I am asked to preach more often these days and I appreciate the opportunity. Not for the opportunity to “tell folks something” (as my was-band accuses me of liking to do so much,) but for the opportunity to study and grow. I approach sermon-writing like research … I do lots of studying and comparing and observing and praying and listening to the text first before I try to write anything.
The Lectionary text for this weekend comes from the opening verses of Jesus’ “sermon on the mount” in the Gospel of Matthew. Preaching from a sermon preached by Jesus is an exercise in unpacking … and an exercise in packing-in as much as possible within a 20-minute sermon.
There is much to unpack in these 12 verses of “blessings” pronounced by Jesus. These pronouncements give us perspective on living well in the kingdom of heaven – a life that is beginning for us even as we live here on earth. How are we to reconcile the traits – poor in spirit, meekness, pure in heart, merciful – with what we are told are necessary to “make it” in the world into which we are born?
For instance, “blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God:” how does peacemaking square in our culture today? Here is a paragraph from my sermon on this particular subject:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, says Jesus, for they will be called children of God. Peacemaking is a different thing from avoiding conflict, by the way. Peacemaking is an intentional and ongoing decision to work toward peace and then maintain it. Eugene Peterson paraphrases it as “showing people how to cooperate instead of competing and fighting.” Peacemaking involves actively confronting thoughts and actions that would destroy lasting peace. Peacemaking is a work of justice – recognizing the sources of conflict and making things right. In a world that lusts for power and wealth, blessed are the peacemakers, for in the kingdom of heaven, they will be called children of God, known this way because they express the character of God.”
What is the American Christian ethos when it comes to peace-making? Are we seekers and builders of peace? Or are we eager to fight and compete? Do we support unjust systems that breed ongoing conflict, or do we seek to shine a light on corruption and land in places where true peace can develop and grow? Peacemaking is HARD WORK and too few of us are following Jesus in earnest in this regard. Dare we call ourselves “children of God” when we rush toward conflict, war or violence against our neighbors in any of its many manifestations? Does this express the character of God as modeled through Jesus, the Christ?
Blessed are the peacemakers, says Jesus, for they will be called children of God. May we all, prompted and guided by the Holy Spirit, seek to enact PEACE in our corner of the world, today and every day, as a testament to our commitment to Kingdom principles above any principles taught and promoted in this world. And may we be given wisdom to see and know the difference!