A Promise That Will Lead to Peace – September 20

A sermon based on Mark 9: 33-37 (The Message)
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on September 20, 2020
by Rev. Scott Elliott

Tomorrow is International Day of Peace. The United Nations declared it “a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace,” and the UN set the 2020 theme as “Shaping Peace Together.” The idea this year is to “[c]elebrate the day by spreading compassion, kindness and hope in the face of the pandemic.”

We have been in the face of the pandemic for so long we can sometimes forget the worldwide nature of the threat. This has not just been a regional problem, but one which has caused illness and death around the globe.

The opposite side of that coin, which may also slip our mind, is that the global nature of the threat has been matched with global-wide care for others. Far and wide everyday Joes and Janes have responded by acting for the well-being of neighbors day in and day out. I referred to these remarkable efforts of care back in March as a “Pandemic of love.” The overwhelming majority of humankind has been doing what the UN calls “spreading compassion, kindness and hope . . .” Across the globe great sacrifices have been made by people, for people. Health care workers have kept us safer and tended to the sick and dying, and have worked to find protection and cures– even at great risk to themselves. Essential employees have worked to keep necessities available through it all also at personal risk. The majority of the rest of us have been sanitizing, masking and keeping distance to make us all safer.

Worldwide people have cared not just in word, but in deed. Whatever differences we have most of humankind has hunkered down to weather the storm of the pandemic together – most of us unified in holding up the umbrella of Covid protocols to keep the rain of that virus from hitting us all. As ugly as Covid is, I cannot get over the glory of so many doing so much for one another. It is a Holy thing to behold. In this age of media filled with the powerful and elite trying to divide us we have a world filled with most of the rest of us, united. People caring about other people in word and deed. This evidences that together we can overshadow darkness with the light of love.

We are doing just that on the pandemic front. That is hopeful all on its own, but also suggests we can unite on other fronts. There’ so much hope in That. So much hope that on this International Day of Peace weekend I want to seriously suggest that our collective care in the Covid crisis hints that we can unite and make huge strides toward something even bigger: shaping peace together. I mean global peace– the kind God aims us toward, the kind the Bible calls, Shalom. If we can team up to hold back Covid with sustained world-wide efforts, we can team up to hold back war.

I know that might sound Pollyanna-ish and cause eyes to roll, as if peace is impossible, but the amazing efforts at tending to the well-being of others in this Covid crisis blows the doors open on the possibilities of conquering global concerns together. It makes the promises in the Bible of peace on earth good will to all, of swords becoming plowshares, seem possible. And come to think of it, why would God aim us toward Shalom if it is an impossible dream? Why would peace on earth good will to all, be stated by the multitude of the heavenly host if it is not doable? We may roll our eyes at the notion that peace is possible, but months before the heavenly host spoke of peace, an angel told Mary “nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37). Nothing is impossible with God.

That means PEACE. IS. POSSIBLE! If peace is possible, where do we begin? The unified efforts against Covid offer a clue. We now have proof that the vast majority of humankind can – and will– act toward the well-being of all. Until now, that has not occurred in history. We now have the remarkable proof that it is possible. That is a game changer that ought to amaze the world. It’s mind-bendingly awesome !

I was thinking about all of this a few weeks ago when I received a package from Rev. Charles Busch, the founder of Peace Village and executive director of Fields of Peace. The package contained a book Charles recently wrote called A Promise to our Children: a Field Guide to Peace. 1. The book begins by asking “If it were your job to end war, where would you begin, at what place?” Charles’ answer to that question is grounded in unifying the world one step, one person, at a time in a promise, a promise that ought to resonate throughout humanity, even more so (I think) than unifying in efforts against Covid-19. The promise seems an easy one to embrace. Simply put, it is a promise to not be a part of killing any child.

There is, of course, Biblical support for this, not only does the 6th Commandment tell us not to murder, but Exodus 23(7) adds this ominous note “do not kill the innocent [,]. . . for I will not acquit the guilty.” All children are innocent, so innocent that we are to cradle them as Jesus does in our reading because as He put it , “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.”
The short promise that Charles wrote is just such an embrace, shielding all children, the innocent, from being killed. Here are the words of the promise:

I will not be a part of the killing of any child, no matter how lofty the reason. Not my neighbor’s child, not my child, not the enemy’s child. Not by bomb. Not by bullet, not by looking the other way. I will be the power that is peace.

My hunch is that simple promise resonates with all of us, that the killing of children is so wrong in our minds that all of us are most likely willing to make that promise right now. It seems so straight forward and clear that it is the right thing to do. And there is a crystal-clear reason. We don’t want to be part of taking a child’s life, an innocent’s life.

There is another reason too. The promise fulfilled can lead to the end of war as we know it. It can lead to peace. See war over the past 100 years has changed so that innocents, including children, are increasingly casualties, more so than even soldiers. Just over a hundred years ago in World War I only one civilian was killed for every nine combatants. A generation later in World War II the ratio changed to one to one– for every combatant killed a civilian died. Four generations later the ratio from World War I has been flipped, so that today nine civilians are killed for every combatant killed, nine out of ten.

Tragically the number of children included in the modern grisly ratio of civilians dead has reached the point that “[a]rmed conflict kills and maims more children than soldiers.” (98). It has gotten so bad –and so sad– that “[a]t least 2 million children have died in the last ten years as a result of wars . . . the number of children wounded or disabled is three times as large.”(100).

The Twenty-first Century threat of war killing and hurting children is horribly real. Unless things change there will be more child deaths and casualties in war by weapons, and the awful ripple effects of war, like starvation and malnutrition. Right now, an estimated 350 million children live in war zones. And who knows where war might break out in the days ahead putting other children at risk . . . , ours, our neighbors our enemies’ children. . . children. Not one child should be an acceptable casualty of war.

God’s shalom, the promise of peace on earth is meant for people of every age and we have yet to find a way to that peace. Rev. Busch’s simple idea is let’s start with the children, lets agree not to participate in any child’s death, anywhere for any reason. That includes not consenting to ways of war that accept the killing of a child, any child. This weekend the UN asks us to consider “spreading compassion, kindness and hope in the face of the pandemic” I can think of no better way to do that than to make the promise that,

“I will not be a part of the killing of any child, no matter how lofty the reason. Not my neighbor’s child, not my child, not the enemy’s child. Not by bomb. Not by bullet, not by looking the other way. I will be the power that is peace.”

In the year ahead I plan to explore ways for clergy, our church and the community to consider this promise, to explore it, to talk about it, to think about making it and where making that promise might lead. One person at a time that promise promises to possibly lead to fulfillment of the prophesy that we heard in the invocation from Micah (4:3-4) that humankind will finally

“beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more, but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid . . .”

May it be so.


1. The second half of this sermon is based in great part on Charles’ book, A Promise to our Children and the page numbers in parenthesis are from the book. You can order the book and learn more about the promise (there’s a great video), as well as Fields of Peace, by clicking on this link: https://www.fieldsofpeace.org/.