Swords into Plowshares, a sermon
I heard this week that Thich Nhat Hanh has had a brain hemorrhage. And a wave of sadness overwhelmed me. Another peacemaker, down for the count.
If you don’t know who Thich Nhat Hanh is, he’s a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist. In 1966, he met with Martin Luther King, Jr. and urged him to publicly denounce the Vietnam War. In 1967, Dr. King gave a famous speech at the Riverside Church in New York City, his first to publicly question the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Later that year Dr. King nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize. In his nomination Dr. King said, “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.”
Since then, Thich Nhat Hanh has written more than 30 books. And they’re all about one thing: building peace. In Creating True Peace, Thay writes:
Peace is not simply the absence of violence; it is the cultivation of understanding, insight, and compassion, combined with action. Peace is the practice of mindfulness, the practice of being aware of our thoughts, our actions, and the consequences of our actions.
One of the things I like about Buddhism is that there are specific steps you can take in order to achieve its aims. Unlike Christianity, where our tendency is to thing that God and Christ do all the work in us, Buddhism believes we should practice the way we want to be…Okay, that’s not exactly what I mean. Maybe it’s more like this: The Law was created so that people would be peaceful, but it was insufficient to bring peace to them. Then the Law was written in our hearts, and it was still insufficient to bring about peace. Although it’s not. It can bring about peace. But we’re resistant. Whatever. Peace is hard.
Let’s look at our text this morning. I’m going to read it from The Message:
There’s a day coming
when the mountain of God’s House
Will be The Mountain—
solid, towering over all mountains.
All nations will river toward it, people from all over set out for it.
They’ll say, “Come,
let’s climb God’s Mountain,
go to the House of the God of Jacob.
He’ll show us the way he works
so we can live the way we’re made.”
Zion’s the source of the revelation. God’s Message comes from Jerusalem. He’ll settle things fairly between nations.
He’ll make things right between many peoples. They’ll turn their swords into shovels,
their spears into hoes.
No more will nation fight nation;
they won’t play war anymore. Come, family of Jacob,
let’s live in the light of God.
He’ll show us the way he works
so we can live the way we’re made.
What do you think is the way we’re made? I believe we’re made to be a people of peace. So what do we do in order to become more peaceful people?
First, we study on compassion and peace in the world. Karen Armstrong suggests studying religious texts. In Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, she quotes Confucius as the first person to formulate the Golden Rule, “Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” She continues that we can study mythology, “an attempt to express some of the more elusive aspects of life that cannot be expressed in logical, discursive speech.” When you read the myths, ask yourself, “Where is the compassion here?” She says to pay attention to our histories. For instance, the Aryan tribes in India made violence a sacred event by sacrificial slaughter of animals, fierce competitions, and mock raids and battles. But in the ninth century BCE, “priests began systematically to extract this aggression from the liturgy.” And then there’s the story of Hillel, an older contemporary of Jesus. A non-Jew approached Hillel and promised to convert if Hillel could stand on one foot and recite the Law. Hillel stood on one leg and said, “That which is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole study of the Law and everything else is commentary. Go study it.” I can go on and on… building peace and compassion happened throughout history. Go study it.
What’s the next step in becoming a peaceful people, to live the way we are made?
It’s like looking at your carbon footprint, right? How do you tell whether your life is peaceful? The key is how you talk to yourself… Are you kind, compassionate and loving to yourself? The chances are that the way you speak to yourself is the level you are doing compassionate work in the world. If you are gentle, loving, and kind to yourself, chances are you are gentle, loving, and kind in the world. If you are harsh, negative, and unkind to yourself, chances are you are putting that in the world, too.
The third way to build peace is to work on how we speak to one another. Armstrong says, “The debates in our parliamentary institutions, the media, academia, and the law courts are essentially competitive. It is not enough for us to seek the truth; we also want to defeat and even humiliate our opponents.”
