Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” -Matthew 16:24-27

On Monday, I read a depressing assessment of the humanitarian crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan put out by Christian Peacemaker Teams. The Yazidi people were trapped in the Shangal mountains, and while I always think of mountains as kind of cold and wet, these mountains are not. They’re hot. Children were dying of thirst.

It’s a sorry state of affairs when “dying of thirst” isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. The Islamic State, invaders in the region, buried many Yazidis alive. Members of the army raped women and sold them into slavery. Just this morning, news broke that the Islamic State shot “scores” of men and abducted all the women and children they could. The entire community is on the run.

I read a story about a Yazidi woman giving birth in the mountains because she had nowhere else to go. It terrified me. I couldn’t let it go. I also didn’t keep the tab open on my computer, though, so of course when I went to write about it, the page was nowhere to be found. Instead, what the great and mighty Google gave me was a Gospel passage in which Jesus is predicting the fall of Jerusalem:  How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

Every generation thinks that, I guess- thinks that our days of distress are unequaled by anything behind or ahead of us in human history.

If you’ve been paying attention to the situation in Iraq, then you know that the path to rescuing the Yazidi people was opened with bombs. Christian Peacemaker Teams doesn’t support bombing, of course, but they’re also known for being honest. So, they wrote that “As people who believe that “non-violence can move mountains,” we have failed this time. The current Yazidi “mountain” is at this moment being moved by weapons and military powers.”

What good is our Peace Testimony, one Friend asked me, when people are dying? Are the mountains ever moved by peace? Does our commitment to peace leave us stuck on the sidelines when vulnerable people need our help? George Fox insisted that “we certainly know, and testify to the world, that the Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons…” Never. Not ever. Won’t be happening.

But what if we’re just honestly pointing out that standing around peacefully didn’t help the Yazidis and the bombs did? What if it seems like there’s not much else for us to do, if we won’t fight?

Christian Peacemaker Teams was started by a sermon by Ron Sider. In it, he critiqued the pseudopacifism of just not getting involved. Sider pointed out the inconvenient fact that while it may feel more peaceful to stay out of the way, that’s not what Jesus did. Had Jesus taken that route, he never would have ended up on the cross.

Far from being a quiet avoider of conflict, Jesus posed a direct challenge to the unjust order of his time, a challenge so vivid and courageous that only two options emerged: either the status quo could shape itself around this new prophetic voice, or it could put that voice to death. There wasn’t any middle option.

Is that the Jesus that we’re following? Is that the model after whom we are patterning our lives?

Sider asked us to imagine what this world would look like if we were willing to die by the thousands for the sake of peace. Imagine a world in which peace-seeking Christians were willing to throw their bodies like sticks into the spokes of a wheel. Imagine a world in which Quakers, alongside our peace-loving friends, were willing to lay their lives down in protest.

After all, people go to war all the time knowing that they might die, and we call them heroes for their courage. Do we who fight the Lamb’s War think that we will pay a lower price?

In other words, Friends, maybe it’s time to take up our crosses. Jesus suggested this route in today’s Gospel passage, and Peter took him aside to talk it over- you know, Jesus, this isn’t really a good PR move. You need to stay on message, here. We need to be talking about victory, not defeat.

Jesus calls Peter Satan, and tells him he doesn’t understand divine things. Then: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. What do you do with that? What if it’s not metaphorical? It wasn’t metaphorical for Jesus, anyhow- he took up a literal cross.

So, that article on the Yazidi people shook me on Monday because I couldn’t even imagine being chased out of my home to die in the mountains. What shakes me about it now is that at the time I was reading it, Michael Brown from Ferguson, Missouri had been dead for two days. What shakes me now is that while I was reading that article from Christian Peacemaker Teams, I didn’t even know Michael Brown’s name.

Ferguson is now officially in a state of emergency. The news is full of images of tear gas canisters, armored vehicles, police officers in riot gear facing down protesters in the streets. The New York Times reported that when Michael Brown was shot, a woman on the scene who identified as a nurse begged to be able to do CPR. The police refused, and left the body lying in the street uncovered for four hours instead.

Since then, the officer who shot Brown and his girlfriend have left their house behind. Friends are stopping by to pick up their mail. I wonder where they are, and how they’re doing, and if they feel safe. I wonder if they have peace.

And I worry about the cops still on duty, to be honest. A Friend reminded me this week that policing is a dangerous job. I watched a video last night of a black woman being beaten by a cop – she is a great-grandmother, if that matters – and I wonder how much less safe the good police officers who are just trying to do their jobs are in a world where a police uniform doesn’t imply justice. I’d hate to know that any of my family were trying to keep the peace in Ferguson right now. Right or wrong, I’d be worried sick about their safety.

Sider asked us to imagine a world in which a hundred thousand Christians could be deployed to hot spots around the world to stand between warring parties. I try to imagine that, and I just see a hundred thousand people suddenly having difficulties with their passports. Global warmaking is too profitable an activity to be challenged easily.

But what I’m imagining this morning is a hundred thousand Christians being deployed in a time machine to Ferguson, last night, as the curfew fell. I’m imagining a hundred thousand Christians, trained in nonviolent resistance the way that Dr. Martin Luther King trained people, creating a buffer for all the anger and fear.

You know, these situations generally unleash a myriad of quotes from Dr. King, the patron saint invoked in times of racial conflict. And, you know, it’s easy to celebrate King, because he’s dead. If he were alive, though, he’d be causing trouble. Frankly, that’s why he’s dead.

So, here’s a King quote for you: “The most pervasive mistake I have made was in believing that because our cause was just, we could be sure that the white ministers of the South, once their Christian consciences were challenged, would rise to our aid. I felt that white ministers would take our cause to the white power structures. I ended up, of course, chastened and disillusioned.”

