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Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Blessed Are the Peacemakers Homily

Momentarily inundated by a tidal wave of meaninglessness, this is no time to surrender our religious ideals! When meaninglessness threatens, we turn to what is meaningful. This is a time to reassert in our individual hearts and minds the best that our civilization has that speaks to us. In a time of trial only what is best will hearten us.

[Text: Matthew 5] Those words of Jesus are among the most famous spiritual teachings in the world. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are those who seek peace, for they shall be called children of God."

Blessed are these? Blessed? But where, Jesus, is the blessing? When does it come?

And Jesus says, the blessing is in the work itself. The blessing is in the ability to attain that state of just being. To be able to do any work to bring about peace and justice is a blessing. It is seen most easily in the teaching, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." All of us have mourned this week, but we have mourned before this week; for all have lost persons we cared for; and we found that in grieving the deaths of loved ones we did finally attain that state of being comforted.

Those who hunger for righteousness shall become "satisfied" not because they will live to see perfect justice triumphant. They will not and we will not! But we can find satisfaction even by our ragged attempts to do justice. We can find some satisfaction by trying very hard to be fair, because we have known since childhood how uneven the most honest effort can be. We can find satisfaction in giving human beings their dignity, and by simple acts make the concept of justice a spiritual reality in one's life all along the way, so that by the end of one's life, one is "satisfied."

So these words of Jesus are descriptive; whenever we do them, we attain a better level of divinity, or holiness, and are blessed by our efforts. To the extent that our efforts are satisfying, that is our experience, that we enjoyed stopping a conflict, bringing peace among our children or our neighbors, the words of Jesus are prescriptive-they tell us to do more of that in the future.

And we age and come toward death freely admitting, "It isn't here yet, the kingdom has not been attained, racism is everywhere, war and violence are as common as prejudice and scapegoating. Yet we may say, we had ideals and values and we worked away at it. If we need to apologize, we do. As one mother, a child of the 60s, said, "You don't know the kind of world we would have given you if we could." (Fifth of July, Lanford Wilson)

Momentarily inundated by a tidal wave of meaninglessness, this is no time to surrender our religious ideals! When meaninglessness threatens, we turn to what is meaningful. This is a time to reassert in our individual hearts and minds the best that our civilization has that speaks to us. In a time of trial only what is best will hearten us.

I remember a movie about an English theatre troupe during the Second World War. The troupe toured Britain putting on a Shakespeare play every night in a different town. It was second rate because it was wartime and the younger actors had been drafted, so the only actors left were elderly and infirm. Audiences attending the theatre were dishearteningly small. Sometimes Hitler's bombers threatened, and the lights flickered and even went out. Sometimes the bombs could be felt, and dust was seen sifting down from the ceiling. But the play, King Lear, went on. And I could see that the barbarians are at the gate, but to that little theatre troop performing Shakespeare reminds them that this is why we fight for our civilization to exist-for the best that is England. And simply hearing their story reminds us that is the truth.

When I once visited Coventry, I came upon the Old Cathedral before I saw the New Cathedral. The Old Cathedral has no roof, it has no pews, it is a medieval building of only walls of stone and brick with ivy growing on them. The Germans bombed it, and you can see many reasons it was preserved: it is beautiful even in ruins. But second, it is a symbol that says, "This is what they did to us; and we never let them get us down." And in the early 1950s the Queen dedicated the New Cathedral in Coventry for use. It is the best, the most beautiful, the loveliest, that reminds us why we live and what it is we work to sustain as the human race climbs its evolutionary ladder.

When Tuesday left me emotionally drained, listening to Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber on the radio assuaged my spirit. The forces that destroy the spirit, or at least wear away at our spirits, are actually present every day. We forget the prescription for renewal: it is to be in touch with the best we know of in our society, the most beautiful thing that will speak to our condition right now. It may be gardens or Johann Sebastian Bach; it may be American spirituals or museum paintings. Our self-care requires such renewal when our emotions are besieged. Will you do something to take care of your spirit this weekend? "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

I think putting ourselves in touch with the best of our civilization can bring out our most mature and religious response. The Dalai Lama wrote President Bush a letter: "It may seem presumptuous on my part, but I personally think we need to think seriously whether a violent action is the right thing to do and in the greater interest of the nation and people in the long run. I believe violence will only increase the cycle of violence. But how do we deal with anger and hatred, which are often the root causes of such senseless violence? This is a very difficult question, especially when it concerns a nation and we have such fixed conceptions of how to deal with such attacks."

