Blessed are the Peacemakers…

We are desperate for peace these days. We’ve come off a three month quarantine in which every news report sent shockwaves of COVID terror down our spines, only to be thrust headfirst into protests and riots and atrocities. We look to our political leaders, and all they do is blame each other. We look to entertainment to try to take our mind off of the chaos, only to find the same violence and godlessness of the headlines in our music, television, and movies.

We long for peace, at least the illusion of peace. We usually think that peace is simply the absence of conflict, and we’re okay with kicking the can of our social/moral/political/cultural brokenness down the road, as long as things settle down for now, and no harm comes to me or the ones I know and love.

Genuine peace – what in the Old Testament is called “Shalom” – means a wholeness of being, to be complete. We don’t have peace because we are broken, as individuals, as a society, as the human race. Sin has left us marred, damaged, corrupted, broken, and ultimately without peace. We search and search for anything to make us whole – pleasure, power, etc. – but as we can see if we open our eyes, the things of this world cannot give us the peace we are longing for.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Matthew 5:9

We long for peace, and we remember that Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, describes the character of those who would follow after him. The Beatitudes, those signifiers of what it looks like to be truly blessed include things like being poor in spirit, mourning, humility, and yes, being peacemakers. These are not natural characteristics that we have to manifest in order to become followers of Christ, but are rather the “super-natural,” spiritual qualities that those who follow Christ will ultimately demonstrate because of the transforming work if the Holy Spirit in us.

So how do we make peace? Let me suggest two ways we don’t make genuine peace, then point us to how peace is actually made.

We do not make peace through aggression. I am grateful for our military, those who defend and keep the peace for our nation, serving at home and around the world. I appreciate those who have fought in War, putting themselves in harms way to defend our freedom and liberty. I honor those in law enforcement who keep our communities safe. But we must remember, these serve as keepers of the peace, they cannot make it. Peace cannot be achieved through the show of force. This is the deterrence of war, or even the enforcement of justice, but it is not peacemaking.

I’ve seen first hand where peace is imposed by military strength. When visiting 3rd world countries, you see UN Peacekeepers, or heavily armed state security, quelling violence through the presence of strength. But when the peacekeepers aren’t looking – there is murder, violence, and rioting. Peace is not made through fear, aggression, or threat of violence.

Neither is peace made through appeasement and compromise. “Go along to get along” has become the modus-operandi today. We would do anything to avoid conflict. We bend the rules to avoiding offending the rule-breakers, and then wonder why no one obeys the rules any more. We see someone caught in what we know to be a destructive series of choices, but we refuse to say anything because we don’t want to seem judgmental. We would rather watch someone die then tell them they they are killing themselves. Who am I to say anything?

Think of Neville Chamberlain, England’s prime minister during the rise of Hitler’s Germany. He went to Hitler and promised not to enter the war, declaring “peace in our time,” only to betray England’s allies and to later be betrayed and attacked themselves. Peace cannot be achieved through cowardice or moral-relativism.

If we want to be peacemakers, we must first consider how Christ secured peace for us. We are reminded throughout scripture that sin has created enmity between God and man, that there is a divide, a hostility between us that must be reconciled (Eph 2:1-5; Rom 1:18-25, 8:5-7; 1 John 2:15-17). And this is why Jesus came. God, in His love, sent Jesus His Son, to die in our place, to take the full weight of wrath and judgment, the penalty for our sins, upon Himself (Rom 5:8, 1 Peter 2:24, John 3:26). He died to take away the hostility between us and God, becoming the curse of our sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (Gal 3:13, 2 cor 5:21). It is through Jesus’ sacrifice that we have peace; peace with God and with one another.

If we are to become peacemakers, we first do so by proclaiming the peace that Christ has made. There is no other mediator between God and man, no other name given among man by which to be saved (Acts 4:12). There is no other peace, no other hope (Rom 5:1). If we are to be peacemakers, we must become heralds of the peace of Christ. We make peace by proclaiming the grace and mercy of God in Jesus to those who do not know Him, those who have not known His peace.

