Thursday, October 8, 2015

Blessed are the Peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

In a baseball game, when tempers flare and a fight breaks out, it's an American tradition that players and coaches clear the benches and rally to support their teammates. You do not want to be seen sitting alone on the bench with all your teammates out fighting on the field.  That would surely bring an early end to your career.  

One Christian who played for the Seattle Mariners explained how he dealt with such bench-clearing brawls.  He writes:  “When a fight was imminent, I would scan the opponents' bench for a friend or a former teammate. When the fight erupted, I would bolt from the dugout and race toward my selected friend, grabbing him by the jersey and saying, ‘If you don't hurt me, I won't hurt you.’  We would clench, fall to the ground and do our best acting job of fighting.  In the end, we would appear manly, supported our team members and avoided getting hurt or hurting anyone.” Smart idea, but I'm not sure this is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he said, "Blessed are the peacemakers."

On this World Communion Sunday, we celebrate our membership in the One Holy Catholic Church, the world-wide Christian family, with over 2 billion other Christian believers.  We affirm our unity with our Christian brothers and sisters around the globe.  Yes, we Protestants acknowledge some theological and organizational differences with other members of the Christian family, but we also respect and listen to and pray for Pope Francis, the 266th Pope, the Holy See of the Roman Catholic Church.  We trust that God will use him with all of his spiritual influence over millions of believers to further the work of God's Kingdom on earth.

Today Christians focus on our common faith: our faith in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and one Church, the body of Christ, and one baptism, the sign of forgiveness and admission into the church, and one Lord's Supper, the sign of Christ's atoning sacrifice and continued power and presence and in one mission to love our neighbors and reach unbelievers for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A central theme of World Communion Sunday is Jesus’ call to his followers to be peacemakers.  Jesus declares: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”  It is a high calling, a holy calling, a sacred calling, a noble calling.

What is a peacemaker?  A person, group, or government that strives to make peace by reconciling parties who disagree, quarrel or fight.  It's one thing to know how to define it.  It's quite another thing to roll up one's sleeves and enter into the messy work of peacemaking.  Today we ask: Is it my calling?  Is it your calling?

Without question, peacemaking is complicated and difficult.  Its a risky and sometimes dangerous calling.   Although you can always count on one thing, there's no shortage of opportunities to be a peacemaker.  There are lots of job openings.  Have you noticed?

Why?  Conflict, division, dissension, discord appears to be ubiquitous.  In our cities and towns, in government, in politics between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, who blame each other for the economy's ills, or violence in our communities, or global terrorism, or immigration, or failed foreign relations.  We see tragic violence in schools, like last week's tragic shooting in a community college in Roseburg, Oregon or we point to workplace violence.   We see conflict in families and even in the courts.

For example, recently a brawl broke out in a Florida courtroom.  No, not between the defendant and a bailiff, as you might expect, but between a judge and a public defender. Video footage shows the judge, John Murphy, instigating the fight with public defender Andrew Weinstock. The pair started arguing in front of the entire court.  The Judge said, "You know, if I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now. Just sit down." Weinstock responded, "You know I'm the public defender. I have a right to be here and stand and represent my client." On the video, the judge then appears to ask Weinstock to come to the back hallway, an area where there are no cameras, which is where the fight broke out.  There were no images of the fight, but the video does capture sounds of scuffling and several loud thuds. Two deputies broke it up and the attorney was immediately reassigned to another court. Judge Murphy agreed to take a leave of absence, so he could undergo anger management counseling. What a grand example of professionalism in our halls of justice.

At its core, the Gospel is a story about peacemaking.  God sent His Son Jesus into the world to make peace with humanity, to save humanity, to reconcile humanity, to bring humanity back into a relationship with the creator.  The church continues to engage in God's holy work of peacemaking: to bring sinners and saved, unbelievers and believers, men and women, all races and ethnic groups, rich and poor, slave and free into the one church, the body of Christ.   

Making peace doesn't mean peace at any price, Jesus showed us this.  Peacemaking doesn't mean making everybody happy because they all get what they want.  It doesn't mean allowing unjust or evil behavior to continue in order to keep the peace.  It is striving to find common ground and common agreement.  It means speaking out for what is right, rather than being silent.  It means holding true to your principles.  Peace and justice, justice and peace are bound together in the business of peacemaking.

I am inspired by the many individuals and organizations in the world who risk their lives everyday as peacemakers in war-torn countries.  For example, the Carter Center, founded by former president Jimmy Carter, and its work in Syria and the middle east, Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraqui Kurdistan, Women Peacemakers in Iraq in the US Institute of Peace, the Afghan Peacemaker Association, and the Peacemaking Unit in Africa just to name a few.  God is at work in these groups and others toward reaching God's end of bringing about peace in the world.  Their stories are exciting and they are making progress.

One must also acknowledge that as a peacemaker, there are situations where you need to be honest with yourself.  Where no matter what you do or how hard you try or how many hours you invest, trying to reconcile with someone or finding a peaceful and equitable solution may not work.  Despite our prayers, despite our attempts, and the time and energy we invest, there are situations that are beyond our power and ability.  And we must let go, trust in God and turn it over to God.  No, that is never easy.

God may not be calling you to be a peacemaker in international conflicts, between the Jews and Palestinians, or the Christians and Muslims, or Russia and the US.  But that doesn't let you or me off the hook.  God may be calling you to be a peacemaker in your circle: in your family, in a friendship that has soured, in your neighborhood, as a teacher in your school, in your community, in your church, or in your job.  I truly believe God calls us all to be peacemakers at one time or another, but not in every situation.  We are not qualified for some situations. 

But there are contexts in which you are qualified.  God only calls us to situations where He has imparted to us the mind, gifts, abilities, talents and temperament, and competence to be effective.  God desires success, not failure.  Can you think of an example when you acted in the role of peacemaker?  How did you do?

Jesus said:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”   My friends, hear this, Jesus promises to bless us as peacemakers.  Jesus honors your work. God uses your efforts for His glory and purpose.  God will grant you a gift of grace now or in the future, because you are engaged in this work.  Children of God means because you are involved in the business of peacemaking, you are doing a God-like work, a holy work.  You are engaged in the very work which the God of peace is doing in this world.  

Peacemaking also applies to the spiritual realm.  It is about making peace with God in one's own soul and heart. “God I am sorry, forgive me.”   Forgiving another person or accepting their apology is a form of peacemaking.   Peacemaking requires courage and heart and perseverance. Peacemaking requires faith and trust in God.   And peacemaking requires being realistic; peacemaking is rarely if ever peaceful.  It is doing the work of God and finding through struggle and set-backs and disappointment a way to peace.

Scripture says, “If you are in worship and you remember that someone has something against you, go and be reconciled.” Leave worship, go to the person and seek reconciliation.   Then come back to worship and present your offering.  Come to terms quickly with your accuser.  Strive to resolve your differences before they become intractable.

Peacemaking is God's work and as Jesus' followers, it is your work and mine.  Is there someone you are striving to make peace with?   Is there some task that God is calling you to step in to as a peacemaker?

I close with the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the 12th century Franciscan order of monks:   Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying   that we are born to eternal life.”  Amen!

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