I think that says it. We have a conceptual response in mind, which is bombing the enemy. We take that posture because it seems called for, but rather than resort to the old paradigm, which is not working this time simply because our enemy is so hidden, why not do something different? What might advance the human race would be to end posturing and to express authenticity with a calm mind. It would require the religious virtue we struggle with the most to summon up: humility. Such rage must give us pause. Do our enemies have something to say that we refuse to hear?

Humility would mean saying to those everywhere who profess to hate us, "This is the moment you definitely have our undivided attention. Can you articulate your complaints?" Those among us who can speak for them, need to sensitize us to their situation.

Finally we remind one another that in America it is not fair to group people together. Every person is innocent until proven guilty. We have grievously made mistakes in the past, driving the native American Indians off their lands, forcing Japanese Americans who had not been to their nations for decades and even generations to live in concentration camps in the desert during the second world war. Let us say we learned our lesson. The last time we were enraged and blaming Islamic terrorists we came up with Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Surely not again shall we hold Arab-Americans responsible for what some Arabs in the world are alleged to have done. One ideal that must not be violated is the sanctity of each person, the physical safety of every person. When it is violated may we be personally moved to say, "I am sorry this happened. Every American is not so ignorant. We know you are not responsible for what has happened." If you know a way we can reach out to Muslims in Houston, I would like to see us do it. Some already feel welcome at this church by programs we have held here.

I know there will be terrible sadness in us. I have it, too. I too, have anger about the cruelty. We who get hurt easily often try to protect ourselves, try to build an intellectual shell, by becoming cynical. We are in danger of believing that what has happened is in the nature of the human race. Well, the nature of the human race is also to be found in the turnout of people of good will. Blood donors. People bringing supplies to rescue workers. The police. The Mayor of New York City who showed presence and leadership. Medical people who volunteered. Firefighters who carried on in spite of losing friends, and did not give in to feeling demoralized. Construction people who worked without rest.

Foremost, we who lived through this story must remember the true heroes, the people hijacked on the jet over Pennsylvania. They heard by cell phone the nature of the hijacking scheme, and though of course they were without arms, they voted nonetheless to overpower the hijackers. They must have known the likelihood that at least some of them would die, and maybe they knew that all of them would die, but they voted-it is a hallmark of civilization to be able to vote-and chose to save the nation from worse by their sacrifice. People, we who lived through this must never allow their act to become a footnote! Sadness, yes, of course, but may it be balanced by memories of heroes.

I hope we will consider not retaliating. Vengeance would mean the real victor is meaninglessness. More innocent people should not get killed. Destructiveness should not be made the lord of creation. An eye for an eye just makes the whole world blind.

You know I would comfort you, but healthy spirituality requires that you be challenged. This challenge may be too much to ask some of you, but I ask as always that you simply hear it out and consider it thoughtfully in the weeks ahead.

Humanity can yet develop high and noble ideals. Since we are humanity that means those ideals would have to simmer in our hearts. One such seminal idea comes from the concentration camp at Ravensbruck. It is a Jewish prayer, written on a piece of brown paper sack. The author lived in the women's quarters and that is all that is known about her. The title of the prayer is "Prayer for Tormentors,"-no, not a prayer for those who are tormented, but for the tormentors. With her words I end my sermon and begin the meditation.

[Prayer for the Tormentors]

Peace to the people who are not of good will,
And an end to all revenge and to all the talk
About punishment.
Deeds of cruelty to beggar all that's gone before
Are beyond the limits of human understanding,
And countless are the numbers of the martyrs.
Oh God, do not weigh their sufferings
In the scales of your justice
And do not demand repayment in cruelty.
Let the suffering benefit all executioners,
All betrayers and all bad people,
And forgive them for the sake of the courage
And the inner strength shown by the others.
The good should count and not the evil,
And in the minds of our enemies
We should not live on as their victims,
But come to their aid instead, so that
They can let go of their delusion.
This alone will be asked of them:
That when all is over We be allowed to live as fellow human beings,
And that there shall be peace again on this our poor earth
For those who are of good will,
And that this peace shall also reach those others.

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are closer to God.
May those blessings be ours.

Closing Words at the end of the service:

To those of you who died, we are so sorry,
For we wish no one ever to die with terror in their eyes.
We say to you that though you do not know the end of your story,
We who live resolve to remember you,
And to hold you in our hearts like little lighted candles.

And in your silence you speak to us, and say, "Each day is precious
So, Love mightily!"
And we answer you as we do now, saying out loud and repeating:
"All right! We will!
We will love mightily!"

Amen. Shalom. May it be so.

Sermon delivered at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, TX on Friday, September 14, 2001.

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