As Jesus was starting out in his earthly ministry, there was a deep spark and excitement that surrounded what he was doing. He healed the sick. He taught in a way that inspired. Up and down the coast of Galilee, Jesus was making a difference in such a way that people were wondering what was going on. They wanted to be a part of something that inspired and seemed different.
At the same time, though, they were wondering what this Jesus was all about. Why should they follow Jesus with more than just their words and affirmation? What will Jesus ask of them if they were to follow him?
Maybe those are questions we are asking of ourselves this morning. In fact, I hope they are questions we are asking. Never should we assume we have it all figured out. Never should we be afraid of asking hard and difficult questions in the church about what it means to follow Christ in this time and in this place. When we gather in worship, we come together as members of the body of Christ to discern where God is leading us and what it means to be faithful in the world. Because when the worship service ends on Sunday morning, the worship of God continues as we seek to be the hands and feet of Christ in our mission field of Huntington, Cabell County, the Tristate area, West Virginia, and around the world. To do so means for us to take seriously conversations about how our faith interacts with the world.
What does it mean to be faithful? Perhaps that question is why Jesus gathered his disciples and the crowd that followed him at a shoreside mountain top to express what this life was about. What followed is known as “The Sermon on the Mount.” It was Jesus’ inaugural address that announces the kind of kingdom God was ushering in through Jesus’ life. This kingdom life, this Jesus life, was about creating a counter-cultural reality where God’s kingdom was manifested in our actions in such a way that it transforms the entire world. Jesus came to change the world, and those who follow him are called to be active participants in that world-changing mission.
Thus, what Jesus gives in the Sermon on the Mount are not bumper sticker statements that are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” They are the desires of God for those who would seek to take up the mantle of God’s holy name. Throughout this month, we will look at statements found within the Sermon on the Mount, especially within Chapter 5, and contemplate how God calls us to live faithfully in the challenging moments of life that are before us today.
It is worth pointing out that the Sermon on the Mount is not as much of a sermon as it is a series of teaching moments. Matthew gathers these together within a time of teaching near the Sea of Galilee as a way to show how Jesus teaches the depths of God’s law and desires. For Matthew, the mountain was a place of divine revelation and connection. That this takes place on a mountain, even though we would consider it more of a hillside, points to the importance of what was being taught.
Jesus’ teachings begin with what has been called “The Beatitudes.” It is a series of nine blessings where Jesus announces who will receive divine favor from God. Each of the statements are counter-cultural in nature, because those who receive the blessings of God are not expected. They are not the rich, privileged, and powerful, but those that are often ridiculed, mocked, or misunderstood for their life-changing and grace-filled perspectives.
Among those listed are the peacemakers. Jesus says, in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” This is not a statement that comes out of the blue. It deals with a real situation and need for the followers of Christ to hear and reflect on. The followers of Jesus were hearing these words during tense times, which, ironically, were known as pax Romana. This was a practice of the Roman government to instill peace throughout the Roman Empire. However, peace was more about obedience to the government through force and threats. Failure to obey the Roman authorities would result in charges of treason, which was punishable by death on a cross.
We hear these words today in tense times. These are among the most polarized times in our history. We are divided by economics – the rich and the poor share little in common with one another, culture – we have lost the ability to recognize the unique challenges that face people in urban and rural contexts, and politics – we are more likely today to only have friends who agree with us politically. While we want to claim that this is a societal problem, it is also one that is affecting the church and our mission to make disciples. We often desire churches that reflect our polarization.
It is important for us to reflect on what it means to be peacemakers in these times, because this is where we live. God has placed us all in this time and in this place to be the hands and feet of Christ. This work of peacemaking is not something to gloss over as if to claim Jesus didn’t really mean for us to live this out. It calls us to reflect upon the challenging, counter-cultural nature of God’s desires in these divided times.
To be peacemakers is to be about the work of bringing about God’s shalom. Shalom is a Hebrew word for peace. Its basic definition connects to the idea of wholeness. It recognizes that in God’s love is wholeness for all people based upon the very nature of God’s love. Shalom brings together people who are at odds with one another and seeks reconciliation and resumption of connection. This type of peace brings together people under the hope of God. At the same time, it brings the entire community and all of creation into the deep arms and care of God by seeking to live with a desire for deep hope for the entire world.
Peacemaking is living out the true nature of God’s shalom in all of our words, actions, and deeds. It is the hard and challenging work that is before those who would seek to live as followers of Christ. We are not called to be witnesses of the world’s standards for connection, or disconnection, with one another. We are to be practitioners of God’s shalom, especially in divided and polarized times.
What does this mean for us today? For one, to be peacemakers is to set aside the divisive language of “us versus them.” Divisions are created when we try to pit one side against the other by claiming we are insiders and those who do not fit our expectations are outsiders. Those whom we extend the grace of welcome towards are, often, those who fit into our predetermined ideas of who is in and who is out. This only creates separation and a lack of love between one another.
Peacemakers seek to make room for all people by recognizing that there is something of value and importance in every person. Peacemakers recognize, as Jesus showed us, that those whom we often try to divide ourselves from can teach us something about God’s love. This is what Jesus exhibited by building relationships with Samaritans – outsiders to the Jewish faith because of their faith practices – and showing where God’s love was shown in and through them.
To be peacemakers also means that we refuse to demean one another, complain about things that are not as we would like, or seek only our way as the example of what it means to follow God. Instead, being peacemakers calls us to find commonality of experience with one another. It means seeking to learn from, hear from, and respect one another, even if they have a different view, perspective, or practice of life. We do not distance ourselves from one another simply because someone doesn’t fit into our box, but instead seek to learn and grow daily by hearing from and listening to one another, as well as refusing to get angry just because our need for power and control are not affirmed. In doing so, we hear the words of James, who reminds us that seeking peace often means being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
Being peacemakers means we see people, not as objects to be used, but people to be loved. Too often, we only see people as objects who are in our way to obtaining power, control, or other things we want from the world. It is why we grow impatient with one another, get angry at the drop of the hat when things do not go our way, or complain when we are not affirmed or valued in our opinion. Other people are mere objects to be used for our own disposal so we can get what we want. Once we get what we want, we discard that person and relationship. Peacemakers see people as children of God and people of worth. People are not objects to help us achieve our goals. Peacemakers see people for who they are and try to walk in their shoes. In doing so, peacemakers build empathy for people by feeling their pain, struggles, and joys as their own.
Peacemakers are needed today. Jesus says those who seek to be peacemakers are called children of God. They are blessed to be part of God’s family, because they have not just heard God’s word, but have put God’s word into practice in a way that seeks understanding and reconciliation in the world. Peacemakers change the world by bringing forth God’s shalom. Blessed are the children of God who seek to bring God’s peace into the world!
This is a peace found as we come to the table of communion. In a moment, as we pray the prayer of confession, we’ll have a moment to reflect upon our participation in the divisions in the world. I invite you to take this time of silence as a place to offer to God your repentance for the places where we have sought to divide instead of unify in Christ’s love. As well, when we come to the end of the Great Thanksgiving where I consecrate the elements, you’ll hear a phrase in the prayer that is familiar to us: Make us one with Christ and one with each other until Christ comes again and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
That is what peacemaking is all about. That is what God’s shalom is all about. And if we seek any part of Christ’s love and grace, we will not just say this is what Jesus desires, we will seek to put them into practice as the faithful acts of people who desire not just to hear God’s words but to follow them, especially when it is challenging and difficult.
So, God, please make us peacemakers today. Make us one with Christ and one with each other until Christ comes again and we feast at his heavenly banquet.