Bible Reading Ephesians 2:13-19
But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace. He made the two groups one by destroying the wall of hostility that divided them when he abolished the law of commandments and regulations in his flesh. He did this to create in himself one new person out of the two, in this way making peace. And he did this to reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by putting the hostility to death on it. He also came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (EHV) Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household… (NIV)
Message The Persecution of Peace Making 1 Peter 3:8-15a,16b,18; 4:15a-16b,19
Peace keepers and peace makers
Jesus “beatitudinal” transformation of the heart creates a movement toward God and His characteristics that culminates in an intense desire to build peace with God and each other… We’ll have to notice that in this instance, Jesus will say “peace makers”, not “peace keepers”.
Peace keeping is a short-term stabilizing strategy. Peacekeepers will not rock the boat, but if it is already rocking, they will do what it takes to smooth out the waves. But because it stops short of disrupting comfort zones, peacekeeping, at its worst, enables the dysfunction that steals a person’s peace in the first place. At its best, it motivates works of compassionate mercy to bring wholeness to people who have lost their peace.
Peace-making, on the other hand, is a long-term transformational strategy. At its worst, it becomes a justification for judgmental cruelty to manipulate change in the name of “love” or some other virtue. At its best, it motivates works of justice that seek to change dysfunctional systems that rob peace. It is this best application that is intended when
L: [Jesus continued to teach them]: How blessed you are when you make peace!
P: For then you will be recognized as a true child of God.
L: How enriched you are when you bear the wounds of being persecuted for doing what is right!
P: For that is when you experience the realm of heaven’s kingdom.
L: How ecstatic you can be when people insult and persecute you and speak all kinds of cruel lies about you because of your love for me! So leap for joy --
P: — since your heavenly reward is great.
L: For you are being rejected the same way the prophets were before you.
(Matthew 5:2,9-12 (TPT))
I don’t recall the original source -- but let me use this simplistic parable to illustrate peacekeeping mercy and peacemaking justice. Two men walk down a path by a stream... They see a toddler caught in the current and heading for the falls around the bend. One man jumps in and rescues the little boy. They bring him back to the village upstream. They were heroes for bringing the joy and peace-giving relief of rescue to the entire village.
The next day they again walk the stream-side path. They see two toddlers in the stream. Both men jump in, save them both and bring them back to the village. Again, they are heroes and another joyous reunion.
The next day there were 3 children in the rushing waters. They save two, but the last one went over the falls. So they begin to organize and strategize. They brought more friends to help. Each day the river brought more and more children. They saved many, but they also lost some. The villagers upstream revered these who undertook this sacred mission of saving and returning as many as they could bringing joy and peace to the parents and the town.
One of the friends recruited to help saw the operation, rejoiced at those being saved, but also wondered how all these children were getting into peril. He suggested, "Why do we not get back to the source and change whatever is allowing these kids to get in the stream in the first place? Then none would be lost and there would be long term peace and happiness for all, not just temporary peace for the ones we manage to save this time round."
The originators wouldn’t recognize it in themselves, but they were caught up in the self-preservation of their noble cause. They had become a very busy, vastly popular, fund raising, organization. There is a lot more excitement and joy over a dramatic salvation than a non-incident. (If no one is in the river, there is no one to save, there is no excitement -- because nothing has happened). Besides, if they became dispensable and obsolete, then what would all these people do, where would all this money go? But primarily, they would say. this is how we’ve been doing it, and we are too busy doing it to add going upstream like this recruit was suggesting.
But the recruit, by nature a peacemaker rather than a peacekeeper, discovered others who felt as he did, and they began to visit the village and see why all these toddlers were getting into and carried downstream. They learned that to survive in that village, the children had to help from a very young age -- and much of that help was down by the waters -- it is where they washed clothes, hauled drinking water, caught food, and took their baths - just to name a few. Since they were by the waters so much of the day, it was an important matter of safety that they learned to swim well at an early age. It was the long-standing tradition of the community that swimming was taught by the sink or swim rule. In recent years, the waters had swelled and become more rapid, but generations of practice had locked them in to doing it how they’ve always done it.
The peacemakers started to work with the village -- agreeing that mastering the dangerous waters at an early age was a good thing -- but that perhaps some other strategies would more safely help their children navigate the dangers of their world. For the most part, they found a less than receptive community. They were not about to change what they knew was their God-given way of doing things, their parenting style, their culture and their beliefs, just because some boisterous outsider rebels came to town and challenged their whole way of living with an allegedly better way...
So you see how peacekeepers receive unending praise for their glorious and dramatic acts of compassion, while peacemakers get crucified for trying to change the system that causes the dramatic dangers and failures in the first place.
This story (silly if taken too literally) does not ask us to choose between peacekeeping and peacemaking, between mercy and justice. Our personalities and gifts will lean us toward being primarily one or the other -- though at times, situations may require us to get in the other role. There is a time and place for peace keeping. There is a time and place for peace making. And there is most often a time to work it from both ends -- up and down stream. For there are always people heading for the falls that need rescuing, and systems are ever in need of improvement and adjustment to changing situations.
Of course, real life issues are usually much more complex with much less obvious solutions, which makes systems very difficult to change. Many people who are caught up in a dysfunctional system don’t recognize its brokenness -- or would rather experience its pain than risk something new. Of if they do happen to see the need, they don’t know how to begin changing long-established practices. We heard in the Bible reading how Jesus came as a peacemaker -- he didn’t shy away from the grief of bringing in a new system -- a new covenant of peace between God and people and between people and people. Even though the old system began as a difficult system to keep (See Joshua 24:18b-20) and developed into something that was not working as it was intended, (See Galatians 2:15-16) the ones who maintained the current system through-out the generations were not too keen about this good news of a new way to God through grace. (See Ephesians 2:8-10).
