Blessed are the Peacemakers

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Matthew 5:9

Would you like to be called “a child of God”? Jesus says the way to do that is to become a peacemaker.

It’s obvious we live in a world which is not at peace. We’re reminded of this every time we pick up a daily paper and read the headlines or tune into a news broadcast. Historian John Keegan in his book The History of War points out that the story of warfare is essentially the story of human society itself. Before there were any human cities or civilizations, any artistic or cultural achievements, any written records for posterity, there was war. The earliest organized human activity for which there is any evidence is hunting, including the hunting of other human beings. And even today, wherever we look, we see signs of tension, hostility, and conflict.

We come today in this series of messages on the topic of peace and reconciliation to the most obvious and visible kind of peace needed in our world: peace on earth, among the nations. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said, “for they will be called children of God.” When he uttered his famous beatitude, Jesus certainly touched upon a glaring need. Whether it is for the Middle East or Afghanistan or even just a wise and mature adult to referee between two squabbling children, our world has a pressing need for peacemakers.

Why is this? Almost everybody knows that peace is good and war is bad. Everyone wants peace; everyone (unless they’re evil or insane) longs for peace as the ultimate good. Even the terrorists and the tyrants who trade in violence usually claim they’re fighting for some cause that will eventually lead to a better society; in other words, to peace. Peace is everybody’s goal. So why is there so little of it? Why is it so hard to find?

THE CALL TO PEACEMAKING

One of the master works of the American musical theater is Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. It’s an updated version of the Romeo and Juliet story, a tale of star-crossed lovers whose love is doomed because of the conflict between their two different cultures. The play’s ultimate hope is expressed in its most famous song:

There’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us . . . Peace and quiet and open air, hold my hand and we’re half way there … Somewhere . . . somewhere, we’ll find a new way of living. We’ll find a way of forgiving . . . somewhere.

These are the things we’re all hoping for: peace and joy and love and harmony, for beauty, wholeness and healing, forgiveness and a new way of living. But no one seems to know just where they can be found. Is that the best we can do? Just believe that peace is out there somewhere and hold hands and hope that someone or something will take us there eventually?

THE NEED FOR PEACEMAKING

But peace isn’t something that’s simply found. It doesn’t just happen. Peace is something that has to be made. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” says Jesus. Peace has to be worked at and worked out, and the work is hard indeed. Peace does not come either naturally or easily.

The problem, as we have seen repeatedly in various biblical passages that deal with this subject, is that there’s something wrong with us, deep down inside our hearts, in our very nature. All the wishes, hopes and dreams in the world can’t fix it this basic flaw. We are by nature peace breakers, not peacemakers, and until the problem in us is solved, we will never have peace. Evidence of that problem is everywhere. It’s obvious in all our human relationships, not only in the big things like wars and assaults and killings, but in the little acts of spite or meanness or revenge that break the peace and sow disharmony among us.

A friend who is an expert in computers was telling me the other day about computer viruses. A computer virus is a program that has been designed to be secretly introduced into a computer so as to destroy the information contained there. Usually the viruses are distributed randomly and anonymously, and the creator of the virus derives no direct benefit from it whatsoever. It is a sheer act of destruction: It is vandalism, pure and simple, something that is done only to break the peace, to cause harm and trouble – and for no other reason. In its own way, a computer virus is as much a symptom of the perversity of human nature as is flying an airplane into an office building or walking into a crowded room and pulling out a gun and opening fire.

Something is wrong with us. What that something is, the Bible calls sin. Because humanity has rebelled against God the Creator, each human’s greatest need is to be reconciled with him, to have peace established with God and then through God, to make peace with one another. That first part of peacemaking – peace with God – is not a work we can do for ourselves. Only God can do it. And the good news of the gospel is that he has done it in the person of Jesus Christ. “Through him,” the Bible says, “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20). In dying for sin, Christ has provided the means by which the hostility between God and humanity can be laid to rest. Those who believe in Christ are brought into fellowship with God and therefore with one another as well. After that, God entrusts this new community of humans (called the church) with the work of extending reconciliation out to the whole world. “In Christ,” says the scripture, “God was reconciling the world to himself.” He “reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19,18).

