Readings: Micah 6:6-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Ephesians 2:13-22 NRSV and Matthew 5:v9
Good morning – The theme today is the beatitude “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God”, There has been so much written about war and peace I have drawn from a wide range of sources to help deconstruct the concept of peace.
This year The Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize, 2018, to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their work to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. Denis Mukwege is the helper who has devoted his life to defending these victims. Nadia Murad is the witness who tells of the abuses perpetrated against herself and others. Each of them in their own way has helped to give greater visibility to war-time sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions.
War, violence and killing is endemic in our world … the Nobel peace prize 2018 was not for bringing peace but for limiting the actions of war.
Peace is not merely the absence of war or violent conflict rather it is something more. Peace is a positive thing. The use of violence and breakdown of war for political and any other purposes does occur from time to time. But the structural faults which cause war are enduring.
Peace is the concept of harmonious well-being and freedom from hostile aggression. In a social sense, peace is commonly used to mean a lack of conflict (such as war) and freedom from fear of violence between individuals or heterogeneous (relatively foreign or distinct) groups. Wikipedia
Albert Einstein said, “Peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice, of law, of order —in short, of government.” I have spoken before about the gift of imagination. When I was a health visitor I used to assess the development of children and at three I used to take a book with pictures and no words and ask the child to imagine what was happening and tell me the story. God clearly has a fantastic imagination; our imagination is a gift that we need to nurture. Can we ever imagine a time where there is an end to war, violence, suffering?
We are linking this series with songs of the Beatles – this week John Lennon’s “All we are saying – is give peace a chance”. As I was preparing for this morning I kept thinking of another song he wrote: Imagine –
“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”
― John Lennon,
In about 500 BC Pythagoras wrote “As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”
All we are saying is give peace a chance was an anti-war song written by John Lennon, and performed with Yoko Ono in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1969 it is the first solo single issued by Lennon, released when he was still a member of the Beatles, and became an anthem of the American anti-war movement during the 1970s. John said – we live in a world where we have to hide to make love but violence is openly displayed on our streets.
The Dali Lama said “World peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not just mere absence of violence. Peace is, I think, the manifestation of human compassion.”
And George McGovern historian and US politician wrote “I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.”
The words of Micah in the old Testament spells out what God requires of us…not to make big gestures and huge sacrifices of livestock that are all too evident to the community and the world. What God requires of us is to do justly, love kindness (mercy) and walk humbly with God… to actively work for what we imagine the kingdom of God as brought to us through the life and work of Jesus is and will be….
Our testament reading from Ephesians reminds us that Jesus has broken down walls of hostility – he has ‘abolished’- got rid of, ceased, the ‘law’, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of two thus making peace. All are one in Christ – no divisions…but…where do we see that peace in our world today?
This morning we all had an extra hour in bed because we recognise right across the country that there is a benefit in having a different time line in British summertime. Our calendar – well for most of the world recognises the time BC and AD before and after the birth of Christ – but we have not been able to share the peace that Jesus brought in any meaningful way across the world. Indeed, a great deal of the world is in a state of war and hostility. Throughout history the church itself has been active in spreading war not peace and investing in the weapons of war – Or at least in colluding with those that waged war. In more recent times this is changing.
Jesus was a radical and brought a radical message – the Jewish nation were looking for a messiah – a great and mighty king who would lead them to victory over their oppressors. The history of the Jews is writ large in the Old Testament which we often debate and discuss here in Christ Church. The Old testament includes a brutal history. Then Jesus came – not on a white charger, not a soldier or military leader or a zealot but a teacher, a poor man with no financial wealth or political power, a rabbi. Jesus accepted everyone, he challenged the status quo, he actively reached out to those who were outcast and the hard to love. Jesus was inclusive and loving and caring and showed a new way for everyone to be a part of the kingdom embraced by the love of God.
And Jesus said
“Blessed are the peacemakers – not the peacekeepers, not those who would seek to maintain an uneasy tension of non-violence or non-war, but peacemakers – those with the courage to imagine a new way to be, who are willing to go out of their way to negotiate and work to end conflict, those who are willing to take a risk of losing everything for love. This would have challenged the status quo and come as a big shock to the Jews who wanted, expected a great military ruler who would lead them to conquer and crush their enemies.
