Peaceable people or peacemakers?

Contrasting the mere advocating of peace and the ministry of peace-making: A sermon

Hyveth Williams, D.Min., is senior pastor of the Campus Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church in Loma Linda, California.

Editorial Note: This is the edited transcript of Pastor William's sermon presented at the recent Ministry uplink seminar, beamed from Pacific Union College on April 1. The theme of the seminar was "Rumors of Peace."

Happy are the peacemakers, for they shall he called sons and daughters of God (Matt. 5:9, YLT).

Young Ryan was having a terrific time on his first airplane trip. He began by picking and pulling at everything in his reach. He soon became bored, though, and began to kick the back of the seat in front of him until the passenger stood up and glared at him. Ryan jumped out of his seat and dashed down the aisle, through the cloth curtains separating first and economy classes, and crashed into a flight attendant serving hot beverages. The tray went up and the flight attendant went down. She quickly recovered, and as she picked herself up, she grabbed Ryan's arm as he was about to flee the scene. Without thinking she blurted out as sweetly as she could under the circumstances, "Son, why don't you go outside and play?"

Some tasks in ministry seem as impossible to accomplish as the exclamation of that exasperated flight attendant. Today, I have the privilege of participating in an assignment that is not only challenging, it is achievable to remind believers they are to be a people of peace, especially now, during a time of war and tragedy.

More than forty years ago, I left my small sun-drenched paradise nestled in the heart of the Caribbean. Since then, I have traveled to more than forty countries, watched men walk on the moon, and admired the power of technology, especially in satellites and space shuttles. I have been amazed by the proliferation of the Internet and Web sites where men and women are praised, vilified, and entertained. I have drunk deeply, to the point of intoxication, from the cup of the increased knowledge of these last days, but I've never lost the ability to be awed by it all.

One thing that used to take my breath away was rainmaking. I was astounded by the ingenuity of pilots who flew into dry, rainless clouds to seed them with chemicals and, voila, rain! To make rain fall in drought-stricken places where crops and creatures would have otherwise perished for lack of water was, to me back then, godlike.

Today, it is the actions of peacemakers that leave me spellbound. It's a divine attribute to create harmony in hostile situations, calm troubled waters, smooth out ruffled egos in multiethnic, racial, and religious communities where there would not otherwise be the remotest chance of anything but conflict. Peacemakers bring real answers to our restlessness, anger, and assault upon God, self, and others.

Nature in convulsion

When we survey the world today, it is commonplace for us to discover that all nature is in convulsion. If we begin with our own fallen nature, as we ought, we will notice that it is the hiding place of irregular imaginations, dis obedience, disorder, and a host of perverted passions. Without God in residence to order our daily affairs, these insurgent passions will quickly dethrone reason, so that the anarchy in our souls will be established as the regent of our lives.

Under its dominion, crimes of indulgence, sensuality, and a litany of addictions too numerous to count will be easily committed. The broken shards of our lives will not only cause internal injuries, but they will push into diabolical deeds against ourselves, others, and, ultimately, God.

I once saw a woman in a hotel lounge during a convention, beating her head against the wall, screaming, "I'm stupid! I'm so very stupid!" Upon enquiring what was wrong, she sobbed and confessed that she had said something "stupid" in the presence of people whose approbation she had desperately sought. Immediately, her habituated, shame-based past sprang up to accuse her, and her only course of action was to inflict the harshest punishment upon herself for her "stupidity."

I have never beaten my head against the wall, but there have been times when I have gone home to spend days and even weeks in bitter recrimination and harsh self-criticism, accompanied by thoughts of suicide, after making such a mistake. But God stepped in and changed the scenes of emotional turbulence and distorted these kinds of self-messages. He did this through the ministry of His peacemakers.

Through them, God took away the evil passions that drove me to such extremes and replaced them with His presence, hope, and courage, so I could actually dream dreams and see visions of a day when there will be no more pain, sin, or death.

Right now the world and every society in it is in distress. We are over whelmed by the imaginative creations of virtual reality and special effects by the young and restless in their quest for peace. We are undermined by the selfishness, jealousy, resentment, and the double idolatry of violence and vice in some of the older, aimless members of this messed-up age. No matter how much peace they produce by political or economic renewal, it seems there continues to be bombs and bullets, and any such "peace" seems to be temporary and imperfect. For, ancient as the message may be, what the world and society really need right now is the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.

And this quality of peace can be brought about only by the people of peace peacemakers who are actually the sons and daughters of God.

Just as those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are filled; just as those who mourn are comforted and the pure in heart see God; just so, according to Matthew 5:9, happy are peacemakers for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.

This is how Eugene Peterson presents this verse in his paraphrase The Message: "You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family."

