For he himself is our peace, he has made us both one and has broken down in the flesh the dividing wall of hostility.

Ephesians 2: 14

 

It seems that I have consulted with myself and granted permission to me to stretch the application of this verse some in order to make a point. Additionally, I am not sorry for my actions. This verse is part of a much longer sentence that runs across several of our verse divisions, and the point involved is a discussion about the way that Christ’s sacrifice has eliminated the Jew and Gentile divisions and separations that existed in his day and that were enforced in the Law. This point had a much broader application than just the way that people of different religious beliefs would live, for it also engaged with issues of race, nationality, gender, and societal status. I believe that God’s desired outcome in giving us the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, is far more inclusive regarding the issues that divide people than just religion or any of the other concerns and causes that might have been prevalent in the time when Paul wrote his letter to the church.

 

We live in a world today that is far more divided than it has been at any other time in history. We also operate in a manner that is guaranteed to continue existing divisions and to promote even greater ones as we go along our way. The communication tools that we have at our disposal are powerful entrenching tools when it comes to constructing these canyon-like separations, and we have fabricated rules for using these means of communication that allow for words, comments, and commentary that would have been largely unacceptable in the past to be viewed as normative today. It seems that no one holds anyone else to a standard of behavior when it comes to what is said and that none of us are willing to impose restraint upon ourselves, either. We have entered into a time when our political discourse is neither civil nor is its objective really to bring us to a place where reasoned thinking leads to mutually satisfactory processes and decisions.

 

So, here is a radical proposal. It would seem that Paul stated a concept for healthy human interaction that was one that God threw out to us a very long time ago. That is, in Christ we have our answer to all that separates and divides us. Through His blood we are all brought together before the Great High King, and it is His law of love, grace, justice, and redemption that becomes our new, final, and permanent rule of law that considers all and that prevails in everything. In this kingdom of God’s, if it does not speak Christ, I do not say it, and if my words do not seek to create understanding and unity, I rethink and restate them until they accomplish this goal as a higher purpose than just driving home my point. When I am gathered around Christ’s eucharistic table in company with those who may see an issue differently than I do, our goal is no longer winning the debate; instead, it becomes sharing in the Lord’s feast of unity that is formed around His Gospel. Even when I do not share this faith with the person that I am engaged with, my objective in all matters should be to demonstrate Christ in what I think, say, and do. Divisions are made my people, they are fueled by Satanic fire, and they are always contrary to God’s will and outside of His desire for the way that His people would live in our world.

 

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Pay to all what is owed to them; taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Romans 13: 7

 

Taxes are taxes, and we owe the amounts that our governments dictate that we need to pay. When Paul speaks of revenue he is referencing the sums of money that we all pay to purchase goods and services and to pay for other aspects of living in our society. Although these topics are more complex than this and we do attach a significant amount of importance to our money, these are still relatively straightforward ideas. When the Apostle starts to discuss respect and honor, he has entered into territory that is much less well defined. It seems that our world today struggles greatly with being respectful and that it seldom honors anyone or anything for more than the few moments of life that a social media post enjoys. I wonder if this lack of showing respect and of granting honor isn’t at least in part the outcome that we get for being so stridently independent and self determined in the setting of our values and our world’s ethical constraints.

 

In this passage Paul is telling us about God’s view of what it means to live as a follower of Christ in the cultural setting of the day. His day looked very different than does ours on its surface, but underneath it all, not that much has actually changed over the course of two thousand plus years. We live in a world that, as Scripture tells us, is operating much like a tornado in that it is spinning wildly and without any apparent guidance along a random path in which destruction and death are too frequently the outcome so that confusion and chaos are the tangible result and fear and anger are the emotions that rule the days to follow. God seeks to bring order and reason to bear in the minds and the hearts of people. He desires for us to know Him as the calm that stills the raging winds even before they have actually subsided. God’s immense heart loves both the people who bring on the storm and those who are its victims, and He seeks to use its turmoil as a means for reaching each of them with the saving grace that is Christ.

 

As people who know Christ, it is our responsibility before God to live out the reality of His loving peace and prevailing calm. When it comes to these two final debts that people are required to discharge in the process of living in our world, experience has taught me that I need Christ and His strength in order to remain appropriately respectful and to give due honor to people and to institutions that I do not like or agree with. Let me say that respect and agreement are not the same thing, and granting the honor that is due in our world to someone or to something does not remove our responsibility to seek change and to demand that our societal institutions and governors operate in a manner that conforms to God’s Word of Truth. Yet, our manner in doing these things is important. In Christ, we have His heart and His mind within us, and His Spirit guides us into the deep meaning of His Word. Thus, we should be people who prayerfully consider what we say and the actions that we take. We can also be confident in knowing what is righteous and what is truly God’s will as we conduct ourselves during each day of our lives. We can and we should speak God’s truth at all times, and we must demand it from our leaders and from our governments. Yet, as we set forth our understanding of God’s righteous path in our world, we do need to honor the Lord by using language that is nuanced with love, grace, and peacemaking. Being respectful enhances the speaking of truth and standing for its cause. Living out the principles of righteousness and justice while granting honor to those who have the power to make them real in our world demonstrates to our rulers the fact that they also operate under the authority of the one true King.

