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Advent Sunday sermon by Ali Marshall given on 28 November 2010

He will teach us what he wants us to do….

 

Who was not moved recently to see the pictures of Aung San Suy Kyi released from 15 years of house arrest in Burma, an unassuming Oxford housewife and mother of two boys. During the student protests against military rule in 1988, following the assassination of her father, this gentle woman returned to the country of her birth, putting the needs of her people before her family she walked in the road into the face of guns. She became a prisoner in her home, could not even return to England to see her dying husband and her two children who were, in their own turn, denied visas to visit her. Denouncing violence Aung San Suy Kyi has held onto a vision of how the world could be, at great personal expense

 

Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again

 

2 weeks ago Pete spoke of another passage in Isaiah as painting a picture of an alternative future, a glimpse of the world God had in mind, he said that what we see is not the way it has to be and not the way it is supposed to be. Isaiah speaks of another reality that we do not yet see in all its fullness but we are called to work toward. Our reading this morning is another such glimpse, I don’t think they are so much prophetic, later Isaiah dreams of mountains flattened and valleys filled, here the mountains remain and people of every nation choose to walk up the mountain in order to learn the ways of God, not coerced or forced at gun point or under any threat, people want to know the good news, wants to learn God’s ways. And now they take their knowledge and technology and skill and turn weapons of war into ploughshares, useful for growing food  for living harmoniously with nature and more importantly with one another

 

He will teach us what he wants us to do

 

1989 and students again working for political and economic reform. An unforgettable image of a lone young man, we are not even sure of his name, standing in front of a tank, such a symbol of power and strength, head bowed, shoulders straight, feet planted square.

 

What is the power of power in the face of peaceful persistence?

 

Gandhi stood against the might of the British Empire, do you remember the film of lines of unarmed men walking up to the soldiers, to be beaten, caught by the women, bandaged and fed to return again and again, walking peacefully towards that line of violence

 

He will settle disputes among great nations, they will hammer their swords into ploughs and their spears into pruning hooks…

 

Here is  sculpture, in Washington DC, it weighs 4 tons and is 16 foot high, consists of 3000 guns handed in the metropolitan police during an amnesty, converted by artist Emily Augsburger into a plough, a vision, a dream of how things might be in this world.

 

Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again

 

May I introduce Stanislav Petrov, lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air defence force, he was on duty in the Serpukhov bunker outside Moscow on Sept 26 1983, the depths of the cold war, threat and counter threat, 3 weeks earlier the Soviets had shot down a South Korean passenger jet killing 269 including a US Congressman. Just after midnight the computer system announced an intercontinental ballistic missile heading towards the Soviet Union from the US. Over the night 5 such messages came up on his screen, there was no other information to make him suspicious of computer malfunction but he decided, against all his training and orders, that if the US attacked they would launch far more than 5 missiles, they had hundreds at their disposal and would surely want to annihilate any possibility of retaliation. He did not report the computer alarm. Later it was shown to have been a false alarm created by a rare alignment of sunlight on high altitude clouds picked up by the satellite Molniya orbit. It was later corrected by cross referencing with a geostationary satellite. Stanislav was subject to intense interrogation, initially praised and promised reward but as superiors began to fear for their own promotion he was reprimanded, reassigned and quickly retired off. He had a nervous breakdown. This only became public in 1990s He remains a pensioner in Fryazino Russia, In 2004 the Association of World Citizens gave him $1000 and a world citizen award, he does not regard himself as a hero, and says “I was just doing my job”

 

He will settle disputes among great nations, they will hammer their swords into ploughs and their spears into pruning hooks…

 

Have you heard of William Douglas Home, most will know of his younger brother Alec who became prime minister. William was a captain in the Normandy campaign in 1944, he was ordered to attack the German position in the middle of Le Havre, at that time full of refugees, civilians trying to escape the German and British fighting machines. He refused to open fire, realising it would kill thousands. He offered to negotiate with the Germans for their surrender. He was court-martialled convicted and sentenced, he was in Wormwood scrubs for 8 months and Wakefield prison for 4. he applied for a pardon in 1988 arguing the attack on le Havre was a war crime because they had not tried to evacuate civilians, his appeal had to be abandoned.

 

Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again

 

Our gospel reading is disturbing, and frequently misread. You may have heard of the Left behind books about the rapture, popular in the States.  About the fear of people who suddenly find friends and family disappear leaving piles of clothes behind disappear from this world to arrive in heaven, and those left behind  realise time has run out and they should have responded to God. This of a God whose first words to most people time and time again in Scripture is Do not be afraid, who wants to love us into the kingdom not drive us there  with threat and power Actually what I think ( and I have sought back up from Tom Wright!) Jesus is saying is that a day will come when evil is abolished, defeated, it will disappear, that which is good and true and holy and godly will survive, we want to be left behind, like Noah and his family, the only ones left to rebuild society, like Jesus who refused to use power to escape the suffering inflicted by people like us but remained, stayed behind to transform pain and suffering.

 

And then the rather bizarre analogy likening God to a thief, language can be strange!and must be used so carefully. Jesus is calling us all to be ready, to know that we have work to do and need to get on with it, we don’t know how long we have…but the more amazing point is that we are invited to be part of this dream, this alternative world, as we will pray shortly your kingdom come, your will be done

 

what can we do to advance this peaceable kingdom where all want to come and learn of God and his ways, where violence is no longer needed?

 

My niece Kate is a musician, not a profession one usually associates with politics, she is out in West bank teaching Palestinian children the cello, showing them that they are valuable and can make a contribution, can work with others in harmony to make music, yes she has to queue up at the notorious wall to reach some of her pupils in Jerusalem.

 

Jan is a friend in her late 70’s who spent 3 months earlier this year with the EAPPI, simply being visible in the tiny community of Yanoun, a village evacuated of its Palestinian farmers during the troubles in the 90s when the Israelis army invaded the village. The UN offered to provide a continuing presence to monitor the situation if the families returned to their farms, for a number of years people from around the world give up 3 months of their home security to literally walk around the village and its farms wearing an official EAPPI vest, an organisation the Israelis respect.

 

What is Jesus calling you to, how can you become a peacemaker more than a peace lover, are there family ructions that you could take a step toward reconciling this Christmas? Or in your community?What could you do to play your part in this Kingdom.

He will teach us what he wants us to do

He will settle disputes among great nations, they will hammer their swords into ploughs and their spears into pruning hooks…

Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again

 

Let us listen to another expression of this dream and a man who gave his life for it

(Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech)

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