Sermon: Guide My Feet

December 9, 2018
Second Sunday of Advent
Luke 1:68-79

In 1986, the cartoonist Bill Watterson drew his comic heroes Calvin, a little boy with a vivid imagination, and Hobbes, Calvin’s imaginary friend based on his stuffed tiger, wearing soldiers’ helmets and carrying dart guns.

Hobbes, the tiger, asked Calvin with some puzzlement, “How come we play war and not peace?”

Calvin replied, “Too few role models.”

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,” prayed Zechariah, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

“To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

As much as I love that phrase, “to guide our feet into the way of peace,” it has a kind of “thoughts and prayers” feel to it, by which I mean a kind of warm feeling that seems to lack any kind of additional action. Susan Orfanos said it so clearly after her son Telemachus Orfanos died on November 7th in the shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. Telemachus had actually survived the mass killings in Las Vegas a year before.

A month ago, his mother told television cameras, “I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control. And I hope to God nobody else sends me any more prayers. No more guns.”

Yet I struggle to say something coherent about peace, something as straightforward and coherent as that, something as straightforward and coherent as Calvin’s simple explanation, “Too few role models.” I want to say something meaningful about peace, but it gets lost in the far more prevalent realities of human conflict.

The maxim, after all, is “Si vis pacem, para bellum” – if you want peace, prepare for war. It was written about 1500 years ago by Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus. Similar epigrams come from ancient Greece and even more ancient China. And indeed, this is what I remember learning from history books as a youth: that the history of the United States was of stumbling into war unprepared, having to rebuild its military forces from the ground up, and then completing the conflict in a grand triumph.

It was only later that I learned about the continued aggression against the Native American nations using military force. It was only later that I learned that the United States instigated both the Mexican and Spanish-American Wars as wars of conquest. It was only later that I realized that the initial victories of the Confederacy in the Civil War were also the victories of these same unprepared Americans. And, of course, none of these histories explained how the greatness of American military power – now that we held to the wisdom of “si vis pacem, para bellum” – did so poorly in Vietnam.

The irony is that preparing for war prepares for war.

It’s also ironic that the Greek word for peace, Eirene, is so similar to the Greek word for irony, eironeia. I don’t know if that means anything.

Wars happen to countries prepared for war. According to Wikipedia, 5 conflicts claimed over 10,000 lives in this year or last, including the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq insurgency, the Mexican Drug War, the Syrian Civil War, and the conflict in Yemen. An additional 15 conflicts claimed over a thousand lives but less than 10,000, including two in the Philippines.

In Watterson’s cartoon, Calvin went on to explain that they would use their suction cup guns to shoot one another, and whoever wasn’t shot at the end of the game was the winner. At the word, they both fired, and both then wore their suction cup darts quivering on their bodies.

After a pause, Calvin observed, “Kind of a stupid game, isn’t it?”

I really want to do better than thoughts and prayers, but there are too few role models. In the twentieth century, we have the great protest movements of India, South Africa, and the United States, with their summons for justice. That’s powerful and wonderful and they are far too few.

Yet for power, hear this story as told by Adam Hearlson: “In the most troubling days of apartheid in in South Africa, the government began shutting down political anti-apartheid rallies. Amid this persecution, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared that he would hold a church service instead of a political rally. Held at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, the service attracted worshipers from all over South Africa. It also attracted hundreds of police who surrounded the cathedral in a show of military intimidation.

“As Tutu began preaching, the police entered the cathedral armed with guns and lined the walls. Some took out notebooks and began to record Tutu’s words. Tutu remained unintimidated. At one point in his sermon he turned to the police and said, ‘you are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not Gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you have already lost, since you have already lost, I invite you come and join the winning side.’ Immediately, the congregation erupted into song and dance. Faith in the coming fulfillment of the promise inspires courage to be the type of people who travel ‘the way of peace.’”

But there are still too few role models, and we must also turn to prayer.

Kathryn Matthews writes: “What can it mean to be the Body of Christ unless we give ourselves to the coming of God’s grace and mercy, and participate in bringing it to reality for one another, and for each of God’s children? ‘And you, child…’: these are the words that God sings over each one of us, not just at our birth, but each new morning, God’s tender love rejoicing at our beauty, God’s tender mercies leading us onto the path of peace.”

On this second Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Peace, let us recommit ourselves to the path of peace, however unfamiliar it may be. Let us pray earnestly to be guided on that way by God, because we have so few human guides. Let us pray earnestly for the strength to stay on that way, because the temptations to turn aside are also so great.

This is a prayer that calls something new in us, that calls new actions from us. This is not “thoughts and prayers.” This is prayer so we do the good work.

Let us pray that we might become some of those role models we have lacked. Let us pray that we might become the role models others seek.

Guide my feet into the way of peace.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Guide My Feet

The recorded sermon may not match the prepared text. Oh, who are we kidding. They don’t match. It’s not likely they ever will.

Photo of Church of the Holy Cross before worship on December 9, 2018, by Eric Anderson.

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on December 9, 2018

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