Peace Beyond Our Fears

Randall Tremba
September 23, 2012
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

Mark 9:30-37
The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.

* * *

One hundred and fifty years ago this very day, wounded and dying young men lay upon the floorboards of this Meeting House. According to one eyewitness, the blood was ankle deep. And they who lay here were but a few of the 23,000 casualties from a single day at the battle of Antietam.

In the name of honor, in the name of duty, in the name of manhood, and in the name of patriotism, plus with a mighty surge of adrenaline, the sons of this nation unleashed furious violence upon each other. September 17, 1862 is still the single bloodiest day in American history.

At the time there seemed no other way to preserve the union of the newly established United States of America. At the time there seemed no other way to defend the honor of one’s state or country. At the time there seemed no other way to abolish slavery and emancipate slaves. At the time violence seemed the only way.

John Brown turned out to be a grim prophet. On the gallows before his hanging, he made a statement.

[The Bible] teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to "remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them." I endeavored to act on that instruction. I believe that to have interfered as I have done—as I have always freely admitted I have done—on behalf of God’s despised poor, was not wrong, but right.

And then just before the rope was placed around his neck he handed a note to a guard: I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood.

Only the spilt blood of thousands could atone for the national sin and disgrace of slavery. Or so John Brown thought. But he wasn’t the only one to think that way.

We are so enthralled by violence it’s hard to imagine another way to resolve our conflicts. We are so steeped in violence we can’t see that it was meant to stop at the cross.

Listen to the voice of the Beloved Christ.

God’s love has made my heart strong. I will love my enemies even if it kills me. I will embrace peace beyond my fears.

That’s childlike faith. But being childlike is not the same as being childish. The way of violence is as old as the hills. It may be old but it is still childish.

G.K. Chesterton, the 19th century English philosopher, once said, "It is incorrect to speak of war breaking out; war is the constant state of things. It is more correct to speak of peace breaking out."

To which Edward Hayes added: when you and I attempt to start peace, even if it is only between ourselves and a neighbor or co-worker, we should know that we are involved in an unusual undertaking. Since war is the ongoing activity of the children of the earth, most of us are more skilled at war-making than peacemaking. If we are warriors by nature, then the call of Jesus to be peacemakers is indeed an evolutionary call. Perhaps it is as radical as the command "Stand up!" was to our ancient ancestors who moved about on all fours.

Antietam was an apocalypse. At the time violence seemed the only way. Today we know of another way. And more and more are standing up to claim it.

The Son of Man is betrayed into human hands. They will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.

“The Son of Man,” who represents humanity, was betrayed not once but many times into human hands. And still is. That is the way of the world—betrayal of God, betrayal of others, betrayal of our own goodness. But that’s not the end. Never is. Hope arises. And keeps rising. Again and again. Time after time. War after war. Heart break after heart break. That is the way of the spirit in the world.

Antietam was an apocalypse. It was the death of one kind of world and the birthing of another. Or could have been. And still may be.

Antietam was an apocalypse. And like any apocalypse it was a revelation. “Apocalypse” means an unveiling or a revelation. What did Antietam reveal?

It revealed the fury and murderous capacity of the human heart. And it revealed the infinite capacity of the human heart for sympathy and compassion. In case we’ve not noticed or have forgotten: we are capable of great good and great wickedness. Which will prevail?

One hundred fifty years ago wounded and dying bodies lay upon this floor. Strangers gently mopped bleeding wounds; strangers ladled soup into gasping mouths. And in those holy moments something arose in this place.

And maybe, just maybe it’s why this house of prayer has become known as a house of peace. On January 1, 2000, a hundred people gathered between these walls, under this roof and on this floor to pray for peace in the new millennium. Jews, Muslims, Christians, Baha’is, Buddhists and secular humanists sat here together in prayer for peace.

One hundred fifty years ago, the wounded limped, hobbled or were carried from the battlefield of Sharpsburg along a dusty road, across the Potomac River and into Shepherdstown. Yellow rags hung from the windows and porches of churches, shops and homes. Churches and other public buildings filled up first. Then the warehouses. Then shops. Then homes. Then sidewalks, curbs and streets.

Several hundred residents of the town, mainly old men, women and children opened their hearts and their hands and did all they could to heal the wounded and comfort the dying.

Now and then I come into this sanctuary and sit alone in this holy place. And sometimes I hear voices rising from the boards beneath this carpet.

In the next several minutes of silence, listen with me and you may hear those voices crying out: Oh, people, Oh, my people, find another way. Be not afraid to undertake the way of peace. Be not afraid to walk the way of love. Please learn to love your enemies even if it kills you.


Dear God, let peace fill my heart.
Let peace fill our homes.
Let peace fill our nation.
Let peace fill the whole world.