Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (2 Kings 6:8-23) transports me to a meeting in the home of my college ethics professor, Page Lee, back in the spring of 1984. Dr. Lee invited students in the religion department and others who had an interest to come and spend time in conversation with the college’s visiting scholar in the Staley Lecture Series, ethicist Glen Stassen. As a double major in religion and political science, I found ethics to be a captivating field of study. My vocational plan was to put faith and politics together in law school; I was especially interested in some of the law schools that offered joint degrees in social work, leading to a career in advocacy. That evening with Glen Stassen changed all that. It wasn’t so much his particular ethical framework, his way of systematizing the big questions and dilemmas facing our world, that drew me in. As rigorous and compelling as his system of ethics was, it was his stories that grabbed me that night at Dr. Lee’s home. Glen lifted up generally unknown or forgotten biblical stories, and showed how they demonstrated an ethic of peacemaking, based on what he called transforming initiatives. He also lifted up largely unknown or forgotten stories of incredible people throughout history who had radically transformed their society, through peacemaking initiatives. I was completely pulled into these stories, and decided then that law school was not my destination. I hadn’t given seminary a thought, but after talking with Glen, I made my way to Southern in Louisville, so I could continue the conversation. I not only took classes with Dr. Stassen, I was part of a peacemaker group with him at our church. We often laughed about Glen’s story-telling capacity; it seemed that every peaceful solution to a world crisis that had ever been achieved could be traced back to some Baptist peacemaker or group of peacemakers engaged in transforming initiatives. The Berlin wall falling down? Glen could tell you all about the East German Baptists who had worked long and hard, inching their way toward that goal (he loved the German folk saying, steady drops hollow out the stone). Solidarity in Poland? Baptist peacemakers were at work. End of apartheid in South Africa? There’s a Baptist peacemaker in there somewhere. He knew the stories, and could tell them with such passion and enthusiasm, that we all were convinced peace really was possible anywhere and anytime, if someone would simply follow the practices of just peacemaking, and find creative ways to take transforming initiatives.
Jesus must have had some form of a peacemaker group in his formative years, or maybe he had someone like Glen Stassen in his life. Someone must have lifted up all those largely forgotten and obscure peacemaking stories from Jesus’ own religious tradition, since these stories are so foundational to his own ministry and teaching. All those times he was caught eating and drinking with the wrong crowd, fraternizing with the enemy, could they have been transforming initiatives he based on stories like the one we read today in 2 Kings? It’s a fabulous story of prophetic peacemaking. Elisha had been hard at work praying for as well as actively working for peace in the midst of the Israelites war with their Aramite neighbors. His inward journey of prayer led to some pretty miraculous outward journey expressions of action. The episode in today’s passage has Elisha hoodwinking the Aramite army, leading them into a trap square in the center of the Israelite power base. Once they were trapped, the King was ready to pounce, and asked his trusted adviser, should we go ahead and kill them now? It was the logical thing to do. Put an end to all their terrorist attacks. No, the prophet replied. No killing today. Let’s throw a banquet for them. Let’s get out the fine china, kill the fatted calf, and feed them. Let’s celebrate our common humanity, and feed our common hunger. Perhaps a minor miracle in this story of major miracles is that the king listened to Elijah and followed his directions. The transforming initiative worked. The raiding bands of warriors went back home and quit their raiding, leaving the Israelites in peace. It’s no less astounding, and yet no less possible, than the Berlin Wall falling down without violence or the Velvet Revolution ending communism in Czechoslovakia without a shot being fired.
These are the stories we need to be teaching children in Sunday School. These are the stories that have the power to change the way a new generation sees the possibilities of peace in a war-torn world. These are the stories and the people we should be celebrating in our calendar of saints. I was so happy to read recently that Glen Stassen is being celebrated by the Baptist World Alliance for his lifetime achievement (which is ongoing). This summer he will receive the Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award, an annual award that recognizes those who do an outstanding job in defending and promoting human rights. Many congratulations and blessings for Glen on this well-deserved tribute. I do hope he tells a few stories when he accepts the award.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.