It Begins with Peace

Micah 4:3-4, James 3:17-18, Matthew 5:1-9

Rev. Doug Van Doren, Plymouth United Church of Christ, 7/13/14

 

Section IV of the1985 National United Church of Christ biennial meeting (General Synod) in its pronouncement "Affirming the United Church of Christ as a Just Peace Church" called all local churches to the inward journey of spiritual nurture, prayer, the study of scripture, theological reflection, education, celebration and worship around just peace. It also called all local churches to the outward journey of political witness. That is, the search for the politics of just peace and the outward journey of community witness. Plymouth Church itself became a Just Peace Church in 1990.

It seems to me that neither a denomination nor a local Christian Church should have to declare itself a Just Peace Church. Isn't that basic, shouldn't that be synonymous with being the church of Jesus Christ!? I suspect that most of you think it should be obvious, but it is not. As Mahatma Gandhi put it, "Everyone in the world knows that Jesus and his teachings were non-violent except Christians." Indeed, much of the church has been silent about or vocally in favor of wars, invasions, and occupations, as well as the U. S. and other world powers, militarizing the world. And even when in our hearts and our faith, we long for a Just Peace, waging it is difficult. How do you impact world peace? Are there not other things, more tangible, easier to impact that one should spend one's time on?

So the service this morning-the music, this sermon, and the communion - is meant to support and encourage both the inward and outward journey of waging peace.

It frustrates me that something so basic, so important, the only thing that will save our species-just peace - is so difficult to obtain, or even to sustain working on. But it has always been that way, it seems.

I am struck by the fact that peacemaking is included as one of the beatitudes. Though uplifting, it is addressed to the poor, those struggling against oppression, grief, and who are at odds with societal norms. It is a blessing on something that is completely counter-cultural as well as counter to expectations. It is a reminder of how life is under God rather than under Caesar. It is addressed to the lonely, those, I think, who feel out of step and out of favor.

Blessed are the poor for theirs is the reign of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 

The outsiders are comforted and affirmed. The prominent UCC Old Testament Professor, Walter Brueggemann, in his book, Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth, writes a prayer of confession and petition. Addressed to God, as all prayers are, it reads in part:

 

And you, in our sadness, sound your mantra,

"Blessed are the peacemakers."

We do not love war,

We yearn for peace,

But we have lost much will for peace

Even while we dream of order.

And you, in your hope, sound your mantra,

"Blessed are the peacemakers."

Deliver us in the deep ambiguity where we find ourselves.

Show us yet again the gaping space

Between your will and our feeble imagination.

Sound your mantra with more authority,

With more indignation,

Through sadness,

In hope... "Blessed are the peacemakers."

We find ourselves well short of blessed.

Give us freedom for your deep otherwise,

Finally to be blessed,

In the name of the Peacemaker

Who gave and did not take. Amen.

I simply remind us, and reinforce what we already know, that our faith begins with peace. Our faith begins with the receiving of peace and the call to make peace. Indeed, that can be difficult enough to do in our hearts, in our homes, and in our community, let alone in the world so that we forget about it. We focus on other things. But Just Peace is not on the fringes of our faith. It is at its core. It is its beginning point. It is a deep longing among Christians. The early Christian Church has the angel heralds in the birth narrative announce Peace on Earth, Good will to all. This is not something nostalgic or sentimental. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, and he defines himself that way when he chooses to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey - the ancient well-understood sign of the king who comes in peace. It is echoed over and over in the Gospels. The summons to a just peace is rooted in the prophets. As Fred Trost put it, you hear it, "In the longing of Micah, the sighs of Amos, the anguish of the Psalmist..." But it is also seen in our mothers and fathers in the faiths, like Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Romero, Archbishop Tutu, who were captives to, and trumpeters of the call to a just peace.

There is no denying, though some do by their words, and most of us do by our actions, that the call to pray, to work, and to live for a Just Peace is in our Christian DNA! It is God's intention for the world. That intention is poetically envisioned by our Hebrew forebears at the very beginning of their faith narrative in the image of the Garden of Eden. It is spoken by God's prophet Isaiah. He proclaims that the result of the one who comes in God's name, later interpreted to be the Messiah, and by the Christian Church as Jesus Christ, is that realm where "The wolf will lie down with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them..."

This is part of the inward journey, realizing that peacemaking, true peace, shalom, just peace is who we are and what we do. It is that inward and outward journey. We know that means personal work in our relationships and in our church. It means mission work-the work of sheltering, feeding and clothing. But it also means changing structures of attitude and action in our gun toting, violent, and war-making society.

Remember, God did not say to Moses, "Go down to Egypt and do a food drive for my people." God said, "Go down and tell O Pharaoh to let my people go!" Political structures at every level of American society influence who can be at peace-the peace of knowing they have at least some healthcare coverage, the peace of making a decent enough wage to feed and shelter their children, the peace of knowing that their child's bedroom will not be exploded by a drone-dropped bomb. Or the peace of knowing that their life-long home in occupied territory will not be leveled by a U. S. made Caterpillar bulldozer.

No, it isn't easy to know how to engage, though if we are honest, many attitudes, policies, and practices are obviously counter to the things that we know make for peace. There are legitimate differences of opinion in how to reach the goal. But ours is to be sure that the true goal is a just peace. That is our goal and that is the goal toward which we seek to influence society at all levels.

Jesus says, blessed are the "peacemakers." It isn't the peace "hopers," the peace "wishers," or the "peace talkers," but the peace makers. Peace has to be waged. It has to be waged in our own attitudes and actions. It has to be waged in our fervent prayers and political action. It needs to be waged by open hearts and open hands, in letters, petitions, coalitions, and contributions. It needs to be waged in continuing to imagine so we have a vision to sustain our work so that we as well as sisters and brothers halfway around the world can live in peace and harmony.

This is sacred work. May you and may we as Christ's Church be blessed. May we be called, "Children of God." For I ask you, what else, what else really is worth our time, or energy, and our risk-taking? For what else should we spend ourselves in God's name?

Give us freedom for your deep otherwise,

Finally to be blessed,

In the name of the Peacemaker

Who gave and did not take. Amen.