After watching events unfold in Charlottesville, VA yesterday I felt compelled to rework my sermon. The result is the post below.
It seems things in our culture are in a slow spiral of destruction and, as believers in our savior Jesus Christ, we must be prepared to speak into this mess with conviction, compassion, and humility.
This is, in fact, part of our calling in Christ. In Matthew 5:9 Jesus himself says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” It is unfortunate, but I’ve had occasion again and again to point out several thoughts on this important verse.
First, “peace” is not the absence of conflict. Avoiding dropping bombs on the people we see as enemies, firing weapons at our neighbor, or plowing over our ideological opponents is not peace. Fear and hatred which are unreleased remain hatred and fear. Eventually, they will explode unless the underlying causes of these destructive impulses are dealt with.
Second, the presence of justice is not the full measure of Jesus’ peace. It’s close. In fact, it’s very close. But when we human beings begin charging after justice it’s amazing how quickly a positive struggle can devolve into the very hatred and fear which cause injustice in the first place. Justice is essential, it’s just not the final end to which Christians aspire.
Third, the peace of which Jesus speaks is the shalom of his Kingdom — that is everything in Creation in right relationship with each other and with God 1. We are meant to be, through every breath we inhale and action we undertake, a people who live out the image of Jesus’ kingdom. And, in so doing, call others to step away from hatred and enmity and violence in order to pursue a better way.
And this work of shalom crosses social barriers. Barriers which the Apostle Paul describes in the letter to the Galatians 2 with the categories he saw in ancient Rome — Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female — which he then says no longer matter in Christ. Those who are in our savior have become God’s heirs, no matter our background.
Nowadays we could use similar divisions. Black and White, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, educated and uneducated, undocumented immigrant and citizen. Where our society says there should be divisions, in Christ we say, “No, we will work to be in shalom with all these people. Because Christ has died for all, and it’s to him we owe our allegiance.”
But here’s the problem. We know what it is to which we should be striving, but we have absolutely no idea what it looks like. We’ve never seen it. We have no reference for a world without war, or ideological conflict, or envy, or bigotry, or resentment, or anger. We’ve never seen it. And if we’ve never seen this shalom, how are we supposed to work for it? Has God given us an impossible mission?
No, but it is very difficult. Even painful. In the first part of Romans 8 the Apostle Paul describes Creation as groaning for the people of God to be revealed (signifying it would be released from its suffering and its long labor over). In Romans 8:26-27 Paul creates a tangible link between our own experience to that of Creation itself. We groan.
We groan because we look at the state of things, and it causes us pain.
We groan because we want this struggle to be over, but we have no idea how it’s all going to end.
We groan because we know there’s something better coming, we smell it on the wind and catch glimpses of it in the corner of our eyes, but its full presence eludes us.
We groan because we have promises in Jesus Christ assuring us of his lordship, the conquest of sin and death, and eternal life — and yet the pain of the world is all around us (not to mention inside us) and it hurts.
We groan because often times we have no words to describe what we’re going through, and we don’t know what else to do.
And how can a people who are groaning in pain over the plight of God’s creation work for peace?
God has given us the Spirit, who takes those groans before the throne of grace itself and tells God, “Your children are hurting.” And from that intercession, God moves. Indeed, God has already moved in giving us the Son to suffer and die on our behalf, but God continues to move in response to our cries — and we are called to trust this truth. Trust doesn’t make any of our pain, or heartache, or grief go away in the present. It just says, “I’ll keep moving forward anyway.”
This is how a broken and hurting people, groaning unintelligibly for a reality we can’t even fathom, work for Christ’s shalom. Truth is, groans can’t be hidden, sorrow and pain can’t be concealed, and anger and mistrust are never buried as much as we presume. But when people see all these forces at work in us, and yet witness us being willing to offer a hand, show love, or begin new friendships anyway it is peacemaking at its very core. There is humble power found in a broken people who are willing both to hope and to embrace people who are, themselves, broken. It shames the haughty, it inspires the suffering, challenges the furious, and calms the violent. Not perfectly, mind you, but enough that some might say, “They seem like they’re from a whole other world.”
And, you know, they’d be right. Because when we love and embrace and challenge this world in our brokenness we are from another world, a world made new. A world of peace, of shalom. In this world may the groans of our struggles, and the pain of our hope, ever strive us forward in Christ’s name to be makers of peace.