March 5, 2023
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-9, 8:5-13
Today is the 7th of the 9 Beatitudes: “Blessed (happy) are the Peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.”
As you all know if you’ve been around for the first 6 Beatitudes, this is the beginning of Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is telling his disciples right from the get-go what the family traits are if you are a part of the kingdom of heaven.
It’s like Jesus is saying: “You want to follow me as I follow God? Put these principles on your refrigerator. They’ll keep you busy for a life-time. Here’s one. One of the key traits of God’s family is this: The children of God are peacemakers. Here’s how you know a God-type person!”
The first thing that strikes me is: They are peaceMAKERS. Not just peaceable people. They
MAKE peace! It is something they are actively involved in DOING, in CREATING.
Carpenters create buildings, musicians create music, Kingdom people create peace out of tension and discord. That’s what kingdom people do. You have heard of artists who use broken glass to make beautiful works of art? It is a whole thing! They take these crushed and broken shards of glass, work with them, and put them back together again as amazing works of art! That’s what kingdom people do.
MAKING PEACE FROM THE PIECES!
What a gift it is to be able to see the remnants, the shards, of broken humanity, broken and shattered relationships, divided and scattered churches, communities, and nations and capture a vision of what could be!
You see, the scraps of our broken, divided, hatred-filled world are the raw material for kingdom people. Kingdom people will never be unemployed as long as there is division, hatred, animosity, prejudice and broken people in the world.
In this business of peacemaking, kingdom people get their hands dirty and become involved in creative ways to promote healing and restoration. Peacemaking is not a policy, it is an occupation. Peacemaking is what kingdom people DO.
Now I suppose in the church, most of us would vote for words like “Blessed are the peacemakers.” We would be happy to see them in our mission statements. They seem quite harmless and nice. But we are apt to admire them and then set them aside as a nice piece of literature and a quaint idea but frankly not very practical.
But when we do that, we make a grave mistake. But is is as if Jesus anticipated that we would think like that, so just a few verses after the Beatitudes, Jesus challenges our attempts to pretty-up his words with a few more of his own as explanations:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Now if that isn’t crystal-clear to us, The Message Translation puts it into more modern vernacular so we don’t miss the meaning:
43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion,
‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
So there it is. We can’t very well set those words aside. Jesus is saying PeaceMAKING is, of course, a global requirement, but it starts in our own backyard. We all have enemies even if we don’t use that word. Here’s where God’s family traits are actually practiced. It is practiced with our enemies, with those who don’t see eye-to-eye with us, with our detractors, and with those whom the culture has labeled “less than” or unworthy.
It is so very hard because this is not just about prettying-up your language toward your enemies, it is about extending to them the same gracious and generous spirit that God extends toward us. And, it moves from a transformed SPIRIT into our behavior.
Peace MAKERS. Peace DOERS. Peace LOVERS.
Now, what does that look like? Jewish people, of whom Jesus was one, had a long-running hatred of the Samaritans. Jews and Samaritans were enemies. Jesus never preached explicitly or directly about changing your attitude toward Samaritans. But when he needed to get from point A to point B he detoured a bit to make a point to take his disciples, to travel THROUGH Samaria, sit down at a well and actually ASK a Samaritan woman for a drink. He broke two barriers at once: the enmity with Samaria and the taboo of being seen with a woman!
When a Roman military officer (who was a leader of the occupying oppressors) came to him asking him to have compassion on his dying servant, Jesus ACTED as a peaceMAKER and immediately released his healing power on behalf of that officer and his servant. The servant was healed.
We practice this when we live out our church motto: “No matter who you are or where you are on your life’s journey, you are welcome here.” We practice it when we welcome and bring comfort to those different from us.
Let me insert here our travel plans that Mary Ann and I are working on for a few days from now. It started with plans to see family in California whom we haven’t seen for quite a while. And since the Mexican border is closer to Los Angeles than it is to Troy, and because we both have had a
heart for the plight of thousands of migrants who starve to death or die of thirst to make their way to a country where they can escape a violent homeland and make livable wages, we decided to take a short detour and see it all for ourselves. We discovered that a friend of ours is on the staff of the UCC Good Shepherd church in Sasuarita, Arizona and one of their major passions is the work with migrants. Without getting into politics, they make peace from the pieces and do what they can to heal and feed those uprooted people. We want to see peaceMAKING in progress.
Now, I hope that the call to being a peacemaker is just a little clearer to us all. This is no trite easy-peasy cute phrase. This is the really tough stuff of the message of Jesus. It ought to make us stop and think when Jesus comes to us and says: “Come, follow me!”