The Peace of Christianity.
Isaiah 40: 1 – 11; Mark 1: 1 – 8
John the Baptist is not normally associated with the concept of Peace. He is that alternative desert dweller telling people the Messiah – the Christ was coming soon. He told people to prepare themselves by turning from their self-centred lives. People wanted to know what to do while they waited. John told them to behave generously and honestly with each other. Those who had two tunics of clothes were to give one to those who had none and likewise with food. Tax collectors and soldiers where to take no more money than what was entitled to them. [Lk 3: 10-14] John prepared people for the advent of Christ. Many came to hear him and follow, and when Jesus came some of John’s disciples left to follow Jesus.
Christ Jesus came bearing the title of ‘Prince of Peace’. Both John and Jesus were about peace. They were peacemakers. When we evaluate John and Jesus’ ministry the common factor centres on the Christ figure who brings us into a new relationship with God and this world. In Jesus’ teaching and life it emerged that he was the Christ. The message was one of hope and of peace: reconciliation with God and others. Reconciliation is the foundation of peace.
This sermon emphasises three things about peace. Firstly, peace is not the absence of conflict. Secondly, peace is a result of peacemaking. Thirdly, we are called to be peacemakers.
Peace is not the absence of conflict. I sense that when we use the noun ‘peace’ we usually mean there is an absence of conflict. One will hear people say, “At least it is peaceful.” And by that they mean there is no conflict. We can live in a time when there is no conflict or war, yet it is a most un-peaceful time. What could be happening in the absence of conflict is the laying of a foundation of unrest, injustice and division. So often the times of so-called-peace lead to material prosperity that not everyone shares. In fact often times of peace have been times when we have allowed our self-interest to disenfranchise the weak. I understand that the peace established after WWI led to the outbreak of WWII. Peace is something that has to be forged on the anvil of justice. Our lack of justice forges conflict and war.
In our Holy Communion services we pass the peace. The handshake symbolises Christian love and unity. The passing of the peace is a specific action where we look at our fellow Christian and warmly say; “The peace of Christ be with you.” And the response is; “And also with you.” It is not an opportunity to say hello, how are you? We are passing the peace with Christians whom we know and not know so well. The point is we are offering the peace of Christ to someone because we have turned to Christ ourselves. We offer the peace of Christ in the knowledge that we are sisters and brothers in Christ. In passing the passing the peace we are reminding ourselves that we have a need for peace and a need to work for it. This is why passing the peace is a serious matter.
God’s peace, Christ’s peace is a gift of acceptance, renewal and belonging. To live in peace is to live in a just, welcoming community. Peaceful people live justly, accepting others and full of kindness. Christian peace is a heavy thing: the peace of Christ is a beautiful experience.
We need peacemakers to make peace. That need is self-evident. The mere fact that we have so many awards for peacemakers, like the Nobel Peace prize, is indicative of our need for peacemakers. One site on the Internet lists 1493 “Notable Peacemakers throughout History”. The list begins with – Moses! That makes sense. The list naturally includes Jesus, the Prince of Peace. That also, makes sense to us. The list includes Maximilianus the first conscientious objector. He was a Christian and the son of a Roman soldier. He refused to go to war. Some names that struck me on the list were Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, Muhammad, St Francis of Assisi, Joan of Ark, Thomas More, Francis Xavier, Francis Bacon, George Whitfield, John Newton, Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Fry, Fanny Wright, Julia Ward Howe, Mark Twain, Oscar Romero, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela to name a few.
A cursory glance at this long list, which does not include every person such as a Rosie Batty, tells us that peacemaking is not just about being against war but about building relationships, reconciling people and ensuring well-being and the dignity for all.
The unending list of peacemakers tells us that we have a great need for them. It also tells us we don’t seem to learn from our history. How much poorer we would be if there were not people like this who had worked for peace. Their stories tell us that peace only comes through commitment, service and at a great cost.
We are called to be peacemakers. Jesus said; “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” [Mt 5:9] This is a profound statement found amongst the Beatitudes. There Jesus speaks about blessedness and being righteous, receiving mercy, being filled, inheriting the earth and receiving the Kingdom of God, but in this instance he says the peacemaker will be called a ‘child of God’. Now let us be clear that Jesus doesn’t mean a peace-lover. You know the Peace-Lover is the person who wants peace at any cost. ‘Let’s not talk about that now!’ they say. The peace lover avoids the hard task of peacemaking. The peace-lover sees Peace as an absence of conflict. Peacemaking is the reconciling of people, the bringing of justice and providing for the well-being of all. Reconciliation and justice are brought about by hard work and often at a great cost. Peace requires truth telling, but for all our calls for honesty, real honesty is hard work. We don’t like the truth because it uncovers the lie. But when there is reconciliation and justice all are blessed and made well.
Peacemaking begins with making peace with God. Paul writes to the Roman church saying; Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. [Rom 5:1] Isaiah tells us the cost of our peace with God:
… he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed. [Is 53:5]
The peacemaker must be a peaceful person; someone who is reconciled to God and others; and someone who lives justly and generously in the world. Listen to what is said in the Bible about peace and peacemaking. Here is a small sample.
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. [Rom 12:18]
Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. [Rom 14:19]
Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. [Heb 12:14]
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. [James 3:17,18]
Douglas Noll has some helpful insights in his ‘Ten Principles of Peacemaking”. I will mention five of his ten.
‘Peacemaking seeks long term sustainable solutions rather than polite agreements or uneasy and fragile truces.
In peacemaking, truth telling and truth seeking are honoured.
Peacemaking offers an opportunity to explore and discover the unimaginable.
Peacemaking involves risks, not the least of which is failure.
Peacemaking requires tremendous courage by those faced with difficult conflict.’
Jesus is the Prince of Peace for he came to us with the deep love to reconcile us to God and each other, and the utter commitment to pay the price of such reconciliation, because peacemaking is costly.
The question for us is whether we want to remain takers or do we want to become makers?
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 10/12/2017