peacemaking


Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7: 21

Jesus must have been in quite a mood on this day, for before He was finished, the Lord had laid out challenging words for everyone in the audience, and He left each of us today with similar hard sayings to contemplate. No one escaped this call to live as righteous people, and no one was left out in these broad and sweeping challenges to the ways that we think, speak, and act. A relationship with God should make a difference in the conduct of our days. So, if we claim Jesus as Lord, then people should hear and see Jesus when we speak and act. In fact, it is the way that we live that is the most telling indicator of that relationship, and this is the reason for this particular point of indictment against those that make false claims of faith.

There were people in Jesus’ time that talked a good talk when it came to saying that what they taught and the way that they lived was grounded in and directed by God. Today, the same thing is still true, for people make claims to following Christ; yet, the things that they say and the way that they live are significantly disconnected from the truth of the gospel of Christ. This is often manifest in the manner in which people selectively engage in loving others, caring for the needy, and in the areas of power, greed, and nationalism. Too many people that claim to be followers of Jesus are also people who would promote the cause of violence in our world or that rally to the cry of corporate or national protectionism when those causes, as expressed and executed, bring about suffering and death for thousands upon thousands of our world’s most defenseless people. Additionally, the church and its people have frequently lost sight of what it means to care about and for life as God devises and views it.

All people, from conception through the last natural breath that is drawn on this earth are important and priceless in the eyes of God. So, they should be viewed in the same manner by anyone that claims Christ as Lord. We are to be protectors of those souls, people that use our wealth and positions of power to provide opportunities for life, food and shelter when it is absent, protection from violence, and the grace and mercy of acceptance and understanding. This is a part of what it means to be someone that can call out “Lord, you are my Lord,” to Jesus and have Him respond back that He knows your name. This degree of commitment to living out the challenges of the gospel is what was lacking in many of the so-called religious people that Jesus was confronting, and the situation is the same now. Thus, the challenge for each of us who seek to name Christ as our Lord is the one of living out this radical love, risky engagement with our world, and relentless drive to bring the reality of the kingdom of God into the place where we dwell each and every day.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Ephesians 2: 17

There are separations, divisions, and animosities running wildly amok in our world today. This is not a profound revelation that has come to me; rather, it is the reality in which we all dwell. I submit that it is easier to identify conditions, situations, and identities that divide us than it is to do the same with those that bind people together. In part, this is true because we are more interested in the tensions than we are in their reconciliation, but it is also the continuing arch of the playing out of the fallen state of creation, itself. This world has been headed in this direction from its earliest days, and it continues to spiral downward; however, it does seem that the spiral is growing ever tighter and the rate of spin is continually increasing. Perhaps we are living in the midst of the death spiral of this world?

The saddest aspect of all of this is the fact that it doesn’t need to be so. God planned and established the way and the means for reconciliation of any and all differences. The Father does not want to see His people caught up in the animosities, hatred, and the violence that stems from them. He would have all of us learn to accept each other, take the risk inherent in peacemaking, and reach across all of our points of division with the hand of fellowship and grace. So, the means that God established for doing this is Jesus and the way is the cross. Christ’s love and grace serve to bring people into a relationship with God that ends our separation from all that is righteous and holy; thus, Christ reconciles people to our Creator. This is a part of what God intends to see happen. The other primary aspect of the Lord’s desire and will is carried out when we seek to reconcile with each other.

