Blessed Are Those Who Make Peace
This past September, I had the joy of finally being able to visit Israel for the first time. A retreat for missionaries subsidized the accommodation so together with a friend, we boarded the two hour flight to Tel Aviv and rented a car to drive up to Galilee for the conference.
At first, we were a bit concerned that we were not having the emotional reaction experienced by other Christian tourists we met along the way. We were fascinated and eagerly reading notes we’d printed out from the internet in advance….they were weeping, overcome by places that Jesus had visited. We felt a bit unspiritual until I realized the difference. Getting off a plane from Cleveland and being confronted by sand, palm trees and Roman ruins, it all seems so overwhelming, so….biblical. But for two women from Turkey – it looked just like Turkey!
That was until our car rounded the gentle switchbacks that led up to the Mount of Beatitudes. Like all the New Testament sites in Israel, an ornate basilica is built over the spot where Jesus was believed to have stood as he delivered His Sermon on the Mount. We skipped the church, opting to hike instead around the side of the mountain to get to the grassy hill below the church. It was standing there, looking out at the same vista Jesus would have as He delivered those important words, that I also was overcome with love and gratitude.
Timeless teaching. That is the Sermon on the Mount, but certain passages seem to be more poignant than others at different times. And one particular verse seems appropriate for the current climate of tension and polarization that is in the US at this time:
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9, ESV)
The New Living Translation brings home even more the intent of the active verb: “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.”
Whether it’s working for peace or making of peace, it’s clear that action is required. Too often in the past – and Nazi Germany was one of those times and places – Christians have considered avoiding evil as the peaceful approach. But this is not what the Scripture says.
What does the making of peace look like in the midst of social media frenzy, with close friends on both side of a debate? I know some who have cancelled their Facebook accounts or are taking a break until the vitriol dies down. That’s peaceful – and those who have done it may have been told to by the Lord – but it is not peace making.
One day, when I was so appalled at something a Christian had written and every one of my ten fingers was dying to respond, I decided instead to turn it into something humorous. Hundreds ‘laughed’ – but that is deflection, not peace making.
I can think of one time I might have been successful. The year between college graduation and going to Moody for a year before going overseas, I was a junior high band director. Our school had a mixture of rich white kids and poor black kids – though all were suffering from absent parents, just for different reasons. Racial tensions were high and good rehearsal skills were required to prevent kids from pulling knives on each other.
My saxophone section was particularly guilty and so I decided to make them come after school where I turned them into a saxophone quartet. They grumbled, they rebelled - but they came. Soon, the music they were making together began to affect their relationships. I began to bring them to malls and shopping centers to play. Their self-esteem grew and their friendships were cemented. Peace had been made. And it took what we often don’t want to give – our time.
What does it take to be a peacemaker? Quakers, who are known for peacemaking, have four principles that are good for us to consider:
1. Make peace with God. There are many admirable efforts being made in the secular arena. I was impressed when in Israel by some initiatives to see Jews, Christians and Muslims build relationships towards a lasting peace. But the problem is that without peace with God, all will be temporary. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Eph 2:13,14)
2. Be at peace with self. Being at peace with ourselves is understanding who we are in Christ – our position as His child, transparency with other believers about our weaknesses and understanding the spiritual gifting with which we’ve been blessed. So much conflict comes from insecurity and lack of confidence in these things.
3. Live in peace with others. This relates to #2. James 4:1-2 says it so well: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.”
4. Proclaim peace to the world. It’s the greatest job in the world! Or hobby! Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” Publishing peace means you enable a wide circulation – publish peace on your Facebooks! Declare ‘Your God reigns!’ Each one of those three words is a great message – one, it’s YOUR God. Tell the Hindu at Dunkin’ Donuts and the Muslim in the mall “He’s YOUR God!” For you! Jesus died for YOU!”
Then, it’s GOD. Not a deity, not a member of a pantheon but the eternal, existing-before-creation Holy One of the Universe. We should tremble. We should remove our shoes. And best of all – He REIGNS! This all-powerful being has not closed up shop after creation, disinterested in what has happened since. He REIGNS. He is in control, He is aware, He is faithful and trustworthy.
That’s a message worth sharing. With whom can we share it and make peace today?