What do we, as peacemakers, and as a largely pasty and even freckled people, have to say to this? Given that our War Is Not The Answer yard signs are not made of vibranium like Captain America’s shield, and will not successfully defend the space between bullets and bodies, what good is this testimony? Are we just talking to ourselves?

I know you’re supposed to do sermons in three parts, but I came up with five reasons why the Peace Testimony matters even when things look hopeless. You’re all smart, in addition to being good looking, so I’m sure you’ll keep up.

First. Ask a Quaker what he or she believes, and sooner or later you’ll get to that of God in everyone. That’s central. We are unable to forget that each life is precious in the sight of God. Teenagers jaywalking: precious. Cops trying to make split-second decisions: precious. Mothers weeping through press conferences: precious.

One of the popular hashtags for people discussing the recent spate of black male deaths at the hands of the police is #AllLivesMatter. That hashtag is there because when faced with a shooting, those of us who disapprove of shootings so often look for reasons why that particular life mattered. Michael Brown was headed to college, see, so it’s tragic that he was gunned down!

It’s as though if Michael Brown hadn’t been headed to college, his death wouldn’t have been a real loss.

How low have we sunk if “lives matter” needs to be reiterated? How much of a reminder could we need that we live in a world of sin, a world alienated from the vision of shalom?

That quote from George Fox about that of God in everyone is usually given out of context. We’re being called to answer that of God in everyone. That requires searching for God in black kids wearing hoodies, in cops who don’t even know what their jobs are anymore, in the people looting the store and in the line of average people standing in front of the store to stop the looting. Peace begins by recognizing that God within us is a fully egalitarian reality.

Jürgen Moltmann wrote that we are not loved because we are so beautiful and good, we are beautiful and good because we are loved. As peacemakers, we are called to call out the beautiful and the good in everyone- whether they’re on “our side” or not. Our love can make people beautiful and good.

Here’s a second way that the Peace Testimony matters even if we can’t stop the bullets from flying: we don’t have to fall for the false equivalencies in the media we consume. So many times, “for balance,” the actions of a handful of looters are reported alongside the injuries and deaths of powerless people. We Quakers know, though, that human life is invaluable- that the destruction of property is never equivalent to the destruction of life.

Cigars are stolen, and breath is stolen, and in Genesis, which one of those did God say makes us human? Which one is so close to divine that it came flowing for us from the very lips of the God who created us in his own image? Which one turned a pile of mud into a human being?

These thefts cannot be compared. Stealing breath is more important than breaking windows. As those who seek peace, as those who believe that all life, no matter how politically inconvenient, is sacred, we can never pretend that looting is the real story. People matter more than stuff.

Here’s a third way: we escape the blame game by focusing on the occasions for war, not on the individual guilt of the participants. We recognize that there is a power, a power in which humans can live, that makes violence into an afterthought.

So much of our contemporary discourse is focused on who is at fault. It’s an easy trap to fall into. I’ve been there a number of times this week alone. I want a scapegoat, to put it in Old Testament terms. I want to point fingers. I want to attach all the sin to one person and send that person out into the wilderness to die.

The problem, though, isn’t any one person- it is, as it always is, a collective unwillingness to live in the power that renders warmaking absurd. Our Peace Testimony reminds us that what we’re after here is more than just properly punishing the guilty. We’re here for the redemption of all creation. We’re here to invite every person into the healing grace of shalom.

Here’s a fourth way that the Peace Testimony matters: the vision of the peaceable kingdom keeps us from despair. Every Quaker meetinghouse, probably by law, contains a print of one of Edward Hicks’ paintings about the Peaceable Kingdom. They’re illustrations of a passage in Isaiah 11, in which the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion will feed together; and a little child will lead them. In the face of death and destruction, we have these paintings of how we think God intends the world to be.

Look. We worship a man whose body was broken by a broken down system, and we know how that story ended. We worship a man whose body was broken by a broken down system, and so when we see bodies broken in the streets, we need not lose our hope.

We tell a different story. We tell of a great many dry bones once scattered over a valley floor. We tell of a prophetic voice that tied their sinews back together and covered them with new flesh. We tell of the four winds coming to fill their lungs with breath that can never be stolen.

In the face of of death, we sing the song of resurrection. We share the Gospel, in which Jesus preaches that the Spirit of the Lord is here to give sight to the blind and to set the oppressed free. It’s a story that the world is literally dying to hear.

Finally, here’s the fifth way that our Peace Testimony matters when the bullets are flying: we are called to be patterns, to be examples. We are called to bear witness to the Gospel of peace. Does a cookie cutter change shape just because some of the cookies came out weird looking? Do you edit the directions for building a set of shelves when you cut the wood wrong?

No. People are imperfect, but as disciples of Jesus, we don’t get to change the pattern. So if God incarnate was willing to hang from a cross rather than fight back, maybe we who claim to follow him should be asking what we are willing to risk.

Look, in a complicated geopolitical sense, I have no idea what to say about Gaza. The ceasefire is back, and let’s pray that it holds. And I don’t know what to say about Iraqi Kurdistan, and I don’t know what to say about Ukraine and Russia, and I don’t know what to say about Ferguson- or about Beavercreek, for that matter. There are so many answers that I wish I had, but I don’t.

I know, though, that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had the option of calling down legions of angels to defend him. And I know that Peter, that impulsive disciple of wonder, sliced off the ear of someone who he found threatening. And I know that in the midst of all that justifiable fear, Jesus stopped to heal the ear of one of the men who was coming to kill him.

How do we follow that example, Friends? How do we be that Christ-like? Where do we find the courage?