First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Jane Florence
May 27, 2018
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-9
Sermon: “Peace Makers”
Our nation celebrates Memorial Day tomorrow. For some that means a picnic by the lake and the beginning of summer, for some it means day to grab a bargain on the sale rack, for others it is a day to honor those who have died while in military service. All that is tomorrow.
I am very careful to avoid nationalistic, patriotic holidays in worship services. That does not mean that I avoid everything political. I believe our faith speaks to our national policies. We can’t and shouldn’t compartmentalize Sunday and limit our faith expressions to one day a week. How we learn to live on Sunday should impact how we live in all the other aspects of our lives. But there is a difference between being a voice for justice in the political realm, and allowing nationalism to become our worship focus. There is a difference between committing to the Way of Jesus in our baptismal vows and pledging allegiance to a national flag. There is no greater danger than to wrap the cross of the Cosmic Christ Universal in any nation’s flag.
That doesn’t mean that I do not honor those who died in service to their county. In fact, I will be speaking at a Memorial Day service tomorrow, but that is on Monday at a cemetery not Sunday in the sanctuary where we gather to worship the God of us All.
The God of Americans: North Americans, South Americans, Central Americans.
The God of Afghanistans, Iraqis, Syrians
The God of Germans, French, and British
The God North and South Koreans, Russians and the entire world
To worship the God beyond and within all is to see beyond lines on a globe and colors of a flag.
On a weekend we remember and honor people who died while serving in our armed forces. We need not be celebrating war, but honoring their efforts and sacrifices towards peace. We honor those who died in war – not the atrocities of war. We honor those who died in hopes of making the world better, a more peaceful world not by glorifying war, but by making their goal a reality, by actually making a more peaceful world by fulfilling the mission, for blessed are the peacemakers.
Jesus offers blessings to those who are otherwise seen as less-than. Those who are seen as impoverished in spirit or lacking in strength, those who might be seen by the world as weak: the merciful, the meek, the peacemakers, Jesus honors these and sees their gifts and lifts them up not as a weakness but as a strength. He blesses them.
Jesus was a man of non-violence. He spoke against violence “put away your sword,” he said to his disciples who tried to defend him. He died in protest against the violence of the world. He opposed violence for two reasons, that I can readily see. One, he studied his scriptures, the ancient scriptures of his faith tradition, the Hebrew stories, law and prophets of his time. From those, he gleaned that the God of us All, the Divine force of Good in the Universe, does not desire violence.
The Genesis narrative tells of God’s Creation unfolding in the beginning, “it was good. It was good. It was very good.” In a mere two chapters later, violence soon becomes endemic. We read, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (Gen. 6:11). And “God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth’ ” (Gen. 6:13). So badly, was the violence of the people, that people believed destruction of the whole thing was thought to be the only way to cleanse the land.
The Hebrew prophets Jesus studied and quotes showed a clear disdain for violence. Ezekiel: [God] “said to me, ‘Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the people of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually arouse my anger?’” (8:17). Hosea: “Ephraim feeds on the wind; he pursues the east wind all day and multiplies lies and violence” (12:1). Obadiah: “Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever” (v. 10). Perhaps the greatest Jewish prophet, Isaiah, pronounced a vision of a peaceable kingdom- where even the creatures of forest and desert – wild and domesticated would live in peace. Isiah pronounced that people too would arrive at peace: “And God shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4).
Yes, there is violence in the Hebrew story. There are horrendous accounts of violence. Those accounts of bloodshed are not the vision of God’s dream. The dream from the Divine becomes real when death dealing weapons (swords and spears) are transformed into life-sustaining cultivating tools for growing food. That’s a vision from an oracle of Israel. The prophet Isaiah envisions a peaceable kingdom that’s been held up for thousands of years; it’s a dream we have yet to accomplish.
So the first reason, Jesus was against violence, as I understand it, would be that he came to understand that God – Divine Force for Good- was against it. The second reason I think Jesus was against violence was in his understanding of Oneness. He understood a Oneness of God in all and through all. Oneness of all humanity and all creation. Jesus calls his followers to achieve oneness, union with all. When we can attain that understanding which he did, then we realize that violence, anger, hatred to the other harms us – destroys us – as much or more so than it does our opponents.
How do we really honor those who died fighting for peace? How do we truly worship the one crucified for love? We fulfill their hope and dream, for blessed are the peacemakers.
You don’t need me to tell you we are living in a violent world. Our nation is number one: number one in the most mass shootings. Almost 20,000 people are murdered each year in this country- almost 1,000 of those being children and teenagers. On average 24 people per minute are victims of domestic violence in this country.
We watch violence as entertainment. We play violent games. We own weapons of violence. We have violence without – violence against – violence between- violence within our beings. From guns in our streets and schools – to parent’s attacking each other on the little league field – to shouting matches at homes – to harming of self; violence is violence.
World religions, our own included, pronounce that violence is wrong. The church has been part of perpetuating violence in our history. We cannot deny the role that Christianity has played in adding violence to this world. We have also been part of preaching against violence. We say, ”blessed are the peacemakers.” We say, “turn your swords into gardening tools,” but have we adequately taught our people how to be peacemakers? Just saying, “be peacemakers” doesn’t make it so. How do we become peacemakers?
That is our lifetime assignment, to study the ways of Jesus and learn from his example that we can: gather in community with one another to encourage and support living differently than the violent world surrounding us.
We can connect with the holy as he did and connect with all others as he did. We can connect with the self-made in the image of God as he did. We can let our ego go so that we do not have to defend it, or defeat those who threaten it, or judge others or ourselves through the ego-eyes which produce violence of heart and life. We can enter into practices, create habits of stillness and breath, of pondering gratitude and joy and embrace that life is sacred. Then teach our children the same. We can attend to our spirit within with as much or more time, energy and focus as we attend to all the trivialities that we let consume us and which we give power over us. We become peacemakers by intentional awareness, keen introspection, and deep meditation and prayer.
In Union with God’s Holy Spirit, prayer leads us from death to life, from falsehood to truth, from despair to hope, from fear to trust. Prayer that leads us from hate to love, from war to peace. Prayer that lets peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe, for blessed are the peacemakers.
May we be so.