Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, God, Grace, Inspiration, Jesus, Peace, Prayer, Religion, Sermon, Spirituality
The buzz around Chicago had already begun. For some reason it was especially acute at Moody Bible Institute where I was a student. Maybe it was because I was studying to become a missionary that the talk had reached a fever pitch. A famous minister was coming to speak at one of the Churches within walking distance of my school and everyone from the Chicago Tribune to my fellow classmates had an opinion on this person’s impact upon the local church.
Unfortunately, I was in an environment that felt this deeply religious man was a threat to their Christianity. From the anger and fear that was generated from my professors I thought that this man must represent all that was bad and watered down by the so-called “Liberal” mainline churches. We were instructed that he symbolized a form of theology called liberation. We were told that it was only a thinly veiled interpretation of scripture that wanted to substitute Karl Marx for Jesus Christ. Others opposed this minister’s participation in the political scene and his unambiguous public statements against his President. Religious leaders should participate in the spiritual and not the political after all. Some parsed his sermons and public statements to gather clues to string together in an attempt to brand him as someone outside orthodoxy. After all he seemed to affirm the validity of all religions. To some he was an outright heretic, terrorist and instrument of Satan.
We were strongly discouraged from seeing this man or falling into Lucifer’s trap. We were warned that sometimes the Devil came as an angel of light to trick us. Some believed that this man was only pretending to be a Christian and had many goals that were destructive to the church. I even heard the dreaded a word, antichrist.
So, what was all the fear about? How could one man bring so much anger against his message? What was so threatening about this man? I was determined to find out. I must admit that I was too frightened of being seen going to the church that I did not see him live. Instead I sat hunched listening closely to the one speaker in my clock radio as this man in a thick accent preached a message that blew away the remnants of my rigid fundamentalist Christianity. As I listened I felt like I was in hiding and that soon this message would force me to change. I knew that my childish faith must grow and be something totally different, I must take a painful path toward growth. His was a message of civil rights, a message of reconciliation, a challenge to my own powerful government to bend toward the powerless, a brave message of care for those who society wanted to ignore and I knew that the Spirit of God was speaking through the words of this amazing man.
The next day the Chicago Tribune ran a front-page picture of the South African Bishop Desmond Tutu and it was the first time that I had actually studied a picture of this Nobel Peace Prize winner. Yet, even the clinical treatment that the press gave his words could not stop the Spirit from rekindling a spark in me that the printed words from his sermon caused. Again I read the words of someone interested in peace.
It wasn’t until much later that I read the incredible story of how Bishop Tutu bravely mediated the anger of 120,000 people during the funeral of assassinated Communist leader Chris Hani and saved the bloodshed from an all out riot. He addressed the seething crowd by leading them in the chant “We will be free! All of us! Black and white together!” His penchant for peaceful reconciliation in the face of state power was evident in the speech that he gave by saying, “We are the rainbow people of God! We are unstoppable! Nobody can stop our march to victory! No one, no guns, nothing! Nothing will stop us from moving to freedom! We are moving to freedom and nobody can stop us! For God is on our side!”
Since that time Desmond Tutu has been the embodiment of Jeremiah’s prophet of peace. He has led the painful Truth and Reconciliation Commission to speak the truth of the horrible actions during the years of apartheid in South Africa. He also has spoken out against poverty, homophobia, spoken boldly against violence to immigrants and as an advocate for those who suffer from HIV/AIDS. He is truly a prophet of peace.
In the end only peace matters, this is the message of the prophet Jeremiah. What a startling word. Especially in a country where our bombs kill thousands and we are never faced with their carnage. I read this passage last week and it was as if I had read it for the first time. I was startled and began to wish and long for peace. It was as if the prophet had said to me, “It is only when you can envision the last American soldiers coming home, when we care enough to have the last prisoner in retention kept from torture, when someone cares to stop the last innocent women in Sudan from being raped, when we start redistributing our cities wealth to the poorest neighborhoods of this district, when we demand that healthcare is no longer denied the poor, it is when we begin to break down our artificial barriers to others because of ethnicity, country of origin, religion, sexual identity and class that we will see the fulfillment of the prophecy of peace.”
You see peace is not a therapeutic state, nor is it merely the politically expedient treaties signed by hostile nations it is the restoration and reconciliation of God to humanity and in turn humanity with one other. So, only someone who is spiritually and physically ill by the violence in God’s world can be a part of this final prophetic vision for peace in the world. Jeremiah is the prophet who is fed up with God’s message to the people of Israel. His divine message of violence and destruction slips into this stunning message of hope. I must confess when I read it last week I was taken back to the words that I heard on the clock radio so many years ago. It was words that said in the end only the prophecy of peace matters.
It may mean absorbing the powerful violence of an oppressor so that others might not feel the lash. It may mean destroying a promising career because God’s vision of equality burns too brightly in your heart. It may mean having less material possessions because the spirit is convicting you against wanton consumption and in finding your value in possessions. It may mean standing up against violent individuals when everyone else merely wants to ignore and live in denial of the truth. It may mean a pastor saying that it is not good enough to merely write checks to causes, but that we are required to have an active faith that motivates a commitment and participation in community.
Peace is messy, peace requires risk, peacemaking is not for the fainthearted, but Jeremiah reminds us that it is when the words of prophets like Desmond Tutu are fulfilled that all prophecy will be fulfilled. In the end Peace is the ultimate goal of a God who cares about relationships. God desires paradise restored and for all humanity to return to the state of harmony in which they were originally created. Let the Spirit move you toward peace because it is God’s ultimate wish for creation.
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