This sermon is dedicated this morning to my friend, Ken Brown, long-time director of the Peace Studies Institute at Manchester College who is hospitalized today in Cleveland, OH. Ken has influenced and shaped me in profound ways as I try to be a peacemaker in this world.
This morning as we celebrate Peace and Justice Sunday, as we focus our attentions on a hungry world which calls out for peacemakers on national and international levels, and within our community and our world, I would like to draw your attention, first to one man. The man is Rupert Sheldrake.
Rupert Shedrake, a man whose name doesn’t readily roll off the tongue. A man who must of us don’t probably sit around and discuss over our morning coffee or see waltzing on Dancing with the Stars. Rupert Sheldrake, the theoretical biologist who discovered the Morphic Field Theory. A theory which many of us have never heard of and which until recently I was convinced existed mostly to stump graduate students during their GRE exams. Okay, show of hands…who understands Morphic Field theory? And which of you would like to explain how it relates to peace and justice? Anyone?
Morphic field theory can be described, very roughly, this way: a change in behavior happens in a species when a critical mass—the exact number—is reached. Now, until fairly recently, the past week to be exact, I had never heard of Rupert Sheldrake or morphic field theory. And to be quite honest, if Robert or Tess or Brynn tried to explain it to me while I was preparing dinner one night I may just be inclined to nod politely and go on tossing the salad. But, I happened upon this theory in, of all things, a book on spirituality and I want to share with you an allegory that explains this theory.
Off the shores of Japan, scientists had been studying monkey colonies on many separate small islands for over thirty years. In order to keep track of the monkeys, they would lure them out of the trees by dropping sweet potatoes on the beach. Well, the monkeys came to enjoy this free lunch, and were often in plain sight where they could be observed as they noshed on their carbohydrate-rich snacks. One day, on one small islands, an 18-month-old monkey named Imo started to wash her sweet potato in the sea before she popped it into her mouth and ate it. No one knows why she did it. Perhaps it tasted better without all the grit and sand and teeny tiny bugs on it. Perhaps the seawater salted the potato and created a new taste sensation in her little monkey mouth. But, for whatever reason, our sweet Imo changed the pattern of monkey behavior. Imo then showed her playmates, the monkey version of playgroup, and then her mother how to do this. And it wasn’t long before her friends started showing their parent monkeys, and gradually, little by little, all over the island monkeys began to wash their sweet potatoes in the sea rather than eating them grit and all. Call it the latest monkey craze, sort of like the Beatles or bell bottoms, sweeping over the island.
One day the scientists observed that all the monkeys on that particular island washed their sweet potatoes before eating them. Now, although this was significant, what was even more fascinating, and the part where I start to get excited, was that this change in monkey behavior did NOT take place only on one island. Suddenly, dramatically, monkeys on other islands were now washing their sweet potatoes as well, despite the fact that monkey colonies on different islands had no direct contact with each other, so this was not simply socialization.
There was, then a monkey who made all the difference. This monkey became called in theory the “hundredth monkey.” And the 100th one was the hypothesized anonymous monkey that tipped the scales for the species. This 100th monkey was the one whose change in behavior meant that all monkeys would from then on wash their sweet potatoes before eating them.
This allegory, this description of Rupert Sheldrake’s Morphic Field Theory fills me with great hope and gives me tingles because of what it has to teach us. A promise is made clear. A truth is revealed. When a critical number of people change their behavior, change their way of thinking, change their way of responding to the world, the larger culture will change as well. What this story tells us is that what was at first unthinkable, what was at first unimaginable, what was at first written off as too preposterous, what was at first deemed hopeless can become the norm. A shift is constantly being made, a way of being is forever altered. Someone has to be the 37th monkey, and the 63rd, and the 99th, before there is a 100th monkey—and here’s the thrilling part, no one knows how far away we are, or how unimaginably close to change that hundredth monkey is until suddenly, amazingly, we are there.
