House of Peace

Randall Tremba
September 30, 2012
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time / Season of Peace
Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

Mark 9:38-50
Jesus said, “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

Salt isn’t sugar. It’s not sweet. We can probably live without sugar but we sure can’t live without salt. Salt cures
things. Salt brings out the flavor in things. And spread on soil salt will keep things from growing that you might not want to grow. Salt isn’t sweet or spectacular. It works quietly. Salt penetrates and makes a difference.

If you’re going to work for peace, you have to be salty and stay salty.

“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

* * *

This is a story about Thomas Shepherd. It may be more myth than fact but it’s a pretty good story nonetheless.

In the Fall of 1762, two hundred fifty years ago, Thomas Shepherd and a friend rode their horses 250 miles to Williamsburg, home of the Virginia General Assembly. They went to request a name and a charter for a settlement on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River.

Little is known about Thomas Shepherd. We don’t know where he was born; or where he is buried. But we know this much: he was English and he was a visionary. He wanted to build a town and a community. To build a town he needed workers—artisans, craftsmen and brew masters. At the time Germans had a reputation for being highly skilled and hard workers. But there were few Germans at hand.

So Thomas had an idea. If he named his settlement “Charlottesville” after the German-born wife of King George, Germans could be enticed to move here from Pennsylvania.

So off he rode to secure “Charlottesville” as the name for his settlement. He was a day late.

But not to worry. Shepherd was not only English, he was smart. On the spot Thomas requested the name “Mecklenburg,” the birthplace of Queen Charlotte. Which only goes to show that Thomas Shepherd was an educated man. No wonder a teacher’s college would one day arise in his town.

This town’s first name was Mecklenburg. (And now we are on solid factual ground.) A few years later, when the American Revolution broke out and the king and queen of England fell out of favor, the town was renamed Shepherd’s Town.

During this 250th anniversary of Shepherdstown’s charter, I have been musing a little on its founding spirit—how it began with an act of hospitality of sorts, of including the outsider, if that’s what Germans were to the English. Maybe the naming thing was a sheer act of commercial marketing. I don’t know. But I’d like to think it was more than that. I don’t know how the English felt about Germans at the time. I do know they didn’t worship or pray together.

Anyway, this past year I’ve been musing on the spirit of 1762 present in these parts. Did that wooing of artisans create the quirky and artistic quality this town now has?

Did that welcoming spirit eventually lead to the salty reputation this town gained in the 1970s as one of the most welcoming Mid-Atlantic communities for homosexuals? I don’t know. But I know this: compassion breeds compassion as surely as violence breeds violence.

As we know, Shepherdstown has an intimate connection with the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War. This town is no stranger to warfare and violence.

In the wake of the Battle of Antietam this town saw the horrific consequences of war close up, a shock it would never forget. Never again would war be glorified or romanticized in this town. That too is part of our heritage.

One hundred fifty years ago, in the wake of the Battle of Antietam this town and this congregation drew upon a salty spirit of compassion like never before. In this house of prayer, the sons of this nation—scores upon scores—lay wounded and dying. In this sanctuary, day after day, week after week, strangers knelt beside strangers cleansing wounds and anointing the dead.

The floorboards beneath this carpet were soaked in blood.

This is a holy place.

And maybe, just maybe that’s why this house of prayer has become a house of peace in the way and in the spirit of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Over the years many first time visitors have spontaneously remarked to me and others with words like these: “You know, there’s something special here, something holy, something peaceful about this room, its air, its light. You can just feel it.”

At first I dismissed such remarks as silly tricks of imagination. But I stopped disbelieving when I found a note left here about 25 years ago.

Twenty-five years or so ago I found a note on this communion table. It read: “Today I was on my way to take my life. I was at the end of my rope. When I drove past this church I saw it was open for prayer. I came in and sat here for a while. Something in this place changed my heart and saved my life. Thank you.”

The note was unsigned.

Later I learned that it was left by a young mother. She came her wounded, ready to die. She left mended and whole again.

We have inherited a legacy of compassion. One hundred fifty years ago something holy arose from the floor of this Meeting House. It is our privilege and responsibility to embody that spirit of peace and healing. That spirit continues to give us strength and vision.

On January 1, 2000 we opened the doors of this house at 12 noon. Jews, Muslims, Baha’is, Buddhist, Christians, and secular humanists gathered here to pray for peace just days before the Israeli-Syrian peace talks began in this town.

Two years ago, at a time when many churches were publicly condemning Muslims and burning their Koran, we publicly embraced Muslims and the Muslim community at a Peacefest in this house of peace.

In the spring of 2011 at a time when many churches were publicly condemning homosexuals in the name of Christ and at a time when several gay youth had been bullied to death, we publicly embraced the GLBT community at a Lovefest in this house of peace.

And one year ago, at a Peacefest we embraced fellow citizens who have given their lives to protect and heal victims of domestic violence. Our own David Colbert, a Jefferson County deputy sheriff, told a gripping and heart-wrenching story from his law enforcement experiences. Ann Smith, director of the Shenandoah Women’s Center, also told a gripping and heart-wrenching story from her experience with battered women. That evening in this house of peace we surrounded those brave and compassionate friends with prayers and hugs.

Next Sunday night, we will gather in this house of peace with Muslims, Jews, Baha’is, Buddhists and secular humanists to pray for peace and to commit ourselves to work for a more compassionate world. It’s not easy work. As Jim Wallis put it: “Anyone can love peace, but Jesus didn't say blessed are the peace-lovers. Jesus said peace-makers. It’s a life vocation, not a hobby on the sidelines of life.”

And there’s something else to peacemaking we mustn’t forget. St. Francis puts it this way: “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.”

Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

I don’t know what you have planned for next Sunday night. But perhaps you could come here to sit, stand, sing and pray with others as we humbly offer ourselves to be channels of peace and compassion. After all, it’s what we do!