Peace, Advent II, 2010

In the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, where the prophet first announces the advent of a new and perfect king, he says that such an ideal monarchy is characterized by a perfect and complete peace that extends throughout all of nature. This king will see to it that righteousness and justice shelters the poor and humble, the whole land will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord and all creatures, even natural enemies, will live together in peace.


 

Peace Advent II, 2010

 

In the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, where the prophet first announces the advent of a new and perfect king, he says that such an ideal monarchy is characterized by a perfect and complete peace that extends throughout all of nature. This king will see to it that righteousness and justice shelters the poor and humble, the whole land will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord and all creatures, even natural enemies, will live together in peace.

Read Isaiah 11: 1- 9

 

We Quakers are aware that this passage of Isaiah was the inspiration for the over 100 different paintings Edward Hicks made of the Peaceable Kingdom. John Braostoski tells us that Hicks was an itinerant Quaker preacher. His spiritual and theological underpinnings were from Robert Barclay’s Apology and 18th-century Quaker quietism, which espoused simplicity, self-discipline, and contact with the Inner Light. He had a genuine feeling for Scripture, along with hope for a continuing sense of insight open to all. It was his second cousin, Elias Hicks, who was a central figure in the great separation that occurred among Friends. It broke Edward Hicks’ heart to see how Quakers were becoming worldly, with excessive material goods and inflated pride, and leaning towards the creation of a spiritual elite.

 

Hicks’ education included the study of animal symbolism with references to aspects of human personality. The lion was quick-tempered and willful. The wolf was full of melancholy and reserved. The bear was sluggish and greedy. The leopard, buoyant. In his paintings, these were both animal qualities with potential violence as well as the human traits of rage, egoism and greed. In Hick’s renditions the wild animals are brought into line with loving kindness. Yet there is a delicate balance of difficult and unresolved issues. The lion’s appetite poses the greatest threat. In his paintings, for the moment at least, the lions behave themselves, eating food meant for cows rather than the little lambs. Over the years Hicks’ paintings show an increasingly subtle change in these animals. His overriding concern is revealed through a major element in his painting, a divided tree that appears split as if struck by lightening. This is not a mere decoration added to provide a pastoral setting. Hicks became increasingly distressed over growing separation and the need for a reconciliation among Quakers. He laid the blame for the division that occurred among Friends on human propensities that when uncontrolled turn wild. He felt that a peaceable kingdom was possible, that the child would lead them, that the lamb would lie down with the wolf. Across the ravine, in his paintings, you could see William Penn demonstrating how it could be done. As he continued to paint and repaint this similar setting, the animals become visibly older: white whiskers and sad, with sunken eyes. The child plays a lesser role, the animals begin to snarl and raise their claws to strike, divisions become more blatant, the tree becomes ever more shattered. There is a struggle against a foe, not with other Quakers or material riches, but with the weakness and characteristics of a self-willed, egotistical, greedy, lustful, or slanderously poisonous self. Hicks sought the authority of a purer self, a self washed by the Inner Light.

 

In some of his paintings, in colorful saturations of light, you’ll find a hilltop with a figure and twelve followers, indicating something of a New Testament perspective but with no written labels. Hicks never gave up on his dream of a peaceable kingdom – he believed in the Inner Light and its power; he felt it, therefore he saw it. Most importantly, he saw it in others, including the lion and the bear. The world was all light to him, that special Light. Edward Hicks allows us to see the Light coming out of all living beings and the world, speaking to that which shines within every one of us. The reminder to us as Quakers, a people who want to be known as a people of peace, that peace can be quite elusive.

 

I was encouraged, as I think Edward Hicks would have been, when recently Bruce Birchard, Executive Secretary of Friends General Conference posted his recollection of spending several days last September with the staff heads of Friends Yearly Meetings in the United States. He told of Jan Wood and Lon Fendall, both of our Yearly Meeting, being invited to work with these leaders from Friends General Conference, Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends International on reconciliation and healing within the worldwide body of Friends. He said that the message they brought was: “Reconciliation doesn’t mean that we all come to unity in our perspectives or our theology.  It does mean that we treat those we disagree with respect, civility and kindness.  God extends love, forgiveness, and reconciliation to everyone.  And we are entrusted to live out that same ministry of reconciliation.”

