November 27, 2022, First Sunday of Advent, Sermon preached by Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund

Year A; Advent 1FB; 11.27.2022

Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 24:36-44

            In the 1979 Viet Nam War movie, “Apocalypse Now,” the character that Robert Duval played was a loose-cannon type Army Cavalry officer supervising a helicopter gunship fly-over of a coastal village. The approach to the village was designed to intimidate and destroy the village supposedly harboring the enemy.  

            The intimidation was loud speakers playing Wagner’s “The Ride of the Walkyrie” upon the approach. The destruction came by a deadly constant barrage of machine gun fire and aerial napalm incineration of acres of land. Men, women and children scatter in the onslaught. And the camera pans to a smiling, self-satisfied Robert Duval character, saying,

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

            There are several things I hate very much about this scene. I hate that his statement is about the deadly use of napalm and his delight. I hate that the killing was steady and indiscriminate. And I hate that to this day that I can quote the Robert Duval character, remembering his line as a “Hollywood writer’s” pithy line delivered by a great actor.

            The prophet Isaiah is the first to point out to the people of Israel, the nations, you and me in the Advent reading today, the special instruction God is ready to give to the people about peace. We heard this morning in the reading that all people, all nations, all languages, all religions, all modes of life – all are called to come to Zion, to the mountaintop, to receive God’s instruction. The instruction is simple and plain; the instruction is of peace and an end to the learning of war.

            Isaiah says, “[God] shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” In teaching peace to all the nations, God promises the end of teaching war…No more “War College.” No more field strategy and tactical planning. No more riding with the gunship cavalry. No more napalm. No more threat of “dirty” nuclear bombs. No more stock piles of mutually annihilating nuclear weapons.

            God’s promise of peace is by no means Pollyanna or naïve. God’s promise of peace is happening now for us all in God’s realm. All people of God’s creation receive God’s instruction of peace. No one is left out from this instruction: Peace on earth. Good will to all people. PERIOD. That’s the instruction. That’s the message. That’s the promise. And God’s promise does not diminish as human horrors of war persist.

            “…neither shall they learn war anymore.”

            We may not be surprised to learn that slaves knew this promise about war more than anyone. One of the best African American Spirituals is given to us as a gift of peace, and a legacy of this passage in Isaiah. “Down by the Riverside” is a Spiritual that originated around the time of the American Civil War. I found a YouTube video of Sister Rosetta Tharp playing her electric guitar in front of an all-male chorus singing, “Down by the Riverside.”

Sister Rosetta Tharp was the first electric guitar pioneer who paired guitar with gospel music.  She became popular in the 30s and 40s with her rhythm and blues gospel music. She influenced people like Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Eric Clapton.

            She was born in Arkansas and learned to sing and dance in the church she grew up in. There, women were encouraged to lead and sing and dance. I hope you’ll tune in to her YouTube video performance of “Down by the Riverside.” It gives us all hope in peace in God’s promise to learn war NO MORE.

“Gonna lay down my heavy load

Down by the riverside, down by the riverside, down by the riverside,

Gonna lay down my sword and shield

Down by the riverside.

Ain’t gonna study war no more.”

Even in the American Civil War, slaves believed in God’s instruction of peace and an end to war.

            The Church arrives at the Season of Advent today as the war in Ukraine still wages. As Russia loses, it still sends long-range missiles to damage cities, towns and homes, leaving people to live in the cold and dark. And God says, “Lay down your sword and shield. Lay down your AR-15 and automatic weapons.”

As Advent begins, more mass killings due to gun violence are adding up in this country with more and more frequency and destruction. Safe places that once were never considered dangerous have been places of mass killing: safe places like Club Q in Colorado Springs and Wal Mart in Chesapeake, Virginia are no longer safe. In the news, we know of a total of eleven people in less than a week that were killed by gun violence. And that doesn’t count the three University of Virginia college students killed only two weeks ago.

            An interview on NPR played Friday of the owners of Club Q in Colorado Springs. For 20 years, their mission has been to provide a safe place for families and friends and LGTBQ people to joyfully gather and delight in the music. This was a place where patrons were able to dance and be free. It was a safe place for gay and straight families to gather without fear.

One person who was interviewed said that it was their safe place and that dancing was the way many LGTBQ members of the community felt free in their bodies. Now, they said, that freedom has been shattered.

And yet, I have hope that God’s peace in people of good will and love will end the violence. My hope is in a poem of an image of Jesus that is circulating among people of faith and the LGBTQ community. It’s the truest image of Jesus I’ve ever encountered. It is written by a British Trans poet who loves Jesus. This is the Jesus of peace and love we are preparing for this Advent Season:

The poem is,

Jesus at the Gay Bar by Jay Hulme, from “The Backwater Sermons”

He’s here in the midst of it –

right at the centre of the dance floor,

robes hitched up to His knees

to make it easy to spin.

At some point in the evening

a boy will touch the hem of His robe

and beg to be healed, beg to be

anything other than this;

and He will reach His arms out,

sweat-damp, and weary from dance.

He’ll cup this boy’s face in His hand

and say,

my beautiful child