Praying for Peace

Praying for Peace

Glynn Cardy, Luke 12:32-38

It’s not hard to feel gloomy about peace.  War, violence, and the destruction of people’s lives, seems more frequently than not to have the upper hand.  So, we paint a tear drop on the flag of Ukraine – the one that is on a billboard outside our church.  There is lots to weep about.  And as one of our hymns today says, God weeps too.  The divine mix of compassion, mutuality, and earthiness, cries tears of sorrow and solidarity.

It’s hard to know what to do.  It is clear in the Ukrainian-Russian war that the Russians, initially through proxy troops (called separatist forces) and then without pretence, are the instigators and aggressors.  Putin has not been shy in proclaiming his imperialistic ambitions.  So, NATO countries and others have supplied weapons, boycotted Russian goods, seized Russian assets in the West, and generally done what they can without supplying troops (which would escalate the conflict substantially).  And the Russians haven’t overrun the country, but they haven’t retreated back over the border either.

It’s hard to know what to do, what would help.

The problem with peace is that it is a slow-grow.  Like a tree it needs to be planted in prepared soil, tended, and watered.  And it needs protection from the wind.  Ideally it needs to be part of a forest.  It takes years to grow and find its strength.

And the problem with war is that it’s a quick-fix that doesn’t fix.  It’s a chainsaw that in a moment destroys decades of growth and enjoyment.  It leaves destruction in its wake, the stumps of people’s lives and dreams, no matter who the so-called winners are.

Smashing is always faster than making.  And our problem is – and on this small planet war is now everyone’s problem – that there are those who believe that to smash is to gain, to gain is to be powerful, and power is what is ultimately important.  As Shirley’s hymn says, God will weep over violence and war “‘til we change the way we win”.

Changing ‘the way we win’ seems to go to the heart of it.  That, and possessions and gain and greed, and the misguided belief that we can relieve our hurt by hurting others.

Our reading from Luke today is a snippet from one of those early Jesus groups living in a time of imperial oppressive violence.  The first part is about treasure and the second part is about being ready for some end-time wedding banquet, after life as you know it has been ripped by a chain-saw.  

Suffice it to say that I don’t believe in literal end-time wedding banquets, but I recognise the sentiment.  When the jackboots start smashing your doors and your life, you want a dream, something, anything, to escape to.

I find one phrase in the treasure verses worth pondering: “make purses for yourselves that don’t wear out”.  The verses surrounding this phrase make it clear these purses are not for coins or other possessions.  Indeed, they are not literal purses, made of cloth or leather, that a thief could steal or a critter could destroy.   

So, a wakahuia (a container of taonga), but not to hold in one’s hands but to hold in one’s heart.  For it is the treasure that is in the heart that matters.  And it is the treasure that’s not in the heart that wars are fought over, for gain, for greed, for ego.

I think this painting of an artist (Vincent maybe?) painting sunflowers (for Ukraine?) in the midst of the violence and destruction of war speaks of this kind of wakahuia.  The artist sees with his natural sight the pain of shattered grey buildings and lives, but paints, seeing with the eyes of his heart, a picture of bright colourful restorative hope.  There are two ways of seeing.  Blessed be the one who can see with the eyes of the heart what might be, could be, should be…  And what is worth believing for and working towards.

Another thing about this purse, this wakahuia of the heart is that it not only sees differently our landscape and our shattered lives, but sees the persecutors, the gatherers of gain, as wounded.  Dangerous but wounded.  Violent but worthy of mercy.  For the eyes of the heart see a future where there is room for everyone, where even the dangerous and seemingly powerful lion can lie down and be at peace with the seemingly weak lamb.  Our faith forebears understood Jesus (and the God he revealed) to be not the lion but the lamb.  Jesus was vulnerable and weak, and from that weakness was able to build a bridge out to his enemies. 

Each day I read the Guardian update about the Ukrainian-Russian war and it’s not pleasant reading.  Good news is when Russians die.  Bad news is when Ukrainians die.  It all reads like chain-saws, stumps, and vast swathes of deforestation.

But within my lifetime there has been some enormous success stories when it comes to peace.  I think of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and all that it meant ending 44 years of a divided Germany.  I think of the end of apartheid South Africa in 1990, and those who, for 42 years, fought, worked, petitioned, and prayed.  Including some of you here today.  I think of Northern Ireland, with its Presbyterian heritage, and the Good Friday accords of 1998, signalling the end of nearly 30 years of warfare. 

Peace can surprise us.  I never thought these conflicts would so radically change, or so move to resolve in my lifetime.  Not that peace comes easy, or stays easy.  As the Irish poet, Pádraig Ó Tuama writes in his “(the) North(ern) (of) Ireland”:

It is both a dignity and                                                          
a difficulty
to live between these

perceiving politics
in the syntax of
the state.

And at the end of the day,
the reality is
that whether we
or whether we stay
the same

these questions will

Who are we
to be
with one


How are we
to be
with one


What to do
with all those memories
of all those funerals?


What about those present
whose past was blasted
far beyond their

I wake.
You wake.
She wakes.
He wakes.

They wake.

We wake
and take
this troubled beauty forward.”

Taking ‘troubled beauty forward’ requires, as Padraig says stories that open up the possibility of relationships where there currently are none.  Which, of course, is a leaf straight out of Jesus’ peace-building playbook. 

Think of those Samaritan (enemy) stories – the Samaritan woman at the well who proclaimed Christ to her own people, the good Samaritan who showed mercy and care to the beaten Jew, the one leper out of ten who gave thanks (and who was a Samaritan).  These are stories reimagining the possibility of relationship between two races, two religions, who despised each.  Jesus was trying to take troubled beauty forward.

Then think of other stories.  Healing the foreign (Syro-Phoenician) woman’s daughter.  Though the punch in that story is her besting Jesus in a theological argument.  Then there is the healing of the Roman Centurion’s servant.  Again and again the peace-building playbook is the telling of stories that crack the certainty that Jesus’ countrymen and women are special, separate from, and superior to others.  The stories give substance to both ‘love’ and ‘enemies’ and are part of a bridge- building strategy between the two.

These stories are also about changing the way we win.  We don’t win by killing our enemies.  We win by showing mercy, re-housing them, treating them like we would like to be treated if our roles were reversed.  We win, not when our pockets are enriched or our profits are enlarged, but when that empty purse of the heart believes for and motivates us for hope when it seems, as far as we can see, to be absent.  Winning is living on, not separate from or superior to, our former enemy, who is still our former enemy, with whom we plant seedlings in the local reserve and help out at the local foodbank.

When the ways of the heart are sung stronger and longer than the bellowing and fear-filled ways of war, and we find our feet and the feet of our enemies tapping along, there is a zephyr of hope in the air.  We pray, this day, always.