The Gospel of Luke is the original Broadway Gospel. It’s like every time something big happens, the characters in the story break into song. When the pregnant Mary goes to her cousin Elizabeth’s house, she breaks into song. (#119) “My soul gives glory to my God…” When the angels appear to the shepherds in the field, they break into song. (#125) “Gloria! In Excelsis Deo. Gloria!” When Mary and Joseph present the infant Jesus at the temple, the elder Simeon breaks into song. (#807): “Holy One, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled.” When John the Baptist enters the scene proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, Luke can’t help it—he breaks into song. (Handel): The voice of one crying in the wilderness: (Godspell): Prepare ye the way of the Lord, In Luke, even the sermons are sung (Ness Beck): Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low…
There is lots of singing in the Gospel of Luke. But perhaps no song is sweeter than the one sung by Zechariah. Zechariah was a priest of the temple. He and his wife Elizabeth were very faithful. Despite their faithfulness, though, they had not been blessed with children.
Once a year, a priest was selected to go into the temple to make a special offering for the people. This particular year, Zechariah had been chosen. While he’s in the temple, an angel appears to Zechariah, tells him that he and his wife Elizabeth are going to have a baby. They’ll name him John. Zechariah’s response to this joyful news? “How will I know this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” And the survey said, BLAST! Wrong answer. Zechariah’s punishment for not believing the angel’s good news? “You will become mute until these things occur.”
Struck mute. Man, that had to be hard for Zechariah. Maybe not so much for Elizabeth… but for Zechariah, really hard. Which had to make his joy at the birth of his son that much more joyous. No wonder he breaks into song! Let’s sing that song together. (#110)
Now bless the God of Israel, who comes in love and power,
Who raises from the royal house deliverance in this hour.
Through holy prophets God has sworn to free us from alarm,
To save us from the heavy hand of all who wish us harm.
Remembering the covenant, God rescues us from fear,
That we might serve in holiness and peace from year to year;
And you, my child, shall go before to preach, to prophesy,
That all may know the tender love, the grace of God most high.
In tender mercy, God will send the dayspring from on high,
Our rising sun, the light of life for those who sit and sigh,
God comes to guide our way to peace, that death shall reign no more.
Sing praises to the Holy One! O worship and adore.
If this number were being staged, Zechariah would be holding little John, singing these words as a lullaby. “And you, my child, shall go before to preach, to prophesy, that all may know the tender love, the grace of God most high.” Here’s how the last verse of Zechariah’s song reads in Luke 1: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” To guide our feet into the way of peace. Then we’re told that “the child grew and became strong in spirit…” Growing up hearing his dad sing these kinds of songs to him, to pray these kinds of things for him? It’s no wonder John became “strong in spirit.”
But peaceful? I’m not so sure John got that message. We see in Luke 3 that John did fulfill his dad’s vision of his “going out to preach and prophesy.” But peace? Here’s John’s first sermon: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’” “Guide our feet into the way of peace?” I think John was still trying figure out the peace part.
How about you? Do you have the peace thing figured out? Do you pray for God to guide your feet into the way of peace? Do you know when you’re actually walking in that way?
It took her about 15 years to figure it out, but a woman who took the name Peace Pilgrim, let her steps be guided by peace for 28 years. Born into a comfortable middle class family, Peace was a typical teenager and young woman. She loved fashion, was looking for the good things in life. But on a walk through the woods one evening, a voice came to her. She began to question her choices in life. She didn’t know exactly what it meant, but she began listening to this voice….and slowly, bit by bit, her life changed.
It began with helping her neighbors, staying with a sick friend during that friend’s convalescence, assisting troubled youth. During her years of discernment, she began to feel the burden of ownership…so she started getting rid of her possessions. In a palpable way, the strong connection between inner peace and world peace began to crystallize.
Finally, Peace knew what she was being called to do: she would walk across the country spreading the message of peace….she would walk, in fact, until world peace had been achieved.
She began, of all places, at the Rose Bowl Parade, New Year’s Day 1953. In a simple tunic that announced who she was in stenciled letters—Peace Pilgrim—Peace began her pilgrimage for peace. Here’s the explanation of her pilgrimage Peace gave to people along her journey of seven trips of walking across the United States:
“You may see her walking through your town or along the highway—a silver-haired woman dressed in navy blue slacks and shirt, and a short tunic with pockets all around the bottom in which she carries her only worldly possessions. It says, “PEACE PILGRIM” in white letters on the front of the tunic and “25,000 Miles On Foot for Peace” on the back. She has walked the 25,000 miles. However, she continues to walk, for her vow is, “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food.” She walks without a penny in her pockets and she is not affiliated with any organization. She walks as a prayer and as a chance to inspire others to pray and work with her for peace.” (vii)
Peace walked until she died—ironically in a car accident. (http://www.peacepilgrim.org/)
I can already hear the pushback I’m going to get in Sunday School. “Are you saying we should sell everything we have and start walking around the country for peace?” Not at all. Peace Pilgrim was very clear from the beginning that embarking on a peace pilgrimage was her calling, a calling it took her 15 years to discern. A big part of her mission was to invite others to think about what their calling to peace might be.
What do you imagine your calling to peace might be? I was a little hard on John the Baptist earlier, with all that brood of vipers stuff. The truth is, when his listeners began pushing back, he gave them some good ideas about how to create peace: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Luke tells us that “even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do? He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’”
The thing that’s interesting about these last two suggestions is that they’re made to people in specific professions, tax collectors and soldiers. John tailors his responses to those people based on where they are in life….because that’s where the way of peace begins, isn’t it? Not necessarily on some grand pilgrimage around the country, but in the small actions of our everyday lives. It’s good to hear about people like John the Baptist and Peace Pilgrim, people who were able to commit every aspect of their lives to the way of peace.
But it’s equally important to think about our own lives. Are we doing all we can for peace? Is there some way—in the lives we’re living right now—that we might take just a tiny step toward peace? Let that be our prayer as we sing together hymn #497, “Guide My Feet.”
69 He has raised up a mighty saviour* for us in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us74that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon* us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’