WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS
LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE Claire Stiles, liturgist
Earth is but one country and all people its citizens.
Baha’u’llah 1817-1892, Founder of the Baha’i Faith
PRELUDE Imagine Lennon
CALL TO WORSHIP Anonymous
To the fragile feelings, not to the clashing fury
To the quiet sounds, not to the loud clamour
To the steady heartbeat, not to the noisy confusion
To the hidden voices, not to the obvious chatter
To the deep harmonies, not to the surface discord.
MUSICAL REFLECTION Peace in the Valley Dorsey
Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture.
Our hearts and minds are open.
Isaiah 6:1-8 and Psalm 29
For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us.
Thanks be to God.
POEM Plenty Gunilla Norris
SERMON The Peace Force Rev. Kim P. Wells
Over 10 years ago, we went on a trip to Scotland. While we were in Edinburgh, we visited St. Giles Cathedral and were taken on a tour by a volunteer who was a member of the church. She wore what I would describe as a black choir robe and was very professional. There were several guides from the church doing the same thing; taking visitors on tours of the church and telling them about the building, the furnishings, and the history of the church. It was very interesting and illuminating.
As we proceeded on this tour, we were shown many stained glass windows. This one in honor of the winning of this battle in this war. This one in honor of the winning of that battle in that war. This one in honor of this person who led this battle in this war. Etc. A lot of what we were shown related to different battles and wars. We listened politely. Then out of the blue our guide commented, “Evidently, we Scots love war.” It seems that she suddenly noticed that there was a lot of revering of war-related activity in the cathedral, and she spontaneously drew this conclusion. “We Scots love war.” Well, that was revealing. And honest. And self-aware. You couldn’t really feel critical when she had been so disarmingly direct. About her own people.
I was surprised at my reaction to this experience. Instead of being shocking or horrified or condemnatory, I found myself feeling admiration at the honesty of the comment. Not in 10 million years could I imagine an American giving a tour of an historic edifice and commenting, “Evidently, we Americans love war.”
Now, if we were to do an analysis of government spending, of allocation of resources, of public messaging about the military, an impartial observer could probably draw the conclusion that we do love war. But I can’t imagine that being actually said, outloud, and to guests, foreigners, upon whom you would be trying to make a good impression. Frankly, the honesty of the woman in St. Giles was refreshing. And it made me love the Scots more, even if they do love war. At least they know it and admit it and aren’t lying about it or covering it up.
When something is admitted, openly, honestly, then you can work with it. There can be authentic dialogue. There can be mutual sharing and understanding. There can be progress. There can be change. There can be movement toward peace. This is the case in interpersonal relationships and in international relationships. Whatever the circumstances, setting, or parties involved, the movement toward peace involves telling the truth.
Which is why we are having such trouble moving closer to peace in our country internally. There are a lot of people who don’t want to hear the truth. Who don’t believe the truth. Who won’t tell the truth. And without a deeper level of honesty and acceptance of facts, it is hard to move toward greater peace.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband, Jeff, was helping our 25 year old son, Malcolm, do his taxes. It was during the increased hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza. As the taxes were being prepared, we, the parents mentioned that we were glad to pay our taxes. They helped fund schools and libraries and roads and things that are important to our life together in this country. Malcolm commented, “It’s ok that you think that, but I know that my tax money is going to be used to kill Palestinian children.” Well, who is right? Who is telling the truth? There is a lot of truth to be told. And we need to learn to listen to each other’s truth. From there, we can move toward peace. Without truth, without respect for truth, for facts, for experience, we cannot move toward peace, as individuals, communities, or societies. The pursuit of peace requires truth-telling.
This morning we listened to the story of the call of the prophet Isaiah. And in that story, we see a scene of dramatic truth-telling. There, at the altar, in the presence of the heavenly beings and the hem of the robe of the Divine, in the swirl of smoke and the sound of ethereal chanting, Isaiah is laid bare. Simply struck down in awe. And what does he say: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”
There it is. The honesty. The truth. The unobstructed, undiluted, unattractive, undesirable truth. I am a person of lies and I live among a people of lies. In the presence of the divine, the truth is exposed. Laid bare. You can’t help but hear the echo in James Baldwin who said that America is founded on a Big Lie. We are a people of unclean lips.
But that exposure, that truth-telling, that confession in Isaiah is not only an ending; it is a beginning. In the story from Isaiah, the seraph takes a coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips. He is made clean. His sin and guilt are gone. He is released from bondage to the lie. He no longer has to hide or pretend. He is now free to speak the truth. He can now be used by the Divine to redeem his people. To tell the truth. To bring them back from the lie of self- serving greed and treachery to the truth of justice- based community. After telling the truth, Isaiah is filled with power to speak God’s word and pursue the long arduous path to peace for his people and those around them. Telling the truth unleashed the power for the prophet to be a peacemaker.
We are using a lot of force and power to keep lies in place in our society. To perpetuate lies. To maintain the facade of a false reality. It takes a lot of work to do this.
So, since it takes so much effort to perpetuate the lies, why do we bother? Why do humans continue to pursue what they portray as safety and security through violence and armed force? Well, for one thing, and it is a big thing, in today’s world, war is big business. Armaments and the military are a huge industry. Many people are getting very rich from war, preparation for war, readiness for war, and the implementation of war and violence. Gun manufacturers are making money hand over fist as guns proliferate in the United States,. And there are all kinds of off shoot industries that make, well, a killing: security services and devices, security technology, equipment, fencing, wall building, protective gear, and on, and on, and on. ‘Not peace’ is very lucrative for some. And they donate heavily to political campaigns making ‘not peace’ lucrative for politicians, too. If there was no financial gain to be had from war, violence, and gun culture, guess what? They wouldn’t be as pervasive in our society. As German socialist August Bebel observed in 1870, “In time of war, the loudest patriots are the greatest profiteers.” This hasn’t changed. So greed is a factor in the culture of violence.