 

 

And say to him, “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah.

Isaiah 7: 4

 

This message is the one that the Lord instructed the prophet Isaiah to deliver to King Ahaz of Judah. Now, from my way of seeing things this was truly a strange thing to say to a king, even if it is said at the direct instruction of God. Kings don’t stay in power if they are rash, jittery, fearful, and have weak spirits; yet, those are the issues that this king was to be confronted with. This makes me wonder about our world today and the message that God might send to its leaders. Would He commend them for their clear vision and righteous decisions, or would His words be ones of correction, redirection, and even rebuke?

 

So, in light of this subject, it seems worthwhile to consider our leaders today in contrast with those that we see portrayed in the Bible. God’s Word tells us that leaders of nations and I would submit, in other important areas of life are put there in conformity with God’s will. Throughout history people have been granted leaders who seem to match the nature and the character that the various constituencies desired. We get what we ask for. And throughout this long history, there have been very few, if any, leaders who measured up to the standard of righteousness, justice, and peacemaking that is God’s clearly expressed desire for the conduct of life in this world.

 

So, if I were Isaiah and God were to tell me to go and deliver His word of instruction to a significant leader, what words would the Lord give to me to say? Somehow, I don’t think that they would have changed much over the course of these 2,700 plus years since Isaiah’s conversation with Ahaz. In our world it takes careful consideration, clear vision, courage, and strength of character to set aside reliance upon the means and the methods that human tradition and practice set out as the tools of power, control, and pride. Yet, this is what God tells all of His people to do. We are to stop relying upon ourselves and upon these tools of conquest and of oppression in order to enter into the true peace of God’s Kingdom. Thus, I think that God is saying that I and all of His people need to speak up and tell out leaders to enter into the courageous process of following God and seeking to know His will as they walk in His ways.

 

 

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

Titus 3: 1, 2

 

Paul is giving instruction to his younger disciple Titus in how to lead a fellowship of followers of Christ. Central to Paul’s teaching is the fact that Christians should be actively different than others in their culture so that Christ in them shows clearly to the world by their words and their deeds. Nothing has changed since those days for those of us who know Christ. The wise words that Paul laid out for Titus should resonate with us, and we should live in a manner that causes Christ to be heard clearly through the conduct of our days. This way of life is unceasing and unrelenting, and God doesn’t really grant to us any situational exceptions.

 

So, when it comes to a Christian’s conduct in the arena of government and politics, we are tasked by God with a responsibility for the words that we speak and for the tone with which we deliver them. This is true for those who hold office, desire to do so, and for those who are governed by them. Unfortunately, the description of what a follower of Christ looks like that Paul gives to us here is very different from much of what is seen in our world. People who hold office and who are aspiring to be elected are held to this standard of respectful engagement in so far as they know Christ, and the ability to engage in the battle for office while living out this sort of Christ-like behavior should be an indicator of a person’s spiritual state of being.

 

For the majority of us who are not office holders or seekers, the standard of behavior that Paul sets forth needs to be our guide. When we speak about those who govern us, we are tasked by Christ to be courteous, respectful, and gentle. This does not mean that we are to avoid speaking out against that which is wrong, unjust, or contrary to God’s Word. We are to stand for God’s truth, and He is instructing us to do so in the counter-cultural manner described here so that Christ’s love and peace can stand out as light against the darkness of our world’s political environment. In this setting, the good work that we are to prepare for is to be engaged citizens while doing so with Christ’s truth, grace, and love as the visible signs of our allegiance to the one true King.

Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.

Joel 1: 14

 

Here is a sample of the instruction that this ancient voice of God’s will had for the people of the nation of Judah. There was a good deal more of the same, but these words do express plenty of what God had in mind. This was a time when God’s people had headed off on their own path. They were living out their personal visions for what was right and how justice should be served. There wasn’t much in any of this that could be traced back to God’s law or to His time-proven truths. Now there was truly the Devil to pay. The Lord had removed His protective hand from Judah, and locust have consumed their fields, war has bled their nations youth dry, and now drought is withering away what is left. These are hard times for everyone; so, God sends Joel to cry out to the people to return to their one and only true first love.

 

There is no question that something needs to be done. Navigating those difficult times clearly required strong leadership, and the people who are stepping forward were not taking the nation in a righteous direction. They probably had plans for insect control. There were big ideas about where to go to seek water and grand schemes for raising the funds that these ideas required. They certainly shouted out the need for a larger army with better weapons. There would have been chest thumping and negative comments about the other people who were attempting to gain power and control. In Joel’s days the clothing was different and the means of spreading the word was slower and more face-to-face, but the national atmosphere was not all that different than the ones that we encounter in our world today.

