Emmanuel Baptist Church

275 State St.  Albany, NY 12210
(518) 465-5161

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A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation

Minister:  Rev. Kathy J. Donley

For One Great Peace

Rev. Kathy Donley



Scripture Lesson:  Jeremiah 32:1-15, John 14:23-27


Sunday, September 16, 2001 was American Baptist Women’s Sunday, and I had agreed to use one of the ABW theme texts.  It was Jeremiah 32, which we heard a few minutes ago.  On Monday of that week, -- September 10 --  I found a sermon on that text written by a Dutch pastor in 1945.  It was the end of WWII and in his sermon, he referred to the year of destruction.  I read that on Monday and I wondered how that text would relate to my congregation in central Illinois, how it could possibly speak to them.  Then Tuesday came – September 11 -- and I no longer wondered.


The prophet Jeremiah lived in a terrible time. The king of Babylon wanted to conquer all of Asia.  He had besieged and conquered city after city, people after people, and now his next object was Jerusalem. 


Jeremiah had repeatedly said that King Zedikiah, the king of Judah, was going to lose this war  Zedikiah did not want to hear that, so he had Jeremiah arrested and thrown in prison.


As the soldiers marched through, houses were burned and fields destroyed.  Jeremiah’s family was left destitute.  Somehow, Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanamel got through the occupying army and made his way to Jerusalem. 

Apparently, he needed some cash.  Perhaps he was trying to get out of the country.  Perhaps he just needed to buy food for his family.  The only thing that he had of any value was his land, only it was no longer worth much.  Would you buy property in Aleppo today?    But Hanamel came to Jeremiah and asked Jeremiah to buy it. 


This is not a good time to be investing in real estate, but it is exactly what Jeremiah does because God says “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”  In what may be the most detailed business transaction recorded in the Bible,  Jeremiah signs and seals the deed and weighs out the money in the presence of witnesses. This is a very public, symbolic action.  He is putting his money where his mouth is. He is so confident that God will bring the people home to Judah that he is buying land in Judah as they’re going off into Babylon.

Then he tells his scribe to seal up the documents in a clay jar so that they may last for a long time.  This action is not just symbolic.  It may have real consequences for the members of his family, perhaps his grandchildren, when they get to go home again.  


An ordinary woman once lived in a small town near Modesto, California. She was not famous, powerful or influential.    When the U.S. entered WWII, the California Supreme Court Justice signed an order requiring all U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry to be interned in relocation camps. 


Many of this woman’s neighbors were Japanese Americans.  She knew them and loved them as her friends. She went to Sacramento and lobbied the legislators.  She wrote to the president to try to stop the camps and the confiscation of property.  She could not move the powerful and famous.   She felt like a nobody.  Few others protested.  So this lone woman did what she could.  She bought all the Japanese-American farms and homes in her town for a dollar each, and watched her friends be taken away.     When the camps were finally closed, when most Japanese Americans had no homes left, this woman gave her friends and neighbors back their homes and land so that they might live.[1]


Small actions performed by ordinary people have power.  They can create conditions for a new future.  They can change the experience of this moment, even if it is a terrible moment, in significant ways.  Safe Passage is a program in Chicago in which military veterans monitor neighborhoods, particularly neighborhoods with gang affiliations.  These veterans take their places along the routes that children take to school, every day, and just by their presence, they offer safe passage to and from school for 8,000 students.  Every day.  They offer hope.  They wage peace.

And so do we.   We wage peace.  We enact hope in all kinds of large and small ways.  Sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit as peacemakers.  Sometimes we might not think it’s worth it to do one more small thing.  But it is.  And so, before I go on, I want to pause and invite us to think about some of the actions that we perform. 

Shirley Erena Murray and Jim Strathdee have written a song that captures so many of these actions.  I’ve asked the choir to help us.  The words are on the screen.  The choir is going to sing it and as you pick up the tune, please join in.  Then we will all sing it through one more time from the beginning.

1 This thread I weave, this step I dance,
this stone I carve, this ball I bounce,
this nail I drive, this pearl I string,
this flag I wave, this note I sing,

2 this pot I shape, this fire I light,
this fence I leap, this bone I knit,
this seed I nurse, this rift I mend,
this child I raise, this earth I tend,

3 this check I write, this march I join,
this faith I state, this truth I sign,
this is small part, in one small place,
of one heart's beat for one great Peace.

For One Great Peace Shirley Erena Murray,

Jim Strathdee  © 1992 Hope Publishing Co

CCLI # 11274833


As someone has said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” 


Jeremiah did a risky thing in time of war.  He never saw the benefit of it and we don’t know the end of that story.  But we do know that people returned from exile, that houses and fields and vineyards were again bought in the land, as God promised.  And we know of Jeremiah’s action enacting that hope. 


