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Blessed Are the Peacemakers

David Evans

June 23, 2013
Matthew 5:9 & Romans 12:9-18

 The gospels are pretty pointed when it comes to the spiritual discipline of being a peacemaker.   After Jesus is baptized in the Jordan and then tested in the wilderness, he begins his teaching ministry at the Sermon on the Mount.   Jesus begins his Sermon with a series of blessings that we call the “Beatitudes”.   These blessings turn “conventional wisdom” on its head.    Embedded in the Beatitudes is our text for today.   Hear the Word of the Lord: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”                                  Matthew 5:9

Gracie Hart was right of course.   Surely you remember Gracie Hart?    The FBI agent played by Sandra Bullock in the movie Miss Congeniality.   A movie by the way that was mostly filmed just blocks from here at Bass Concert Hall.   Gracie goes undercover to expose wrong-doing at a beauty pageant.   But first she has to be coached on how to be a participant in a beauty pageant.   And her mentor covers just about everything.   Except for the crucial question.   “And so, Miss Gracie Lou Freebush, what is the cause for which you are participating in the Miss America pageant?”    Gracie freezes because no one has told her she has to have a “cause”.   Finally she answers:  “Why, world peace.”

It is a silly answer in a silly movie with a silly premise.   World peace, for God’s sake!    Who would choose world peace as a beauty pageant cause in a time the legions of evil have marched to our very doorsteps?    Then again…    Then again…we hear Jesus’ words echoing off the hills of Galilee as he describes the upside-down values of the Kingdom of God to his rag-tag band of followers gathered on a Galilean mount.   And as Jesus describes those in this world who will find the real blessings of life, it is a litany of the down and out and patrons of lost and hopeless causes.    Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart.   And finally, near the end of the list, blessed are the peacemakers.   

Peacemakers.   When I was a young pastor peace was the “cause de jour”.   The Vietnam War was in its last gasps and peace marches were ubiquitous and an intiative called Peacemaking: The Believers Calling was a priority of our Presbyterian General Assembly.   Then we moved on.   One wonders whether we have lost our capacity to be appalled anymore.

Peacemaking is a pretty lonely calling in our day I think.   And yet the calling to be a maker of peace is deeply embedded in everything Jesus lived for and died for and rose again for.    It was a practice, a spiritual discipline, that Jesus hoped every one of his followers would embrace.   And as he lived out his life he made it abundantly clear what it meant to live a life of peace.   

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”   If only Jesus had left it at that we might have “spiritualized” that calling away like we “spiritualize” most every claim he makes on our lives so that it doesn’t interfere with how we want to live and what we want to do.    But Jesus cannot leave well enough alone.

Later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said:

“You have heard that is was said to those of ancient times:  ‘You shall not kill’; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.   But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister you will be liable to the council…”   Should I even ask:  when was the last time you were angry with someone?

Then it gets even harder:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you:   ‘Do not resist an evildoer.   But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…”   But what about the Second Amendment?  

But it gets even harder:

“You have heard that it was said:  ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’.   But I say to you, Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…”   Really, Jesus?   Love our enemies?   It’s hard enough for me to just tolerate my next door neighbor!

Where did these ideas come from?   The fact is, Jesus did not just make this stuff up.   It was a part of his DNA.    Jesus had been immersed in the prophets since he was a child.    He knew the prophet Isaiah by heart.    Isaiah envisioned a world in which the “boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.”  (9:5).   Isaiah envisioned a time when the “wolf shall live with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid…and a little child shall lead them.”  (11:6)   Isaiah knew deep in his heart that his calling was to be the one who announces peace.   He proclaims:  “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.”  (52:7)

This peace that Isaiah proclaims is not just the absence of war.   It is the well-being of all the earth.   It is the well-being of every nation and race.   It is the well-being of the neighbor and it is the well-being of the stranger.   It is the well-being of those we call  “illegal” and it is the well-being of those we label “enemy”.   It is the well-being of the earth  for which we are called to care.   

