Peter’s Sword

Matthew 26:47-56

 

“Let there be Peace and let it begin with U.S.” Please take note of who U.S. is… But you know, this saying seems so out of date in this modern era. I remember when Laurie and I join an anti-war protest in Central Park in the 1980s. There were 100s of thousands protesting our war in the Mid East. It was amazing. Now it is all but forgotten … and it really didn’t make an impact on how our country and other countries respond to geopolitical problems.

So once again there are wars and rumors of wars throughout the world. There is the civil war in Syria-Iraq. There is the civil war in Nigeria. There is the national war in Ukraine with Russia’s invasion. There is Israel and Palestine with an unsteady truce. And decades ago we declared war on the drug lords. We shattered their South American cartels into yet more cartels with more lords, more battles, more violence, more death. Now we wage war on the little refugees of their land. They come here to live life instead of becoming the fighting dead. Jesus said to us, “Bring the little children to me.” But the little refugees instead find here the cold steel of jail. There is a sign at the College Avenue Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA: “I was hungry. And you asked for my papers. I was thirsty. And you wanted to see my visa. Not what Jesus ever said.”

Oh … what have I missed? Oh yes, there’s the festering endless war on our streets… how many of our children caught in the cross fire have we buried over the past decade?

Perpetual war, just as George Orwell predicted.

Yet these wars are so far away … on the other side … in someone else’s neighborhood … that they are like some Hollywood movie: so many pixels on a screen. Occasionally we may encounter a veteran. We might even say thank you, but we are too shy to ask what she did in the army or we just don’t care.

We probably don’t realize he doesn’t live in our world anymore. He has brought the battle home with him. He’s not the man he was.

Did we learn in Sunday school what Jesus said to Peter (the Gospel of John identifies Peter as the defender of Jesus) in Gethsemane that fateful night? Peter adored Jesus and wanted him to live and live and live and always be present to him and to his comrades and to everyone. A traitor invaded the garden bringing soldiers with him to arrest Jesus. Peter would have none of it. They were wrong and Jesus was right. He drew his sword to defend Jesus, the Christ, Jesus the son of God. What better reason is there to wage war if not to defend God’s son? What would it be like if Jesus dies? No, Peter declares war at the point of his sword.

And Jesus, not a soldier, ordered Peter to cease and surrender, “Peter put away your sword, for those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”

And Peter surrendered and Jesus died. Peter would die too … in the same way.

So what Christian in their right mind would follow Jesus’ command? What good is it to family, friends, and nation should we disarm …almost certainly … be defeated and die? The Terrorists who threaten us would not be moved to disarm just because we did. And so we defend ourselves. Indeed, we don’t wait to be threatened. We are prepared always, armed to the teeth… endlessly … generation after generation.

But are we to stand by while some far flung army is invading another’s land and making captive the innocent people of that land threatening to abuse and enslave them? In good faith our hearts and souls cry out to end the injustice and the horrid sin – and rightly so. But all we know to do is to wage war – violent war – on the violent invaders. And we leave behind unintentionally the already planted seeds of the next round of violence for we too succumbed to violence.

But do we ask of those who really know what it means to draw one’s sword what they have done? Do we ask a veteran to tell us his or her story? Do we want to hear it? Do we want to face it? Do we want to celebrate it?

Or would we rather, just leave them alone … they are in their own world. And we don’t need to know the gritty, sickening moments of the life on the battlefield. We don’t need to know the traumatic moments of families waiting and waiting and waiting for their loved one…

Do we even realize that we are an empire spread across the world? And where has Jesus gone? We are Peter before Gethsemane: meaning well but on the road to inevitable failure.

“Thou shall not kill. Period.” saith God. That last word left out and never shows up… until Gethsemane. No ifs or buts. You cannot kill. It is a very simple command… and a very hard one to follow. Does God really want us to die or be conquered or enslaved? No … so sometimes we have to fight, we say to ourselves.

“You kill our babies. Desecrate our wives and daughters. And call it freeing ourselves from our wonton lives,” says the Jihadist.

So far away from husband and son she fights our war protecting us she thinks. She turns a corner and is trapped by local insurgents’ fire. She sprays bullets across the street and one hits and kills a baby… never to be forgotten by her, never to be forgiven by her.

When will we ever stop? When will we ever live? When will we put away our swords? When will we have courage to follow Jesus? Even the Gospel writers feared Jesus telling us to put away our swords. Only Matthew had the courage to record and repeat the demand … only Matthew.

 

War for any reason whatsoever is a failure … a failure of reason, of wisdom, and of compassion… a failure of our creativity to reach out and embrace those we call enemies… a failure to accept Jesus, for when Jesus disarmed Peter he disarmed every Christian everywhere for all time no matter what the threat. Period. As Christians we have no enemies.

When I was working for Bell Labs during the Cold War I worked with a colleague who was atheist. He and I debated at times our beliefs. He was also a pacifist and attended regularly the gatherings of his comrades. In one of our encounters he told me what happened at one of these meetings. They had invited a scientist who was advocating for the U. S. to unilaterally destroy its nuclear weapons. When he was done speaking, a listener asked, “Do you really trust the Soviets not to attack us once we have no defense?” The speaker replied, “No I don’t trust the Soviets. I trust God.” … and this from an Atheist.

