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Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Kay Spiritual Life Center, February 7, 2018
Deuteronomy 16:18-20, Romans 12:1-21, Matthew 5:9, Qur'an 49:13, 8:61; 25:63

I. BEGINNING

By one count there are currently 54 conflicts raging around the world right now:

  1. Internal conflict in Burma/Myanmar
  2. Moro conflict in the Philippines
  3. Oromo conflict in Ethiopia
  4. Somali Civil War
  5. Communal conflicts in Nigeria
  6. Insurgency in the Maghreb involving Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, Niger, Tunisia
  7. War in Darfur
  8. Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad
  9. The Libyan Civil War
  10. The Yemeni Civil War
  11. The Sinai insurgency in Egypt
  12. The south Kordofan conflict in Sudan
  13. The south Sudanese Civil War
  14. The Central African Republic conflict
  15. The Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan
  16. The insurgency in Balochistan (Pakistan and India)
  17. The insurgency in north east India
  18. The Columbian conflict
  19. The Maoist insurgency in India
  20. The Kurdish Turkish conflict
  21. Sectarian violence in Pakistan
  22. The insurgency in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  23. The Kivu conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  24. War in northwest Pakistan
  25. Insurgency in the North Caucasus in Russia
  26. Sudanese nomadic conflicts
  27. The Syrian Civil War
  28. The conflict in Northern Mali
  29. The insurgency in Egypt
  30. Ethnic clashes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  31. War in Ukraine
  32. Unrest in Burundi
  33. Kamwina Nsapu rebellion in the DRC and Angola
  34. Oromo-Somali clashes in Ethiopia
  35. Arab separatists in Iran
  36. Kurdish separatists in Iran
  37. South Thailand insurgency
  38. The west Papua conflict in Indonesia
  39. The conflict in Israel and Palestine
  40. The CPP- NPA - NDF rebellion in the Philippines
  41. The Qatif conflict in Saudi Arabia
  42. Internal conflict in Peru
  43. The Casamance conflict in Senegal
  44. The LRA insurgency in the DRC and to the Central African Republic
  45. The nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Armenia and Azerbaijan
  46. Xinjiang conflict in China
  47. Internal conflict in Bangladesh
  48. Border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia
  49. Insurgency in Ethiopia
  50. Ituri conflict in The Democratic Republic of the Congo
  51. Conflict in the Niger Delta
  52. Insurgency in Mozambique
  53. ISIL insurgency in Tunisia
  54. Turkey ISIL conflict

Fifty-four conflicts. With estimates ranging between 3,969,812 and 5,590,594 people dead as a result. And those are the wars that are continuing. That's not to say anything of the wars that have come and gone in the last century: WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the Balkan War…

We live in a world, it seems, of conflict.

II. THE DAUNTING CRISIS

I’m not going to lie: that’s a daunting number. It’s a demoralizing number to even consider. And it makes us wonder whether we will always live in a world of conflict or whether peace is just an illusion.

To be fair, it has been pointed out – correctly – that the amount of violence is actually on the decrease. Given the horrors of the 20th century, with its tens of millions of war dead and those dead at the hands of tyrants and dictators, that can seem a fanciful claim.

But the reality is, in spite of the numbers, the percentage of people who die in conflict and another violence has dropped drastically over the centuries. Time was 40% of the males of a given community could die in internecine violence or in conflict with neighboring groups. Now, that number is down to 2%.

But that does not change the fact that our world is still full of conflict, violence, And war. The 3.9 to 5.6 million people who have died in the wars that are currently raging is a number appallingly high.

So, what are we to do? How do we respond to the violence that is still all too much a part of our world? What do our traditions of faith have to tell us?

III. OUR TRADITIONS

Now, if we are to be honest, we must admit that our traditions of faith do not entirely eschew violence. Our sacred texts have instances of holy war, genocide, torture, and violent retribution. There are instructions for the prosecution of war and one of our religious traditions even uses as its primary symbol a cruel instrument of torture, perhaps the cruelest method of torture ever devised.

But it is also fair to say that the heart of each faith tradition is a commitment to peace. The prophetic traditions of all of our traditions always incline toward justice and peace. And in our religious aspirations, peace is always the ideal.

Indeed, one of our religious traditions takes its name from the Arabic root meaning “peace.” Further, the passages we heard today all speak of the need for reconciliation, justice, peace, and peacemaking, and occupy a far more central role in contemporary religious thought than texts about war. And it is these aspirational aspects of our faith traditions that all call us to something higher than “eye for an eye” retribution and cycles of violence, from which there is no escape.

And yet, how are we to do this? How do we respond to the call to do justice and pursue righteousness? How do we respond to the call to be peaceable? How do we respond to the call to incline toward peace? How do we respond to the call to be peacemakers and therefore to be named “children of God”?

IV. PEACEMAKING

A. Recognizing Humanity

The first step, of course, is to recognize the humanity in one another. This is not always easy to do; tribalism is strong. But as the Qur’an reminds us, we were made in our diversity in order to create opportunities to know one another. And reinforcing our common humanity is one of the strongest antidotes to hatred.