Only those empowered by the Holy Spirit to cry, "Abba Father!" are able to do the work of peacemaking God's way. They make real peace as only a divinely inspired person can. When adversity appears, they remain calm, and are intrepid witnesses in the heat of an argument.

Peacemakers versus peaceable persons

It is significant that in his great Magna Carta sermon Jesus said "peacemaker" and not "the peaceable person," when He declared, "Happy are the peacemakers."

There is a dramatically distinct difference between the two.

For example, the peaceable person is more inclined to go to great lengths to make others feel comfortable in awkward situations, even if they have to compromise principle and abandon wholesome standards. The peaceable person will risk nothing, accepting things as they are, leaving well-enough alone, to follow the path of least resistance with merely prudent maxims that promise a quiet life. Their supreme device for attaining and maintaining peace seems to be expediency and status quo before principle.

Peaceable people have average opinions, not creative ideas. They are the ones who seem to always know and are ready to tell peacemakers that "it has never been done this way before!" They form dull conclusions and decisions that squeeze out the Holy Spirit from the gatherings of His saints. They tend to honor mediocrity and are partners with the procrastinators who drift with the current, having no real goal or destination, just tranquility and placidity.

Those who tolerate a peaceable nature seem to believe that it is in fact best for the Christian to sit back and fold his or her hands while sin festers in the dark, injustice makes use of evil powers, and conflicts are stirred up from oppression, prejudice, and deceit. They unwittingly believe that this kind of temperament fulfills and fosters the mentality that Jesus blessed in Matthew 5:9.

Too many of our churches are pastored by peaceable people. Under their shelter of so-called peace, all manner of abuses are allowed to abide and thrive alongside egotism, exhibitionism, and self-promotion. These, and other such evils that corrupt, are not always fostered by sinners, but are the products of those who are merely peaceable and are therefore prone to preach "peace, peace, when there is no peace." They are also attributes of peaceable persons who, while thinking they stand for peace, will not take their stand on principle, regardless of the consequences.

Peaceable persons ultimately turn into mimetic doubles of the devil.

The word mimetic comes from the Greek "to imitate." Rene Girard explains in his book, I See Satan Fall Like Lightening, that God created humans to imitate Him, but sin has distorted that gift so that we become mimetic rivals who are so obsessed with evil we eventually become changed into its likeness. Peaceable people, with this perverted perception, are dangerous and destructive to a people of peace and to actual, lasting peace.

What, then, is a peacemaker?

Make no mistake. According to this definition, God is not a "peace able" Person, and neither are His real children. God's portrait of a peace maker is one who hates compromise, slackness, and slothfulness. Just checkout the repeated warnings against indolence and sluggards in the Bible, particularly in the book of Proverbs.

By dramatic contrast, a people of peace are called to be peacemakers in the very way Jesus was. He, the Prince of Peace, declared that He had not come to bring peace as people generally understood it to be, but a sword (that is, the word of God see Heb. 4:12). He was mocked, scourged, and crucified, yet He appealed to God with His last breath for the forgiveness of His assailants and foes.

He troubled the status quo with His interpretations of Scripture. He tore the veil of the temple, from top to bottom, with His radical life and death. He established that a peace maker is one who is nailed on the cross of utter surrender, sacrifice, and total obedience to God. He created a whirlwind of infinite desire and unsatisfied longing for His heavenly Father in the hearts of men and women.

As a result, those who went out in His name turned the world upside down, not with swords or MOABs (Mother of All Bombs), but with unconditional love and compassion for all peoples, tongues, and nations.

No one who truly has God's Spirit and peace can be a peacemaker until she or he has been crushed on the grinding stone of affliction. For, if you have never been there, you can not lead people through it. Only those who have dipped their hands in the bowl of life with a friend, received their kiss of betrayal, and remained compassionate can and will be called peacemakers. Peacemakers cannot avoid being sorrowful unto death or fearful of being alone as they kneel in their own Gethsemane.

All peacemakers will struggle and fall under the weight of their own cross on the way to a place of crucifixion, often on a hill, outside of conventional Christianity.

And the disturbing truth is that unless we, in one way or another, struggle through such an experience, we will tend to remain mere peace able people, rather than the peacemakers Jesus blesses.

Who are the peacemakers?

God's peacemakers are like Him. They disturb the traditions, conventions, and formalities of humans. They are and will be persecuted for righteousness' sake, not for their own ambitions and goals. They will be reviled or verbally abused and have all manner of evil spoken and written against them falsely, precisely because they are not peaceable.

They will not leave well enough alone, but on the contrary, are assertive guardians of God's will and Word. They are resolute, feisty fighters for the faith against principalities and powers and the evil, disruptive elements of this world. They are always ready to follow Him who could flash forth a "Woe unto you,Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" (Matt. 23:13-36), or welcome little children to sit on His lap.

