Most of you know that I really like to play golf. Those that have played golf with me also know that I am a very terrible golfer. I do not have any natural talent for golf whatsoever, or for that matter, any sport. My hand eye coordination is not very good and I have a swing that is closer to Charles Barkley than Jason Day. In fact, my golf game is very Pauline in nature where he says in Romans, “I don’t understand what I do. I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do what I hate to do.” Like him, I know what I should be doing but doing it is another whole story. I understand the mechanics of what needs to be done but putting that knowledge into action somehow gets lost as it travels from my brain to my muscles and body. The upside of my golf game is that I frequently provide humor for my playing partners, my cost per stroke is very low, and I get to see parts of the golf course most players never experience. On the other hand, my son Kevin, is a good golfer. He has a smooth swing that is a real pleasure to watch. I frequently ask for his advice and he will tell me things such as slow down the backswing, don’t lock your left knee, keep your left arm straight, and, oh, be sure to follow through. Then after all that, he says to be sure and relax. Yeah, much easier said than done.
Today’s reading from 2 Corinthians reminds me of my son and me with my son being Paul and me being the people of the church at Corinth. In the closing sentence of his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul bids them farewell and slyly slides in a few pointers for them, one of which is to live in peace. Now, just like my golf game, that is something much easier said than done. You see, the church at Corinth was in a big mess. There was a very serious case of infighting going on between the members that provided outside rival groups with an opportunity to try to seize control, they were ignoring some very serious moral and leadership problems within the congregation, and they were marginalizing the congregation’s disadvantaged members, among other things. Things were in total disarray and Paul comes along and tells them to live peacefully. I can just picture the church leaders when they read Paul’s letter and he tells them to live in peace. I can see them rolling their eyes and saying, yeah, right Paul — what is the color of the sky on your world?
I have concluded that living in peace, living peacefully, does not come natural to humanity. Why that is I think makes for a fascinating philosophical and theological discussion but I will admit that I do not know all the answers or the reasons why. I do know that when I take a look around I conclude that if living in peace did come naturally we would not read daily about gun violence in our streets, schools, workplaces, and theaters, war would not be as prevalent as it is, and our nation would not be spending almost a quarter of our budget on defense alone while we have the highest childhood poverty rate of any developed country in the world. of any developed country on earth.If living peacefully came naturally, there would be no need to talk about building border walls. If living peacefully came naturally, these things and many others that we could list would be the exception and not the norm. If it came naturally, I don’t think it would be so very difficult to do.
Living in peace may not come naturally to us but it is a basic foundational concept of our Judeo-Christian belief as it is in all of the world’s major religions. To be a peacemaker I believe is one of the highest callings we have as Christians. Peace and living in peace is a divine quality. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, we find the call to live lives of peace; to seek and to pursue peace. Peace is coupled with righteousness and those who promote peace have joy and prosperity. Peace is a blessing from God. We are to pray for peace not only for ourselves but also for all the nations of the world. Scripture tells us that a spirit of peace gives life to the body.
In Jesus, we see the continuation of the call from God to live lives of peace. The angels’ proclamation of Jesus’ birth is the coming of peace. When Simeon sees the infant Jesus at the temple, he proclaims that Jesus came to guide our feet into the way of peace. Jesus himself tells us that he gives us peace and that in him we find our peace. In the gospel of John the most common salutation by Jesus when he encounters someone is , “Peace be with you.” He likewise commands us to greet each other in peace and he tells us we are to be at peace with each other. In the Sermon on the Mount, as we just heard, Jesus issue the radical call, the call to go against our natural nature and to be peacemakers for when we are peacemakers we are part of the family of God. Paul told the people at Corinth that if they live in peace, the God of peace will be with them.
My friends, there is no way around it, as far as I can see there is no loophole, no other options to choose from. If we are to be followers of Jesus, if we are to be part of the family of God, if we are to be in relationship with God we have to live peacefully. We have to live lives of peace. And as Ringo Starr once told us, “It don’t come easy, You know it don’t come easy.”
To live lives of peace, to live peacefully is hard work and it takes a lot of practice to get it right. Just like my golf game, you just can’t try doing it a couple of times a month and expect it to happen. Peacemaking, living lives of peace, requires a total commitment of self. It is not something that you can commit to doing on a part-time basis. There is no recreational league for peacemaking. You are either full in for the long-term or not. On this, I believe Jesus was very clear. You cannot be faithful to multiple masters, especially when they are diametrically opposed and have very different goals and very different means to achieve those goals.
Likewise, you cannot be a peacemaker living a life of peace if you do not first have inner peace. Jesus tells us that God is loving and looking for every possible opportunity to fill our lives with peace and joy. The Hebrew prophet tells us that before we were even formed in our mother’s womb God loved us. Regardless of what Madison Avenue tells us, inner peace is not found in possessions or status or power. Inner peace is found when you surrender yourself to whom God keeps says you are. To whom God says that you are. Others or maybe even yourself may try to tell you that you aren’t quite good enough, that you aren’t smart enough, rich enough, good enough looking, old enough, young enough, that your past is just too bad to be overcome, or that your future doesn’t have the right prospects. You and others may try to define you by what you have or don’t have, by what you have done or not done, by what neighborhood you live in or what school you attended, your sexual and gender identity, the color of your skin or what side of the border you were born on. God’s definition is different. God says that none of that matters. God says that you are God’s beloved. God says that you . . . you are a wonderful creation. Take a moment and pause on that — you are a wonderful creation loved by God, the Creator, of the universe. Everything, everything else pales in comparison to that. When we surrender ourselves to whom God says we are, when we let our lives be defined by God and God’s vision, and not the world, we find inner peace. And as we already noted, with peace comes joy. Joy of seeing and experiencing the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. Joy becomes the antidote to violence. Joy enables us to see what is good in others and the world, and to be grateful for the wondrous aspects of life. As Paul tells us that one of the fruits of the spirit is joy. Want joy in your life — seek peace.
Having inner peace and joy is essential to taking the next step towards living a life of peace and being a peacemaker. This is where the radicalness of Jesus’ call for us to be peacemakers comes into play. Being a peacemaker means we step out of the status quo line and commit to walking a different path. It means we commit to a new way of living and responding that is radically different from the norm. The norm says peace is gained through victory by the use of military, economic, political, and ideological power. Peace through war, peace through violence and oppression, peace through domination. The way of Jesus says peace is gained through nonviolence and justice for all people. To step out of the line, to swim upstream, to go against the norm requires two things.
First is faith. Too often, we tend to equate faith with belief. Faith and belief are not the same thing. A couple of definitions for faith that work for me comes from Christian authors Bruce Epperly and Brian D. McLaren. Bruce says that “faith is the taking on of God’s vision.” “Faith is the taking on of God’s vision.” Brian says “faith is a road, a path, out of old destructive patterns and into new and creative ones.” Even a causal reading of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament reveals that peace and peaceful living is part of God’s vision for humanity. Jesus talks of being reborn, which I believe is another way of saying, chose another path. We are called to be reborn into a new way of living. A way of peace. Paul talks about us being a new creation in Christ, something other than the status quo.
The second thing that is required to take a different path is dependence on the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us the strength to go against what comes naturally. It is the Holy Spirit that empowers us to actively wage peace. To not let sleeping dogs lie and not maintain the status quo that says the answer to violence is further and greater violence, that the answer to being wronged is seeking revenge, that being in the right is always right no matter the means to get there. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us the power to not only turn the other cheek but to reach out and actively work for reconciliation with our enemies. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us the power to stand up to injustice even when it is not the popular or accepted thing to do.
My friends, to answer the call of Jesus to be a peacemaker and to live peacefully is not one to take lightly. We saw what the result was for Jesus. Jesus was pretty clear about it that if we chose to follow him with our whole lives we will be persecuted. The status quo, the norm, the systems of power have no tolerance for those who choose a different path, a path of peace. It will do everything in its power to pull you back into line, to be part of the norm. That is where we rely on the Holy Spirit to give us the strength to persevere in the struggle for peace.
As Marcus Borg points out in his book, “The First Christmas” the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus presents us with a choice when it comes to peace. Imperial peace or divine peace. Peace through might and victory or peace through love and justice. Peace as defined by the world or peace as defined by God. Throughout our history, we have tried the world’s way to achieve peace and the results my friends have been a colossal failure. I think it is time, as Christians, we lead the way and commit to peacemaking as defined by Jesus. Peacemaking that rises above violence, self-interest, and nationalism. Peacemaking that affirms the dignity of all people. Peacemaking based on love of neighbor and justice for all people. In the words of John Lewis, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”