I had the opportunity to preach today at First United Methodist Church (Richmond, Indiana). I think it ended up being shorter than I wanted it to be, and in hindsight there was a little bit more elaboration I wanted to do, but for a very first attempt I was pleased with how it went. Here is the manuscript:
When some people read the Beatitudes, they assume that these are descriptions of people whom God favors. But the Beatitudes aren’t just general statements about different kinds of people whom God favors or who go to heaven. They are the ‘marks of the Church,’ and they pronounce blessings upon authentic disciples, upon true Christ-followers. Each Beatitude starts with the word ‘blessed’–that’s where we get the name, for Beatitude is from the Latin for ‘blessed.’ ‘Blessed’ here is not the opposite of ‘unhappy’ but of ‘cursed.’ The word in Greek is related to salvation, to peace, to health and wholeness.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God (Mt. 5:9)
So what does it mean to be a peacemaker?
Perhaps you’ve been following the saga of events in Ukraine. Earlier this year, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula after months of unrest and a public referendum put to the inhabitants of this former province of Ukraine. If you’ve followed political commentary, you’ve also seen that many countries have feared that Russia won’t stop with the Crimea. But people continue to work behind the scenes through diplomatic channels to defuse the situation–including Russian president Putin, who personally called President Obama back in late March in the hope of diplomacy defusing what could easily escalate into a major war. Perhaps this is your idea of peace.
Or perhaps you’ve heard police officers referred to as peace officers or keepers of the peace, those who ensure order in a community. Maybe that is what you think of when you think ‘peace.’ Or maybe you look to people seeking to heal old wounds inflicted on people like the American Indians at places like the Sand Creek massacre and say, ‘That is my idea of peace–burying old hatreds between different races.’
You would not be wrong, but Jesus meant more than that when he included this statement among the Beatitudes.
The word translated as ‘peacemakers’ here in the Greek is eirenepoioi. It’s this word eirene from which we get the word ‘irenic’ and the name ‘Irene.’ In classical Greek, it meant freedom from war. But it is not simply a lack of conflict or war, nor is it the maintenance of order.
The peace of which the Bible speaks is not escapism, withdrawal from the world or passiveness. It is not dependent on external circumstances, either. It is based on belief in God and his promises in Jesus Christ. As British Methodist William Sangster wrote in his classic The Pure in Heart, “The peace of the [Christian] is set deep in the rock of reality. It is based on his utter faith in God. It is maintained by his glad abandonment to the Father’s will.”
In the New Testament, eirene takes on the meanings of the Hebrew word shalom. It is more than absence of conflict, though it includes it: it is absence of conflict, right relationship between humanity and God and between fellow human beings; it implies obedience to God and absence of sin and rebellion, it implies salvation and blessedness as opposed to damnation and cursedness. In short, it is harmony and human flourishing in every sense.
So you see, when Jesus says that the peacemakers are blessed, he isn’t just calling for his followers to avoid conflicts or not break the law. He is calling his disciples to be reconcilers–most importantly, by reconciling people to God, who is the source and center of all peace. He expects his people, the Church, to share the Good News that God is repairing all broken relationships with himself through Jesus Christ.
The old Roman emperors called themselves ‘peacemakers’ and ‘sons of God.’ But Jesus turned these statements on their heads, subtly challenging the prevailing worldview. The emperors were peacemakers only in the classical Greek sense, only in the sense that they maintained order in society and (ideally) kept society free from war. They were definitely no sons of God, no angels nor were they in the company of the angels. But for Jesus, a true disciple–a true Christ-follower–is among other things a peacemaker, and they are the ones whom God will claim as his own.
When the great Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones arrived in post-World War II Japan, he was greeted with crowds carrying banners welcoming ‘The Apostle of Peace.’ Jones, sometimes called ‘The Billy Graham of India,’ was known in his day not just for his friendship with Mahatma Gandhi, but also for his evangelistic tours of India and his ‘religious roundtables’ where Christians and non-Christians would come together to share how their religions had made a difference in their lives. It was this interconnected view of peace that Jesus meant when he pronounced peacemakers blessed–as E. Stanley Jones said: “Peace is a by-product of conditions out of which peace naturally comes. If reconciliation is God’s chief business, it is ours–between man and God, between man and himself, and between man and man.”
Reconciliation–peacemaking–is God’s chief business, and it is ours.
So then, as followers of the Risen Christ, how do we go about being peacemakers? There are a number of ways, including communicating with God daily by prayer and Bible-reading, by obeying God and allowing him to lead you by his Holy Spirit. Another of these is by evangelizing. You don’t need to pass out tracts or tell people they’re going to Hell–those don’t usually work anyway. But build relationships, be there for people, love them as people and not only insofar as they fit your agenda (they can usually tell that, too), pray for them every day and, as the opportunity arises, do as the Christians did at E. Stanley Jones’ religious roundtables: just tell them what Jesus has done for you.
But perhaps you don’t know Jesus yet, but you want to. If that’s the case, talk to me after the service and let me tell you what Jesus has done for me.