We live in an age of outrage, of choosing sides and drawing lines, us-against-them, and the gap between sides grows larger each day. Polarizing discussions divide us over political and religious ideology, culture, gender and equality issues just to name a few. Could it be that when viewing ourselves in a battle, are actually moving away from what Christ has called us to be, Peacemakers.
- I will commit to the work of peacemaking.
- I will seek God’s highest good for others.
- I will take a first step towards someone I don’t agree with.
- I will build a bridge with someone who holds different views than my own.
- I will advance God’s kingdom before my personal cause.
Hey everyone, my name is Scott and I’m one of the teaching pastors here at Blue Oaks.
I’m standing inside a boxing ring because it feels kind of appropriate.
As we head into the final weeks of 2020, how many of us would describe this year as feeling like a fight?
One round after another. You get a moment of rest, of calm, and then DING! another round starts.
Some of us feel like we’ve been backed into the corner of the ring, we’ve got our arms up, hands in front of our face, and we’re just protecting ourselves from the blows.
Others, we’re fighting back, standing toe to toe with an adversary from the opposing corner, trading blows.
The fight has even seemed to become the way of society, growing in intensity over race, religion, equality, politics.
In a recent Time magazine article, David French talked about the growing divisions. He said,
“America is being pulled apart. This phenomenon is geographic, ideological and spiritual. It is clear that partisan Americans dislike each other a great deal. We live separately, snarling at each other across a growing divide. The result is a politics of fear and rage, where policy differences often take a back seat to the list of grievances that red possesses against blue and blue against red.”
Even in the church, you can almost hear the chant…
I love Jesus, yes I do, and if you love Jesus you’d vote …
BLUE would complete the rhyme, but some are saying, no… RED!
We find ourselves living in a culture of outrage, of choosing sides and drawing lines, me against you, us against them, and the divide grows larger each day.
Why do we do this?
When our beliefs feel threatened, we react.
When our truth feels threatened, we react.
When our way of life feels threatened, we react.
But ask yourself, what is it we fear?
Loss of control. Opportunity. Wealth. Culture. Freedom. Progress. Identity.
Our society is peddling fear, and if we’re not careful, we’ll fall victim to it.
If we’re not careful, we’ll continue to grow more and more divided.
Abraham Lincoln would often say when he would toast, “United we stand, divided we fall.”
This is true of our nation.
This is true of the church.
Could it be that when viewing ourselves in a fight of me against you, us against them, we’re moving away from what Christ has called us to be?
So, we ask ourselves, as society grows more divided, what is our role as Christ-followers in bridging that divide? What has Christ called us to be?
Jesus was no stranger to opposing parties. Two of the twelve men closest to him came with deeply divided views.
Jesus invited Simon, an anti-government Zealot, and Matthew, a government employee, into his group of followers. As a tax collector, Matthew was aligned politically with the Roman state and as a zealot, Simon was aligned against the Roman state.
But Simon and Matthew, two people on opposite political extremes, were able to live and love in community together.
How did Jesus bring these two opposites, deeply divided by their views, together?
Matthew wrote an account of the life and teachings of Jesus, and in it we find a statement that gives us a clue.
It’s early in Jesus’ travels, and crowds are now following him, and in his first talk that Matthew records, he begins to define a new way of living, new attitudes, a new understanding of what it looks like to follow God.
Now, you may not go to church regularly, or even consider yourself a person of faith, but maybe you’ve heard of the “Sermon on the Mount” or the “Beatitudes” as it’s commonly referred to.
The talk describes new behavioral traits for those that would identify themselves with Jesus, that would reflect the life and character of Jesus.
I want us to look at one of those traits together, and here’s my hope as we start.
That we would lay aside our blue and red, left and right, pro and con, for and against, and simply be open to the heart of God.
Jesus says (Matthew 5:9), “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Blessed, or happy, satisfied, fulfilled, spiritually alive are the ones who work for and do the things that make for peace.