 

When Octavius became Augustus a new era began for the Roman Empire. The time was known as Pax Romana – the peace of Rome. It began what was a two hundred year period of peace and prosperity, at least from Rome’s point of view. For the Jews who were Roman subjects in the garrisoned city of Jerusalem this was no peace at all – it was the ascent of the governed at the point of a sword. The peace of Rome was defined as the absence of descent, the absence of revolt, the absence of civil violence. We are more careful these days to not just seek peace alone. It can’t be truly called peace without justice.

 

Unquestionably, Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. Excavated pottery says that it was occupied four thousand years before Christ. According to Jewish tradition it was founded by Shem and Eber, ancestors of Abraham. When it is first mentioned in our Bible it is called Salem and is ruled by Melchizedek. During the years of the conquest of the promised land by the Israelites and even after David becomes King it is controlled by the Jebusites. Scripture tells us that David purchased a threshing floor from Araunah, the Jebusite king and built an altar on that site.   It was later, through stealth, that the Jews finally got control of Jerusalem.   Records indicate that Jerusalem has been utterly destroyed at least twice, besieged some twenty three times, attacked over fifty-two times, captured and recaptured some forty-four times. In my life time it has never known a time of absence of violence, blood shed and war. The name Jerusalem comes from the words Ir Shalom which mean ‘city of peace’. How does Luke have it? ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that murders the prophets and stones the messengers sent to her!’ The city of peace? What a misnomer!

 

 

Peace isn’t an empty concept that speaks only of the absence of violence or dispute. Peace isn’t a goal to be achieved. Peace is the state of a relationship. The Greek eir-e-ne when translated into English as peace, is a rendering of the Hebrew word shalom. Shalom, and the Arabic “salaam”, come from the same place and has multiple meanings of safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune, friendliness, perfect and complete. In a very personal way it is reflected in a lifestyle free of violence, but also describes a relationship among people characterized by respect, justice and goodwill. Peace is a state of balance and understanding in yourself and between others where respect is gained by the acceptance of differences, where tolerance persists and conflicts are resolved through mutual understanding, where people’s rights are respected and their voices are heard, and everyone is at their highest point of serenity without social tension. This understanding of peace is also about an individual’s sense of himself or herself, as to be “at peace” with one’s own mind.

Being at peace is the opposite of being anxious. Anxiety drives us from our higher values and leaves us with only reptilian reactiveness. It is only when we are at one with ourselves, with those around us, and with our creator that we know peace, that we have available to us our abilities to be reasonable, to exercise respect, justice and goodwill. When we are anxious about our safety life is anything but perfect and complete.

Recall what Isaiah said in his prophecy about his ideal kingdom? He characterizes such an ideal monarchy as a perfect and complete peace that extends throughout all of nature. This king will see to it that righteousness and justice shelters the poor and humble, the whole land will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord and all creatures, even natural enemies, will live together in peace.

Peace results from living in the realm and being at one with this perfect king. Jeremiah 6:14 and 8:11 share the refrain ‘They claim ‘peace, peace, but there is no peace’. The prophet points to the false promises of peace where injustice, vanity, treachery, greed, violence committed by the shameless are common place and accompanied by the abominations of fraudulent priests. A culture so broken can not know peace.

In the third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew we are introduced to John the Baptist: In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

 

I want us to focus on something other than John’s not so gracious benediction on the Pharisees and Sadducees. We’ve already seen how, even among a people of peace, even in the city of peace, the violence described here is present. What is important is that John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees: ‘Bear fruit worthy of repentance’. These people to whom he was speaking were the model citizens and most religious of the day. These were the people who said things like: “I don’t smoke, I don’t chew, and I don’t go with the girls who do.” They kept all the rules. If we perceive repentance as choosing to avoid evil – well these folks didn’t need it. The question for them was how could they stay in a right relationship with others and with their creator? Same for us. The question is about being at one with our selves, our family and friends, even our enemies and the God who graced us with this life. That is where peace is known. Is it possible to grasp the good news that God wants to restore and enfold you and me into this perfect and complete kingdom of peace?

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