Monday, April 30, 2012

The Jesus Guide To Happiness (Part 7)... Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)

Peace is something that everybody wants. We’ve just celebrated ANZAC day this week and acknowledged the sacrifice of men and women from our nation and across the Tasman who fought in the wars and conflicts of the last century that we could live in peace. A young friend of mine on facebook summed it up by saying “happy ANZAC day everyone to those who fought for us those many years ago I give deep respect. rest in peace. To those who fight now may your souls and lives be blessed with peace and happiness’ AS a nation we have a reputation for our peace keepers trying to end conflict and stabilise areas round the world from the Sinai to Bougainville. Sadly we live in a world where there always seem to be a conflict or war going on somewhere and there are people suffering in bullet riddled streets and war torn lands. We live in violent times. Peacemakers are much needed.

 Peace is something everybody wants. Peace in suburbia… Be it the still morning after the raging and ravages of a storm, the quite beer on the deck after the incessant drone of the motor mower…that relaxing sigh in the stillness of a busy household when the Children are finally in bed asleep… reading a quite book on a sunny beach with a whole week off head of us… or relief from the tension of mounting money worries or health issues… stepping out from the tyranny of abuse and incessant family conflicts… sending children to school without fear of gang violence and recruitment. We long for peace.

Peace is something everybody wants. In fact in our world today we might say that those who have peace are blessed. It’s a luxury commodity. We all want to cash in the peace dividend. But again Jesus doesn’t say you are blessed if you have peace, rather he says blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God, it’s not going to necessarily be something that will lead us to a peaceful existence either because right after that in the longest of the beatitudes he will say blessed are you when you are persecuted and maligned.

For the people of Jesus day this would have been radical and revolutionary. The number one issue in first century Judea was what we are going to do about the Romans. Beautifully captured in this scene from the life of brian behind me with the zealot group having written Romans go home all over the building. Their vision of a messiah was primarily someone who would be a military leader who would over throw the romans and establish Israel again as a dominant force in the world.  But Jesus tells his disciples that they are to be peacemakers; he rules out that violent pathway. His own example is to overcome the powers of this world by submitting to their violence and dying on a cross. They would also have seen themselves automatically as the children of God, because of their  covenant relationship with God. It was a done deal they were God’s chosen ones, but Jesus is saying that to be considered the children of God was not just a position of privilege but to result in the way one lived, to be about the family business of peacemaking. 

For us today this is radical and revolutionary.   We want to have peace, we may be focused on various aspects of peace in our world but Jesus seems to be pointing here to a different way of living and being in the world. We in the church know that as we put our faith in God you and I are adopted into God’s family. But just maybe we’ve settled for what Dietrich Bonheoffer calls cheap grace, we don’t realise that to be part of God’s family is a call to reflect in all we do the personality of the one whose family we are in. We don’t realise that to enter into Kingdom of God is to be called to see that kingdom come in the world around us.

Blessed are the peacemakers is probably the most well-known and often quoted of Jesus beatitudes, but it’s the hardest to get our heads round as we wrestle with the scope of what it means to make peace and it just may be the one where the rubber hits the road.

We often view peace as a negative, not as a bad thing, but more the absence of conflict and violence. Likewise we often see the word Good as the absence of evil. But the word that Jesus would have used for peace and that is the greeting in Hebrew is the word shalom; it has the meaning of wellness and wholeness. To have peace is to be whole.  Shalom is found in having right relationships, a right relationship with God, with ourselves, with our family in our community, with people outside that community, Jesus will emphasis this one by saying that we are to love not only our neighbours but our enemies as well. It means having right relationship with the created order, something that in our twenty first century home we need to be more and more reminded of, and with our possessions as well. To have shalom on an individual basis is dependent on shalom on a societal basis as well. In Jeremiah chapter 6 the prophet says that the prophets and priests say peace peace, but there is no peace, as the land from greatest to least, even the prophets and priests are all greedy for gain, not focused on justice and righteousness, two pillars for peace, shalom. Later in Jeremiah, the prophet tells those in exile in Babylon to seek the peace, or as some translations have it wellbeing, and prosperity of the city that they find themselves in as in that they will prosper and have peace.

So to be peacemakers means first to have peace. To make peace at an individual level.  It’s not the absence of want or conflict that we find with an eastern ideal of inner peace, but rather that we have those right sets of relationships with God ourselves and with others. World peace starts with inner peace. Albert Einstein in a lecture commenting about the spectre of nuclear war made the connect ion like this

“ It is not a physical problem, but an ethical one.  What terrifies us is not the explosive force of the atomic bomb, but the power of the wickedness of the human heart-its explosive power for evil”.  Christian Psychologist Henry Link puts it like this

“The psychologist finds the seeds of war, poverty and discontent deep seated in the inferiority, selfishness and emotional instability of the individual.”