Jesus absorbs Isaiah’s vision of peace, his vision of shalom, his vision of a world in which God’s peace penetrates into every corner of the earth.   As Jesus pushes us deeper and deeper into the values of the Kingdom of God we begin to see that being a peacemaker is not just a “spiritual” exercise in praying for world peace, as important as that may be.   The calling to be a peacemaker is a calling that presents us with opportunities every moment of every day.     

Preaching can be humbling sometimes.   A couple of weeks ago I was at my desk one afternoon reading my texts for today’s sermon and wondering what in the world new and profound I could say about peacemaking.   The doorbell rang and when I answered there stood two neatly dressed women carrying Bibles and brochures.   Yes, Jehovah’s Witnesses.   One of them introduced herself as Jennifer and asked me:  “Are you concerned about world peace?”    She probably didn’t believe me when I replied:   “You know, I was just sitting at my desk thinking about world peace.”   I’m a child of the 50’s and 60’s for God’s sake.   I remember the Cuban missile crisis and bomb-shelters and nuclear attack drills at Central Elementary School.   But as I reflected that day I wondered whether over the years I had lost my capacity to be appalled and maybe Jennifer had dropped by to remind me that I should, indeed, be concerned about world peace. 

Some haven’t lost the capacity to be appalled.   There are a legion of nameless citizens who daily practice peacemaking in their own way in our neighborhoods and communities, across the nation and around the world.    And I am convinced that the cumulative effect of those legions of courageous peacemakers does more to further the cause of peace than all the speeches and all the treaties and all the efforts of nations.    We just get glimpses of this in the lives of ordinary people who hear the call to make peace.

Thirty years ago someone very near to my heart received a call one day from a friend.   Wayne said:   “Linda, you are a peacemaker.”   Linda had never heard those words before and she took them to heart because she trusted the caller.   For the next ten years Linda traveled back and forth to the former Soviet Union a half-dozen times on peacemaking journeys, befriending Russian Christians in that officially atheistic nation, worshipping with them, praying with them, learning to sing their hymns in Russian, and most of all listening to them and discovering that they had the same hope for peace that she had.   Then, when she came home, she told their story in words and photos and song to thousands  of  Christians in hundreds of venues across the nation, many if not most of whom considered the Russians as enemies.    I personally believe Linda and others like her are as responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet regime as any governmental leader.   She broke down what the Apostle Paul calls “dividing walls of hostility.”     She “preached peace to those who were far off and peace to those who are near…”   (Ephesians 2:14, 17).   Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. 

Or this.    When I was serving at Austin Seminary one of my most rewarding responsibilities was hosting  the recipients of the Distinguished Alumni/ae Award each January during the Mid-Winter Homecoming.    In 2006 I met Hans Richard Nevermann.   His story is almost unbelievable.    He was a member of Hilter Youth and then at age 17 was drafted into the Wehrmacht.    He was sent to the Eastern Front where he was seriously wounded in the battle of Stalingrad.   He was virtually left for dead, but a Russian peasant couple took him into their home and fed him and cared for him until he was able to travel.    He lost an arm.   When he made it back to Germany the Russians were occupying his homeland and he was arrested and thrown into a Gulag for five years.   There, he told me, someone gave him a New Testament and it was the only thing he had to read during his years in prison.    He became a Christian because he realized that Jesus was the hope of the world.   When he was released he went to Seminary and was ordained a minister in the Evangelische Kirche,  the Protestant Church of Germany.  

Richard then made his life’s work a “ministry of reconciliation”.   He went to Norway, a country devastated by the German armies, and helped with the rebuilding of communities destroyed by soldiers like him.   “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

We live in a world where we are so constantly exposed to violence that we fail to be appalled.  We live in a world where fear seems to have the upper hand.      We live in a world where the easiest thing in the world is to view the stranger as the enemy.  But we are called…even stronger…we are commanded by Jesus…to be peacemakers.   To be messengers of hope, of love, of peace in a fearful world. 

Do you know what I noticed, for the first time in the ten years we have worshipped at University Presbyterian Church?    I was walking across San Antonio and into the
Courtyard when I saw a sign on the fence.   Do you know what it says?   It says:

“This is a house of peace.”

 May it be so.     Lord Jesus, our Prince of Peace, may it be so.