Blessed are the peacemakers

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?

Image result for symbols of peace

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!



Giving up on getting back

Don't get mad, get even
The year was 1985 and my boyfriend broke up with me because he was seeing another girl. I was so heartbroken. It was not the first time in life I had been hurt, but it was an unexpected hurt. So, I tucked it away as anger with the rest of my hurts and thought of ways to get him back. I had become fairly good at revenge, even at that young age. Within the mindset of revenge, one of my favorite memories was a telegram I sent to him on April 1st: “On this day made for fools, I think of you.” Perhaps that is the only memory I am willing to publish. Truth is, the statement pointed more to my foolishness, but I didn’t see it that way. (If I remember correctly, the telegram cost me $20!) I was deeply hurt and the only way I could find to feel better was to hurt him back.

Those feelings are really easy to find within our human nature. I suppose most of us have experienced hurt at the hands of another person that leads to our one wish for them becoming a wish for punishment and pain. If you haven’t yet experienced that, then you probably will before it’s all over.

Your ability to believe what I’m getting ready to say really depends on where you are on your life journey, but here it is: there is a better way to handle that pain. Granted, it is not the most natural response as a human being. It is however, what we are called to when we enter God’s kingdom where Jesus is Lord. The call is this: “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”

At first-glance and on face value, that sounds pretty ridiculous. Actually, the way most Christians have handled it as a teaching is to . . . well . . . avoid it. It’s too extreme! It’s a calling far too high for our human frailties to handle. Or is it?

Put in context with the larger Sermon on the Mount, Jesus isn’t saying to us that we are to never make mistakes. He is keenly aware of our condition. The perfection he is speaking of is the way that God the Father operates in a wholeness of relationship. We are called to behave toward others the same way God behaves toward us. Several concrete examples are given to illustrate how this Kingdom ethic plays out in human life. Those include things like resisting retaliation, praying for enemies, honoring our marriage relationships, and making amends when we need to make amends. We are not called to execute the wrath of God in the world. We are called to love and to be perfect, in this sense of wholeness.

Remember the old t-shirt that says, “I don’t get mad, I get even”? Well, we will still get mad. But we don’t have to get even. We can get better. Instead, we can always seek peace and reconciliation. We seek forgiveness. We seek first the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t change the way the world operates, but it changes us.