Jesus had great compassion on those thrown in the river (by the system), but he also took it upon himself - for the good of humanity - to challenge the traditional culture -- even though it meant he himself would be thrown over the falls.
Peace makers - called children of God
Jesus says that those who are willing to leave their comfort zones and commit to this peace-making characteristic of God will be recognized as his children, and sometimes, with equally unpleasant results. Granted, most the sacrifices we make, especially in modern America, will not be as dramatic or severe. Fred Craddock put it this way: We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill (representing the whole of our life) and laying it on the table - "Here's my life, Lord. I'm giving it all.” And we should have that willingness. But most often, it is like we are given 1,000 dollars in dimes and quarters, and we go through life investing for the Lord 25 cent here and 50 cents there -- a little at a time. We invest in Christ’s peacekeeping or peacemaking when we stop to listen to a child or neighbor’s troubles, visit people who are lonely, helping in community groups, or working with church groups. Matching our gifts to people’s needs in order to bring wholeness to each other. It is often not very dramatic or glory receiving, but it makes a big difference in those who receive the peace…
To make peace is to actively bring God's saving and healing purposes to our broken society. As our hearts are transformed, God's character is progressively seen in us and -- well first, what does that look like? Peter says,
love one another, and be kind and humble with one another. Do not pay back evil with evil or cursing with cursing; instead, pay back with a blessing, because a blessing is what God promised to give you when he called you. You must turn away from evil and do good; you must strive for peace with all your heart. Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you should suffer for doing what is right, how happy you are! Do not be afraid of anyone, and do not worry. But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord.
(1 Peter 3:8b-9,11,13-15a, 16b, 17-18 (GNT))
Insult, persecute, slander - great heavenly reward
As a result of living out the radical transformation that God is doing within; we may discover that at least in some settings; insults, persecution, and slanderous opposition will come because there are some people who are opposed to God and Christ and will attack anyone that is displaying a healthy pursuit of right standing with God and others through Jesus. Yet Christ says to rejoice -- not because we suffer, but because we are in line with the true, committed saints before us and like them, our reward in heaven will be great.
The danger of breaking these opening statements (beatitudes) into separate sermons is that it is easy to forget the full context.
We must remember that we have humbled ourselves in need of our own grace, mourned our sins, resolved to live with inner strength for which we seek God, and with which we receive and offer mercy and keep God and his ways as our highest priority, and that we want his peace to fill our world. This context keeps us from thinking God is going to reward us when we suffer for being obnoxious, judgmental, mean-spirited or in other ways deservedly bringing it on ourselves.
We occasionally hear of someone who goes out of their way to share their faith in a mean method, and when they get the expected and natural negative reaction, they rejoice because they are “being persecuted”.
Peter expands on the idea in his letters when he writes that there is no reward for patiently enduring a punishment that you deserve for bad behavior. (See 1 Peter 2:20) He later adds,
If you suffer, it must not be because you are a murderer or a thief or a criminal or a meddler in other people's affairs. Keep your conscience clear… it is better to suffer for doing good, if this should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 4:16, 1 Peter 3:16b,17 (GNT))
Let’s stop the reading for a second. Can it be that is what it sounds like? that God may want us to suffer for doing good? No. He doesn’t. But when “kids are in the stream”, when people are hurting, he wants to help and rescue them, and he calls on his people to go into these difficult situations -- and it takes a effort and commitment (even downstream), but there is even more risk upstream -- just as Christ did a good thing, and suffered for it. And this is the example Peter uses as he continues…
For Christ died for sins once and for all, a good man on behalf of sinners, in order to lead you to God. He was put to death physically, but made alive spiritually. However, if you suffer because you are a Christian, don't be ashamed of it, but thank God that you bear Christ's name… So then, those who suffer because it is God's will for them, should by their good actions trust themselves completely to their Creator, who always keeps his promise. (1 Peter 3:18, 4:16, 19 (GNT))
When challenges happen for doing good and because we are properly representing Christ, then Jesus tells us to rejoice, not for the sacrificial suffering we must endure, but because we are counted as God's faithful servants who do good despite the cost, and because we will receive a heavenly reward. We rejoice because it is an opportunity to show our loyalty to Christ. We rejoice because it puts us in line with great people who have gone before us. We rejoice because it means to live freely -- unhindered by what others may think; we rejoice because of the hope that our sufferings for the cause of good and right and Christ will make the world a better place to live for others and for our descendants. And we rejoice for the waiting reward that is not earned by our sacrifices … but freely given because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Christians do not work in order to get to heaven, we gratefully work because through Christ, we are already going there -- we are already a heavenly kingdom people.
Prayer Let’s pray. Lord, we remember that you always welcome, or welcome us back to you. We want to experience your radical forgiveness so that we too may be moved to extraordinary -- or perhaps -- ordinary acts of love and service -- day in and day out -- investing our lives for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ be in in times of need or times of plenty. Let’s prepare our hearts by singing…
Hymn # 433 (vv 1,2,3) All Who Love and Serve Your City
(to tune of Jesus Calls Us)
Closing Blessing Everything that is good is in God's will and comes from his hand. Desire to please him as he fills your minds and hearts with his love. Now go loving God in all things and above all things. Reach for the joy he has prepared for you. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 665 (3x) Go Now in Peace