Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Story of Peace

Micah 4:1-3
October 11, 2013/Indian Nations Presbytery Meeting

            I did one tour of duty in summer camp when I was a kid. While most of my experience at camp was okay – I made some friends and found out I had a talent for beating boys at tetherball – it was the end of the week that made me realize summer camp was not for me.  At the end of the week the whole camp went on a camping trip.  It was supposedly the exclamation point at the end of our week.  We left the safety of our cabins and the camp grounds and went to a remote spot deep in the woods.  There we set up tents and unrolled sleeping bags.  We gathered firewood and added it to the growing flames of the campfire.  We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. 
When darkness fell, we huddled together to hear ghost stories.  Most weren’t so scary, but then one of our counselors leaned in and began to speak in a fearful whisper.  Something happened to him at the beginning of that summer.  It happened in the very spot where we were camping.  He decided to go camping by himself.  Everything went fine until it got dark.  He went into his tent and fell asleep almost instantly.  But an hour or two later he was startled awake by a strange noise outside the tent.  Something was out there.  It growled an unnatural growl.  The shadow that circled his tent was unlike any animal that might have lived in those Tennessee woods.  Finally it stopped its pacing.  He prayed that whatever it was had crept back into the night, but then the silence was shattered with a blood-curdling scream and the creature ripped through the back wall of the tent, missing his head by mere inches.  The last thing he saw before he ran were five long, sharp, pointed claws reaching for him. 
Feeling the heat of the beast’s breath at his heels, he fled to his truck, locked himself inside, crouched low on the seat, and waited in terror while the creature rammed and clawed and scraped against the truck, trying to reach him.  When the first light of morning appeared in the east, whatever it was disappeared as quickly as it appeared.  Cautiously my counselor climbed out of his truck.  There were no tracks, no sign that this horrible creature had been there at all, except for one long, sharp, pointed claw driven deep into the truck’s door. 
No one sitting around that fire dared to breathe.  The only sound was the rapid thumping of our hearts against the walls of our chests.  Until the counselor whipped out what and enormous claw, screaming, ‘This is it!”  After the screaming stopped, it was time for bed.   While the other kids went to their tents laughing at this great story, and drifted peacefully to sleep with the sounds of the woods as a lullaby, I spent the night like this…body stiff, eyes wide open with fear.
My childhood was rich in stories, and thankfully most of them weren’t scary ones.  My earliest memories are of me sitting on my dad’s lap in a rocking chair, while he read to me.  Bedtime without a bedtime story was not an option.  Stories were told around the dinner table, and in the living room and on car trips.  My grandmother was a born storyteller.  From her I learned the stories of our family.  But some of the best stories were the ones I heard in Sunday school.  David and Goliath.  Jonah and the Whale.  Saul seeking out the witch to summon the ghost of Samuel.  That’s a ghost story! Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus.  Zacchaeus, too short to see above the crowd, so he climbed a sycamore tree so he could catch a glimpse of Jesus. 
I loved, love, all of these stories.  Isn’t that what the Bible is?  Story.  When I call scripture story, I don’t mean to imply that it’s fiction.  But it is the story of God.  It is the story of God and God’s people.  It is the story of God creating and acting in the world.  It is the story of loving his children, despairing of his children, teaching them, punishing them, forgiving them, loving them, becoming one of them because God loved them so much.  It is the story of God working through some pretty imperfect folks, some of whom did despicable things, in order for God’s purposes to continue.  It is a story that pulls us in, speaks to us, has meaning for us and gives us meaning, because we can see ourselves in these stories.  These stories aren’t just about people who lived a long, long time ago.  They are about us.  That’s why they comfort and disturb us, unsettle and console us.  The Bible, the story of God, is also our story.  Even those texts that don’t read like story still work to make up the larger narrative. 
We come to one of those texts in the prophet Micah.  Although some of my favorite verses in scripture come from this prophet, Micah does not bring words of sweetness and light to God’s people.  He pronounces judgment on Samaria, on Judah.  He calls for social justice and warns those who oppress and exploit.  He denounces rulers and prophets alike, who survive at the expense of the people they serve.  But in the midst of these words of decay and despair and destruction, we have these words of hope, “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills.  Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’”
Even as he prophesies warning, Micah also tells the people that the story of God goes on.  The story of God does not end here.  The story of God does not end in destruction.  There are days to come when people of every nation will stream to God’s mountain and beckon one another to come and listen and learn.  They will be taught God’s ways.  The word of the Lord will echo outward from Jerusalem.  They will study peace, not war.  And the sounds they will hear will not be of swords and spears clashing in battle, but of metal against metal, swords being beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. 
         As we leave the season set aside by our denomination as peacemaking, Micah’s words remind us that the study of peace cannot and should not be confined to a season.  One glance through the day’s news is enough to know that peacemaking is not an option but a necessity.  God’s story, what we read in Micah and in every book and every chapter and in every verse, is a story of peace and justice and love, and we are a part of its telling.  God’s story is our story.  So right now, let us begin to make our way to God’s mountain. 
Right now, let us beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks,
swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks,
swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. 
And may none of us, not our children nor their children nor their children learn war anymore.  Let all God’s children say, “Amen.”

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