In war, the overwhelming number of bullets fired are what are called “cover fire” or “suppression fire”—shooting in the direction of the enemy to keep them under cover rather than moving against you. Part of that is strategy; part of that is that it’s really hard for most people to kill another human being.

Indeed, it has long been demonstrated that the most effective way to get human beings to kill other human beings is to dehumanize the enemy. It’s so much easier to kill, so much easier to do violence when your enemy is a violent, mindless savage, a beast intent on nothing but evil and chaos. So, off the bat, reinforcing the human dignity of all people is an important aspect of peacemaking.

B.  Beating Swords Into Plowshares

In the vision of the “Peaceable Kingdom” found in the writings of both the prophet Micah and the prophet Isaiah, there is a vision of “swords beaten into plowshares” and “spears into pruning hooks,” transforming the instruments of war and devastation into the instruments of peace and plenty.

It’s hard to do that literally. You could, as my grandfather did, make candlesticks out of old high caliber shells—which candles are burning on the altar table today—but the call here is more a question of the allocation of resources. Jesus said that “where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” If as societies we continue to lay up treasure in storehouses of arms and in instruments of violence, it’s hard to see how our hearts could truly be elsewhere.

C. What Peace Is

But to consider how we navigate the world of conflict, and how it is we truly live into the call to be peacemakers, we must consider what it is we mean when we say “peace.”

Peace, after all, it’s not the cessation of violence alone. The Korean war has not seen a shot fired in 63 years, nevertheless, it would be inappropriate to say that the Korean Peninsula is at peace. No, we understand that armistice and peace are not the same thing.

As I am always inclined to do, I look at the words, in particular, at the root of the words for peace that our traditions use. Firstly, I look at The Hebrew word שׁלוֹם shalom— which we usually translate as peace. But the word is built on a semitic root—שׁלם sh-l-m— that can also mean “welfare,” “health,” or perhaps most accurately, “wholeness.” In fact, in modern Hebrew today, the verb לשׁלם l’shalem means “to pay” or more precisely, “to make whole.”

D. Wholeness

The understanding of peace as wholeness helps us to see that peacemaking is not simply the ending of conflict, but it is the task of creating wholeness. It is a task that is by definition systemic. Thus, in order to do peacemaking, we must envision the entire system – economic, social, political, cultural, geographical, and so on – that gave rise to any given conflict and address the inequities and injustices in those systems. “No justice, no peace!” is an old rallying cry, but it is also a statement of deep truths and insight. The passage read earlier from Deuteronomy understands this: justice must be done in order for righteousness and peace to flourish. For where there is injustice, peace will be impossible. Where the systems are still inequitable, the roots of conflict and violence will remain, even if all the weapons were confiscated.

What this means is that peacemaking is not something that we do at a distance, it is something that we are a part of. For we are all enmeshed in systems – social systems, political systems, economic systems – and all play a role either large or small in those systems. To the extent we would seek to establish peace, we must establish justice in the systems of which we are a part. Not to do so, makes us complicit in the very injustices that perpetuate cycles of violence and conflict.

It is something of a cliché that peacemaking begins at home, but it is nevertheless an important point. If we do not embody peacemaking — a commitment to real systemic justice – in every aspect of our lives, then we will be incapable of effecting peace on a grander scale.

V. END

Today’s chapel service is entitled “prayers for a world in conflict.” That name and theme was the result of a request that our Baptist Chaplain Adrien made of me when he asked me to keep the Congo in my prayers, because of the ongoing conflict there. And it is important that we should gather here today to offer our prayers and to join together in that task. For prayer can be an important aspect of our mindfulness, of our commitment to peacemaking of our determination not to leave the world in a state of perpetual conflict.

But if we are to pray, let us pray effectively. Let us pray not only with our words, but with our wallets, with our hands, with our ballots, with our resources, with all our heart, strength, soul, and mind. Let us pray systemically, not here in the chapel alone, but with everything that we do. Let our entire lives be a prayer for peace. Let our every moment be a moment that works to address the systemic injustices that perpetuate conflict and violence. Let our very being be a cry to all the world to join us in this peacemaking, that we may all come to recognize in one another our common humanity, that all may be able to explore our own complicity and our own responsibility in reforming the systems of which we are a apart, and that all may be able to claim the name “children of God.”

Word cloud of sermon text

This meditation was given by our University Chaplain during the Interfaith Chapel Service on February 7, 2018. 

Read More Meditations

Words of Sacred Tradition

TEXTS USED IN the Interfaith Chapel Service

Deuteronomy 16:18–20 • You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people.You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

Romans 12:1–21 • I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching;the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Matthew 5:9 • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Qur’an 49:13 • O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (the one who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). 8:61 • But if the enemy incline toward peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in God; for he is the One that heareth and knoweth (all things).  25:63 • And the servants of (God) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, “Peace!”