Last week we talked about the work of Hope. And today, I want us to think about the Strangeness of Peace. Now the Peace we are talking about is not just tranquility, not just the absence of war; it is so much more. It is Peace/Shalom—it is the realization of God’s plan for creation—the goal towards which we are working (in last week’s language). Shalom has to do with us individually, and with society at large, and, in fact, with the whole creation. It is a reordering of our lives and our world. We can sigh and dream about it, thinking it will erase all problems and usher in a “bright new day.” But both our readings for today sound a slightly different note.
The world of Shalom is strange. It means changes on a monumental order—changes that affect not just the animal kingdom, not just those people out there who create war and live by the code of hate. The strangeness of peace, of shalom, is in what it does to the status quo—even if that status quo is part of the trappings of our lives that makes us comfortable, that we assume exists, that we don’t think about at all. Shalom is world order reversal. It will look and feel strange. It will require something (maybe big somethings) from everyone.
If peace/shalom is strange, then who best to announce its advent than the prophet John the Baptist. He is certainly a strange fellow—following in the long tradition of strange people who are God’s mouthpieces. He looks strange. He eats strange things. He proclaims change—the kin-dom of God approaching. And he advocates individual change—repenting, turning around, confessing sins, being washed and made clean in baptism.
But we are so accustomed to John showing up in our gospel readings that I’m not sure we can appreciate how strange he and his call were. So, let’s just keep John in the back of our minds, as we continue to think about the strangeness of Peace. Sometimes it is easier to understand a concept if we isolate one little part. If we take a magnifying lens and look at the intricacies of this change we are imagining. The strangeness of peace.
In Isaiah’s vision for today we hear: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”
Now I’m going to take poetic license here and make things easy. Isaiah in this passage talks about wolf and lamb; leopard and kid; calf and lion and fatling; cow and bear. No where do we get lion lying down with the lamb. But that is the agreed shorthand for what Isaiah is talking about. A predator and a prey. So, this morning, let us talk about what happens if the lion lies down with the lamb.
First let’s look at the lion. Lions normally eat meat—any meat they can get. And although most of the game we see lions (or actually lionesses) catching are deer-like prey—one can imagine that if a little lamb, or a big sheep for that matter, wandered into a big cat’s territory, things would not go well. So, for the lion to “lie down” with the lamb—would require a total change of diet. The lion would have to give up something—something pretty major, something that was “natural,” something that was expected, something that had been since the dawn of time. As much as it would look strange to see a lion and a lamb hanging out together—how much more strange would it feel to the lion!
Now let’s look at it from the lamb’s point of view. Lambs are not predators—they eat grass. They try to run from predators (because there is a built in “flight” response to danger). If you were wired to “get away” from lions—what would be your response if one came into your vicinity? It would not be to introduce yourself and hang out. So, for the lamb to stay around a lion who is lying down, it requires something pretty major—it requires pushing down the “natural” flight response; it requires trusting that the lion isn’t going to change its mind and kill you; it requires pushing against everything that you have been taught, everything that your body is screaming is true, everything that has ever been.
Lion lying down with lamb. The strangeness of peace.
Now that we have looked at the animal world and what this shalom is going to require of each of its participants, we can turn back to the more difficult issue—what does that mean for us?
Seasons of the Spirit suggested that we view an Ad that Gillette put out almost a year ago. This ad created a lot of response, both positive and negative—but I have to admit that I had never seen it until now. Let’s watch it together.
Gillette titled this ad/short film “We Believe: the Best Men Can Be.” And it made me tear when I first saw it. But some others, mainly men, were offended by it—even threatening to boycott Gillette products because they felt nothing was wrong with “boys being boys.” They felt what they considered to be the norm of masculinity was under attack. And they might have been right. The question the Gillette Ad puts into focus is “What does it mean to be a man?” “What is the best men can be?”
And I also think that the push-back Gillette got is indicative of what it costs people to live into a world where things are changing—things that have been one way for a very long time. It doesn’t make those things right, it just makes them feel normal. I think it is interesting that in the last few weeks, I’ve heard the suggestion that instead of women “leaning in”—to make changes needed to break the glass ceilings in corporations, in politics, in society—maybe what we need more of is men “leaning out.” (Less of change from the lamb and more of change from the lion). Living into the strange world of peace.
And actually, the male/female as example of the strangeness and needed changes in a world of peace is an entry level example—most of us in this room are women, and so we are the lambs—we are not the ones who have to “give up” power or the feeling of right. We just have to trust that the other is going to behave. But let’s move to a more difficult example of strangeness and needed change in a world of peace—the issue of race.
Just as Gillette sparked anger and (dare I say it), fear, from men who don’t want to stop acting in the ways they feel they have a right to act—the rise of groups centered on white power is a direct response to people of color becoming more visibly equal on many levels. We still have a long way to go—but in this example, many of us, those of us who are white, are the lion. And we have work to do—on “leaning out,” on being willing to tamp down any feelings of entitlement, on learning to give up our comfort zones. Living into a strange world of peace.
The more I thought about it, the more I saw that this coming of God’s kin-dom, this strange peace Isaiah and John and Jesus are advocating for—requires so much from us. Aren’t we the lion in the conversation about the issue of eating meat (when so much of the world goes hungry)? Aren’t we the lion (or one of them) in the issue of changes for climate sustainability? Aren’t we the lion in the issue of global migration? Aren’t we the lion, the one who has the most to lose in the changes, the one who needs to actively be willing to “give up” if we want to participate in this strange thing called peace?
I am glad that we are not alone in this topsy-turvy time. I am glad that God’s vision, articulated by those strange prophets, is made manifest by Jesus, God with Us. I am glad that each year, we are reminded that God breaks into our world, whether we are ready or not, whether we are lion or lamb. And with the advent of God, come the heavenly hosts, proclaiming the unbelievable news, the terrifying news, the wondrous news, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace, (Shalom) to all.”
May God give us the will and the way to do our part to live into the strange world of peace.
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.