It is not easy to love people who are different, care for those who seem to be natural enemies, and enter into the stories of those who make us uncomfortable or who actually frighten us. Yet, Christ calls upon His people to do these things. He also goes with us as we seek to extend that hand of fellowship to others. For as we look upon the cross and consider what it means to join with Jesus in the sacrifice and the commitment to righteousness that is centered upon that torturous implement, all fear and concern should be left behind us. Christ experienced all of the pain, grief, and terror for us during those agonizing hours of hanging upon the cross. In Christ we are not only set free to love those who are different from us, but those differences are, in fact, made to disappear. They become meaningless in the context of God’s newly redeemed existence as citizens of His kingdom come to earth. In Christ and by the sacrifice of the cross, we can know the true peace that comes through loving all people as Christ loves them and from no longer seeing their difference but rather from looking upon them as fellow bearers of God’s beautiful and perfect image.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1: 14-16

The first thing that comes to mind with Peter’s words here is, “Holy? Who me, holy?” I know my mind, and its contents are nothing even remotely close to that standard. I also have an idea of how I live my life, and that is certainly not something that I would describe as holy. Yet, Christ seems to think that even I can be the sort of person that could be called into holiness as my way of going through life and as the description of who I have become because of Christ’s presence in me. Peter understood this dilemma, for he had lived in the center of it for many years. He was a passionate man, and he tended to speak and to act out of his emotions far before he considered the impact or the effect of what he was about to say or do. 

Now Christ reminds him that the redemptive work that was done on the cross has removed all of Peter’s obligation to his former life and has removed him from the need to obey the rule of this world. When he was called to Christ, he was also set free from the oppression of his former life, and the barriers that his disobedience had erected between himself and God were broken down and removed in their entirety. Now he could think, speak, and act in a manner that was contradictory to the methods and the manners of the world around him, and he was empowered to cast off the way of living that was grounded in fear, fueled by anger, and designed to gain control that had been what he was taught and encouraged in during the days before Christ. Christ brought Peter into the center of a new gospel of love, peacemaking, and restoration. In Christ he was now seen as holy by God, and he was to be known as holy by the world as well.

So too, are we to be known in our world, for, in Christ, we are all redeemed from that same form of captivity to the world’s approach to relating to others and to God. As it was with Peter, this is a work in progress at this time; although, Christ’s work is completed and perfect, the transformative work that the Spirit is doing within me is perfect but it will be complete beyond this life. Until then, I, like all followers of Christ, live in the tension of our calling to be holy that stands in contrast to the daily reality of the many ways that the heart and the mind prove to be something less than that. This is the place where grace stands as God’s healing potion. This gift of loving understanding and permission to continue on despite my failings and weakness is a part of God’s unending encouragement to each of His people to continue on in this journey of hopeful obedience. So, when Christ tells us to live as holy people, He is not calling us into failure or defeat, but rather, the Lord is leading us into His assured possibility of living in the world as His redeemed and transformed people.  

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD,

   when the plowman shall overtake the reaper

   and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;

the mountains shall drip sweet wine,

   and all the hills shall flow with it.

Amos 9: 13

There were hard days coming. This had been the message that the Lord had given to Amos to proclaim to both Israel and Judah. The prosperity that they were enjoying was to be momentary, and the wealth, power, and riches of the lands would become waste, destruction, and death. Then all that remained by way of the people that inhabited these nations would be carried away to live as exiles, captives, and slaves to a pagan nation. This was not a pleasant prospect for the future, and its coming reality was attributed to the fact that the people of these God-ordained nations were living in the full expression of their own wills with little to no concern for God’s Holy Word or with almost no engagement in the Lord’s commission to live as righteous people in the middle of a spiritual desert.

Despite the Lord’s anger at His people and His sense of futility in trying to get them to turn back to worshiping Him with all of their being, God promises that there will be a day of restoration, rebuilding, and renewed abundance in the land. This rebirth of life for the descendants of those who will face the terror of those days of awful cleansing will be accomplished by the hand of God alone. He will set people to work on doing various needful tasks, but their actual freedom to do these things and the capacity to accomplish them will be the Lord’s gifts to those people. Their opportunity to have an impact on all that is to come rests in the hands of those who are hearing Amos’ plea. They are the people who have the opportunity to change the course of the future for themselves and for their children by turning away from the current path of self-worship and by returning to fully committed worship of the one true God.

