Blessed are the peacemakers

The headlines are grim. Four police-involved shootings in less than a week. Two where police were victims, two where they may have been perpetrators. And our nation seems to be on the brink of a meltdown. What is the Church to do?

Some in the Church seem content to stoke the flames. With bold rhetoric, they endorse law enforcement officials. With fiery accusations, they denounce racism. There is certainly some truth in all of it: racism should be denounced, and peace officers should be supported. But the tone and language – the vitriolic anger – these leaders use only exacerbates the problem and deepens the polarization of our culture.

Indeed, the violence of the past week is merely a symptom of the much more fundamental problem. For 240 years, we have supposed that merely bringing people of myriad colors, languages, and creeds together on a single continent, under a singular flag, behind a single piece of paper, would somehow produce a melting pot, nevermind that this has never before in history been the case. Today, we are confronted with the fact that the melting pot of America is, and always has been, a myth.

Fortunately, this is not an unprecedented situation. In the first letter to bear his name, St. Peter addressed the Church scattered across the Roman world. From Italy to Greece, Israel, Egypt, Lybia, and even Spain, the whole spectrum of the Mediterranean world was under the Roman flag, but peace was maintained only through an overwhelming military presence. Yet, as the Church spread across the empire, each of these distinct cultures – many of which have historically been diametrically opposed to one another – was suddenly represented in the proverbial pews. In 1 Peter 2:10, the apostle announced, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

All of these diverse, disparate cultures were brought together in the Church, under God, by the mercy which is made available in Christ.

Now, to be fair, this peace in the Church was at times quite messy, but it was a foretaste of Revelation 7:9-10, where St. John witnessed “a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language… standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” singing together praise to the King. But the point is, God’s grace was able to accomplish in the Church what no geography or flag or credo ever could.

And that’s exactly my point. Our enemy seeks to kill and destroy. His very name means accuser. When we resort to leveling accusations, defaming people on any side of an issue, or (God forbid!) returning violence in kind, we are utilizing his tactics. When we are utilizing his tactics, we are advancing his cause.

We in the Church must not subscribe to the bold rhetoric and fiery accusations wielded by some, much less wield them ourselves.

Rather, we must embrace the model Jesus espoused in the Beatitudes: “The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 HCSB). But how do we do that? I want to suggest a couple of ideas.

  • Ask questions rather than make statements.
  • Choose your words carefully, avoiding inflammatory comments.
  • Be polite and respectful, even to those who disagree with you. (Hint: Don’t call them names.)
  • Don’t reciprocate when someone speaks badly or mistreats you.
  • Demonstrate that you are primarily interested in the other person’s best interests. That is, show them that you love them as Jesus does.

Some of these will not be easy, but James did tell us that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.” A friend reminded me today that the Greek word translated “righteousness” can also be rendered “justice.” And if we want to see righteousness and/or justice, we must cultivate peace. Cultivation is synonymous with plowing or breaking up the soil so that it’s ready for planting. It is an intense, difficult process, but that should not be surprising.

St. Paul tells us that an authentic follower of Christ will have a circumcised heart. Circumcision is painful! And it must leave us tender, intensely sensitive to what’s going on around us!

Indeed, when Jesus came to the top of the hill and saw Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He lamented, “If you knew this day what would bring peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42), and He wept.

Do you know how many powerful moves of God were preceded by the men and women of God weeping? I went through the Bible and found just a few instances:

  1. Jacob and Esau wept together when they were reconciled.
  2. Joseph wept before the relationship with his brothers was restored.
  3. When the angel confronted Israel at Bokim, the people wept before they offered sacrifices to the Lord.
  4. When the messengers from Jabesh Gilead reached Gibeah with news that the city had been besieged and was on the brink of destruction, the people wept before the Spirit of God came powerfully on Saul.
  5. Hezekiah wept bitterly before God healed him.
  6. Ezra and the Israelites returning from exile wept before they cleansed the camp of the sin of intermarriage.
  7. When Nehemiah heard of the plight of Jerusalem, he wept before God moved the heart of the king and enabled him to rebuild the walls in an astonishing 52 days.
  8. Jesus wept before Lazarus came out of the tomb.

My friends, it is time that we in the Church begin cultivating peace. It’s time that we allow our hearts to be circumcised (rather than our tongues to wag). It’s time we weep because our nation doesn’t know what will bring it peace.

It’s time that we tell them with our words – and show them with our lives – that Jesus is the only One who can bring peace.

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