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This news report was written about the opening of the 2022 Winter Olympics two weeks ago:
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on Friday urged world leaders to “give peace a chance” at the outset of the Winter Games in Beijing — an apparent nod to the ongoing security crisis along Ukraine’s borders and Western criticism of China’s human rights abuses.
“In our fragile world — where division, conflict and mistrust are on the rise — we show the world, yes, it is possible to be fierce rivals while at the same time living peacefully and respectfully together,” Bach said in an address at the games’ opening ceremony, which was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Give peace a chance. Who would be against such a sentiment? The question is, what is the way to peace? How will peace be achieved? Is it through treaties? How has that worked for us in Canada? Is it through international agreements, trade, sporting events, governing bodies like the UN? (I’m talking geopolitically and let us not get overwhelmed because we’re going to make this very personal in a few moments.) What is peace? Is peace simply the absence of conflict? Is it maintenance of a status quo?
Is ”Give peace a chance” all we are saying? Is Jesus saying something more here?
What do we even mean when we say peace? It’s central to our faith. “Peace be with you,” we say, “And also with you.” There’s an Orthodox liturgy (a way of doing worship together) where the service starts with the words – “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, and of the Holy Spirit, in peace let us pray to the Lord.” The liturgy ends “Go now in peace.” Give peace a chance. We move from that 50,000-foot geopolitical view and we zoom right into a man sitting on a hill with a crowd of people around him sitting in the grass. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” he’s saying.
Let’s talk about what peace is not. It’s not the status quo. It’s not simply the absence of conflict or even conflict somewhere else so we don’t experience conflict here. It’s not simply treating symptoms of conflict without treating conflict’s roots – the heart of the matter if you like. In his sermon on this Beatitude, DMLJ speaks of a stream of water that is polluted. To address this problem, you wouldn’t simply treat the water, you would look to the source of the pollution. So we look at our hearts and we listen to the man who is speaking these words and this is where we start.
“For he is our peace…” (Eph 2:14) “and through him, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:20) He is the one named the Son of David. The son of David was Solomon whose name means peace. Shalom. In the New Testament, the word is Eirene, from which we get the name Irene. We need to reclaim the meaning of what peace means in the life of faith. It's a word that’s been watered down. In George Orwell’s 1984, the government ministry which oversees war is known as the Ministry of Peace. The US Air Force’s Strategic Air Command existed from 1946 to 1992. Their motto was “Our business is peace.” In the Soviet era, the Russian word for peace (MIP) was used by the government to describe activities like the suppression of dissent and wars in which the country engaged. Someone said shortly after the Soviet system collapsed “It (MIP) is a word that reminds us of lies, fear, propaganda and military parades – things that are the opposite of peace.” In an ironic move, the Colt .45 was dubbed “The Peacemaker” when it was released to the civilian market. Is peace simply the absence of conflict or violence under the threat or possibility of greater violence? Is this making peace?
Peace is not simply the absence of conflict. Peace is not simply conflict being held at bay by threat of violence. Shalom means wholeness. It means harmony. It means welfare, as in the faring well of all. It means flourishing for all. It’s the vision of Isaiah 11:6-9, which I’ll read as we look at that painting I’ve shown before, “The Peaceable Kingdom.”
What a contrast to some of the images we see on the news, in our news feeds. Images of war, of violence, of conflict, of hate, of demonization of opponents. We say “Lord what have we done? Lord, what are we doing?” And we stop, hear the words that might get drowned out in the tumult.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. This is not a passive thing we’re called to. Jesus does not say “Blessed are those who wish for peace, wait for peace, love peace even, praise peace, talk about peace.” Peace-making starts with the one who is speaking these words. Peacemaking starts with the one who was described by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, “For he is our peace…” (Eph 2:14) Jesus is the one who, when he sent his followers out in pairs (because we’re not called to do this Christ following on our own!) said “3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ (Luke 10:3-5) The one who is speaking is the one who said to his followers before his death “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) After he was raised Jesus greeted them saying, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) And then we read “After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” (John 20:20-21)
He alone is peace. These Beatitudes are a call to conversion. They’re a call to trust. They’re a call to follow him. They’re an invitation to life in the kingdom of heaven. “Let there be peace on earth,” we sing, “And let it begin with me.” It actually begins with Him, though it moves to us as we’ll discuss in a little while. Peace flows from a posture of recognizing our need for God and our dependence on God; from mourning our sins and the sins of our world; from humility and steadiness of spirit and not insisting on our own way; from hunger and thirst for righteousness (a rightness) with God and with God’s creation, a hunger and thirst for justice; from hearts that have experienced the mercy of God and extend that mercy to others; from hearts that are undivided. The vertical aspect of peacemaking comes down from the God of peace. “The God of peace be with you all. Amen.” Romans 15:33. This is not just a platitude for Paul. May we never be platitudinous in our repetition of such things. What wonderful truths they contain. The God of peace be with you all. Amen. So be it. We really are saying a lot more than “Give peace a chance” here. The vertical aspect of peacemaking.