To make peace comes at a great cost, it may mean giving up or losing that thing that is most dear to us. We are all busy with our daily lives and peace is somewhere over there – we think we don’t have time to get involved in things that don’t immediately impact on our lives. To actively seek for peace is costly and risky and takes great courage and strength.
What does it take to be a true peacemaker –
“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize at the centre of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that its centre is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” ― Black Elk
We need to re-think all of our actions and reactions – not to hurt back when we are hurt, not to lash out in anger when we feel betrayed, not to rise up in indignation when we are misunderstood. That is a tall order isn’t it? But what is the alternative? Gandhi reminds us that “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
Where would any of us get the strength and courage to act in this way? We are fearful of others, outsiders, insiders, people like us and people different from us. We come out fighting in all manner of situations, it is difficult to see how we are capable of working for peace alone – our search for peace brings us together as we learn more about God through our knowledge of Jesus – image of God.
Recently we have heard of the canonisation of Bishop Oscar Romero – Saint Oscar Romero, was the Archbishop of San Salvador, he was always strongly and openly outspoken about the injustice of corrupt military and of government. He was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass.
Most of us have heard of Martin Luther King who spoke of having a dream of equity for all people of every age, creed and colour – Martin was threatened and actively hurt and eventually killed, he said – “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
Speaking out against war and poverty is risky especially for those in the public eye whose words often carry greater weight. But this is what we are called to – the words from Micah are powerful – don’t bring me excuses, or substitutes as tokens of your devotion – Micah says – “this is what I require of you to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God”.
I am a great fan of― Bill Watterson’s cartoon Calvin and Hobbes – Calvin is always challenging his Dad with his behaviour and his questions – he asks “Dad, how do soldiers killing each other solve the world’s problems?” Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995: An Exhibition Catalogue
Theologian D.Martyn Lloyd Jones suggests the peacemakers are blessed – because they are the people who stand out, because they are so different to everyone else in the world. He asserts that everyone else is motivated by lust, greed, selfishness and self-centredness which is the cause of all our troubles and why there is so much pain and suffering and war in the world. The heart of human beings must be changed if we are to make a difference to have a different way of being. In war we destroy our enemies but also ourselves.
(opening a pack of Jelly babies)I bought these sweets from Tesco – Peace babies… I had not realised that Jelly Babies were originally known as Peace babies – they were launched in 1918 to celebrate the end of WW1. Money from the sale of these particular packets goes to the Help for Hero’s fund. Because of the way we live we need soldiers and the toll that active service takes on soldiers, and their families, can be devastating.
To be a peacemaker – to be a child of God is to actively love the whole of creation, the world, our neighbours and ourselves. A true peacemaker is not an appeaser, a peacemaker is not content to let sleeping dogs lie, a peacemaker is not concerned with maintaining the status quo. A peacemaker actively seeks reconciliation, peace between individuals and families, in communities, and between nations. A peacemaker is not concerned with making him/herself look good or building an empire.
I never thought I would be quoting Jimi Hendrix in a sermon but he said “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”
Albert Einstein said – Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”
And the great philosopher Aristotle asserts that “It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.”
The words of the song that John Lennon wrote captured the imagination of all manner of people and the chorus with different words for each verse has been sung at marches and demonstrations world-wide…
“All we are saying is give peace a chance” – What would that mean for each of us and where would this peace start – Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, Myanmar … the cost of war is devastating we desperately need peace… let us pray for ourselves and what we can do.
I love this quote from the anthropologist Margaret Mead who said “never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world, it is the only thing that ever does”. Jesus worked with a small group of people to bring about a change to the world and to develop a way of sharing God’s great love with the world. When Jesus came something was fractured and the light and love and peace – the kingdom of God flowed in – we are building on the work of Jesus and all those who have gone before us, building the kingdom now.
All we are saying is give peace a chance. AMEN