July 5, 2015: Dedicated Dreams

Church of Peace, United Church of Christ

Rev. Mariah Marlin-Warfield

Isaiah 25:6-9, Isaiah 28:23-29

Church of Peace

One hundred and twenty years ago today, on July fifth, eighteen ninety-five, Rev. PCF Off arrived in Rock Island. You’ve probably heard what happened. He tried to organize a church, he reached out to the families living here, and he launched its first worship service on the following Sunday, July seventh. Nobody came. This was the first Sunday in the life of our congregation, and no one showed up. On the following Sunday, July fourteenth, Rev. Off tried again. This time, ten families came to church.

A few weeks later, on September eighth, twenty-six men became the charter members of the Deutsche Evangelische Friedens Gemeinde, the German Evangelical Peace Congregation.[1] I don’t know why this particular name was chosen, but I can tell you that Friedens or “Peace” is a common name among German Evangelical churches. All through Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania you’ll find German Evangelical churches called Friedens or Friedens Kirche. It’s a good name. Especially when it’s true.

A few weeks ago, I was having dinner with a UCC pastor friend. She gently made the comment, “You know with a name like ‘Church of Peace’ it sounds like your church would be a leader in social justice.” She’s not wrong; it does sound like that. And yet, our current congregational identity is not one that looks very social justicey to an outsider.

We focus on serving this neighborhood rather than advocating for policy changes in Springfield. These days we encourage reading books with children more than, say, getting arrested at a protest. Her comment is interesting to me, not because of what it says about our church, but because of what it says about our notions of peace.

See, there’s the whole world, and there’s right here. Everything and This. As people of faith, we harbor dreams in both spheres. We need visions that seem practically impossible, that stretch open the limits of our imagination, dreams in the stars. And we need our plans for next week, our dreams on the ground.

Poet William Blake says it like this, “To see the world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower. Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.”

Peace holds this creative tension between the Everything and the This, between the whole wild world and right here, between stars in the sky and flowers on the ground. If we’re going to take seriously a notion of peace, it’s got to mean more than undisturbed stability, more than anti-war protests, more than not hitting. Or not shooting. Peace is what we hope toward; it exists as a promise for creation that begins with the words One day… And the good news we know, peace is already being practiced right here.

Today we hear two scriptures from the prophet Isaiah. Both of them describe the future promise of the LORD by using imagery that is up close and personal. You hear this same dynamic in the Gospels. Imagine the kingdom of heaven, so vast and incomprehensible, how can we possibly know what it is like? Make it tangible so we can get it. Tell us the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, or a treasure hidden in a field… One day God’s promise will be fulfilled.

Our first scripture today gives a snippet of what will happen on this great day when all the nations stream up the mountain of the LORD. To begin with, there is a table on the mountain; there is a lavish banquet for all the nations with rich foods and well-aged wines. No watered down soup or stale bread, no cheap wine that’s sour and sorry to be wine. No grumbling, “Be glad you have something to eat, at least you’re not starving!” Because nobody is starving.

First, everybody eats. Next, God demolishes the barricade between the people and the LORD. God swallows up death forever. Then, the very hands that made the earth, and the trees, and the creeping things, the hand of God wipes away every glistening tear from every face. This is the LORD for whom we have waited. This is the promise of peace we practice at this table.

Our second scripture is a parable about farming. “Do those who plow for sowing plow continually? Do they continually open and harrow their ground?”(Isaiah 28:24) No. They know what to do. “Grain is crushed for bread, but one does not thresh it forever… This [knowledge] comes from the LORD of hosts who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom” (Isaiah 28:28-29). I suspect this knowledge also comes from the people who pass agricultural theory down through the generations, people who teach one another the value of treating the earth with care.

There is Everything, and there is This. See the dream of the LORD in the stars of the sky and the earth on the ground. See the whole world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower…

On Sunday January fourth, we celebrated Epiphany by gathering our dreams for two-thousand fifteen. Everyone was invited to write down a dream for the world and a dream for your own life, and we looked at both dreams in our two hands and asked, what do these dreams have in common? Then we gathered up the dreams and made them into an offering to God.

In looking at our church’s collection of dreams, there is exciting variety, as you’d guess. We imagine: running a 5k, writing a book, traveling to far away places, living in a world without cancer or disease, enjoying financial security, ending hunger. I’ve got to tell you, there is one theme that appeared more than any other. The people of this congregation harbor a deep longing for peace, and we’re not afraid to dedicate this dream to the Holy Spirit.

Here are some of the dreams we named: that each person considers the wants and desires of others as important as their own, a world free from fear, an end to Islamic terrorism, for all people across many nations to see the one God…and coexist in peace and tolerance for our common lot, an end to war and return to peace, justice for the oppressed, no more cruelty to animals, no more gun violence. We dream of offering prayers for our service men and women, pursuing reconciliation with family members, being okay with change…

These are the dreams you named and blessed. Here’s the thing. This faith in God’s promise of peace is not just wishful and heartwarming, it actually changes the paradigm for what is possible.

See, violence may be systemic; it may be built into military machines. But the power of violence gets renewed at a personal level. We see beheadings filmed on video and watched all over the world. We see a young man welcomed at a Bible study murder nine sisters and brothers because they’re Black. Every day I walk into our church past the spot where a man was shot and killed in the alley. For so long we were afraid of the bomb that would blow up the world, now in this day, we are made to remember how violence is also chillingly intimate.

Every act of violence reinforces the troubling notion that violence is inevitable. Every act of violence rehearses the lie that violence is our only choice. It is not. They say when what you’ve got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. When what you’ve got is a gun, every threat looks like a target. But what happens when what we’ve got is a table —where Jesus teaches us to eat together, to turn brokenness into wholeness and share a new covenant of forgiveness?

When what we’ve got is the promise of God’s peace, we can’t help but start to see it come to life.

It’s not just violence that’s contagious; it’s not just violence that gains power being passed one person to the next. Peace can work like this too. What if every act of peacemaking reinforces the notion that peace is inevitable? What if every act of peacemaking reminds us that peace is always a choice we have…

You know every day pit bulls get rescued and welcomed into loving families. Every day Christians and Muslims work together to find common understanding. Every day police officers diffuse dangerous situations with dialogue and respect and not force. Every day family members begin reconciliation with each other after decades of not speaking. Every day first graders learn that they can read. Every day people overcome racism and homophobia and see love cast out fear. Every time this happens, every single time, the universe remembers God’s promise of peace.

There is Everything, and there is This. See the dream of the LORD in the stars of the sky and the earth on the ground. See the whole world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower…

Here in this congregation, we are working to create a climate of peacemaking. We sit down next to people with whom we disagree and listen in love. We are generous in apologizing and forgiving; we’re not afraid to work through conflict in a spirit of openness and respect. We’re already preparing for the feast of rich foods and well aged wines. With our own hands, we wipe away every tear, and the peace promised on that mountain comes to life in this room.

One hundred and twenty years ago, nobody showed up. Then things changed. One hundred and twenty years from now, imagine how we will have changed the world. When it comes to our call, our mission, our deep longing, the church founders got the name right. We are Church of Peace. Now we have a lot to do. Amen.

[1] This information was compiled by Mary Kae Waytenick in 2005 in the History of Church of Peace.

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