Here’s a story of hope enacted in the midst of war.  It’s a news story told by video.  It is set in Aleppo, Syria.  The focus of this story is a man named Abu Wad.  Watch to see how he enacts hope. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/aleppo-syria-war-gardener/


What do you do when the one who embodies hope is snuffed out by war? 


What do you do when your small acts for peace don’t seem like enough? 


Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  He said that before he left them.  Before he left them to face in-fighting with religious authorities and alienation from their families and imprisonment and execution.


Jesus promises peace to his disciples and then gives them a mission which is going to be anything but peaceful.  It is a paradox for them, and for us.


Fifteen years from the events of September 2001, the public expressions of hate and fear in this country, the xenophobia and racism are appalling.  Where is that peace that Jesus promised?  Yes, some of us have experienced it.  We have known that confidence, that assurance, that deep-down steadfastness in the midst of pain or tragedy or fear or even joy.  But if we hold on to the peace of Christ as if it is just a personal possession, if we try to retreat into that peace like it is a private sanctuary from the ugliness and suffering and violence endured by other people, then we have missed the mark.  We have lost our way, abandoned our mission. 


Here is the paradox about the peace of Christ:   Christ within us gives us deep peace, peace which may seem incomprehensible in light of some circumstances.  But Christ within us also stirs us up and make us uneasy, dissatisfied, not at peace with the way things are in the world.  So we are simultaneously at peace and not at peace. 


It is very hard to live in that tension. We cannot do it on our own.  The letter to the Ephesians says that Jesus is our peace.  In his flesh, on the cross, he has broken down the dividing walls between us.  We cannot do it alone.  We need Jesus.  And we need each other.  Jesus breaks down anything that would separate us in order to bring us together. And together we live in that tension at peace and not at peace.  Together we rely on the peace of Christ within us, even as we live into and bring forth the kingdom of God in this world. Together we resist the violence of this age, with the powerful non-violent peace of Christ.


One last story.  The Dakota Access Pipeline is intended to carry crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois.  The Lakota people on the Standing Rock Reservation object to the pipeline which would go under the Missouri River, just half a mile from the reservation.  If and when it breaks, it will contaminate the water for the reservation and millions of others who live downstream.  Calling themselves protectors of the water, they have fought this pipeline in court and with non-violent direct action. The proposed route was also going to desecrate sacred burial grounds. 


Last weekend, before the court had ruled, the pipeline company moved bulldozers 20 miles from their current work location and destroyed those sacred sites.  They brought in private security who used tear gas and dogs against the protectors.  Tribal officials said that the dogs bit six people, including a child and a pregnant woman. In the face of that hostility, the protectors continued to resist the pipeline non-violently.  


And the movement gained national and international attention.  Representatives from Native American and many non-Native groups across the nation have gathered in support. The group is now estimated at 4,000 or 5,000 people.  It has been described this way:  “It is the first time since the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn that all seven council fires of the Great Sioux Nation have camped together.”[2]  Did you catch that -- those dividing walls of tribe and nation, native and non-native are breaking down.


One Christian pastor who is there said, “As I listened to one of the speakers at the campfire last night, I kept thinking, “This is a glimpse of the beloved community.[3]


On Friday, a judge was expected to rule on an injunction which would stop the pipeline.  Before that ruling was issued, Standing Rock Tribal Chairman David Archambault said this, “Whatever the ruling is, remain calm.  Be prayerful.  Remain non-violent.  With prayer and with peace, we can beat this pipeline.”   Then the ruling came.  A federal judge said that the pipeline could go forward. That was  a ruling against the tribe. But it was immediately followed by a statement from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior.  That second statement put a halt to all drilling under the water until the permits can be re-evaluated.  In that statement, the government said this,


 “In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites. It is now incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.”[4]


 “We have seen thousands come together peacefully.”  That peaceful power makes a difference.   It enacts hope.  It wages peace now and into the future.   It is a glimpse of the beloved community, the kingdom of God, breaking down dividing walls, proclaiming peace to those who are far off and peace to those who are near. 


Sisters and brothers, may the peace of Christ be with you.


[1]Adapted from Rita Nakashima Brock’s sermon “The Courage to Choose/The Commitment to Being Chosen” in And Blessed Is She: Sermons by Women, David Farmer and Edwina Hunter, ed.  


[3] Rev. Brooks Berndt, UCC Minister for Environmental Justice https://www.facebook.com/JusticeAndWitnessMinistries/photos/a.10150150163830594.404094.263165945593/10157424893610594/?type=3&theater

[4] http://usuncut.com/news/obama-pipeline-announcement/