Texts: Proverbs 8: 1-33; John 16: 1-15
Religious buildings seem to be a particular target in war, whether by armies or by terrorists. Those of us with families from the South have listened to stories about Yankee soldiers desecrating Southern churches by quartering their horses there -- and anyone who has been on a city street with horse patrols knows what horses drop.
Here at Old First we have heard the stories of the retreating British from the Battle of Monmouth and how they commandeered the church and made a mess of it. At least those two armies left most buildings standing. In Ukraine, churches that have stood for hundreds of years, even during the time of Josef Stalin, have been bombed beyond recognition. In the village of Yasnohorodka the church which is hard to miss, was shelled by Russian troops.
Why churches or other kinds of religious institutions? Churches have served as the identity of a people and thus if the church or mosque or synagogue, for that matter, can be destroyed, thinks the conquering army, so, too, will the identity of the people be destroyed. In spite of this violation of the Hague Convention, faith endures, and, so, too, the people.
Whether a physical building remains standing seems to be irrelevant to a people’s religious identity; and the irony is, of course, that faith seems to be strengthened as people are persecuted and their buildings attacked or destroyed. This is perhaps because the peace inherent cannot be destroyed as easily as a building; that faith is from within and the buildings are extraneous to the core of faith. So as often as Yankee soldiers and their horses trampled into southern churches, the core of southern faith grew stronger. That is the case with those who feel attacked.
First a commemoration of the Union dead, Memorial Day expanded to being a commemoration of the dead of all wars. Just as two sides fought in that terrible war, both sides are sometimes buried side by side as they are at Gettysburg and Arlington. Today, we do not seem to recognize the terrible price paid for the survival of the Union.
On this Memorial Day the President will make his customary and obligatory visit to some memorial, lay a wreath, and mumble something about the price of liberty being eternal vigilance. Veterans, many of whom still bear the scars of war will stand remembering their fallen colleagues. Memorial Day, in addition to honoring those who died that we might live, should also be a time for reflecting on how we can help to build peace.
The writer of Proverbs asks, “Does not wisdom call, does not understanding raise her voice?” By her power, “rulers decree what is just.” As the voice of wisdom points out, her counsel is worth more than all the gold and silver we can imagine. Walking in the paths of justice and the way of righteousness is what creates peace. And peace is what we owe our honored dead. They did not die so we could fight; they died so we could have peace.
But, as we know, peace is elusive. There is the violence and war, such as in Ukraine, that we cannot control, but can help a struggling nation protect itself. There is the violence and war within our own Nation that we can address and find ways to create peace here at home.
If nothing else, the violence we have witnessed here at home should make us consider seriously how peace is to be created here. The 18-year old kid who drove several hours to Buffalo to murder black people is a sign of our national illness of polarization and violence. How do you talk to someone who believes, fervently, that he is losing his place here in America, where he lives?
Then we have the Walmart shooting several years ago, spurred on by the same racism and fear – we do need to remember that fear begets racism. That killer feared Hispanics were taking over Texas.
The tragedy in Uvalde does not seem to be related to racist hate, but we don’t know what went on in his mind as he turned on a class of ten and eleven-year olds, murdering them. He was a killer, not a “shooter” – sounds so neutral and sanitized. He and his actions cannot be sanitized.
During the pandemic, military spending by governments actually increased by 2.6 percent even as the global gross domestic product decreased by 4.4 percent. And that doesn’t even count the amount spent on guns held in private hands. Not surprisingly, China and Russia spending led the pack, and the Stockholm Peace Institute figure of military spending doesn’t even include Uyghur repression spending projects like the concentration camps Xi Jinping calls “re-education camps.”
It certainly seems that both wisdom and peace are elusive. Here in the United States, we are divided along political and religious lines. We live in a world where the real battles are ideological and religious. Those religious battles capture the hearts and minds -- remember that phrase? -- of people.
And that’s where it is won or lost. Economic and social justice are part and parcel of this issue. The Proverbs writer states it so well in this morning’s reading: wisdom rules when decrees are just. We need not only sustainable development but the equitable distribution of resources.
While I agree with some that peace and development go hand in hand, I am not so Pollyannaish to believe that just and sustainable development will take care of it all. But walking in this way of wisdom will enable us to walk more securely in the way of peace.
Walking in wisdom in order to achieve peace means that we must, to use a cliché, think out of the box. If we spent one tenth the money figuring out how to achieve peace that we spend on waging war, perhaps much of that money would not have to be spent. This thought doesn’t just belong to fuzzy headed liberals. Listen to what a general had to say:
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."
That was Eisenhower, the general who led the Allied forces to victory in World War II. He understood, more than anyone could know, the cost of war and the value of peace.
This year on Memorial Day there will be parades, wreath ceremonies at a whole host of memorials, and the usual holiday traffic for people who just want a head start on summer, only thinking about the real meaning of this day when they catch a snippet of the news.
Other than spouting a few lines here and there, most of us shrug off the day. I’ll be gardening if the weather cooperates but I also will be thinking of my high school classmates, the ones whose names appear on the wall -- the Vietnam wall in D.C. They went in early as officers because of ROTC at their colleges, and did not return. No matter what I think about the stupidity and the politics of that war, I honor their memories. And it is my fervent belief that the best way to honor them is to work for a world where justice and righteousness rule.
Let us pray: Guardian of our lives and of those we love, move us beyond a dream of peace into a sustainable peace so that our children and our posterity will be able to live in a world without war. In the name of the One who calls us to peace, even Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.