaiah 12:3