It seems to me that we, too, may have this same sort of choice making to consider. The world where we dwell is one wherein worship of the Lord, in its true and fully engaged sense, is rare. We live in many prosperous nations that do little to care for or to engage in meaningful concern for those around us who are oppressed, starving, and rendered homeless because of the unchecked violence of our times. The Israelites were called upon by God to be His hands and to do His work in the world. The abundance of their fields was intended to help feed the hungry, and the wealth of their spiritual legacy was designed to overflow through their proclamation into the spiritually dead peoples that surrounded them. If we too are followers of Christ, then we hold the same calling from the Lord to proclaim His name and to bring the presence of His glory to all of the world by virtue of the way that we live our lives. We are to seek to make the bounty of the Lord’s visionary proclamation a spiritual and a literal reality in our world by caring for others, by loving the unlovely, and by sharing our great wealth, both physical and spiritual, with the numerous people that its provider holds as dear and precious in His sight. 

I will turn your feasts into mourning

   and all your songs into lamentation;

I will bring sackcloth on every waist

   and baldness on every head;

I will make it like the mourning for an only son

   and the end of it like a bitter day.

Amos 8: 10

It seems to me that God actually enjoys a good party. He wants His people to feel joy and to express it through laughter and in gathering together to celebrate the faithfulness and the goodness that the Lord has poured out upon them. I think that this appreciation for a celebratory spirit in people is a part of why God called upon His people, the Israelites to plan and schedule several feasts and festivals as specific occasions when they would gather to remember all that God had done for them and to enter into acts of atonement for their sins and ones that sought to solicit the Lord’s guidance and direction for the future. Although for the most part we do not adhere to the same formal schedule of special events, people still do celebrate and remember that which is good in our world at specific times on our calendars. To this day, we are a people who enjoy the goodness with which the Lord has graced us.

Despite God’s desire for His people to celebrate His presence with them, He informed them through the words of the prophet Amos that their actions would lead Him to turn those festivals into wakes. Their sinfulness was leading them into destruction, and their disobedience to God’s will for them to be honest and just people was forcing the Lord to withdraw His protections from their land. This would be a drastic step on the Lord’s part, and He was not quick to take such a radical action. God would have preferred to see the Israelites recognize their sins, repent of them, and turn to doing the Lord’s will than to bring about punishment in the form of destruction, death, and captivity at the hands of another nation. Yet, that is what happened.

It seems to me that there are lessons for us to learn from what happened so long ago in Israel. None of us today live in a nation that was formed by God’s hand with the same specific intent as was Israel. That is to be a country that was governed and ruled by God’s Word alone. That sort of thing was, in reality, an example of why we needed Jesus. Israel’s failure as a holy kingdom was writ large across the history of the world. Jesus brought with Him an entirely new concept of nation under God’s authority that no longer has boundaries that can be drawn upon maps or be governed by people. Still, the nations of this earth are granted their existence by God, and they are intended to bring order to the world’s chaos and to promote justice for all people. These human-crafted and God ordained entities operate under a mandate to be peacemakers in the world. So, it seems to me that the warnings that were set out for Israel have pertinence to us today. We must be people who live honestly, promote justice, and seek to be peacemakers, or we too may find that all of our party décor will become blackened and our festivities will be converted to times of mournful wailing.

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,

   but he who has a hasty temper exalts a fool.

Proverbs 14: 29

Our culture’s ultimate source of knowledge, Wikipedia, defines anger in this manner,

“The emotion anger, also known as wrath orrage, is an intense emotional state. It involves a strong uncomfortable and hostile response to a perceived provocation, hurt or threat.”

Well, I agree with this except that it seems as if the part about provocation, hurt, or threat no longer applies, for people today become demonstrably wrathful without any sort of real provocation beyond what should produce mild irritation or slight annoyance. Today anger is a tool that is used to overwhelm, to oppress, and to defeat others. Although the use of this powerful emotion in this manner is prevalent today, I submit for consideration that it has always been employed in a similar manner. The writer of this proverb was speaking about something that was both cultural observation and probably personal experience. Almost all people from the dawn of creation have given in to anger’s ugliness and destructive presence.