They are the ones others will call a child of God, who will be identified as a God follower.
It’s the result of an active involvement in making peace.
Now, peacemakers can bring up “militaristic” images in some of our minds.
The blue helmeted Peacekeeping soldiers of the United Nations.
Their effort is to bring peace by placing themselves in-between two opposing sides to keep each safe from the other.
But Peacekeepers are simply trying to stop the fighting, to create an absence of conflict.
Some of you have been in a peacekeeper role for most of this year.
You’re trying to keep the tensions in your marriage manageable with the pressures of finances, balancing unexpected work, school, home schedules, and relationship issues that were dormant but have now have resurfaced in force.
You’re exhausted from mediating between fighting kids with fewer activities to keep them occupied and that have made a sport of antagonizing each other. The goal has become keep them apart to keep the peace.
Or you’re already dreading holiday visits and meals with family divided over views of face masks, or deeper yet, politics or social justice issues, knowing that conversations are going to get sideways and tempers triggered.
You just want to keep the peace.
But Jesus didn’t say blessed are the peacekeepers. He said peacemakers.
Peacemakers work to create peace by reconciling things and people that are at odds with one another.
It’s more than the absence of war or an uneasy truce. It signifies parties holding differences of opinion who are willing to turn toward each other and embrace one another in spite of their differences.
John Calvin, a leader in the protestant reformation of the 16th century, said of Jesus’ statement, “By peacemakers he means those who not only seek peace and avoid quarrels, as far as lies in their power, but who also labor to settle differences among others, who advise all men to live at peace, and take away every occasion of hatred and strife.”
So, if we’re to be peacemakers, we have to understand peace because everyone assigns a different meaning to the word “peace.”
To some, peace is a calm easy feeling, an ability to relax, a care-free life.
To others, peace is the end of hostility, a white flag raised to end the fighting.
For you, maybe it’s something that happens when you avoid conflict, ignore faults in others, “sweep it under the rug” rather than challenge hurtful words, or actions or patterns.
In Greek thought, peace was an absence of hostile actions. It was seldom used for the relationship between people.
Peace was more of a state of being, not a relationship or attitude; the opposite of war, linked with peace treaties between opposing sides. It was the peace of the pax Romana, which was “peace” by conquest, power and rule. You could call this “peacetaking.” As long as you pledged your allegiance to the empire and didn’t act up, there was peace.
But the peace Jesus refers to means more than simply the absence of conflict.
Peace, or shalom in Hebrew, is more about relationship, expressing a desire that another person will have all the righteousness and goodness God can give.
The deepest meaning of the term is ‘God’s highest good to you.’
It means wholeness, completeness, restoration, all that is fragmented and broken, connected; me and you, us and them, this community and that community, the powerful and powerless, the left and the right.
The word “peacemaker” that Jesus uses combines this meaning of well-being or wholeness with the idea of action.
In essence, I want peace FOR you and will work to establish it WITH you.
A peacemaker is one who actively intervenes in situations of conflict in order to establish peace, wellbeing, restoration.
Peace takes work, taking what’s broken and separated and restoring.
So, in understanding what the peace of peacemaking is that Jesus says should characterize the children or followers of God, we ask ourselves, what does that look like in a deeply divided society?
What does that look like in deeply divided relationships?
What does that look like at home, at work, with friend or with foe?
In a moment we’ll look at three actions of a peacemaker.
When you feel you’re in a fight, it’s easy to make everything a punching bag.
But swinging away at the bags in front of us does not always help us or make for peace.
So, with an understanding of peace, how does a peacemaker act?
A peacemaker takes the first step.
They don’t wait for the other to take a step towards them.
They don’t wait for their opponent to come to their side.
Peacemakers have the broadest embrace and the fewest borders around their hearts and lives.
But it’s hard to take a step towards someone you’re in a fight with, that you view as an enemy.