Nobel award winning Physicist Arthur Compton whose work lead to the development of the atomic bomb was even more succinct he said “man must go the way of Jesus or perish.”   We may equate peacemaking simply with issues of social justice, and we’ll get to that but one of the central aspects of being peacemakers is helping people to find peace wholeness in and with God. We are called to make disciples and to teach them all Jesus has commanded us, which is peace-making.

Secondly to be peacemakers is to live as a peacemaking community. To be people who model that wholeness in the way they treat each other and the world around them. At its best the church is able to be such a community… sadly it can also not be such a place. We just have to look at our history of splits and disagreements. It has been said that 10 am on a Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America. In our increasingly multi-cultural, multi ethnic  cities I hope the church is a place of unity and oneness that will speak volumes to the world, it part of my dream for what I call a new Auckland church, one that reflects the diversity round us but holds and values each other’s contributions and the gifts of each person and culture. More than that it calls us to be a community that identifies with the poor and the marginalised. The church in the past was in a privileged position in the centre of society, and has had to be reminded again and again that to be peacemakers is to be like its head Jesus and identify with those who have no peace.  One of the great reformation movements in church history is that of St Francis of Assisi, who took seriously Jesus sermon on the mount and radically identified with the poor and rejected the social structure of his day, not looking at bringing violence overthrowing of the social order but its transformation through inviting people to come and share and care with the least in society. One of the things that gives me hope about the church in the west is that there is a rediscovery of both being missional, that we are here to work for the peace and prosperity of our community, and also the growth of communities that model themselves after Frances and others, choosing to go live in  the poorest streets and neighbourhoods and live in community. Choosing simplicity as a life style not the simply must have it that we enshrined in the materialistic dream we are sold by the hundreds of sermons we hear and see each day, preached by slick advertisers.   They move there and make time to be there for those around them, Sharing their lives and the gospel. Being peacemakers calls us to acts of kindness and sacrificial living.

Being peacemakers means that we are also willing to wrestle with the big issues of life as well, it calls us to social justice. Our faith is personal but it’s not private. Yes it is about personal salvation but the Kingdom of God is so much more, its allowing God to use us to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, as Jesus invites us to pray. We can forget the link between the two, it’s interesting that Jim Wallis says that altar calls , originally were not simply to call people to respond to the gospel for salvation, it was also the best way to get them to come up the front and sign up as abolitionists, to oppose slavery.  We can easily forget the impact that Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount have had on our world and major issues. Ghandi was said to have read the Sermon on the Mount at least two times each day for the last forty years of his life, it inspired him in his non violence. Martin Luther King jr had it as the basis for his nonviolent movement for equality and justice. In his book ‘the Irresistible Revolution’ Shane Claiborne talks of his desire to imitate Jesus and be a peace maker and that it lead him to be praying with Christians in Baghdad as his countrymen were dropping bombs on the city he was in. Jesus call to be peacemakers calls us to ask questions and live differently in the face of unfair trade practises, unjust policies, exploitation of workers and the environment. I have to tell you it challenges the heck out of me and it’s easy to find ourselves simply getting caught up in our western lifestyle with what Claiborne calls Jesus sprinkles on top.

Being peacemakers is also a call to prayer, maybe I should have put that first, but I didn’t want to people to see that as simply an alternative to action. But peace-making calls us to pray for our world and bring it to God. It is to pray that they will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are to pray that and then as NT Wright says we ‘those who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now’.

One a real practical level we can learn how to be peacemakers. One place you might find helpful to start from is on the Mennonite website. As a church they are so committed to peacemaking they have a very helpful quiz that will help you find your own conflict management style, this is helpful both in knowing how you automatically react to conflict situations and also in seeing alternatives. My by the way is avoidance, but I have to train myself not to simply avoid conflict because, well nothing really gets sorted. And if you sweep things under the carpet long enough then you simply leave a big bump in the carpet that you’ll trip over. I take couples through this test when they come and see me for pre marriage counselling and they find it very helpful I had one couple who the grooms conflict management style was forcing, he liked to win and the brides was concession, she would give in to keep the peace and they asked me if this was going to be a problem… It might have been if they were not aware of this issue. I’ve put the link to it on our website and in the newssheet today.

The beatitudes have taken us on a journey of seeing our hearts renewed and purified by the coming of Jesus Kingdom and now he invites us to live it out in Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called the children of God. If we do this people will see the family resemblance with us they will see in our ministry of reconciliation that Paul tells us we are to have in 2 Corinthians 5 they will see the likeness of the one who reconciled us to our heavenly father in his suffering and sacrifice. They will see the peace that Jesus sent with his spirit over flow into the world around us.  However living as peacemakers will put us into conflict with the world around us.

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