Sunday, September 18, 2016 “How Can We Be Instruments of Peace?” Rev. Patty Willis

In this country, St. Francis is mostly remembered in gardens. We have a St. Francis statue in our garden—with arms full of birds. He was so deeply peaceful that animals felt no fear from him. When a wolf was terrorizing the people of Gubbio, he went to the wolf and made friends. He also discovered that the wolf was terrorizing the people because he was starving. When the people of Gubbio promised to feed the wolf, peace came to the land. What many people don’t know is that St. Francis had been a soldier and that before he gave up his life as the son of a wealthy textile merchant, he was a prisoner of war for one year in the town of Castelmonte. He knew suffering and his father wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and become a textile merchant, clothed in richly woven fabrics and finely made shoes. Francesco was an embarrassment to his father. In one of the most famous scenes of his life, when his father was trying to persuade him to change in front of the bishop of Assisi, he took off his fine clothes and shoes and literally left his riches and moved into a life of poverty—self-chosen. During the time St. Francis lived on this Earth, suffering was not hidden from view as it is often is today. In fact, I think that we are sometimes more bothered by having to “see” the suffering than the suffering itself. In Francesco’s time, people suffering from leprosy walked along the roads, ringing a bell to warn people of their coming. Poor people begged from house to house. Francesco’s father did not want his son to join those people—and he did. He and his growing group of followers depended on begging in order to eat. And there was complexity then as there is now. The people of Assisi knew that Francesco could have all the food he needed if he would simply behave himself and live with his parents. The religious leaders of Assisi tried to get him to change his mind and be an order that tilled the land like the Cistercians. Yet this life that he chose brought him and his followers closer and closer to a oneness with this Earth as a whole including the humans.

When he used his voice and sang Psalms, the birds felt such harmony that they flew above him in formation. This harmony did not happen by accident.

He made a practice of doing what New Age spirituality often bids us: Put your intentions out there in order to make things happen. His intentions, in the prayer that Mary Lou made into a beautiful song, are clear.

Make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

I love his choice of words: Make me an instrument. Like a violin or a saxophone or piano or in St. Francis’s time—a lute, a guitar-like instrument used by the troubadours when they sang—songs of love, stories of history, prayers. A voice is also called an instrument. When you sing your whole body becomes an instrument. Our vocal chords facilitate the sound—without them we couldn’t be heard—but the voice also needs breath and strength. And still there is mystery in singing for it can soothe or excite or move us to tears. Using one’s voice in song can bring joy to the listener and to the singer. And then when lots of these instruments we call voices come together—as we have in our choir—we are stirred together. In the interfaith world of Salt Lake City, we are known for having a wonderful choir—as if we are known as a beautiful instrument that stirs people and at the same time as choir members our voices are lifting us.

When people who live in Vermont or other states with politics that are more aligned with the environment hear that I live in Utah, they ask me, “How can you live there?” Utah is a beautiful place and there are many reasons why it is a great place to live—but the answer that wells up inside me is, “I have a voice in Utah.”

Have you ever not had a voice? There was a time in my life, shortly before I left the church of my ancestors that I literally lost my voice. That was one of the signs that led me along the path I walked to this place.

The human voice is a powerful instrument. When we love someone, their voice has great power to hurt us deeply or encourage us—give us heart and urge us to be our best selves.

When I listen to you, I hear that power when what you are saying aligns with your deepest passions. I have had that experience during the past weeks as we have been considering how to engage in this great conflict and opportunity in this country around racism. One day, talking with Ann Scarborough and her granddaughter Talia, I heard their passion for engaging with making this world a more just place for people of color and I wanted to bring their voices to you today.