And this is SO IMPORTANT, please hear me.
People are never the enemy.
People are NEVER the enemy.
If you keep reading Matthews account of Jesus talk, in just a few moments he’s telling us that we’re to love, not just those we find ourselves in agreement with or allied with, but to love our enemies. Yes, you heard that right, your enemies.
We view enemies as people who look different than us, think different than us, vote different than us.
But consider this for a moment. Jesus died for us when we were his “enemies.”
Romans 5:10 …while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled (brought back into relationship) to him through the death of his Son…
Do we need any more reason than this to take a step towards and extend peace to those who don’t see things as we do, act as we do, speak as we do, vote as we do, march as we do?
I was the enemy of God, you were the enemy of God, and he took the first step towards us.
Our struggle, our fight is not with people.
Our enemies are fear in my heart, the bitterness I carry around, unforgiveness, anxiety of the future.
Sin is our greatest enemy.
Sarah Bauer Anderson, in her book The Space Between Us said, “If you can’t see the humanity in others and you are driven by a particular end in mind, the people standing in the way are just obstacles to getting what you want.”
Jesus is saying want peace.
So how can we take the first step?
LISTEN, listen to people who don’t experience or see the world the way you do.
Not just those like you, but to the others. The Christian and the not Christian, young and old, people of a race or ethnicity different than yours, gay and straight, single, married, divorced and widowed, immigrants, new citizens, people in law enforcement, people who mistrust law enforcement.
Take a step towards a conversation and begin to listen to people who have experienced the world differently than the way you have, who see the world differently than you do.
And LEARN about others. Be curious rather than just a critic.
Don’t just think, “Well, I listened, but they’re not going to convince me of… “
Please hear me on this, you can learn about and from someone who doesn’t believe as you do without compromising your faith or your values or your position.
We don’t need to be afraid of new or differing opinions.
Listen, learn and LOVE, love others as Christ loves you.
While we were yet the enemies of God, Christ died for us.
Peacemakers are not power brokers but people lovers.
A second action…
A peacemaker builds bridges rather than walls.
In 2012, Dan Cathy, the president of Chick-fil-A, was thrust into the spotlight when asked in an interview about his beliefs on marriage. The result was a highly publicized protest against him and his company, including calls to boycott the Christian chicken chain. A counter protest to the protest was quickly launched by others and suddenly, lines are drawn, sides are chosen, there’s good and there’s bad.
But Dan did something unexpected. He quietly reached out to activist Shane Windmeyer, one of his strongest critics. Listen to what Shane wrote about his conversations with Dan;
“It’s not often that people with deeply held and completely opposing viewpoints actually risk sitting down and listening to one another. We see this failure to listen and learn in our government, in our communities and in our own families. Dan Cathy and I would together, try to do better than each of us had experienced before.
Never once did Dan or anyone from Chick-fil-A ask for Campus Pride to stop protesting Chick-fil-A. On the contrary, Dan listened intently to our concerns and sought first to understand, not to be understood. Dan and I shared respectful, enduring communication and built trust. His demeanor has always been one of kindness and openness. Dan expressed regret and genuine sadness when he heard of people being treated unkindly in the name of Chick-fil-A, but he offered no apologies for his genuine beliefs about marriage.”
Instead of going on the offensive and coming out swinging, which would have built walls of animosity, mistrust and division, Dan sought to bridge a divide.
You see, walls stop people from seeing each other or connecting with one another.
They create division. There’s my side and your side.
You don’t see a person, just the separation.
In society today, it’s created the attitude of if you don’t agree with me, you’re against me and I cut you off.
We create invisible walls that allow us to keep our distance from people we don’t understand, or we disagree with.
Metaphorical walls in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, even churches.
But walls only ever keep people divided.
Ephesians 2:14 For he himself (Jesus) is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…
Peacemaking seeks to build bridges to people because it doesn’t want animosity and division to remain.
Peacemaking wants God’s highest good for the other.
Peacemaking seeks to create ways to engage with, connect with, understand better, with the hope that, though we may not see eye to eye, though we may not ever take the same position, though we might still deeply disagree on some issues, we can be at peace with each other.
A peacemaker doesn’t build walls to keep people out, they build bridges to bring people in.
A third action…
A peacemaker advances a kingdom over a cause.
Consider this question for a moment:
Is it right for a Christian to be completely devoted to a cause at the risk of alienating those who need to hear the message of Christ?
Think about it for a second.
Is a cause greater than someone who needs to hear of the love and grace of God?
How we answer this tells others what our greater value is.
The disciples and the crowd gathered around Jesus as he spoke, like so many others at that time, were longing for an overthrow of the Roman Empire and a new kingdom to come.
But Jesus didn’t come to establish a political dynasty. He didn’t come to establish religious rule.
He came to establish the kingdom of God, the restoration of relationship between the Creator and his creation that had been broken by sin.
In fact, an overall theme in Matthew’s account of the life and teachings of Jesus centers on this kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is an upside down kingdom where it’s more blessed to give than to receive, where strength is found in weakness, where being the greatest is achieved by becoming the least, where one turns the other check rather than retaliate, where you love your enemies, where the peacemakers overcome the agitators.
Jesus’ cause wasn’t religious or political. It was personal.
Jesus’ cause was people, restoring what was and is broken by sin.
Jesus’ cause was you and me and every living person created in the image of God.
Ephesians 2:15-17 …His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
If you only remember one thing from this talk, let it be this…
When it comes to kings and kingdoms, candidates and countries, parties and platforms, Jesus sides with himself.
We do the world a disfavor when we attempt to wrap our political ideologies with the teaching of Jesus.
We aren’t Democrats first. We aren’t Republicans first. We aren’t Independents first.
We’re citizens of God’s kingdom first.
Citizens of a kingdom don’t promote someone else’s agenda.
They advance and promote the kingdom’s agenda.
Dr Tony Evans, a pastor and author, said, “Jesus didn’t come to take sides. He came to take over!”
He came to introduce the kingdom of God, a kingdom that is always, at some level, in some detail, at odds with the political parties and priorities of this world.
The temptation can be to make our positions, our agendas, our cause equal to the message of God’s kingdom.
When you interpret the words of Jesus through your political filter, it’s amazing…
He’s so red. He’s so blue.
It’s amazing how often Jesus agrees with you!
Sometimes the two match up, and sometimes they don’t.
Sometimes we try to make a cause a kingdom issue, and it’s not.
Sometimes we join a cause because we’re being obedient to the kingdom heart of God.
Now none of this is to say it is inherently wrong to advocate for a social cause or political ideology.
Peacemakers are not those who ignore issues or try to smooth things over without actually working for resolution.
But we have to ask ourselves if advancing our cause is more important than advancing God’s kingdom.
Your candidate will win or lose based on how America votes on a selected day.
But the church will win or lose based on our behavior every day.
Our identity is found in whom we are found; a person, not a platform.
Jesus said, blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
So, a couple of questions for you to think about, to answer for yourself or with your small group.
Is being a peacemaker challenging for you, and if so, why?
Just the thought of some of what we’ve talked about today has triggered defenses for some. Why?
What is so challenging for you personally about peacemaking with someone you don’t agree with?
How might your influence with others change if you started to pursue peace rather than a fight?
How would your relationships change? How would your social media change? How would the perception of others about you change?
Are you willing to evaluate your cause through the filter of faith rather than create a version of faith that supports your cause?
Are you willing to put your faith filter ahead of your political filter?
Are you willing to follow Jesus, if and when following Jesus creates space between you and your political party, space between you and your political platform?
I want to end with what’s known as the prayer of Saint Francis as a prayer for all of us.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life
Blue Oaks Church