[Sermon preached on Sunday, May 17th at Avenue United Methodist Church. Listen here.]
There is a memorable scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where the Griswald Family is driving to the country to cut down their own Christmas Tree. There is only one other vehicle on the road, and it is tailgating Clark Griswald’s family station wagon. Clark and the truck engage in an episode of road rage that results in the Griswald station wagon riding underneath a semi-trailer.
According to a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 80 percent of US drivers expressed significant anger, aggression, or road rage while behind the wheel at least once in the past year. In the survey
51% said they purposefully tailgated
47% said they yelled at another driver
45% said they honked at another driver out of anger or annoyance
33% said they made an angry gesture
24% said they tried to block another vehicle from changing lanes
There are a lot of angry drivers on the road. One of the study’s researchers wrote, “Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly.” https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2016/october/4100316.html
Each of us could attest to the need for more peace in our daily lives and our world. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says:
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9, NIV
In our Western culture, when we talk about peace, we are talking about a sense of inner-tranquility or the absence of conflict. We live in a troubled world and during anxious times. Inside, many of us is a raging civil war. The battle is difficult to live with. Some of the most popular apps on your smartphone are apps design to help with breathing, centering, and mindfulness. In short, these apps are created to help you find inner peace. On a macro-scale, we see conflict in families, communities, and between people-groups and nations. We are a world that is in constant conflict- a world without peace.
What does Jesus mean when he blesses peacemakers?
Peace, in the Jewish context, comes from the idea and word Shalom. It is translated as peace in English, but it has the meaning of wholeness- both personal and communal. In this context, peace is not the absence of conflict, but our personhood and relationships that are on proper terms, relationships that are life-giving.
Even before terms like social distancing became a thing, we live in a world of distance. We talk about being “close” to some people or “not very close” to others. We live in right relationship with others, and some of our relationships are not right. We have icy relationships, estranged relationships, and unhealthy relationships. Think of our relationships as points radiating from ourselves like the spokes on a bike. Some of our relationships are close, and others are far. If we were to connect the lines of those relationships, like a tire around the spokes, we might have an uneven tire or circle. To live in shalom, or peace is to form a perfect circle of relationships with God, with others, and throughout our community. To live in shalom is to live in right relationships with God and others.
When Jesus blesses peacemakers, he is not blessing peace-wanters or peace-lovers- both of which as passive endeavors. Jesus does not bless peace-living, which can turn into something individualistic. Jesus blesses peacemakers. The grammar in the Greek indicates that peacemaking is something active that we participate in. Jesus blesses those who are active and socially engaged in the lives who need peace. Peacemakers are those who work towards reconciliation in the communities. Paul reminds us of this ministry writing:
“If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here. All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV.
When we receive salvation, we are a new creation and given the ministry of reconciliation; helping others live in right relationship with God and with one another. The church has gone to one side or the other in the West. There is a church segment that puts all its stock on spiritual peace or reconciliation between God and humanity through salvation. Another segment says that we bring peace by caring for others over and beyond any concern for their spiritual lives. It’s either been salvation or social justice. Paul says that as an overflow of our faith that we have the ministry of reconciliation. Faith is inclusive of the spiritual and the relational. It means we have a ministry to bring people into a right relationship with God and to experience restorative relationships with one another. To do one without the other is to live out only have the Gospel.
Paul talks about the importance of reconciliation or peace within our relationships in Ephesians. Paul writes:
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, but which he put to death their hostility. Ephesians 2:14-16, NIV
Paul uses the conflict between Jews and Gentiles as an example. Not only was there a conflict between the two, but that conflict kept them from truly experiencing God. Through Jesus, God is bringing people together who have been at war and creating new humanity that has its roots and life in Jesus. This peace that God is working in our world is spiritual, and it is relational. We cannot have one without the other.
When we think about being a peacemaker, it is not a pushover. A peacemaker does not sweep things under the rug. Peacemaking is full of conflict. Being a peacemaker will require us to do the hard work of confronting evil and oppression wherever we find them. The life and death of Jesus define peacemaking. It is difficult. Jesus didn’t hide from conflict; he addressed it. We see Jesus addressing conflict with the Pharisees throughout the Gospels, and yet he does it in such a way to keep communication open rather than trying to win an argument. To live in right relationship with others, we have to speak the truth when someone has harmed us and be ready to receive when we have hurt others.
To follow Jesus, then, means that we never react passively in the face of injustice, abuse, or suffering. Being a peacemaker who follows the way of Jesus is always an energetic and risky endeavor, filled with vigorous, complicated, and costly goodwill. If we follow Jesus with integrity, we liberate the oppressed and set the captives free. We not only seek justice, but we “live or do” justice and work to transform brokenness into wholeness in all areas of our community as the overflow of the peace we’ve received from God through the Cross of Jesus Christ.
What does peacemaking look like in our communities? In short, it is followers of Jesus who are actively working towards reconciliation in our world.
Peacemakers are those who work to help restore relationships between children and their parents. Peacemakers seek to restore marriages that have become broken.
Peacemakers are those who work to raise up their neighbors out of poverty by providing career counseling, resume writing, and job training.
Peacemakers are those who provide foster care or seek to adopt children who have lost their families.
Peacemakers actively work with addicts to help them overcome the demons that they cannot overcome on their own.
Perhaps one of the most important areas in the white, American Church where we can live as peacemakers is in the areas of racial reconciliation. Author Jim Wallis calls racism “America’s original sin.” While it feels good to think that we’ve come a long ways since the 1960’s, or the time of slavery- there are reminders in the news of how far we have yet to go in our nation.
The case of Ahmaud Aberey has gripped the nation over the last several weeks. Aberey, who is black, was shot by a white neighbor who was suspicious that he might have been entering an active construction build. This vigilante actions of the two white neighbors have been likened to a lynching in the black community. It is just one of the entirely too many instances like this.
I am sure that bringing up this story may bring strong feelings to your mind. This is the challenge for the white church. We are called to work towards peace and reconciliation. That means that we should seek to understand the experience of our Black, Latino, and Asian brothers and sisters. We may say something like “ALL LIVES MATTER,” to which I will say that until the plight of our Black, Latino, and Asian brothers and sisters matter enough for us to stand with them and be actively engaged in peacemaking- then we cannot say All Lives Matter. As followers of Jesus, we are called to be peacemakers because “Jesus is our peace making the two groups one and tearing down the dividing wall.”
Peacemaking, actively working towards reconciliation, is the natural result of our salvation. In the beatitudes, we are the poor in spirit, helpless without God. When we realize this, we mourn for the brokenness that we see in the world and we approach our relationships with meekness and humility. The sinfulness and brokenness we see in the world will cause us to hunger and thirst for righteousness-for justice. This hunger leads us to action- to show mercy, to be purely and single-mindedly focused on God, and to actively work towards peace and reconciliation. While we long for the day where God will redeem all of creation, we have a ministry of reconciliation to take part in now.
When I walk through Milford, I long to see Avenue as a place where peacemaking takes place as a result of our faith in Jesus. I long to see people who are in conflict with God make peace with God through the cross of Jesus. I long to see the racial, economic, and social barriers torn down because ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This morning, I want to invite you to think about the opportunities for peacemaking and reconciliation in our church, in our families, and in our communities as we watch this video.