We are peacemakers when we living in peace with one another, forgiving and being forgiven. There is not one of us who has not sinned against his brother or sister, not one of us who is above reproach. There are no classes or groups of people who have been so victimized as to be beyond rebuke, nor so saintlike that repentance is not necessary. All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). If we are to be peacemakers, we must begin by confessing our sin to God, then confessing our sin to one another, knowing that Christ has broken down every wall of hostility that divides us, making peace through His blood. Christ is our peace with God, and our peace with one another. Seek forgiveness, and be willing to forgive, just as God has forgiven you in Christ Jesus the Lord.

Finally, we remember that we become peacemakers through sacrifice. We are called, not to take up arms, but to take up our cross (Matt 16:24). We lay down our lives for the sake of following Christ, and in doing so, we find the peace we are longing for, and become peacemakers. We sacrifice, die to ourselves, not insisting on our rights or privileges, but caring for and seeing to the needs of those around us. These sacrifices are not meritorious, they do not bring about peace, but they do proclaim the peace that has been made in Jesus.

May we, through the grace of God in Jesus Christ, be known as peacemakers.

Rolling Return to Normalcy

Shepherding the Church in a time of pandemic is a delicate balancing act. You want to move forward in faith, encouraging the congregation to trust in the Lord and be bold in worship and service. At the same time, you want to caution the flock from provoking the Lord through our own carelessness and lack of regard for others.

The elders of my congregation met last night to discuss how best to continue the ministry of our Church as the Coronavirus Pandemic progresses. We struggled with balancing our desire to be together as the body of Christ in worship, fellowship, and service with the need to protect the flock entrusted to us by the Lord. We do not want to operate from a spirit of fear and timidity; but trusting in the providence of God, we want to move forward responsibly and cautiously.

I  thought I would share the following recommendations from our elders here to show what we are doing to move forward in faith:

  • Members may choose to worship in person, but we ask that they be responsible and consider the needs of others by maintaining a safe distance and reducing contact  as much as possible.
  • High risk members (65/older or immune compromised), are asked stay home and join us for worship on Cable or YouTube.
  • Those who are in any way feeling unwell (fever, cough, body aches), are urged to stay home, letting the Elders and Deacons know how we can minister to them.
  • The Church will continue with a “Touchless” Worship Service. We have removed the pew Bibles and hymnals, as all lyrics will be on the screen, and members are encouraged to bring their own Bible. Pews will be marked off so that those in attendance will be encouraged to sit a safe distance apart.
  • The offering plate will not be passed during the service, but those attending are encouraged to place their offering in the plate before or after the service, and those at home to may give as best they can (bring to the church, mail, or online donation).
  • No nursery will be provided during worship, and parents of young children are asked to ensure that their children stay with them at all times.
  • Sunday School will continue to be offered online through Facebook each Sunday morning for the children, and via Zoom with Pastor Sayler for the adults at 11:00 am.
  • There will be no Fellowship Time or in-person Sunday School following worship until further notice. 

The elders want to assure the Church that we are working to keep the building clean by wiping down the pews, door handles and other furniture after every service. Masks are encouraged for those who attend in person, but not required. In all things, the elders ask our members to use their best judgment and to consider the needs of others when deciding to come in person.

We are mindful that the Church is never closed because the Church is not a building, it is the people of God. We shared in thanksgiving to God that even in these troubling times the Lord has supplied for the needs of the Church through the continued  financial and spiritual support of her members.  There have been moments of great blessing in the midst of this crisis, showing God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

We continue to pray for the day when we can encourage everyone to attend in-person, but realize that returning to a sense of normal in the Church is not like flipping a light switch, but more like turning a dimmer. We will slowly, cautiously, and prayerfully restart the ministries of the Church as the Spirit leads us in wisdom and discernment. 

I’d be interested in hearing how your church are responding to the Coronavirus, and what their plans are for moving forward. Leave your comments below.

Grace and peace,