“To Remember is to Work for Peace”, a homily delivered by Rachael Z. Bezanson, Sunday, November 14

To remember is to work for Peace

– Or –
Encompassed
A Homily for November 14, Peace Sunday

I am ethnically Mennonite, of the Russian variety, and a while back, I was a part of a Mennonite Church. That’s where I first encountered this button. Mennonites wear it instead of poppies on Remembrance Day. This is how the MCC Canada’s peace program coordinator, explains it:

“Not wearing poppies, and questioning Canada’s war effort is equated with being unpatriotic. However, our intention is not to undercut the sacrifice made by so many people. But we want to remember all who suffer because of war, not just our own soldiers. And we want to challenge the idea that war is necessary.”

The button has become the symbol of their challenge. Its history is interesting: an Ontarian woman named Jan Cressman designed it 20 years ago, so she could wear something other than a poppy on Remembrance Day. It reads: “To Remember is to work for Peace”. (Hold it up) That is the title of my homily this morning.

This morning, in the spirit of Fran’s homily weaving art and faith and fabric two weeks ago (which still hums in the back of my mind), and in the spirit of my Russian Mennonite grandmother, Great Quilter of all Abandoned Scraps, this morning I am making a quilt. And I need your help. I’m starting with these two patches of red, a poppy to remember those who died in the world wars, and for my brother in the Air Force, and the button, to remember is to work for peace, and I’m piecing them to the three patches of scripture read to us this morning. The thread we are using is the same thread we shared in the All Saints Day remembrances of last Sunday. It is the same thread that was used in the Friendship and Solidarity Oasis service last night. This is the thread: I am going to ask you to recall certain people in your life’s journey, saints or friends or strangers, to sew their names and deeds into the fabric of this quilt. And when the sewing is finished, I plan to fasten it all together with a border of poetry from one of my saints. Why a quilt? Well, that’s the image that came to me as I was sitting with the scriptures for today. A quilt covers. A quilt encompasses. That is what God does as we work for peace – he sends people into our paths to cover us, to encompass us. Now, I wish I had a real quilt to represent this, but I’ll use what I have, which is paper and pen, and will pray that Holy Imagination will fill your minds with a warm colourful quilt.

Back to working for Peace: As Christians, we all are called to work for peace, sowing seeds of justice where we are. Looking back over the last 10 years of my life, I have worked for peace from the Kitchener-Waterloo homes of newly arrived Afghan refugees post 9/11 in 2001, from the epicenter of the HIV AIDS onslaught in Malawi, and these days, on our school’s playground facing prejudices both child sized and adult sized. And look around this place: look at all the battle fronts for justice and peace represented here! This work is hard work.

It seems to me the scripture readings for this Sunday highlight three basic needs everyone has when they do this hard work: encouragement, a good shaking up, and a vision of the new world we are working to create. These are the next patches in my quilt. God, in her great mercy, gives us people in our lives that fill these needs. As we sew on each patch, I invite you to recall a friend, a saint, or a stranger, who has filled that need in your life as you work for peace. I will offer one from my journey, you can offer one from your journey aloud, or write it down in the silence of your heart. It is my prayer that as you leave this place today, as you “go in peace to love and serve the Lord”, that you remember this: like a quilt covers and emcompasses, so you are covered, encompassed by these people God has given you. May these remembrances restore and strengthen you.

So, the first patch. [Hang it up] Paul encourages the Thessalonians to never tire of doing what is right. Working for peace is tiring. Encouragement is absolutely necessary. When we left Kitchener-Waterloo for Zomba, Malawi, entering the struggle of HIV AIDS, a friend named John Lougheed, a self-confessing news-oholic, faithfully clipped newspaper articles pertaining to Africa and HIV and placed them in a pile on his desk for us. Every so often, the pile got large enough and he mailed it off to Zomba. Opening these gifts of words and thoughtful care lifted our hearts, were reminders of home and the larger struggle, reminded us to never tire of doing what is right. John Lougheed. And Stephen Lewis. And Becca Whitla’s music ministry here, who invariably sends me out with something to hum into another week of busy life. Let us remember now those God sends into our lives who offer this kind of encouragement, who keep us working for peace….

Next patch, from Luke. The disciples of God’s explosive world-changing gospel are caught admiring the stonework of the temple. [Hang it up] Jesus shakes them up. Jesus reminds them the real temple they are building will come at great personal cost: imprisonment, betrayed by friends and family, tried in the courts: because of his name. Because of the peace and justice they are called to build. I hate being shaken up: its uncomfortable, but I know I need it. And so thanks be to my husband, Kevin, who has learned after 14 years of marriage to do it kindly. And thanks be to Jody Decker my first thesis advisor in graduate school, who handed me my first lesson in failure. Remember now those in your life who have shaken you up, disturbed you, challenged you to enter the struggle boldly…

Last patch from Isaiah. God’s Heaven. God is recreating. She paints a picture of startling beauty. Imagine a world in which you enjoy the work of your own hands, in which you never labour in vain, in which no one is hurt, nothing is destroyed. Imagine everyone lives enough years for a full life. In working to build this kind of place, we need to visualize what we hope for. Let’s remember those in our lives who do this, who seem to be God’s very hands, and feet, living their lives building this heaven, right here, right now. One of my colleagues, another Mom on the playground at our school, Tai So, is working with a troubled boy in Simon’s grade. Johnny is very bright, and very manipulative and often leads others into fights or other forms of torment. My friend Tai, who sees such potential in Johnny, is not content to just inform this boy’s mother of the problems: she moves deeper into the work for peace – Johnny loves karate, and while lessons are free in our neighbourhood, the white suit they wear is expensive. She has enrolled him in karate lessons for january, which she knows he can’t afford, and has drawn up a contract with him: if he makes better choices, she will sew him his own suit. This is the world God is creating: where kids in trouble are not given up on. And Mary Jo Leddy’s work making refugees feel at home. Remember those in your life who help you visualize the world God is working through us to re-create…

Right. Nearly done the quilt. We are working for peace, needing encouragement, needing to be shaken up, needing to visualize what we are building. The friends, strangers and saints, we have remembered have sewn their strength and vision into our work.

And here is a border to hold it together: a poem by Denise Levertov. It is a reminder that we are encompassed by God. Encompassed is a word that means surrounded, covered. Here in this poem, in the metaphor of birds learning to fly, is the encouragement God offers us as we work for peace. As I read, hold in your heart those who remind you never to tire of doing what is right. Remember those who shake you up and out and into the flow of God’s wild current of peace work. And remember those who build peace and show it with their lives, inspiring you to join the re-creation. You are surrounded, you are covered, you are encompassed.
In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being

Birds afloat in air’s current,
sacred breath? No, not breath of God,
it seems, but God
the air enveloping the whole
globe of being.
It’s we who breathe, in, out, in, the sacred,
leaves astir, our wings
rising, ruffled – but only the saints
take flight. We cower
in cliff-crevice or edge out gingerly
on branches close to the nest. The wind
marks the passage of holy ones riding
that ocean of air. Slowly their wake
reaches us, rocks us.
But storm or still,
Numb or poised in attention,
we inhale, exhale, inhale,
encompassed, encompassed.

Amen.

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