Summary: Achieving peace in the world must come from those who have achieved peace with themselves. That in turn comes from achieving peace with God. For the Day of Prayer for World Peace, for baptism, and for Communion
My mother-in-law made an arresting comment the other day. She had been reminiscing about what it was like to take care of two small children in a British bomb shelter, and then our conversation turned to the present situation with Iraq. "Oh, you men", she said. "You men, always getting us into wars."
Now I had never before thought of the institution of war as gender-specific! Are men the only ones who fight? True, it is men who are in combat. And true, it is mostly men who do the planning and the procuring of military hardware. And true, it is mostly men who sit in the legislatures and presidential mansions. And true, it is mostly the male of the species who while away their time as children playing with toy guns.
And true, the history books tell us that when President Wilson in 1917 asked the United States to enter the First World War, the only woman in Congress voted against it, along with some of the men. And then in 1941 that same woman, Jeanette Rankin of Montana, was the only person in Congress of either gender to vote against entry into the Second World War. But I just had never thought of the institution of war as being peculiar to the male of the species.
I rather suspect that it’s not so much maleness as it is competitiveness that gets us into trouble. I’d like to think it’s not the particular hormones we have or the amount of upper body strength we can muster, but rather that it’s the way we are taught to compete and to win. Somehow we teach little boys more than we teach little girls that you have to compete and you have to win. We teach ourselves that we have to be Number One, that winning isn’t everything, it’s just the only thing. (That’s the Gospel according to Vince Lombardi).
Just listen to ourselves as we enjoy the Olympic games. How many gold medals will American athletes win? We’re Number One! As if we were not already politically and militarily the only superpower left on earth, now we even have to prove the point on the athletic field. Frankly, I am turned off by the Dream Team. All I have heard is how overwhelming this American basketball team is, how they will crush all opponents and, with elbows flying, will humiliate such sports powers as Angola and Croatia!
We love competition. But you know we also say we want peace in the world. We enjoy the thrill of victory. But we insist that we as a nation want peace. Is there a conflict here? What do we really want?
Without question our world today is badly scarred because we do not have peace. As much as we rejoice over the end of the Cold War, still we know that this world is not at peace. Not when Middle Eastern nations continue to threaten Israel. Not when governments build up chemical and biological weapons. Not when cemeteries in Latin America are filled with the corpses of those who got in the way of the drug lords. We do not have peace.
We do not have peace when the streets of our cities are unsafe and when schoolyards are strewn with drug paraphernalia. We do not have peace when family court dockets are full of cases of child abuse and neglect. We do not have anything approaching peace when Asian storekeepers fear that their inner-city customers are violent and the customers fear that the storekeepers are cheating them.
And so on this Day of Prayer for World Peace, we have a lot to pray about. We have a long way to go before authentic peace is ours. Time does not permit my reminding us of how badly peace is needed in our homes, where in so many instances family life is in disarray; or in this our church, where it is still possible for people of differing cultures to put one another down; or in our own individual lives, where sometimes we just pit our minds against our hearts and our self-centeredness against our spiritual knowledge. Peace is a long, long way away. And it is good indeed to have a Day of Prayer for World Peace.
What do we really want? Do we want to compete, or do we want peace?
My thesis this morning is that at rock bottom we do want peace, and that if we are going to get peace it will have to come from persons who are at peace with themselves. And then I will argue that the only way for us to arrive at peace with ourselves is to gain peace with God.
Let me restate that and let me turn it around. We do at bottom want peace. We must begin the quest for peace by receiving peace with God. Peace with God gives us peace with ourselves. And then when we are at peace with ourselves, we can help create a peace-filled world.