Please pray with me.
LORD, make us instruments of your peace. / Where there is hatred, let us sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
That is, as many of you know, the Prayer of St. Francis, whom we commemorate today as we celebrate the final Sunday in the Season of Creation. Francis, who is remember as a friend to animals and a lover of all Creation, was also a champion of the cause of peace. You may remember that Francis served Assisi as a solider before he was a preacher. Like many soldiers, Francis returned a changed man. He lived on the streets and kept company with the poor and the destitute. He preached harmony with all of God’s creation and practiced poverty as a path to holiness.
It’s hard not to think we need more Francises in the world today. Today soldiers are still returning home from war changed, still finding their place on the street, still living among the poor and the destitute as they struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, a broken healthcare system and shrinking veterans’ care. Many have assumed lives of poverty not as an intentional discipline, but as the only path forward.
We worship this morning at the pivot point between the season behind us, the Season of Creation, and the season ahead of us, a season in which we’ll be talking about Stewardship of our resources as a congregation along with an intentional emphasis faith and politics as we begin a six week series next Sunday titled, “God’s Politics.” At this pivot point we could ask for no better company than Francis, who gave us the lyrics to our opening hymn this morning,
All creatures, worship God most high! / Sound every voice in earth and sky: / Alleluia! Alleluia! / Sing, brother sun…sister moon…brother wind…sister water…brother fire…mother earth
A hymn of love for all of God’s creation that breaks in the middle to offer these words of comfort among so many other words of praise,
All who for love of God forgive, all who in pain or sorrow grieve: Alleluia! Alleluia! / Christ bears your burdens and your fears; still make your song amid the tears: Alleluia! Alleluia!
Francis, so often remember for his gentle heart and his pacific nature reminds us that he knows firsthand the heartbreak of war and the fatigue that comes to those who work for peace.
As Lutherans, we are celebrating along with the rest of the world, the achievements of one of our own sisters who, this past week, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to bring peace to her homeland. Born in 1972, Leymah Gbowee led a non-violent women’s movement that resulted in the ousting of former president Charles Taylor and brought an end to the 14-year civil war in Liberia. Gbowee is a member of the Lutheran Church in Liberia and, on a scholarship from the International Leadership Development Program of the ELCA, came to the United States five years ago to study peace building at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Although the Liberian civil war began in 1989, the women’s peace movement didn’t begin until 2003. Gbowee, a mother of six, says she grew tired of watching children die from hunger and “waking up every morning and not knowing whether a tomorrow was possible.” She found common cause with women across Liberia and started a movement to end the war. “You always see your savior in someone else other than yourself,” she said. “So for us women, having never been socialized to believe that we have powers to interfere in the politics of our country, we were waiting for the bold men. (But) every time the bold men rose up, they rose up with guns and other things.”
Like the Civil Rights era peace activists in the United States, Gbowee and the women of Liberia used prayer, picketing and silence to advance their cause. She reached across the lines of difference that have kept Liberia, and the rest of the world, divided – working with women from Christian, Muslim and indigenous African faith traditions. In her activism, Leymah Gbowee has shown all of us Lutherans, and the whole world, what it means when we say, “God’s Work, Our Hands.”
Now is the time for bold action like Leymah’s. Across the country this weekend, peace activists have taken to the streets calling for an end to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, a war that is costing this country $3 billion dollars a day, and forcing us to cut back on education, healthcare and other necessary supports for the young, the elderly and the poor. As our nation’s most vulnerable citizens struggle to keep their heads and their homes above water, the richest of the rich refuse to take steps to alleviate the human suffering caused by a reckless market left unchecked for over a decade. So, on Wall Street and across the nation, we see other people of faith and conscience putting their bodies on the line to try and wake our country up from its slumber of apathy and hopelessness. With their chants and songs they are calling to us, “you are not the victims of history, you are the hope of future generations. Wake up! Act now!”
This is where the hinge of Creation and Stewardship meets. To love God’s world, and to care for all that lives, and moves, and has its being thereupon, means to speak and to act in the public square. It means bringing our faith, which has much to say about war and wealth, out of the confines of our private homes and into the streets, into the workplace, into the pulpit, and into the voting booth.
I’m not talking about the church getting involved in endorsing candidates or supporting political parties, but I am talking about the church practicing and providing a real alternative to the politics of our day that are always trying to divide us, one against the other. As Christians, whether we are talking about genetics or criminal justice or human sexuality, we can model for our neighbors what it looks like to disagree without becoming divided. On those causes where we find agreement we can, like Leymah Gbowee, turn faith into public action for peace. On those causes where we cannot find agreement, we can listen well and deeply to each other, pray for those whom we cannot support, and love one another unconditionally. This, too, is what it means to be people who proclaim, “God’s Work, Our Hands.”
Friends, this is huge work, this is a colossal undertaking. It is more than we could ever hope to accomplish alone – which is why we belong to a church larger than our own parish, why we support the wider church with benevolences that in turn become scholarships for women like Leymah Gbowee, who with our help has changed the world! It is why we work beyond the confines of our denomination, beyond the dividing lines of our religions. The work we are called to is global. It is cosmic. It is the whole creation groaning in labor as the new creation is being born. For a task like this we require the help of even the sun and moon, the stars and sky, the wind and the fire, the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, all the creatures that walk upon the earth and each other. We need each other, every last one, if we are ever going to have peace.
As we thank God for the Season of Creation behind us we turn our attention to the task ahead. Stewardship is the first task after creation. How will we spend our money, our time, our love and our lives? This question demands an answer, and we will not shy away from it.
With deep gratitude that we are on this journey together, we say