Yet, that is not how it needs to be. There is another way to engage with people, even with people who really do tend to cause our blood to boil. Jesus certainly felt anger at the way that people were corrupting their worship of God and at the oppressive actions of those in power. God has expressed His anger at the disobedience and selfishness of people. Throughout the long history of Christ’s church, our ongoing disregard for God’s call to live in a just, loving, and other-focused manner has caused a form of anger to well up in numerous righteous followers of Christ. God’s anger, whether displayed by Him or by Jesus is tempered by a desire to bring about redemption and reconciliation to God’s way of truth and righteousness. Thus, the Lord demonstrates His understanding of the people with whom He is angry and with the circumstances that have caused their sinful actions. The Lord knows each of us as an individual, and He enters into our lives with our specific and personal identities in view even when He is displeased with what we are thinking, saying, and doing.

If we truly desire to break the distressing cycle of angry engagement in our world today, we can do nothing less than to follow our Lord in seeking to understand where others are coming from when they cause strong negativity to arise in us. We must seek to know them as people and to recognize that even the most troubling of personalities bears the touch of the Creator’s hand in who they are and in how they function. That does not mean that all actions and words are acceptable or that we should allow all of them to exist without comment, response, or rebuke. The righteous, the loving, and the God-honoring thing to do is often otherwise. Yet, even the sternest of responses needs to be tempered by grace, redemptive love, and a form of understanding that comes by and through the Spirit. When we live in this manner by abandoning the destructive tactics of our world, we have chosen to follow Christ in a manner much like the one that He taught us in the seventh beatitude,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5: 9 

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

Mark 4: 39

The depth and breadth of God’s Word is truly amazing to me, for the Lord never seems to stop revealing new thoughts and applications of it. Thus, I admit that I had never thought of this well-known verse from Mark’s account of Jesus’ time with us on earth in human form in the following manner. In this moment in the gospel narrative we know that Jesus is demonstrating His Godness in that He possesses power over nature, and He also provides a tangible example of the way that He did then and continues to care about and for people in this world. Additionally, there is a strong suggestion of the fact that followers of His will encounter opposition and that He will engage with those forces for our sakes. These are all good things, and they do reflect God’s character and His nature. Yet, it comes to me, even the Holy Spirit seems to be an early riser, that there is something additional on display in the words and the actions in which Jesus engages here.

For a brief moment, short and transitory as it is, Jesus commands nature to return to God’s creation design intent. The natural world was constructed as a peaceful place where everything functioned perfectly and wherein the elements such as wind, water, fire, and rain were to be productive and supportive of the thriving of all of life. All of this, every aspect of nature, has been damaged and disturbed by the effects of sin. Those disobedient and rebellious acts that the first people chose to do have had a profound impact on the way that this world operates, and none of that is for the good. So, on that day and in that boat upon the sea, Jesus took back a piece of this world from Satan’s evil grip, and He set it right for the benefit of a few people and as an example of something much bigger by way of future promise and also in the form of setting out a part of His call and commission for His followers.

There is no question that God has promised that there will come a time when Jesus will again walk upon this earth. This will be a point in history when all of creation will be restored to the glory of God’s design. There will no longer be any grief and death, and all of the universe will exist in a form of harmonious peace. This is God’s promise, and it establishes a form of hope for all of us as we follow Christ in this troubled world. Yet, Jesus seldom left things with future hope as His only teaching point. It seems to me that He also wants us to actively engage with the created world with redemption and restoration in mind. People continue to do real harm to the place where we dwell, and we do this with little regard for the gifts that God has given to us by way of the resources in the earth and seas or that are contained in the atmosphere that envelopes us. I believe that Christ desires for us to join Him in rebuking the corruption that sin has produced on and in nature. He also wants us to care for what He has given to us for the sake of our thriving. Until Jesus returns, we are, in fact, His hands and His voice to be used for promoting peace upon this earth, even peace in the natural world.

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