I am still in the process of learning and growing into much of what it means to do and be a preacher. I do know this: preaching is, at the very least, observing the ancient Biblical text, observing the current culture, and applying the former to the latter faithfully and appropriately.
Sometimes finding where the two cross paths can be tricky. For example, explaining how God’s instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25-27 applies to our lives can take some work. At times like those the preacher becomes an archeologist carefully and painstakingly sifting through the fine dust of the past to uncover the beauty within.
At other times the modern relevance for an ancient Biblical text is readily apparent. On those occasions the preacher becomes more of a trauma surgeon applying his skill to the readily-apparent issue(s) at hand in a way that needs to be straightforward, effective, and efficient.
This past week I felt like a trauma surgeon.
The sermon Sunday was on Matthew 5:1-12, a passage commonly referred to as the Beatitudes (if you would like to watch the sermon you can find it here). Verse 9 reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Blessed are the Peacemakers…
As I sat in my office last Friday my sermon manuscript was on the computer screen in front of me, while the Presidential inauguration was on the TV screen to my right. As the day wore on, I wore down.
Blessed are the Peacemakers…
Protests erupted on the screen to my right, virtual protests erupted on the screen in front of me. Gauntlet-throwing rhetoric spewed from the screen to my right, gauntlet-throwing posts spewed from the screen in front of me.
ALL OF YOU ARE TOTALLY WRONG!! ALL OF US ARE TOTALLY RIGHT!! It didn’t matter which side people were on, the tone was the same. WE’RE SICK AND TIRED OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU, AND WE WON’T STAY QUIET ABOUT IT ANY LONGER!!
Blessed are the Peacemakers…
I shouldn’t have been surprised. We’re a culture that thrives on polarization and the demonization of opposite “sides”. In the arms race-like struggle for ratings the actual news has been supplanted by opinions about the news. The need to fill 24-hour content cycles has devolved sports TV and radio shows into an endless progression of “hot takes”. Film and music awards shows are increasingly used as public square platforms. Comment sections are filled with people who read the headline, skipped the article itself, and jumped straight into offering their opinion. The plethora of on-demand content sources means we rarely have to listen to anyone or anything other than what has been customized to our personal preferences based on past choices.
The resulting echo-chamber of homogenous perspectives contributes to a lack of empathy for and understanding of those with whom we may disagree. Inevitably, Google’s Third Law of Internet Dynamics kicks in: For every hashtag there is an equal and opposite hashtag.
#BlackLivesMatter begets #BlueLivesMatter which begets #AllLivesMatter
#NotMyPresident begets #Snowflake
#AmericaFirst begets #AlternativeFacts
And the thought I could not shake was, “Where are the Peacemakers? Where are the sons and daughters of God?” We’ve got plenty of points and counterpoints. We’ve got plenty of cynics. We’re all stocked up on finger pointing, blame shifting, and spin. But where are the peacemakers? Where are the gospel-saturated, Spirit-empowered, neighbor-loving, Christ-like peacemakers?
The thought I could not shake was, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
With that (admittedly extended) background I offer the following thoughts on what I believe is a dire need in our culture right now:
Why strive to be a peacemaker?
- Personally, peacemaking speaks to who you are. Being a quarrelsome, angry, confrontational person is just off-putting (Think about the people in your life with whom you enjoy spending time. Do you fight with them a lot? Are they constantly attacking you?). Proverbs 17:19 puts it more pointedly, “Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin…” If your radar is always up, eager to debate those who disagree with you, looking to defend yourself against even the smallest perceived slight, looking to “stand your ground” should someone dare take the “other side,” not only does it drive people away from you but God says you love sin.
- Theologically, peacemaking displays the gospel. God is called “a God of peace” seven times in the New Testament. His character is peace and peace itself is defined by Him. It makes sense then that peacemaking is at the very heart of the good news about His Son, Jesus (see Colossians 1:15-23, especially v. 20). Christians are those who have, by God’s grace through faith, been reconciled to God. That is to say, Christ has made peace between them and God. In return, God has given to Christians the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Therefore, if you are a Christian, the first responsibility you have as you journey through this world is not to represent a political party, advocate for a special interest group, or even defend yourself…your first responsibility is to represent Christ, and his gospel, to the watching world.
What does peacemaking look like?
- Listening before you speak. In James 1:19, our Lord’s brother wrote, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” These days the entire culture seems to be quick to speak, quick to anger, and not interested very much at all in hearing. But, consider this: on every side of every issue are people. They are image bearers of God with different experiences, different worldviews, different scars, different fears, and different hopes than you. What if instead of correcting (or worse, attacking) what they believed you first slowed down and asked why they believed it? There’s a story there, behind those beliefs, and it’s a story that matters to God…it should matter to you too. Is it possible they need some correction? Maybe. But how will you know unless you listen first?
- Thinking before you speak. Notice James doesn’t say, “don’t speak,” he says to be, “slow to speak.” Peacemaking is not silence (more on that below). But, if you’re going to be a peacemaker in the places where you live, work, and play you need to think about what you say before you say it. Later in his letter James writes that, “no human being can tame the tongue” (James 3:8), but surely we should make every effort to do so. Slowing down to consider what we will say, how we will say it, and the effect it may have on the listener will allow us to “let [our] speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that [we] may know how [we] ought to answer every person” (Colossians 4:6).
What are the peacemaking pitfalls?
- Peace at all costs (conflict is never necessary). Sometimes conflict will happen, perhaps it is even safe to say that conflict is necessary in some instances. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:18, “If it is at all possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Sometimes peace simply isn’t possible. For example, should the day come when the only way I can exist peacefully in my community is to stop calling people to repent of their sins and turn to Christ by faith, well…I’m going to be in conflict. But it won’t be because of me, it will be because I will not remain silent about Jesus to appease those who don’t believe. I’ll try to be winsome, I’ll remain openhanded to all who would consider the claims of Jesus. But I won’t be silent. God, in fact, condemns those who “say ‘Peace, Peace’ when there is no peace”. Telling sinners that they are at peace with God is not loving, it is demonic. However, in these instances what offends people should be Jesus and his gospel, not us and our attitude.
- Assuming you have all the answers. There will be problems between your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers that you simply aren’t equipped to solve. Humble people recognize that they do not have all the answers, and that’s okay. Sometimes people agree to disagree. The culture is increasingly focused on defining winners. Someone must be 100% right, and someone must be 100% wrong! Well, not necessarily. On some matters, sure; but not on all. Peacemakers understand when it is best to press in, and when it is best to pull back. Understand that just because you may be well-equipped to make peace in your office does not mean you have the solution for U.S. immigration policy. Know when you’re helping, when you need help, and when you just need to back away.
Where does peacemaking start?
- In your heart (gospel). Peacemaking begins when you recognize that the ultimate conflict is between you and God. At one point mankind existed in a state of perfect peace with God, one another, and the creation itself (Genesis 1-2) but sin shattered that peace when we took up arms against our Creator and declared we had a better way (Genesis 3). From that day forward God has been graciously, patiently, and lovingly wooing people to himself. Ultimately he sent his Son who lived a perfect life that you should have lived, but didn’t. And who died a death in your place, for your sins not His own. In doing so he was, “making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). No one can truly be a peacemaker until he or she has made peace with God by turning from their sin and trusting in Christ. Peacemaking begins in your heart.
- In your community. Thereafter, peacemaking extends to your community. What the world needs more of is not opinions about Russia, or Israel, or Mexico. The world doesn’t need more social media posts about the media. The world doesn’t need more arguments for or against macro issues. What the world needs is more people who will live out the commandment Jesus identified as the second-greatest, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Rather than spending hours online debating with people you barely know, and like even less, how about talking to real people in your office, your school, your neighborhood or your church? Peacemaking starts in the hearts and relationships of people who know one another, are investing time and emotional energy into one another, and who appreciate what is good in one another.
Peacemaking starts when people love God and their neighbors more then they love themselves. “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
The conflict in our country isn’t new and it isn’t unique to the United States. Last week we saw a transition of power that led to protests. Other countries have coups, genocidal civil wars, and decades-long dictatorships. I’ll take hashtags and memes.
But, at the same time, I’m grieved by the trajectory of the tone and the temperature of conversations (real and virtual) in our country.
I’m going to try to be much more intentional in the days and months ahead to be sure I am not adding to it. I’d like to learn to be more of a peacemaker, and I hope you will to…the culture needs it.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”