They are armed and extremely dangerous, dressed in the armor of God from head to toe, where their feet are shod with the gospel of peace (see Eph. 6:15).

God's peacemakers are like Athena, the goddess of wisdom, whom the ancient Greeks chose as their protectress. When they carved her image, she was boldly portrayed wearing a helmet, bearing a spear in one hand to defend the peace, and an olive branch in the other to assure that she also brought harmony to earth. They are as wise as the pre-sin serpent and harmless as the dove that appeared above Jesus when He was baptized (see Matt. 10:16).

Jesus, the great Peacemaker, is the model after whom all people of peace should be molded. He threatened merchants and moneychangers with a rope twisted in His hand, as He drove them from the temple and denounced their combination of works and worship (see Mark 11:15-17).

Like Him, peacemakers stand firm against the wiles of the devil. They don't keep his dirty secrets or cover up his evil deeds! They are divinely appointed and anointed peacemakers who fight the good fight of faith for God's name and sake. They know that their heavenly Father's warfare is against principalities and powers, evil elements of the air, in order that actual peace may reign forever and ever. They are very much a part of the war fare of God that is waged to save humanity, not destroy it. His warfare is to establish mercy, not mayhem.

The current of a peacemaker's life in Christ runs deep from springs of the perennial fountain of forgiveness, grace, and love. No earthly strife or struggle, triumph or trauma, can take away the peace God has given the peacemaker.

Happy are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God. They live harmoniously with even their enemies. They rely not on the current political climate, but on God, who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay" (Rom. 12:19, NKJV). They are peace chasers who know they are born of the Spirit, called out to be children of God.

Those who have that kind of intimate relationship with our heavenly Father will also live like our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, who did nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regarded others as more important than Himself (see Phil. 2:3). They are happy knowing they have been justified by faith and have peace with God in Christ Jesus.

Peace, real peace

But tragedy is real and peace is rare! The world has been at peace only eight percent of its history. In the three millennia since records have been kept, out of 3,530 years, only 286 have been warless! Historians estimate that more than 8,000 treaties, signed by great men of even greater nations in their quest for peace, have been broken during this time.

Peace is rare! Ask the people who live in such hot spots as the war-torn Middle East. Question orphans in AIDS-ravaged Africa or the idle rich from America to Arabia who roam the earth looking for intimacy and personal satisfaction.

Peace is rare! Ask the pimps, prostitutes, and pushers on the streets of our cities or the peddlers of cheap grace and materialism from the pulpits of some Christian churches. "There is no peace," says the Lord, "for the wicked" (Isa. 48:22; see also 57:21, NKJV), and so it has been and is. Yet, in the midst of all this pain and confusion Jesus said, "Happy are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God."

Once, two artists were commissioned to paint a picture of perfect peace. On his canvas, the first artist depicted a carefree boy sitting in a boat on a placid lake, without a single ripple disturbing the surface. The lake was nestled in a valley near a range of rugged mountains where there was no movement of fish or fowl. This artist painted a peaceable scene.

The other painter chose a roaring waterfall with raging winds whipping the spray high above the river. On a fragile limb bending over the foam, overhanging the swirling water, he painted a bird in its nest. She seemed serene as she sat peacefully brooding, while spray from the thundering waterfall threatened to wash away her abode.

There was that little bird, sitting pretty and tranquil, unafraid of the dangerous sprays from the roaring falls because she knew that in that setting she was absolutely safe from predators. She was shielded and protected by the very thing that seemed to threaten her and her tiny brood.

A people of peace are like that bird! They remain calm in the midst of trial and temptation, knowing they are the children of God. They lean upon the promises of God, refusing to let the world and sin disturb their spiritual equilibrium.

The true peacemaker is, of all things, one around whom there is tranquility and energy, silence and turbulence, creation and destruction, fearfulness and fearlessness, all under control and operating in balance, because they, like Jesus Christ, are sons and daughters of God.

Like Jurgen Moltmann, I believe that someday the biblical theology of "it is written" will become an ontology of what has taken place. Someday the groaning in nature, history, and society will cease as a people of peace sons and daughters of God are revealed. Someday, promise and hope, reality, and experience, will be in one accord. But until then, as long as there is war and only rumors of peace, as long as guilt is piled on fear and tears are not wiped from all eyes, God's people of peace must find sol ace in His Son's promise that "happy are peacemakers for they shall be called gods with a little g" (see Ps. 82:6) sons and daughters of the Most High!

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Hyveth Williams, D.Min., is senior pastor of the Campus Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church in Loma Linda, California.

July 2003

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