This morning I had the pleasure of preaching at Portland's First Congregational United Church of Christ. Our Scriptures readings were Isaiah 2: 1-5 and Luke 6:20-26. My sermon - Is Peace Possible? - dealt with the complex realities of peace, justice and conflict.
Thinking about the pursuit of peace is enough to cause one to get a headache. This is true, in part, because defining peace is so complicated. Is it the absence of war? That is one understanding but the absence of war does not mean the conditions for war don't exist and that a new conflict is not just around the corner. We talk a lot in the United Church of Christ about creating “just peace.” This is the idea that for real peace to exist we must create conditions that make war impossible.
Still, peace is not just about war. Is there peace in Ferguson? Clearly, the answer is no. What about Portland? In this very church my colleague Patricia Ross and I conducted the memorial for James Chasse, a Portlander suffering from mental illness, who was beaten by the police so severely that officers left him with fractures in 16 of his ribs, a total of 26 broken bones, as well as a punctured lung. Still today, Mayor Charlie Hales is fighting federal oversight of police reform mandated by the U.S. Department of Justice after a series of people, mostly African-American, died at the hands of our police force. Is there peace in Portland?
Peace is absent as long as there is domestic violence and sexual assaults on college campuses. Peace is absent as long as there are federal and local policies that promote economic violence that leave our people homeless and hunger in a nation of abundance. Peace is absent so long as we pollute the air and seas and threaten God’s very creation. Peace is absent as long as there is gun violence and a lack of police accountability.
Is there a baseline understanding of Jesus’ teachings that, at the very least, mainline Christians might share, particularly in a world so broken by war and suffering from the lack of a just peace that threatens to destabilize all of creation? Walter Rauschenbusch offered a foundational argument regarding whether or not Jesus took sides in an analysis of Luke 6:20-26, one of our reading for this morning, in 1916’s The Social Principles of Jesus.
Listen to the audio of the full sermon here: