Be Peacemakers not Peacekeepers



In today’s words, Sir Gawain “took one for the team.” As this legendary fable of King Arthur’s Court goes, an evil witch has placed a curse upon King Arthur. To break the curse, the Knights of the Round Table must answer this riddle: “What is the one thing that all women desire?” or King Arthur will die. King Arthur and his Knights go from villager to villager without finding much of an answer. And then an old woman appears out of the dark forest and makes King Arthur a deal. She will tell him what every woman wants if he will guarantee her a young lad from his court to marry.

Taking one for the team, Sir Gawain sacrifices himself and marries the horrid woman. She tells him what all women want: “Women wish to have their own will.” Arthur is saved and Gawain is forced to marry the old lady, only to discover on their wedding night that she magically transforms into a beautiful woman. The woman says she is under a curse and he must choose whether he would have her beautiful by day, that being in public, or beautiful by night, that being in private. Gawain tells her that she can choose for herself, thus breaking the spell that binds her, so she can be beautiful all the time.

Apparently, science has confirmed the message of this medieval parable. A January 5, 2000 article in the Orlando Sentinel reports on John Gottman and his fellow University of Washington researchers who “followed and studied 130 newly married couples for six years to try to predict which marriages would succeed or fail. It turned out that couples who employed active listening had no greater success rate than couples who stomped out of rooms and slammed doors. Instead, the marriages that worked had one thing in common – men gave in to their wives.”

In other words the key to a successful marriage are two words in the English language, “Yes, Dear.” And as far as actually saying how one feels, you don’t need science to tell that is a recipe for disaster. If we are to keep the peace, and if we define peace as simply a lack of conflict, then “yes dear” is certainly the way to go. That is our main concern in our relationships, isn’t it? To keep the peace.

If keeping the peace is our primary goal, and a lack of conflict is our definition of peace, then we should all become anti-war activists, because war is hell, and even if it wasn’t, it is also very expensive. In preparing for this sermon, I was reminded of a conversation I had a couple of months ago. I remember talking to a man who had served in the marines during Vietnam. He recounted how, when he came back from the war, he had attended Manchester University, which was affiliated with a branch of the Brethren Church that was extremely anti-war. He recounted how protestors had accused him of being a “baby killer” and shamed him about his military service. Now I am perhaps more of a pacifist than many of you, but it seems to me that in their pursuit of peace, these protestors had performed an act of spiritual violence on a man who was just trying to serve his country. I found it strange that a church built on taking seriously Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies was more concerned with loving enemies they would never meet, than loving the perceived enemy, this returning soldier, who was right in front of their eyes.

If the goal was to keep the peace, if the goal was simply to end armed conflict, then perhaps treating this soldier in such a harsh way would be justified. But perhaps peace, may it be in marriage or in international affairs, is more than about just a lack of conflict. Jesus spoke these famous words, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called Sons of God,” in the age of the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, which the Roman Empire enforced by the threat of violence and death by crucifixion. I think the point Jesus was trying to make is that Rome kept the peace, it did not create peace. For only God, and God’s servants, can create peace. For God calls us to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers.

You see, the biblical concept of peace, the Hebrew word being shalom, is so much more than a lack of war, so much more than saying what we don’t mean just to get by, so much more than just agreeing to disagree and never seeing eye to eye. (Kolbell, pg 111). You see the Biblical concept of peace, the Hebrew word being shalom, is so much more than a lack of war, so much more than saying what we don’t mean just to get by, so much more than just agreeing to disagree and never seeing eye to eye. The peace that God offers us surpasses all understanding as Paul says in Philippians 4:7. But as much as we can understand God’s shalom Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, suggests that we can summarize God’s peace as peace with God, peace with others, and peace within ourselves (Sande, pg 38). We gain peace with God by confessing that we are sinners and trusting in the Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We gain peace with others by letting the Holy Spirit bind us together in unity, and we gain peace with ourselves by pursuing righteousness and letting the Holy Spirit perfect us in love as the Methodist would say.

The Greek word for “peacemakers” in this verse is a two-part word. The first part is the Greek word for “peace” and the second is the Greek word for “to create.” It is the word the New Testament and the Greek Old Testament uses for God’s divine act of creation. For perhaps we can keep the peace, but that isn’t enough for us to have abundant life. It is not enough to settle for a life where the surface level absence of conflict, no matter how that is achieved, is our definition of success. Such peacekeeping will never stop wars between nations and it will never stop wars in our homes. To quote Billy Graham in his book, The Secret of Happiness, “Many homes today have become little more than dormitories, where the members of the family eat and sleep but otherwise have little communication with each other. One woman wrote me and stated, ‘Our home is a war zone’” (Graham, 160).

We know there are conflicts in our own lives that are as intractable as the Israeli and Palestinian conflict seems to be on the international scene. Keeping the peace is not enough. As Christians – those who carry the Holy Spirit in our hearts, those who confess that Jesus Christ is Lord – our primary inheritance is the ability to create peace, to change the spiritual atmosphere of a place.As Billy Graham points out, “Jesus didn’t leave a material inheritance to His disciples. All He had when He died was a robe, which went to the Roman soldiers; His mother, whom He turned over to His brother John; His body, which He gave to Joseph of Arimathea; and His Spirit, which returned to His Father.” Graham continues by saying;

“But Jesus willed His followers something more valuable than gold, more enduring than vast land holdings and more to be desired than palaces of marble – He willed us His peace. He said: ‘My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid’ (John 14:27).”

I know what you are thinking. Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, “That’s all fine and dandy, preacher, but have you seen my job? Have you seen how my kids behave? Do you know what my wife or husband did to me yesterday? Do you know how much I have suffered watching those I love suffer? How can I give peace? How can I give something I don’t have?” I know how you feel. There are a lot of days I don’t feel very peaceful myself, especially when I lose stuff, which occurs quite often, which I am sure does not surprise those of you who know me.

I know how you feel. There are a lot of days I don’t feel very peaceful myself, times where I do more to drive conflict than resolve it. But we must remember that peace is not just a state of mind but our right as citizens of heaven. As Paul says in Philippians 3:20 our citizenship is in heaven, we are sons and daughters of God and thus are entitled to the inheritance of God, which is to not just to keep the peace but to create peace. All the peace we will ever need Jesus has already given us. We just need to know how to use it. We need to know where to start. And the Bible provides for us principles that are far more effective than saying “yes dear”, filling for divorce, leveling sanctions, or declaring war. Ken Sande gives several principles for resolving conflict Biblically. I think the most important for our discussion today is to get the log out of your own eye

In Matthew 7:5 Jesus tells us to look first at the log in our own eye before we take the speck out of our neighbor’s. Now many folks today use this verse simply to say, “let everyone do what they want unless you try to kill someone.” But of course, Jesus is not saying that. Instead he is saying that because of our sinful natures, we are all masters of self deception and to help others draw closer to God’s Will for their lives we must first deal with our own failures and flaws. As the International best seller, Leadership and Self Deception points out, often conflict arises primarily not because of what we say but because of how we say it and what the state of our hearts are when we say it. To quote the book, ““no matter what we’re doing on the outside, people respond primarily to how we’re feeling about them on the inside. And how we’re feeling about them depends on whether we’re in or out of the box concerning them.” Being “in the box” as Leadership and Self Deception defines it is, “seeing others in a systematically distorted way-others are mere objects.” While being out of the box means to, “see myself and others more or less as we are-as people.” People with similar fears, hurts, motivations, and dreams to myself. As another book on peace building, The Anatomy of Peace, puts it we have war in our families, in our communities, in our state, in our nation, and in our world, because we have a hearts of war. Hearts that see other people as objects, obstacles, vehicles, as irrelevant. We don’t just need new behavior, as The Anatomy of Peace argues, we need a new way of being. To quote the book, “Seeing an equal person as an inferior object is an act of violence. It hurts as much as a punch to the face. In Fact, in many ways it hurts more. Bruises heal more quickly than emotional scars do.” This can lead to our conflicts spiraling out of control as The Anatomy of Peace describes; “We can get ourselves in a position where we compulsively act in ways that make our own lives more difficult- by stoking the fires of resentment in a spouse, for example, or anger in a child. But we do it anyway. Which leads us to the first reason why way of being is so important: when our hearts are at war, we can’t see clearly. We give ourselves the best opportunity to make clear minded decisions only to the extent that our hearts are at peace.” The Anatomy of Peace goes on to say, ““As important as behavior is most problems at home, at work, and in the world are not failures of strategy but failures of way of being. As we’ve discussed, when our hearts are at war, we can’t see situations clearly, we can’t consider other’s positions seriously enough to solve difficult problems, and we end up provoking hurtful behavior in others. If we have deep problems, it’s because we are failing at the deepest part of the solution. And when we fail at this deepest level we invite our own failure. “ So often through our way of being we provoke in others the very behavior we are accusing them of and thus we enter into a death spiral of recrimination, violence, shame, and fear. We are seeing that around the world today. We are seeing that in our own homes today. The first step to breaking that cycle is to see the log in our own eye. To see our self deception, our hearts of war.

Peace I give you. Not as the world giveth I give you. Let not your hearts be troubled nor let them be afraid. My friends he has given us peace today. He has given us the ability not just to keep the peace but to make peace, to bring order from chaos, hope from loss. And as we worship today in the beauty of God’s creation we see the Truth that the church is not the building, it is not pipe organs or rock bands, we are not defined by our capital campaigns or our annual giving reports. The church is the people. And even a small group of people who has seen that Christ is their peace, has more to give the world, than any megachurch, than any government, than any army, than any peace keeping force. My friends do you not see that he has given us peace as our inheritance. The question then becomes. What are we going to do with it?

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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