To change the discourse, we must ask ourselves a question that Gandhi proposed,
Where there’s injustice, I always believed in fighting. The question is, do you fight to change things or to punish? For myself, I’ve found we’re all such sinners, we should leave punishment to God. And if we really want to change things, there are better things than derailing trains or slashing someone with a sword.
Another way that we become a more peaceful people, to live the way we’re made, is laid out by Jesus in Matthew 5:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.:
You may ask, “How do I love my enemies? I am not in control of my feelings.” But let me tell you. When Jesus talks about love, he is not talking about feeling loving feelings toward someone. He’s talking about acting lovingly.
And the basis of acting loving is in prayer, according to this text. Steven Bonsey wrote this in an article called “The Activist as Contemplative, Resting for Social Change”:
…those of us who work for a brighter future must be equipped with the world’s ancient spiritual wisdom and traditions, which offer technologies of inward healing and transformation that can liberate us both from the domination of fear-based regimes outside us and from their corollary regimes within us.
These spiritual technologies, as I call them, take the form of simple practices that are accessible to all and that can be taught without reference to religious doctrine or affiliation. Their practice over time changes us—our identities and motivations become less rooted in the ego programs that drive us and are then more connected to the transcendent source of the dreams that inspire us. We come to experience the hoped-for future as a reality coming into being in and through us, here and now.
Those ancient technologies are relatively simple. It’s called prayer. And you can do it in different ways, as meditation, centering prayer, or in active contemplation. Prayer changes you inside and out.
And finally, you have to be open to the transformation of all the yuck of your past. Karen Armstrong tells a story in her book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life:
At a very unhappy period of her life, Christina Noble had a powerful dream: “Naked children were running down a dirt road fleeing from a napalm bombing… one of the girls had a look in her eyes that implored me to pick her up and protect her and take her to safety. Above the escaping children was a brilliant white light that contained the word ‘Vietnam.’” From that moment, Christina was convinced, in a way she could not understand, that it was her destiny to go to Vietnam and that one day she would work with children there.
But Christina had a really tough life. At the age of twelve, she had become a child of the streets in Dublin, sleeping in public toilets during the winter and under bushes in the summer. She was perpetually hungry: a priest once discovered her eating wax drippings from the votive candles in front of a statue of Christ and threw her out of the church. One night after a violent assault by two men, Christina had “the horrible realization that there was nobody for me to go to. I needed just one person who would not see me as dust, or barely more than an animal.”
Christina grew up. And life was still hard. But eventually, she began to live out her dreams.
In 1989 she felt that the time had come and made her first visit to Vietnam. Once day, while she was watching two destitute little girls playing in the dirt of the street, one of them smiled at her and tried to hold her hand. Christina was immediately overcome with memories so painful that she tried to walk away, she wanted to no more, no more involvement. Yet all the time she was saying to herself: “There’s no difference between an Irish gutter and a Vietnamese gutter. At the end of the day they are the same.” Suddenly past and present came together and Christina realized that the Vietnamese girls was the child she had seen so long ago in her dream. Sobbing, she sank down in the dirt and pulled the children into her lap, promising to take care of them.
Christina went on to found an orphanage, and later a hospital, in Vietnam. It is in that moment, that “There’s no difference between an Irish gutter and a Vietnamese gutter” that true peace comes. We are no different from those with whom we war.
I remember hearing the Sting song from my youth, that somehow contribute to the fall of the Communist power:
There is no historical precedent
To put the words in the mouth of the President
There’s no such thing as a winnable war
It’s a lie we don’t believe anymore
Mr. Reagan says we will protect you
I don’t subscribe to this point of view
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too
Russians do love their children, too. And there’s no such thing as a winnable war. And war is not the way we’re made.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, “We must examine the way we consume, the way we work, the way we treat people in order to see whether our daily life expresses the spirit of peace and reconciliation, or whether we are doing the opposite.”
Being peaceable may actually be harder than being a warmonger. Because it starts inside. And can start with a prayer:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I 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.