Good morning, I am Talia Scarborough I’m Ann Scarborough’s granddaughter and today I want to talk a little about my passion to bring understanding and peace and justice around race. I want to start off with a quote. Nelson Mandela once said and I quote “No one is born hating another person because of the color of their skin, or their background or their religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite”, end quote. I believe in this idea 100%. We’re going to fight racism not with racism but with love and understanding. I believe there are 5 simple ways people can step up to fight racism and none of them involve violence.
1. Listen when people of color talk about everyday racism. Listen to their stories, hear their voice. All they want is to be heard, face it, isn’t that what we all want? To be heard? I do.
2. Honor the feelings of people of color in the discussion. Don’t become defensive and turn your back on them or think of a way you can rebuttle what they are saying. Validate their feelings, let them know it is okay to feel upset and sad and frustrated about the pressing problem that faces them today.
3. Ask a lot of questions. Try to understand instead of having your view point understood. Educate yourself, learn about them as people and put the color aside.
4. Challenge other people in your life to think more critically about racism. Your family, your friends, co-workers, teachers etc. we have a voice, let’s use it.
5. Openly call out and reject racism that is right in front of you. This could mean many things, i.e. when a worker at a store follows around a person of color while they’re shopping but doesn’t follow you.
6. Lastly, get involved, join and pledge to stand with the movement of black lives, peacefully protest, support Black Lives Matter, start a support group. If you don’t know what Black Lives Matter is or don’t understand it or fully support it, I’d encourage you to come talk to me after the service. I’d love to tell you a little more about it and why I support it.

In the end it all comes down to being a good person, be the positive light in not only your life, but somebody else’s life. Do good, be good. Listen, understand and love each other. Your life matters, my life matters. Thank you.

Thank you, Talia, for the great gift of your voice—which I believe is an instrument of peace. She has graciously offered to talk with you who have questions about Black Lives Matter to talk with her. She and Ann will also be present in the study group around racial justice that we will have at Wellspring Wednesdays. I invite you to listen deeply to one another’s voices—for it is in that space where our voices are vibrating through our hearts that understanding can be reached. The word “understanding” is key. Our intention is not for agreement, it is for understanding. For in understanding there is peace.

In the latter part of his life, St. Francis wanted to make peace in what we would now call the Middle East. The Crusades had brought great destruction as they tried to take back Jerusalem from the rule of Saladin who at the height of his power, ruled an area that included Egypt, Syria, and many parts of North Africa. Francis decided to take his message of love to the Saladin’s nephew. He and a companion, set out unarmed. As they approached, men of the Sultan’s army captured them and dragged them before the Sultan—just as they wished. St. Bonaventure, in his Major Life of St. Francis, described the event, “The sultan asked them by whom and why and in what capacity they had been sent, and how they got there; but Francis replied that they had been sent by God, not by men, to show him and his subjects the way of salvation and proclaim the truth of the Gospel message. When the sultan saw his enthusiasm and courage, he listened to him willingly and pressed him to stay with him.”

Francis shared with the Sultan what was to him the Good News and he also listened to the Sultan and learned about Islam. Instead of having a mark in history of a martyr’s death in Egypt, we have a story not of the Sultan’s conversion to Christianity but of a friendship.

In the encounter between them, both Francis and the Sultan were changed. When Francis finally left to return to Italy, the Sultan showered him with many gifts. Because he had no interest in worldly wealth, Francis refused them all, except one special gift: an ivory horn used to call the faithful to prayer. On his return, Francis used it to call people for prayer or for preaching.
Often, we want the people around us to change their beliefs—as St. Francis and the Sultan. Yet, avoiding speaking of our beliefs is not the answer. I knew that I would never change how my parents believed or how my brothers believe and those hard conversations when we expressed our deepest beliefs with respect brought us closer. On the day of my ordination, my father gave me this glass disc with the prayer of St. Francis—for he had come to believe that I wanted to be an instrument of peace and he supported that.

And sometimes my voice was full of anger over the death of Matthew Shepard, and LDS church policy. There are times when we must call out and say, “Pete Ogilvie, you know better than this.”
In our search in this sanctuary and our work around racial justice and Black Lives Matter, may we deepen our friendship with one another through speaking from our hearts and deeply listening. May we become formidable instruments of peace!

May it be so. Amen.