|Sermon to the 173rd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont
by the Most Rev. Martín Barahona
November 12, 2005
Bishop of El Salvador and Primate of IARCA
[Anglican Episcopal Church of El Salvador - Central America]
Isaiah 2:1-5: The Lord reunites the Nations in the eternal peace of the reign of God.
Ephesians 2: 13-18: He is our peace, and he makes of the two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, one sole mission.
Luke 10: 1-12: Your peace will rest on them.
I have come from El Salvador with greetings of peace and love for Bishop Tom Ely, his distinguished wife, Ann, the clerical and lay delegates of this Convention and other distinguished participants. My wife, Betty, and I, in the name of our beloved Church of El Salvador, greet you, and extend to you a strong embrace from the people of El Salvador and the people of Central America.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to come and share with you hopes for mission in these most difficult times. Thank you for your support and love for Christ’s mission in El Salvador.
We had twelve years of war in which 100,000 died, 7,000 disappeared and a million were displaced. Two million emigrated, most to the US. Among the negative consequences is the destruction of the family. It is now thirteen years since the peace accords, but today in my country, 13 people die daily from violence. El Salvador is the second country in family violence. We have over 65,000 youth in gangs and just 35,000 in the national police force. Seven thousand youth are in prison. This is a very sad picture.
Only 2% of the people in El Salvador control most of the political power and economic wealth. 20% constitute a small middle class, and the rest of the people live in poverty.
The biblical texts that we have read today all have a central theme of “peace.” Peace is one of the marvelous fruits of justice. While it may be easy to ask how can we have peace, the answers are difficult, and sometimes there are no answers at all.
Justice is a central concept of ethics and philosophy, of rights, of political and social life and, really, also of Christian theology and life. The relationship between justice and faith in an appropriate balance gives us peace.
This is specifically what the biblical texts affirm for us. The text from Isaiah, which we heard, is the most ancient writing on this theme. It presents the image of Jerusalem as the center and place of the eschatological destiny for all people, Jerusalem as the capitol of the world in which God’s salvation takes place. An extraordinary and marvelous image, it is the representation of God’s Kingdom, which would put an end to all war.
Paul repeats the same image in the text from Ephesians. The Gentiles could not enter the holy city, but Christ broke down the walls, and today there is neither Jew nor Gentile; we are all one in Christ.
The messianic peace comes in this way: founded on reconciliation with God, in unity with other human beings united in the spirit. If this is true, then it includes this past Monday, 24 October, when Roman Catholics and Jews celebrated forty years of the declaration, “Nostra Aetate,” which means ‘new era.’ God is father of all and because of this we are one.
Luke, for his part, speaks to us about the mission of the seventy disciples, which is the proclamation of the prophecy of God, the greeting of peace that has the power to cure the sick and raise the dead.
There is peace when there is respect for life, when all have all their basic life needs covered.
But unfortunately, we live in a world that is far from the ideals of the Bible.
Last week, a group of 13 and 14 year olds came to my office, asking for help and support in their struggle against being drawn into the gang culture. The kids begged me to offer resources that would protect them from the seduction of gang life and peer pressure. Imagine their cries when they said, ‘We don’t want any more compassion, we want justice!’ What would you do?
I lament that the biblical message and reality are so far apart. After 12 years of war, with so many dead and disappeared, we live in a world of violence.
How many died innocently in the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York, in the attacks on the trains in Madrid and London; how much destruction has there been in Afghanistan and Iraq; the region of Israel and Palestine in constant attacks where people, including innocent children, die? The security wall in Israel makes one sad and ashamed. What do we do when we hear in the text that Christ tears down the walls that separate us? My brothers and sisters, what kind of a world is this? A wall is being built between Mexico and the United States. This is also a shame and a sadness. Last night we heard that two-thirds of humanity lives in extreme poverty.
Even we, Anglicans and Episcopalians, are divided and thrown into a polarizing controversy that is contrary to the Anglican tradition where, for centuries, we have lived united in diversity. I once said to Bishop Tutu that he was reading the Bible politically. He answered, “They say the Bible isn’t political, but it is talking to me, and I am responding to it.”
My brothers and sisters, I bring you good news: Justice and peace are born and live uniquely in the hearts of human beings, and I know that you Vermonters are people of a heart that looks for justice. Because of this, you live in peace with other human beings, you live in peace with God, and with yourselves. You have understood that peace is not only signing a declaration or a document but it is also living in peace and working toward it.
Justice and peace are born and develop in the human heart. Because of this, you are generous. If there is still a person who does not feel peace in his or her heart, go and be reconciled with your brother and sister, because more than ever, we need reconciliation — reconciliation with God, with our family, with our neighbor; reconciliation with the environment, reconciliation with our society, with everyone. Our peace will be full and complete in the Name of Christ our Lord.
May we, in this convention, have the experience of sharing peace with one another, for we are all brothers and sisters in the one Christ.
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.