The prophet Micah was one who knew about change. He was one who knew about waiting for the climate to shift, who knew what it was like to live in a world where prophets are seen as little more tha crazy town criers. Micah was a common man, a poor man who lived in the hills of Judea just to the south and west of Jerusalem. He had seen the land of Israel become corrupt. He had heard tales of the glory days and prosperity of that land. And he lamented both the loss of Israel’s faith, the selling out of the vision of what they could be, and the weakening of his own country of Judah after the rule of King Hezekiah. And yet, Micah was not afraid to speak. He was not afraid to join his voice, the voice of a property-less peasant, the voice of country-boy with the voices of Isaiah, and Hosea in crying out for social justice, and envisioning a new Jerusalem. Micah must have known in his bones what it meant to convert a culture to a way of redemption, to crave a world of peace. Micah believed that a cry for justice must be made in a tiny village first, and that it might just have the power to echo into the neighboring hills, and then seep on into the city, and from there be spoken out into the world. Micah was not afraid of being the first monkey, if we refer to Morphic Field theory…and his voice, his prophesy, resonates centuries later.
Listen to a few of his words from the fourth and fifth chapters of Micah spoken in contemporary language through Eugene Peterson’s translation of The Bible:
God will establish justice in the rabble of nations and settle disputes in faraway places. They’ll trade in their swords for shovels, their spears for rakes and hoes. Nations will quit fighting each other, quite learning how to kill one another. Each man will sit under his own shade tree, each woman in safety will tend her own garden.
And after issuing his proclamation of peace, he goes on to predict that one will rise up to lead that movement, “And the people will have a good and safe home, for the whole world will hold him in respect—Peacemaker of the world!”
The prophet Micah lived his life proclaiming the truth that he knew. Demanding the peace that was in short supply. Starting a movemement that would swell until it could no longer be ignored. And predicting that only one who proclaimed peace could lead the people.
I think peace must be like that. Great movements of peace must begin with these tiny seeds, these tiny voices, these soft pleas for justice in tiny back water towns. And then their rippling, their waves create wider circles. The Micah’s of the world must speak, because these prophets create a culture that is made ready for peace. And it is only then that we can hear, and it is only then that we can begin. It is only then that we can imagine the scales tipping, from violence to nonviolence, from judgment to mercy, from brokenness to healing, from isolation to welcome, from that first monkey to that hundredth.
Jesus, the prince of peace, the prophet of prophets lived and breathed and walked among us. And he too had a few words to say about peace, and about love. And while we have grown comfortable with the knowledge that he offers us inner peace, we have to remember that he also spent a great deal of his time on this earth disturbing the peace as well, and we dare not forget that.
We dare not forget that our call as peacemakers calls us to disturb the peace because there are still children who will go to bed tonight with rumbling stomachs. And there are still people sleeping under bridges while the gradually cooling autumn wind blows in gusts through their thin clothes. We dare not forget that are call as peacemakers calls us to disturb the peace because there are still people who are having their homes demolished in Palestine and there are still Israelis being killed by rocks. We dare not forget that our call as peacemakers calls us to disturb the peace because as of October 21st there have been 5,758 United States soldiers killed in the global war on terror and the civilian and Iraqi and Afghan deaths are too numerous to count. We dare not forget that our call as peacemakers calls us to disturb the peace because the latest studies show that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
We dare not forget that our call as peacemakers calls us to disturb the peace because there are still children bullied so severely that they take their own lives and there are still children who have no one to tell them that they are loved. We dare not forget that our call as peacemakers calls us to disturb the peace because the discrepancies between the rich and poor only grow greater and this social stratification continues to divide our society into haves and have nots. We dare not forget that our call as peacemakers, our call to beat our swords into plowshares are not just pretty words to read in worship once a year. To be peacemakers we must disturb the peace to make a difference.
Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors of all time, and someone I promise that you will hear me quote in many many sermons to come says it simply and humorously this way: “Jesus said, ‘The point is not to hate and kill each other today.’ Can you write that down and put it by the phone?”
Disturbing the peace means that we write it down and put it by the phone, lest we forget.
Friends, as followers of the living Christ, as listeners to the words of the prophet Micah, there is a call set before us. And perhaps we are on the cusp, on the edge of something profound and new. Maybe, just maybe there is some small act of peace, some tiny act of justice that we can do that can tip the scale for humanity. Perhaps by doing so we might be that 100th monkey, the one to usher in a radical change, a change unlike any we’ve ever known before. And maybe we’re just that one step away if we follow the peacemaker and simply disturb the peace.