Which brings us to the horizontal aspect. Let there be peace on earth, and let the horizontal aspect begin with me. This would not work in the song! Let it begin with me. Let us be diffusers of peace. I like this image. When I first heard it I thought of a thurible (I did not know they were called that prior to this week) which diffuses incense in certain traditions. Paul writes to the Corinthians about us being the sweet aroma of Christ. The sweet aroma of the Prince of Peace. If we want an image closer to home, we can think of aromatherapy diffusers that are quite popular now. Lord, help us, teach us, to be diffusers of your peace. Let it start within us in the Holy Spirit.
Let it radiate out from there to the people who are closest to us. This is where talk of making peace becomes extremely practical. Here is some of the wisdom I came across: “Be willing to forget things done against you. Never cast someone’s error in their face. Refuse to pass along gossip. If you do hear malicious gossip about a neighbour, seek to give it the best possible interpretation, or conceal it from others. Make use of the golden talent of silence. If you’re in the wrong, confess it instantly to the person you wronged. Don’t start a debate when your spouse is in a bad mood. Don’t trust your own judgment while you’re angry…. Be willing to sacrifice in order to make peace. Yield first if you’re in a quarrel. Do not return evil for evil, but return good for evil (Rom 12:17, 21; 1 Peter 3:9). One minister named Robert Henley used the analogy of the “peace” created when a section of wood is placed between two pieces of metal to prevent heat from travelling between them; peacemakers are “‘non-conductors’ of bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil-speaking, and all malice.”
Through the last 2,000 years, Christians have come down on different sides when it comes to war and peace. Some have advocated just war theology that seeks to limit how war is fought, particularly its effect on civilian populations. War’s effect on civilian populations changed dramatically in the 20th century. Peacemaking efforts changed dramatically too in the face of nuclear devastation. Things get more complicated when God and patriotism are put together. There has always existed a Christian pacifism which refuses to take up arms at all, though some would serve as medics in time of war. We need to prayerfully discern where we stand on these things. I find the notion of “peacebuilding” appealing. Peacebuilding seeks to find a way between pacifism and just war theology, looking at questions of how to address societal conditions that lead to war, and how to rebuild communities in the aftermath of war.
We’re going to sing the prayer of St. Francis in a few moments, “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.” Francis of Assisi grew up the son of the town tailor, a walking advertisement for the clothes his father made. With dreams of glory, he took part in a war between Assisi and neighbouring Perugia at 20 years of age. This experience opened his eyes to the horrors of war. One day he stopped to pray at the chapel in San Damiano, which had fallen into ruins. He heard Christ say to him “Go and repair my house.” Francis began a life without money or possessions, which he understood as following the Gospel. “Pace e bene” was his greeting to all – peace and goodness. Some friends joined him and started a new order, the Minores – the lesser brothers. When the bishop of Assisi denounced their poverty as a disgrace and disreputable, Francis told him “if we had possessions, we would need weapons to protect them.”
Francis reached out to those considered enemies. In 1219, at the time of the 5th Crusade, he set out unarmed, with one other brother, to meet Sultan Mallik-al-Kamil. “They will kill you,” Francis was told. The two were captured, beaten and brought to the Sultan. “Did they wish to become Muslim?” was the question posed to the pair. Saying yes would have meant saving their lives. Francis replied to the Sultan that “they came to seek his conversion – if they failed, let them be beheaded.” They continued to meet for a month. While neither was converted to the other’s faith, it was reported that they departed as brothers.
Francis’ life also reminds us that the Peaceable Kingdom is for all of creation. Have you heard the story of Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio? Gubbio was a town close to Assisi, whose residents and livestock were being terrorized by a wolf. Reaching across inter-species lines, Francis went out to meet the wolf with no weapon or shield. Upon encountering the wolf, “The saint made the sign of the cross and the power of God… stopped the wolf, making it slow down and close its cruel mouth. Then Francis called to it, ‘Brother Wolf, in the name of Jesus Christ, I order you not to hurt me, or anyone.’”
“The wolf then came close to Francis, lowered its head and then lay down at his feet as though it had become a lamb. Francis then censured the wolf for its former cruelties, especially for killing human beings made in the image of God, thus making a whole town into its deadly enemy. 'But Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and them, so that they will not be harmed by you anymore, and after they have forgiven you your past crimes, neither men nor dogs will pursue you anymore. 'The wolf responded with gestures of submission 'showing that it willingly accepted what the saint had said and would observe. Francis promised the wolf that the people of Gubbio would henceforth 'give you food every day as long as you shall live so that you will never again suffer hunger.' In return, the wolf had to give up attacking both animal and man.' And as Saint Francis held out his hand to receive the pledge, the wolf also raised its front paw and meekly and gently put it in Saint Francis' hand as a sign that it had given its pledge.” Francis and Brother Wolf went into town, where Francis preached a sermon, told the townspeople that the wolf would not trouble them any longer, all they needed to do was feed it. The wolf lived out its days in Gubbio, “and whenever it went through the town, its peaceful kindness and patience reminded them of the virtues and holiness of Saint Francis.'
For they will be called the children of God. For in peace-making we will ever more be coming to bear the family resemblance. In being diffusers of the peace of God, people will ever more be coming to know God in us and God through us. “Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Tune our hearts to yours, You who are our peace. Give us peace within that we might spread your peace to those near and far, and to all Your creation.” May this be the prayer of all of us this day, and every day.