Friday, October 6, 2017

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

A young rabbi, fresh out of seminary, and serving his first synagogue, found a serious problem.  During the Friday evening service, half the congregation stood for the prayers and half remained seated, and each side shouted at the other, insisting that theirs was the true tradition. Despite his efforts, nothing the rabbi said or did helped to solve the impasse. Finally, in desperation, the young rabbi sought out the synagogue's 99-year-old founder.

He met the old rabbi in the nursing home and poured out his troubles. "So tell me," the young rabbi pleaded, "was it the tradition for the congregation to stand during the prayers?"   "No," answered the old rabbi.  "Ah," responded the younger man, "then it was the tradition to sit during the prayers."  "No," answered the old rabbi. Exasperated, the young rabbi replied: “But what we have is complete chaos!  Half the people stand and shout and the other half sit and scream." "Ah," said the old rabbi, "that was the tradition."

On this World Communion Sunday, we celebrate our membership in the One Holy Catholic Church.  Notice I said Holy Catholic, not Roman Catholic.  Our world-wide Christian family has well over 2 billion believers.  We affirm our unity with our Christian brothers and sisters in faith around the globe.  Yes, we Protestants acknowledge some theological and organizational differences with other members of our Christian family, but we also respect and pray for the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople of the Orthodox Church.  We firmly trust that God uses His world-wide church to further the work of His Kingdom on earth.

On this Sunday Christians focus on our common faith, on what we together believe in: one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, and one Church, the body of Christ, and one baptism, the sign of forgiveness and admission into Christ’s church, and one Lord's Supper, the sign of Christ's atoning sacrifice and living presence, and 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.” Jesus isn’t saying blessed are the peace dreamers or peace wishers, but those who actually engage in the nitty gritty of working to achieve peace.  It is a high calling, a holy calling, a noble calling and a risky, and sometimes dangerous calling.  Peacemaking is rarely ever peaceful.  It is doing the work of God and finding through struggle, set-backs and disappointment a way to peace.

What is a peacemaker?  It is one who strives to bring healing where there is brokenness.  One who strives to be a bridge between conflicting parties, to reconcile parties who are at variance.  It's one thing to define it.  It's quite another thing to roll up one's sleeves and enter into the messy work of peacemaking.  We know conflict, division, dissension exists in our communities, in government, in politics, in relationships, in marriages, in families, in the courts, in terrorism, in foreign relations and yes, in churches.  Forgiving someone who asks you to or apologizes is a form of peacemaking.  Apologizing or asking forgiveness to someone you have offended is a form of forgiveness.  Come to terms quickly with another person if you can.  Strive to resolve your differences before they become intractable.

Without question peacemaking, from a mom settling differences with her children, to Monarch school working with children and parents, to the Secretary of State trying to bring peace to foreign countries in the midst of strife is complicated and difficult.  You can always count on one thing, there's no shortage of opportunities to be a peacemaker.  There are lots of job openings if you feel called by God to apply.

One local example of conflict and peacemaking today has to do with an individual in Pacific Beach, and probably others, but he is leading it, to stop the churches in PB from serving the homeless.  He believes that the churches are the problem. Churches are attracting homeless people here.  If churches just stopped feeding and providing services to homeless people, like we do with our Sunday night meals which serves about 100 each Sunday and our mail service which serves about 300 people, homeless people in PB would leave our community and go elsewhere.  Homelessness is a complicated issue.  To blame the churches is myopic.

This does raise a question.  Why do we serve homeless people?  Because Jesus is Lord, lord of the church and lord of the world.  Because Jesus loves homeless people and he loves us.  Because Jesus died on the cross for homeless people and all people.  Because human beings are created in God’s image and that includes homeless people.

Jesus expects us as His followers to obey his teachings.  We are obeying Jesus when we follow His command to love thy neighbor.  In Matthew 25, Jesus says: “I was hungry, and you fed me, naked and you clothed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, sick and you took care of me; just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.  Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”    Helping the poor is part of the church’s mission.

Peacemaking comes in all forms.  An article in USA today said: “It’s faith based organizations that provide the most help to local communities in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters like Harvey and Erma.  Faith based organizations around the world work with FEMA officials to deliver the best response to the most people.”  FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency arm of the government.

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 bring humanity back into a relationship with God the creator.  The church continues to engage in God's holy work of peacemaking: to bring sinners, unbelievers, men and women, all races and ethnic groups, rich and poor, slave and free, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.    That as we read in the letter of Philippians: “Every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

Making peace doesn't mean peace at any price.  Peacemaking doesn't mean making everybody happy because everyone gets what they want.  It doesn't mean allowing unjust or evil behavior to continue in order to keep the peace.  Peacemaking and justice go hand in hand. That of course is one reason as to why peacemaking is so difficult.  It means speaking out for what is right, and acting to correct injustice and oppression, rather than being silent or looking the other way.  It means holding true to Christian principles.  Peace and justice, justice and peace are bound together in the business of peacemaking.

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.  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, like between Israel and the Palestinians, 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 church, or in your job.  God calls us to situations where we have the ability to make a difference.  God does not call us to situations that are over our heads.   That’s when we need to ask for help.

Peacemaking also applies not just to the earthly realm, but to the spiritual realm.  It is about making peace with God, peace between you and God in your soul and heart. “God I am sorry, God I repent, forgive me.”   When we are at peace with God, we will be a far more effective peacemaker.

Jesus said:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”   Children of God means because you are involved in the business of peacemaking, you are doing a God-like work, a holy work, a sacred work.  Jesus promises to bless us as peacemakers.  Jesus honors your work.  God uses your efforts for His glory and purpose.  Jesus promises to bless us with His grace now or in the future or in heaven.

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 social issue you feel called to engage in?   Pray to God for patience and persistence, for guidance and wisdom.

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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