Postcards from Peaceburg | August 25

Jeremiah 1:4-10; 1 Timothy 4:12-16

Speaker: Mark Rupp

“We commit to: Learn from one another, allowing the wisdom of all ages to teach us”

A few weeks ago, on the Friday evening of our Peace Camp, I made a very exciting announcement.  I told the group that I had recently been elected mayor of the new town of Peaceburg.  Much like the similarly named Pittsburgh, Peaceburg was a city tri-sected by two rivers coming together to form a third river, leaving the city split into three large neighborhood sections. 

But, unlike most cities, my city, Peaceburg, was almost completely a blank slate with lots of resources and lots of room for new development in each of the three neighborhoods created by the rivers.  As the mayor, I needed help figuring out how to design my new city, what to put in it, where things should go, and, perhaps most importantly, how to do all this in a way that helped Peaceburg live up to its name and become a city where everyone could experience and practice peace. 

Lucky for me, I just happened to have access to a group of energetic young people who had just spent some time learning about what it means to be peacemakers and who also happened to be split into three small groups.  It’s almost like someone planned it out that way…

I will spare you all the finer details, but the short version is that in order to prepare the kids to help design Peaceburg, we first spent some time talking about what kinds of different spaces are part of a city, narrowing it down to five different zones represented by five different colors of construction paper: residential in blue, industrial in brown, commercial in yellow, institutional in orange, and public spaces in green.  I told them they could build whatever they wanted for their neighborhood as long as what they decided would fit into one of those categories. 

Then on Saturday morning, I created a rough map of Peaceburg on the Fellowship Hall floor using painters’ tape to represent the three rivers.  Each of the three groups was given a finite amount of each zoning color and let loose to design their neighborhood however they wanted, laying out their pieces of construction paper on the big (but probably-not-quite-to-scale) map. 

If this isn’t making much sense, you can check out the bulletin cover for a bit of a clearer picture.  

This activity was something that I adapted from a few other programs I had read about, but for the most part we were making it up as we went along.  So it was with a bit of fear and trembling that I unleashed those 20 kindergarten through fifth graders on my city, giving them free reign and not knowing just what might come out of it.  Other than the zoning restrictions, the only other way we tried to sway this experiment was that the adult leaders of each group encouraged their groups to think about what kinds of things a city needs to help people be at peace and be peacemakers.

Not only was I unsure of what they might come up with, I also wasn’t sure if they would be into the idea of designing their own city. 

Boy was I wrong to be worried about that.  Not only were they all excited about it, but I had to practically pull one child away from his neighborhood, assuring him he could come back and add more things after the next rotation. 

As would probably be expected, the three neighborhoods had their fair share of amusement parks, cookie factories, and craft supply stores.  But when pushed to think about building a community of peace, other ideas also started to emerge. 

In one neighborhood, they decided to build a welcome center to make sure new people would feel welcomed as soon as they moved in.  In another neighborhood, the group decided that instead of a police force, they would have what they called a “peace force.”  And in the other neighborhood, they decided to build a series of nature trails that pretty much connected everything together, making their neighborhood very walkable and bike friendly. 

Inner peace.  Peace with others.  Peace with all Creation…

Solar panel factories, community gardens, and recycling centers popped up across Peaceburg.  Restaurants were built with a buy-two-give-one-away model of operation.  One neighborhood had a bible factory and a Museum of God.  There was even a bank in one neighborhood that was giving out free money. 

And it’s really easy for us adults to think about a bank that gives out free money and smile politely, maybe giggling a little at the innocence of youth. 

The second commitment in our newly adopted membership commitment reads:  “We commit to…learn from one another, allowing the wisdom of all ages to teach us.”

When I think about this commitment, I can’t help but think about Peaceburg and imagine what it would really look like for the wisdom of children to teach us.  Sure, the idea of a bank that gives away money sounds absurd, but to the kindergartener who came up with the idea, it probably sounded like an obvious way to put people above profit. 

Jeremiah was probably a little older than a kindergartener when the voice of God spoke to him, telling him that he would be a prophet to the nations.  We don’t know how old he was, but even though he was most likely a little older than anyone on our Peaceburg design team, he still responded to God that he couldn’t be a prophet because he was just a boy. 

He’s not ready for this.  He’s too young.  He wouldn’t know what to say or how to say it.  His ideas aren’t all that well thought out or they won’t make sense with the way the world works.

“I’m just a boy, so why would anyone listen to me?”

It’s a common refrain from those whom God calls.  I can’t, because (fill in the blank).  Moses insists that he is not a good public speaker.  Isaiah tries to convince God that he is unworthy.  Ezekiel tells God he wouldn’t have any idea what to say.  Jonah runs in the other direction because he despises those God has called him to prophesy to. 