 

It seems that God is telling us to approach our challenges from a different perspective. He wants us to place our trust in the same solutions that were provided for the people of Judah. If they had been paying attention they would have realized that they had never successfully driven off a plague of locust, defended their borders from their strong enemies, or summoned the rain. These were things that God had always done for them. From the beginning of time God has gifted humanity with a national identity, a place to dwell and to plant roots, and the provision of the things that we need to grow and to thrive. God blesses people in these ways as we trust in Him, seek out His will, and choose to live in a just and righteous manner. Joel’s voice seems to cry out across the ages to our times, and he is saying that God is not pleased with our wanton and sinful approach to life. The Lord, God Almighty, is calling to each of us and to our nations with a voice of warning and a promise of salvation. The choice is yours and it is mine. Will we repent and return to the Lord, our rock and our defender?

In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and the honor of Israel.

Isaiah 4: 2

 

Isaiah is talking about some very bad times. Destruction has come to rest over the nation, and it has brought about loss and despair for most of the people of the land. Many of the people have been taken away into slavery or killed in battle or by war’s close cousins of disease and famine. Although we don’t need to deal with a situation that is exactly like this one, and I don’t believe that we are the nation of Israel as depicted here; I do believe that we face some very striking parallels to these times in our world today.

 

People who live in faith, who attempt to follow Christ in all aspects of life, are becoming more and more challenged by our culture and even by our governments. There is an ever growing open antagonism to our Lord in our world. Its legitimacy, power, and persuasion seem to grow on an almost daily basis. There are times and places where the chatter of our world sounds like an anti-God liturgy being spoken with great fervor by a hoard of zealous devotees. It would seem that this planet of ours has become a hostile environment for followers of Christ. But we shouldn’t give in to despair or stop living openly in praise and worship of our true King.

 

If Isaiah’s words carry with them truth for our times, then we should take great encouragement from them. The promise here is that it is in the very darkest of times that the glory of the Lord shines the brightest. Christ’s presence stands in stark contrast to the human pride and angry shouting of our world. Our Lord brings grace, mercy, understanding, healing, and peace where our culture grants none of these to its followers. Christ also grants purpose and mission to His followers. When we are faced with godlessness, we can rely on Christ to show us His righteousness. As we face the oppression that is rampant in our world, we can follow our Lord in our reliance on God’s Word with its eternal perspective as our foundation of truth to use in response. Christ calls upon His own people to trust in Him absolutely and to bring the sweet fruit of the message of salvation to our spiritually starved land.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.

Matthew 5: 9

 

Some people seem to be good at this. Others are the ones that create the greatest need for the services of these peacemaking souls. There are a number of religious practices or faith based groups that make peace a central tenant of what and who they are. Yet, peace is seldom valued fully, and it is rarely vigorously embraced in our world. We like power, and we worship control. It seems that the only sort of peace that grants these to any of us is one that is the result of oppressive authoritarian mandate and that is maintained by what is, in fact, continual acts of violence and threats of its use. This is not peace; rather, it is subjugation. Even in the freest of countries, our cultures still worship violence. We pose in aggressive stances, and we become defensive and angry when anyone suggests that there should be controls placed upon our ability to arm ourselves as we see fit.

 

None of this resembles the way that Christ approached the same sorts of situations. If you think that the world where he lived was not like ours, you are not viewing the same images and accounts that I see. The first century was a time that was marked by oppressive power, mighty machines of war, and insurgency against all of that. Personal rights were minimal for most, and their continuation was fragile. Additionally, Jesus acted and spoke as God, the Father, told Him to do. God provided Christ with guidance and instruction that was based upon God’s entire history of dealing with humanity. It was also framed by His fore-knowledge of the way that we would continue along our catastrophically destructive path through the rest of history. Although Christ will put an end to all of this as He purifies and redeems Creation, God is not satisfied with waiting for that time to come.

 

Christ calls on us to be peacemakers. Being that sort of person does not mean that our lives will be peaceful. In fact, peacemakers are people who deliberately put themselves in the middle of conflict. They are the bravest of those who run to the sound of gunfire, for they go to the battle armed with weapons of love, mercy, grace, and understanding. They are people who seek to break down barriers and topple barricades while sharing the eternal common ground of Christ with the combatants. Peacemakers choose to swim in the pool of peace. They enter into the holy sacrament of baptism in the waters of reconciliation. This is a calling to follow Christ deep into the heart of grace and far beyond the threshold of comfort and personal safety. It demands that we transcend reason or human rationality to enter into the realm of the mystical where the realities of God’s kingdom become normative. Yet this is where Christ calls for His people to live. We are to be people who reject violence in all forms and who dwell in total submission to His will. We are to be peacemakers.