And all that leaders need to do to get people on board is to foment fear and sow division and polarization. So, yes, our society has been intentionally manipulated into a war culture. Over decades. After Vietnam, our country could have said no. Not again. But we did not. And here we are. Not only in armed conflict with other countries and peoples, not only paying for others to be engaged in armed conflict, but we also have a domestic culture of terrorism and armed violence. When random people are killed at work, it’s a war zone. When students are killed at school, it’s a war zone. When customers are killed at the store, it’s a war zone. When people are killed at a restaurant or a bar, it’s a war zone. And there’s more fear. And there’s more polarization. And there’s more money to be made. Gun sales are up, guys, including among first time gun buyers.
We maintain a culture of violence because of the apparent benefits, like greed, and guns, and heroism, and the illusion of power. And perhaps the short term gain of an objective.
So what can be done to break this cycle? Well, we see a path forward in the call story from Isaiah. It is the truth telling that unleashes the power that leads to peace. And we all know that there is much truth yet to be told in our midst. Thankfully, we are starting to have some of those conversations. Like about Confederate monuments, and buildings named for slave owners. We are starting to tell the truth about generational wealth. And white male privilege. And antisemitism, which is very different from supporting human rights for Palestinians. And the covid pandemic has exposed a lot of truth about healthcare, and workers, and the power of government, and rural communities left behind, and moms doing more work than dads when everyone is working from home. And the more that comes out, the more power that is unleashed. And the harder it becomes to maintain the lies. And eventually the lies will fall and the truth will stand. Eventually.
Truth telling is very powerful. Listening, understanding, letting yourself be transformed, having the patience to give others the space to change. It is a complex, challenging, intricate business that is very powerful. And it leads to peace.
You see, people think peace is weak. That it is insipid. Sentimental. Like a Kincaid painting. Oh no. Peace is a force. It is strong. It takes courage and creativity and vulnerability.
Mister Rogers captured the power of peace when he said, “It’s very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It’s easy to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing views come together and finally respect each other.”
The pursuit of peace is a powerful witness and it takes courage.
I love the psalm that was read today because it is filled with images of power, of Divine power. The voice of God has the power to snap the cedars, thunder over the raging seas, strike with bolts of lightening, cause oaks to whirl, strip the forest bare, shake the wilderness. Oh my! Such images of power and strength simply from the voice of God! And then there is that last line of the psalm: “Give strength to your people, Yahweh! Bless your people with peace!”
Peace. The psalm hardly sounds peaceful, but it reminds us it requires strength to attain pace. And one way that power is unleashed is through the voice, through truth telling.
I want to close with another story from Scotland. On our trip, we visited one of the most prominent museums in Glasgow. And there, on the first floor, by a main door, was an extensive exhibit about violence against women. Past and present. Complete with torture devices in the glass cases along with pictures, drawings, descriptions and statistics.
There is something about the truth telling in Scotland that I find inspiring and hopeful. I feel like if we were to do more truth telling here, it would open the lock, unleash the power of peace that is needed to eradicate the pandemic of violence that has infected our life together.
This is Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day. A day to remember. All those who have died in war. A time to bring to mind the toll that war and violence have taken in our country, in the world, and in our lives. Remember. Then tell the truth. And let it sink in. So that we can move toward creating a culture of honesty about our past and our present that will unleash the power of peace. Amen.
UNISON READING Written by a 7th grade class
Palms Junior High School, West Los Angeles
We, children of the world, declare peace on the future.
We want a planet free of war and weapons.
We want an end to disease, death, and destruction.
Hatred and anger make no sense to us.
We want them done away with.
Our earth gives food enough for all – we will share it.
Our skies give us rainbows everywhere – we will safeguard them.
Our waters give us life eternal – we will keep them clean.
We want to laugh together, play together, work together,
learn from each other, explore and improve life for everyone.
We are for peace now and forever for all.
Grownups of the world, join us,
grab hold of our smile and imagine:
Together Peace is possible.
MUSICAL INTERLUDE Down by the Riverside African-American Spiritual
The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:
- Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world.
- Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
- Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.
Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.
Offertory Nimrod from “Enigma Variations” Elgar
Prayer of Dedication Based on Pablo Casals
“The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?” Like Jesus, may we be a people whose love for one another, for our enemies, and for the very earth itself has no limits, borders, or boundaries. Then we shall know peace. Amen.
PREPARATION FOR PRAYER
O Day of Peace That Dimly Shines [Jerusalem] Parry
COMMUNITY PRAYERS- SAVIOR’S PRAYER
O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos,
focus your light within us—make it useful.
Create your reign of unity now;
Your one desire acts with ours, as in all light, so in all forms.
Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.
Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
as we release the strand we hold of others’ guilt.
Don’t let surface things delude us,
but free us from what holds us back.
From you is born all ruling will, the power and the life to do,
the song that beautifies all;
from age to age it renews. Amen.
Peshita Syriac-Aramaic translation
*BENEDICTION Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as
those who love war. Amen.
*POSTLUDE Let There Be Peace on Earth Jackson-Miller