Yet as Christians and believers in the one true God, we still don’t trust God. Deep down we trust our leaders, even when we complain about them and denigrate them. And thereby like sheep following the wrong shepherd we do nothing to stop the wars. War begets hate. And hate begets more war. And we descend further and further into cultural destruction.

 

What I say to you today is not a protest. Protests have their place … but all too often they spring up and then fade into forgetfulness. Rarely, but occasionally, a protest movement will sustain week after week, month after month, year after year … but very rarely.

Anyway whom would we protest?

Those armchair warriors who find our national and international disagreements resolved by going to war? We could protest, but to what end? Their approach is the standard way we attack an intractable problem. We would be ignored and dismissed. The armchair warriors have done no more than what is expected and often respected of them. And no doubt some will believe that their decision is biblical … for are not there many scenes of battle in the Bible where the follower of God is a righteous hero?

Or do we protest the returning veterans? After all if they had protested themselves and never gone to war, could we have fought the next battle? The next war? But from their perspective they joined up to save and preserve this nation. And many, if not most of us, see them as heroes.

But we conveniently ignore their life-long damage and brokenness that cheats them of a good life. How many have seen a buddy killed or a baby killed or just worthless, useless orders that lead to no sensible victory? Can we fault them for trying to find some meaning in what they did?

No, this protest would go nowhere and indeed conflict with God’s call to care for the least among us, for the broken and for the sinner (that we all are).

Do we then protest our national government for getting us into such a mess? But the government does what is routine. It is not creative. It simply reacts and follows well known paths. It believes itself to be dependent about the massively wealthy elite and they have shown no objection to battle and war. Rather they often profit from the wars.

The government has forgotten that it answers to you and me. But it was easy for it to forget. When have we the voters warn our representatives of our desires and needs and will vote only for those who work to achieve what we need? We have stepped into the political shadows… and have not been good stewards of our God-given democracy.

 

 No, this is no protest.

Rather it is an echo of God’s cry for all of God’s children to cease and surrender their weapons and their violence.

We cannot look to the powers and principalities to miraculously have a Damascus experience and hear at last what God demands of us, and therefore disarm. If we expect the government to spontaneously declare peace, all we will get is more returning soldiers traumatized; more dead women and children … and men; more hatred and more vengeance.

But Jesus did not turn to Caesar or the Pharisees or Pilate to make a difference. He turned to the ordinary person, often the least and the poorest.

He knew that the Kingdom of Peace would not come by constitutional fait or by the good graces and wisdom of Caesar. If it was going to come, it would be by the tears and sweat of the people.

“Let there be Peace and let it begin with U.S.” for we are the U.S. It is our responsibility to redirect this nation.

But where and how do we start?

In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus calls us to be children, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

This is where we start: by taking lessons from our children and grandchildren. For little children anything is possible. A young child still hasn’t learned all of the obstacles, laws, rules and expectations of what is possible. A little child is deeply attached to the spiritual and enjoys the wonders all around her.

It is mom and dad, and grandma and grandpa who begin to teach them that some things just won’t work. But parents and grandparents need to lean into the spiritual world of their child. Maybe the little one knows something we have long forgotten:

God is good and therefore the world is good. The child can wake ever day into a new, exciting adventure with an intrinsic trust that mom and dad is always there to help them through whatever they encounter.

But unfortunately we as parents and grandparents carry the decades of baggage of disappointment, pain, maybe even trauma, cynicism and distrust of the powers. Whether intentionally or not, we relay these feelings to our children. Our good intentions for the children become tainted by our own experience.

So Jesus calls us to return to the childhood innocence that says anything is possible. And like a good parent God will watch after us and unlike us, God doesn’t carry baggage.

Given our decades of accumulating all these road blocks, we cannot begin to see how war can die and peace can come alive. We would be challenging thousands of years of behavior that used violence to supposedly achieve this or that.

But a child would have no such road blocks. A child would simply do it.

And by this measure that Jesus sets before all Christians, we can live as if we were in the Peaceable Kingdom of God. Instead of weaning our children from their innocence we should join them in their innocence, in the Peaceable Kingdom. Instead of us changing the child, the child can change us back to where God started us.

And thereby we can nurture our children to see the violence of the world as wrong … always wrong. We can raise them to resist succumbing to violence as a means to an end that will only go wrong. We cannot hide the violence and war, but we can teach our children that violence and war are always failures, always harmful, always destructive. We can teach them that there is no romance, no heroics, no fun in the fighting.

And in doing so, we have broken the sword of Peter, we have begun peace … even if it’s only in a small space. But if our children, if only some, carry this innocence into their adult lives and teach their children the same, then the peaceable space will grow and grow … until there is no more room for war and violence… and we will finally beat our swords into plowshares … and our government will established Peace, for even its elected officials would have broken Peter’s sword.

 

Think about it.

God’s grace and love be with you …

Amen.