Sunday, March 24, 2013

Making Peace: What God's Children Do

Too long have I lived
    among those who hate peace.
I am for peace;
    but when I speak, they are for war. Psalm 120
This week was the tenth anniversary of the war in Iraq, an occasion marked by bombs in Baghdad, reports of chemical warfare in Syria, continuing argument about drones, guns, foreign policy. 

Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”

From all I can tell as I read the gospels, the book of Acts, the epistles to early churches, peace-making isn’t an add-on, optional activity for a few fringe followers of Christ. It’s visible evidence of family membership. It’s what God’s children do.
St. Francis, Fritz Eichenberg,
 1952, New York

Seek peace, we’re told.

Pray for peace.

Live in peace. 

Go in peace. 

Offer peace.

Turn the other cheek.

Forgive seventy times seven.

Love your neighbor as yourselves. 

Love your enemies. 

Do good to those who curse you.

Peace-making is at the heart of the good news Jesus offers: reconciliation between God and man, between warring factions, between those traditionally included and empowered and those too long treated as invisible and unworthy: 
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3)
 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. . . Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace (Colossians 3). 
James, Jesus’ brother, insisting that faith reveal itself in a consistent, loving life, taught that followers of Christ would express his peace in their inner dialogue, their daily attitudes, their thoughtful, respectful words: 
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.  (James 3) 
From Old Testament to new, a sure sign of idolatrous paganism was trust in chariots and swords, military schemes, unsanctioned alliances with brutal neighbors. God’s people were expected to trust in him, not the latest military toy. His wisdom demonstrates itself in peacemaking that brings righteousness (not "rightness," but something far beyond it) 

The trust in God that vanquished fear and allowed believers to live in peace was so striking to observers of the early church that many, weary of Roman brutality, were drawn to the Christian faith, setting aside their own hatreds and weapons. Athanasius of Alexandria, ( 296-373 AD), asked:  
"Who is he that has united in peace those who hated each other, if not the beloved Son of the Father, the common Savior of all, Jesus Christ, who in his love submitted to all things for our salvation? For even from of old it had been prophesied concerning the peace ushered in by him, the scriptures saying, 'They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into sickles, and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn any more to wage war' (Isaiah 2:4).
"And such a thing is not unbelievable, inasmuch as even now the barbarians . . . while they still sacrifice to their idols, rage against one another and cannot bear to remain without a sword for a single hour, but when they hear the teaching of Christ they immediately turn to farming instead of war, and instead of arming their hands with swords stretch them out in prayer.” (On the Incarnation) 
Other early church historians echo this:  “Christ, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier,” wrote Tertullian.

Clement of Alexandria agreed: “If you enroll as one of God’s people, heaven is your country and God your lawgiver. And what are His laws? You shall not kill, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. To him that strikes you on the one cheek, turn to him the other also.”

According to St Basil the Great, “Nothing is so characteristically Christian as being a peacemaker.”

For Athanasius and other early writers, the courageous peacemaking of the disciples of Christ was visible evidence of God’s power and of the truth of the gospel.

Peacemaking points us back to the Hebrew word “shalom.” 

Shalom is more than an absence of war, cessation of conflict, appeasement of the enemy. Shalom as described in scripture includes good health, safety and security for all, lack of fear, absence of  violence or danger, harmony with nature, joy in doing what’s right, economic justice, ample harvests, wise and equitable leadership, restored relationship with God and others.

Peaceable Kingdom, Fritz Eichenberg, 1950
Seek that.

Long for that.

Pray for that. 


But make that? 


In reality, none of us are able, on our own, to make peace.

Not even a tiny fraction of peace.

Even in ourselves, our own hearts and minds. Our own homes and yards. Our own small circles of influence.

God is the one able to create shalom – to tear down walls of oppression, restore harmonies long destroyed.

And yet he invites us to work alongside him, sowing small seeds of peace, waiting for him to bring fruit.

Just yesterday, caught in the middle of adolescent mayhem, listening to generations of anger bubble up in ill-considered words and not-so-idle threats, I found myself praying to be a maker-of-peace.

There is no recipe. No magic wand.

The tools we’re given are love, mercy, patience, a listening ear – not just to words spoken and unspoken, but to cries of the heart, too long buried, and to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

And service. Sometimes service is an avenue to peace, a way of showing love, of gently dismantling walls.

And prayer - silent prayer, spoken prayer, active, participatory prayer. 

Yesterday’s scene took some troubling turns, skidded several times toward disaster, then resolved, miraculously, with cups of tea around the dining room table, thoughtful conversation about the mysteries of the human heart and personality, then lighthearted talk and happy, healthy laughter.

I had some small part in that small breath of shalom, but the blessing was seeing God at work. Watching him bring hints of health as I offered my obedience. 

I’m mindful, today, Palm Sunday, of the darkness and division inside us all. The same voices that cried “Hosannah!” to the Prince of Peace riding into Jerusalem cried “crucify him” days later, when he refused to pick up a sword and lead a rebellion against the Romans.

We pray for peace, then look for ways to smash our enemies. We say we trust God, then watch our defense budget swallow funds more wisely used in feeding the poor, or building better schools.

We hear the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, then close our ears to discussions of waterboarding and drones, and thoughtlessly repeat what we’ve been told about the groups, parties, nations we’ve come to believe must remain our enemies.

I aspire to be a peacemaker. I’ve had numerous ambitions over the years: a tenured position at a liberal arts college. Write the great American novel. Shatter the glass ceiling in the youth ministry profession. Run a mile without dying.

Thinking and praying about peacemaking this week, I’ve realized: this is what I aspire to most. In my home and extended family. In my half-acre habitat. In the families God has called me to serve, in the unjust systems and troubled regions that are part of my daily cycle of prayer.

I long to see shalom: real health for people, places, communities; just systems of production, distribution, education; genuine love where anger, distrust, exclusion hold sway.

I’m blessed by those who share my aspiration: young adults giving sacrificially of time and energy to be agents of peace in racially divided neighborhoods, an aging social worker going far beyond the call of duty to offer stability and hope to fractured families and children in distress.

I’m nourished by stories of people like Pierre Nkurunziza, of Burundi, or  Leymah Gbowee, of Liberia, who dared to forgive, to pray, to insist on setting aside hatred and anger and model a new way forward, a way of peace.

Where to start?

There's no "peace-maker" degree I can earn.

No job opening I can apply for. 

It's a daily calling - not just for me, but for all of us who claim to follow Christ.

Works of Mercy/Works of War, Rita Corbin, c1954, New York

This is the seventh in a series on Lent and the Beatitudes: