This morning, we are nearing the end of our eight-week series on The Beatitudes. As we have considered them one by one, we have discovered that they hold the keys to happiness. I hope you have been examining your life using these guidelines Jesus gave us in his Sermon on the Mount. If you are taking Jesus’ words to heart, and applying them to your life, then you should begin to find a deeper more profound happiness. You will know what it means to be “blessed.”
Today, we are focusing on the seventh Beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
In court, a witness was telling about seeing a fight in which two men were beating each other with chairs. The judge asked, “Why didn’t you try to establish peace? Didn’t you think about that?” “Yes I did, Judge,” the man answered, “but I couldn’t find another chair!” When Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” I don’t think that was what he had in mind!
Peace – It’s the most elusive thing on earth. The desire for peace is as old as time. It all started peacefully enough in the Garden of Eden, but things quickly went downhill. It wasn’t long before Cain killed his brother Abel, and peace was no more. In fact, throughout the nearly 4000 years of biblical history, there were only 300 years of “peace.” When people are polled about what they would most wish for, most will say “peace on earth.” And yet after thousands of years, we are no closer to peace than were those warring tribes of ancient history.
Everybody wants to know inner peace for themselves, but personal peace seems just as elusive as world peace. People will try anything to bring peace to their troubled souls: alcohol, drugs, cults, materialism, sexual gratification, New Age spiritualism, psychiatry, careers, relationships, and more. Some of those things are self-destructive, others are beneficial – but all of them provide only an artificial peace – a peace that is shallow and temporary.
Lasting peace can only be found in one place. In John 14:27, Jesus explains how we find true peace: “Peace I leave with you,” he said to his disciples, “my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” The peace we long for is the peace that only Jesus can give – a peace that passes all understanding.
Biblical “peace” involves much more than what we normally think of as “peace.” When we think of peace we usually assume it is “the absence of conflict.” I image most all of us here today have that kind of peace, as we hopefully do not have to deal with conflict and strife. However, that doesn’t mean that we all experience peace in our souls. Many of us may long for something more.
In the bible, “peace” is the concept of the Hebrew word “Shalom.” Shalom is an all-inclusive word. In the Middle East today, Jews still greet one another with the word Shalom. Even the Arabs have a similar greeting meaning peace, “Salaam.” Shalom means more than hello. It even means more than simply “the absence” of trouble. Shalom wishes everything that makes for a person’s highest good – not just the absence of evil things, but the presence of all good things. Shalom is a state of blessed contentment and wholeness – both inner and outer peace.
That is what we all want. Yet some desire it more than others. Thomas a Kempis said, “All men desire peace, but very few desire the things that make for peace.” Longing for peace isn’t the same as achieving peace. Many people hear this Beatitude and feel vindicated that they are peacemakers because they wish for peace. Unfortunately, they misunderstand what Jesus meant by “peacemakers.”
Instead of peacemakers, some of us are “peace hoarders.” As I said, everyone longs for peace. But “peace hoarders” are those who only are interested in finding peace for themselves, but they are unconcerned for others. They may focus selfishly on their own inner tranquility and not have any concern for bringing peace to the lives of others. Before we are too quick to dismiss the notion that we might be “peace hoarders,” consider this: Are you here this morning primarily to gain peace for your own soul? Or are you here primarily to learn how you might bring peace to those around you?
There is another kind of “peace hoarder” – someone who seeks out a haven from the rough and tumble world (either physically or emotionally) where they can escape and insulate themselves from any conflicts that might disturb their peace. We are becoming a nation of “peace hoarders” – moving to the suburbs to escape urban violence – living in secure gated- and deed-restricted communities – shutting our ears, closing our eyes, hardening our hearts to others in trouble – wanting a place to hide from the world’s problems.
There was a couple who were very concerned about the possibility of nuclear war. So they got out a map of the world to try to figure out where on the planet would be the safest place to live. They moved to the Falkland Islands just before war broke out between Argentina and the United Kingdom! So much for their haven of peace!
Jesus wasn’t talking about a peace that turns its back on the world. He didn’t call us to be “peace hoarders!”
Here is a question for you to consider: Are you more interested in hoarding peace than sharing it? Could you be a “peace hoarder?”
So some folks are “peace hoarders.” Others are “peace talkers.”
Not all of us are selfish about peace. Most want to bring peace to others. But many people are “peace talkers,” – they love the idea of peace, they give it lip service, but that’s about all. It’s sort of like the old saw about the “weather.” Everyone likes to talk about the weather, but no one does anything about it!
Well, politicians and nations like to talk about peace, but only when it is convenient or in their national or political interest, yet they just as easily abandon peace (just consider the roller coaster of peace talks in the Middle East, and you see what I mean)!
According to Victor Cherbulliez, from 1500 BC until 1860 AD, there have been no less than 8,000 peace treaties (all of them designed to bring a permanent peace). But each one lasted only an average of two years.
During World War 2, there were two native American soldiers in a fox hole during an air raid. One said to the other, “The way I figure it, is back in 1918, when they smoked the peace pipe, nobody inhaled!”
Or as someone has said, “Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice-doggie,’ until you find a rock.” Nations are notorious for “talking” peace, yet waging war.
But the same is true for many of us. We are quick to agree that we should love our neighbor – unless, of course, that neighbor happens to be our enemy. We give lip-service to peace, until peace would require us to forgive someone who has hurt us, or make some concession on our part. Jeremiah warns of the danger of empty talk of peace (Jeremiah 6:14): “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”
Talk is cheap. But actions speak louder than words.
So, here is another question for you to consider: Are you one who believes peace is good thing – in principle? Are you willing to give it lip service, but quickly abandon it when it doesn’t suit your purposes? Are you a “peace-talker?”
So some people are “peace-hoarders,” others are “peace-talkers.” And, some of us are “peace-keepers.”
We hear a lot about “peace-keeping” as the mission of our military from time to time. Even today we have service men and women stationed around the globe, not so much to wage war, but to keep the peace. We believe that peace-keeping is a good and noble undertaking – and it is.
But, Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are the peace keepers.” People who see themselves as peace-keepers believe in peace – almost to a fault. For them, conflict must be avoided at all costs. The danger, of course, is that in the name of peace, “peace-keepers” can lock in the status quo, which may include injustice. If a person loves peace in the wrong way, he or she can succeed in making trouble, not peace.
Let me give you an example: In the years leading up to World War 2, Adolf Hitler rose to power and the Japanese began military aggression in the Pacific. As trouble was brewing, peace loving Americans, wanting to avoid conflict, buried there heads in the sand. What seemed like a noble cause for peace ended in terrible death and destruction.
We know this is true from our own experience, as well. A marriage where the couple stops talking just to avoid conflict is not really at peace, only an uneasy truce. The marriage is likely to blow up later.
You see, the problem with “peace-keeping” is that it sees peace as the most important goal to strive for, which it is not!
Stanley High, in the publication Evangel, put it this way: “We’ve got to recognize that we are not working (primarily) for a peaceful world. Peace will be a by-product of something else. We are working for a world of justice and righteousness. Peace is a by-product of justice and mercy.”
You see, when you ignore the higher concerns of justice and mercy, peace cannot be permanent – because you haven’t addressed the root-causes of the conflict.
There are times when you and I play at being “peace-keepers,” even though we recognize injustice, prejudice, and tension in the community (racial discord, the deplorable treatment of migrants, ethnic or religious minorities, and other issues). The temptation is to try to pour oil on the troubled waters to keep the situation from getting out of hand (to keep the peace at all cost), rather than address the root-causes of the problem, and risk conflict. This is why interracial dialogue in the face of racial tension in America in the past few years is so essential. When we ignore the root causes of conflict just to keep the peace, we often give our silent blessing to injustice, and real and lasting peace is not possible.
So here is the third question for you to think about: Are you one who is willing to gloss over injustice and prejudice in the name of keeping the peace, even if it means condoning those evils? Are you a “peace keeper?”
But, Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are the peace hoarders, or the peace talkers, or the peace keepers.” He said, “Blessed are the peace MAKERS.”
That is a very different matter! The other three are reactive. Peace making is pro-active! We are not just to “find” peace, or “talk about” peace, or even “keep” the peace. We are to MAKE peace out of situations of conflict.
In Isaiah 58:12, God says, “You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.” Robert Schuller said this, “When God sees a breech, he builds a bridge.” We are to be bridge-builders, healers, catalysts for restoration, “repairers of the breech.”
Making peace is not easy. Peace is much harder to achieve than war. Thomas Mann said, “War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.”
With this Beatitude, Jesus is issuing a battle cry! We are to “wage peace” with the same zeal we use to wage war.
You say, “OK, I’m ready to go out and be a peace maker.” I must warn you, “peace making” is a risky business. The world will not applaud your efforts at bringing peace.
Let me share some examples: Our country’s attempts at negotiating peace between warring sides have often been met by anger from both sides, with the “peace maker” being attacked and ridiculed. Here’s another example: The police will tell you that domestic disturbance calls are often the most dangerous, and the policeman stepping in to a violent conflict to be a peace maker may himself/herself be shot. And we all know that Martin Luther King, Jr. preached peace and reconciliation, and was thanked with a bullet.
The former vice president, Hubert Humphrey, once wrote, “Negotiating between conflicting parties is like crossing a river by walking on slippery rocks… Its risky business, but it’s the only way to get across.”
This “peace making” business – is dangerous! It’s no wonder so few of us do it! Yet, Jesus commands us to do no less!
Why are we to be peace makers? We are to be peace makers, not just because Jesus said so, but because Jesus was the ultimate peace maker!
Jesus came into the world in order to make peace between God and you and me. In Colossians 1:19-20, Paul writes, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 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 the cross.”
Jesus is the “Great Peace Maker,” who risked everything to win peace for us! In Ephesians 2:13-14 we read, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace.”
Jesus never asks of us anything he has not himself done. He has called us as his disciples to be about his work of peace making. And it may very well be that, in doing so, we may have to pay a high cost, but not any higher a cost than he was willing to pay. Which may be why the Beatitude on peace making is followed by the final Beatitude: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake…” Hmmm. Do you think Jesus might be trying to tell us something about the cost of being a peace maker?
If peace makers are likely to receive persecution, then why does Jesus say they are happy or blessed? Because, as he says, they are “children of God” – peace makers are “God-like in their work.” The person who makes peace is engaged in the very work the God-of-Peace is doing. The peacemaker is happy because he himself is at peace – peace with God – with him or herself –and with others. Therefore, the peace maker lives his or her life with no fear.
When at peace with God, we have no need to fear the world (remember, Jesus said “I have overcome the world”). When at peace with God, we have no need to fear death (remember, Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life”). The peace maker is happy because, as a “child of God,” he or she is at peace.
Let me close with a story about a peace maker – the kind of peace maker Jesus is talking about.
There is a story recorded by the church historian, Theodoret of Cyrus, about a monk named Telemachus who lived in the 5th century. Telemachus felt God saying to him, “Go to Rome,” but he had no idea why. But in obedience, he left his cloistered monastery and set out for Rome. When he arrived in the city, people were thronging in the streets. He asked where everyone was going and was told that this was the day that the gladiators would be fighting and killing each other in the Coliseum. Telemachus thought to himself, “Four centuries after Christ and they are still killing each other, for sport?” He ran to the Coliseum and heard the gladiators saying, “Hail to Caesar, we die for Caesar” and he thought, “this isn’t right.” So he jumped over the railing and went out into the middle of the field, got between two gladiators, held up his hands and said “In the name of Christ, forbear.” The crowd protested and began to shout, “Run him through, Run him through.” A gladiator came over and hit him in the stomach with the back of his sword. It sent him sprawling in the sand. He got up and ran back and again said, “In the name of Christ, forbear.” The crowd continued to taunt Telemachus, and began stoning him. Even as he fell to his knees, he shouted “In the name of Christ, forbear!” They continued to hurl rocks until Telemachus’ body lay broken and bloody in a heap, dead. A hush came over the 80,000 people in the Coliseum. Soon one man stood up and left, then another and more, and within minutes all 80,000 had emptied out the arena. When the emperor heard what had happened, he proclaimed Telemachus a saint and declared that gladiatorial contests should never be held again. The day Telemachus became a “peace maker” was the last known gladiatorial contest in the history of Rome.
So friends, here is the crux of this Beatitude of Jesus: To be a peace maker is to be so at peace with God that we are freed to risk everything to be Makers of Peace for others.
Are you a “peace maker?” Do you care enough about making peace that you are willing to risk your own life for the cause of peace? Telemachus cared that much. Martin Luther King Jr. cared that much. And of course, Jesus cared that much!
If you care that much about the cause of peace, then you already know what Jesus means when he says, “Blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called children of God.”