But God assures Jeremiah that not only has God known him and consecrated him as a prophet since before he was even born, but God will be with Jeremiah through the entirety of this uncertain journey of living out that call. 

Jeremiah’s youthfulness is not an obstacle to his calling, and I would suggest that it is perhaps a strength to the task to which he is being called.

At the end of the passage read this morning, the voice of God tells Jeremiah that he has been appointed “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” 

Unlike the blank landscape of Peaceburg, Jeremiah has inherited a landscape that is very much full.  He doesn’t get to just prophesy about cookie factories and community gardens because before he can even get to the building up and planting new seeds, there are a lot of things that need to be overthrown and destroyed. 

The systems and structures of the political, religious, and social landscapes of Jeremiah’s time had become so ingrained in cycles of injustice and violence that they must be torn down in order for the seeds of peace and justice to even have room to grow.

Just beyond where we stopped reading this morning, God and Jeremiah have a further exchange where God invites Jeremiah to take that first step into his prophetic call.  God asks Jeremiah, “What do you see?”  It’s a simple enough question, but it is one that is essential to the vocation of the prophet because prophets often have to tell hard truths about the world around them. 

Walter Brueggeman writes a lot about the prophets, and in a sermon that I read recently, he defined three tasks of the prophet.  The first is to “be clear on the force and illegitimacy of the totalism” that exists in society.  The prophet is called to tell the truth about the ways power has been centralized and utilized for oppressive ends.  The second task is to “pronounce the truth about the force of the totalism that contradicts the purpose of God.”  The prophet is called to boldly proclaim that things are not as they are meant to be.  And the final task of the prophet, according to Brueggeman, is to “articulate the alternative world that God has promised, and that God is birthing before our very eyes.”  The prophet is called to dream a new world into being.

There is nothing about these prophetic tasks that is completely limited by age, but they are perhaps well-suited to the young who have not been quite so jaded to the overwhelming nature of how messed up our world really is, who have not lost their ability to be shocked, and who are not afraid to imagine new possibilities just because they don’t have all the details worked out yet about how to get there. 

So, young people, old people, all of us, what do we see? 

Just like Jeremiah didn’t inherit a blank landscape, neither do we.  In his midweek blog this past week, Joel wrote about how August marks 400 years since the first slave ship docked in the U.S.  It was a beginning that shaped and continues to shape the landscape of our nation and the world.  There is still much plucking up and pulling down to be done before the sin of white supremacy can be eradicated.

Last week I went on a learning tour of the borderlands where I heard stories of those who had been held in detention centers for years without ever knowing when they might have a chance to have their asylum cases heard; I saw the infamous wall, one side lined with barbed wire and armed guards, the other lined with crosses memorializing those who had either disappeared or been killed; I watched a court proceeding where nearly 30 detainees were processed through the system at a time, being treated more like cattle than human beings.  There are still so many walls both literal and metaphorical than need to be destroyed and overthrown before the sin of nationalism can be absolved from our collective souls.

The systems and structures of the political, religious, and social landscapes of our time have become so ingrained in cycles of injustice and violence that they must be torn down in order for the seeds of peace and justice to even have room to grow.

What realities do you see around you?  What hard truths need to be spoken?  And what new possibilities do you see emerging? 

We commit to learn from one another, allowing the wisdom of all ages to teach us. 

Peaceburg may have been a fictional experiment, but make no mistake, there was wisdom there for us all to learn from if we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts willing to not just learn with our minds but to allow that wisdom to transform our shared life.

So to our young people out there: as Paul writes to Timothy, so I say to you, let no one look down on you for your youth.  Never doubt that you have wisdom that this church and, more importantly, this world needs.  Do not neglect that gift that has been given to you, but nurture it daily, trusting that God goes with you wherever you may be called. 

God calls prophets, young and old, to help us see both what needs to be torn down and what new possibilities are emerging.  From Jeremiah to Jesus to Timothy and beyond, we need those brave enough to accept the call, to tell us hard truths, and to help us dream a new world into being without getting caught up in the trappings of what is practical.  From my time getting to know the young people of CMC, I truly believe that the wisdom they have to teach us could really turn things upside down in the best possible way. 

And so, my wish for us, my friends, is

  • That we would live into our commitment to learning from the wisdom of all ages, allowing children to lead us in meaningful ways.
  • That we would be willing to both tell the truth about the world around us and to believe that a new world is not just possible but necessary.
  • And finally, that whether young or old or anywhere in between, we would have the courage to accept God’s call, trusting that wherever we go, God goes with us to guide, to comfort, to challenge, and to inspire.