THE WORK OF PEACEMAKING

So the most important peacemaker is God himself, and the greatest act of peacemaking is Christ’s death on the cross. The most basic need for everyone is to be reconciled to God through faith in Christ. And the work of peacemaking starts with the gospel. The most fundamental work is evangelism, the sharing of the good news with those who haven’t heard or accepted the gospel.

But peace with God (we could call it “vertical peace”) is only the beginning. What Jesus is talking about here has more to do with horizontal peace. He’s concerned with the need for healing in human society and the restoration of relationships between people. He wants his followers to become a community of mediators, a fellowship of reconcilers.

So what do peacemakers actually do? What does peacemaking look like in real life? Here are four things that I want to suggest are involved in practical peacemaking. This is what Jesus Christ calls his followers to be and to do: Peacemakers must first themselves be peace lovers. Do you know what the opposite of a peacemaker is? It’s a troublemaker. At its most personal and practical level, peacemaking starts with the kind of people we ourselves are and the kind of relationships we establish with others. Peacemakers are neither quarrelsome nor contentious nor critical. They speak the truth, but they do it in love, and they know how and when to keep still as well. How much peace could be made among us, how many relationships would have remained unbroken in the first place, if we simply learned to hold our tongues, or to bite back the angry reply, or to refuse to repeat the malicious gossip. “Be a reconciler and mediator between your neighbors,” said the great reformer Martin Luther. “Carry the best to both sides, but keep quiet about the bad which the devil has inspired.”

  1. So peacemaking begins at home. Christians must start by demonstrating peaceableness within our own congregations and families. The church is intended by God to be a model of the reconciled life, but when congregations are hotbeds of factionalism and division, when Christians sue one another, when churches quarrel and split and split again, when local fellowships have members who won’t speak to one another, the gospel is brought into disrepute. We, of all people, ought to know how to make peace with each other. “See how they love each other” was said of the early Christians. We’d be amazed how many people would be trying to get into our churches if the same thing could be said consistently about us.
  2. Peacemaking must be concerned with justice. “If you want peace, work for justice,” goes a contemporary saying. And that is exactly right. Christians are not interested in cheap peace any more than we are in cheap grace. The cross reminds us of that. We don’t believe in peace at any price, in peace without justice or peace that acquiesces in evil. We must seek peace and pursue it. We are called to live peaceably with all people, so far as it depends on us. But peace is not the same as appeasement. In order to make genuine peace we must be willing to go to war, when necessary, against the evil and corruption of society, and against wicked and violent people who destroy the peace of the innocent.
  3. Peacemaking must involve many kinds of work. The Hebrew word for peace is a beautiful one. It is shalom, which means wholeness. Shalom suggests not merely a state of inner quiet (peace of mind) or the absence of outward conflict (peace as opposed to war) but rather the positive well-being of life, life that is healthy, whole and complete, life as it ought to be. All sorts of things contribute to this kind of peace, and all kinds of work need to be done as part of making it. So peacemakers include all those who are working to restore the wholeness of the creation or of human society or of individual persons. Peacemakers include doctors and nurses and counselors and therapists who work for the healing of bodies and minds. They include environmentalists and activists who work for the restoration of the earth and the cleanness and purity of air, water, land and food. Advocates and journalists and politicians who expose wrong and call for reform and work to establish fairness in everyday life are all doing the job of peacemakers, along, of course, with ordinary Christians who bear witness to the Lord Jesus.
  4. Peacemakers must be willing to risk. There is often a price to pay for being a mediator, the one who goes between warring parties. When you step into the breach between antagonists, you are walking into a combat zone. You open yourself to criticism, rebuff, and sometimes to things much worse than that. When Yitzsak Rabin, the late prime minister of Israel, was attacked for opening negotiations with the Palestinians, he responded, “You don’t make peace between friends. You make peace between enemies.” Whenever you start to try to do that, the hostility between those enemies will often spill over onto you as well, as Rabin’s own fate testifies. He was a man of war who bravely risked and gave his life for the sake of peace.

Can we as Christians do any less? If God gave his own Son to make peace with us, can’t we give up something to make peace with others? It is hard to be a peacemaker. It’s even dangerous. But is it worth it? It is if you want to be a child of God! “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” It is if you want to be like your Father. Peacemaking is the most God-like work on earth.