1502 W 13TH ST, WILMINGTON, DE
SUNDAY SERVICES: 9:00 & 11:15 A.M.
My final year of seminary was more or less 100 years ago, but I remember sitting in a classroom and watching a black and white documentary about South Africa. It introduced me to a word I had never heard before: apartheid. A small number of people in our country were just becoming aware of the brutal state of affairs in South Africa – a minority white government ruled the land by intimidation and force. It had established a different set of laws for the majority population that was black.
Ten years later, in 1987, the world was tuned in to the racism and injustice of apartheid. Protests were occurring in major cities and the United States, the United Kingdom, and 23 other nations passed laws imposing trade sanctions. Tensions in South Africa were reaching a boiling point and most feared that one day we would tune into the news and hear that the blood bath had begun. With the white South African government more entrenched than ever, violence seemed inevitable.
A small man with a high, squeaky voice spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington and a thousand people crammed into that sacred space to hear him. It was Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Priest and author, John Dear, shares what he remembers of that very special night. He said that Tutu told of meeting an elderly woman just “a few days earlier in Soweto. She told Tutu that she got up at 2:00 a.m. every day for an hour to beg God solemnly for an end to apartheid. (Addressing the crowd in the cathedral, Tutu said) ‘I know we will win now, because God cannot resist the prayers of that poor old woman.’ And with that, Tutu burst into tears. (Dear says) Those tears of peace converted all of us who crowded in to hear him. We had never heard such a witness for peace.”1
As we know, the bloodbath never came, and apartheid was dismantled. In most large scale disputes, military force settles the conflict for good or for ill. But not in the case of South Africa. Those pushing for peace won the day.
In 2014, when Archbishop Tutu was in his eighties and in failing health, Tutu said this about the sacred responsibility of the followers of Jesus to become peacemakers: “We do not have the right to give up this work. Our sisters and brothers are suffering around the world, so we have to keep working for peace and justice till the day we die.”2
Tutu knew that God does not unilaterally halt wars, does not stop bickering and strife, does not put an end to oppression and violence. Because we have freedom, it is up to each of us. We can make war or we can wage peace. Jesus made clear the duty of his followers in the seventh beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
These days, words of peace are hard to come by. The news is saturated with words of darkness. Like hot lava belching from a volcano, the news flows with reports of violence, war, hate, division, and revenge. Long gone are the days when John Lennon called on the world to “Give Peace a Chance” and Cat Stevens envisioned the coming “Peace Train.”
Journalist Michele Norris points out that “The ways and means – and words – of war are all around us. We speak of bunker mentalities, outflanking our opponents, and scorched-earth approaches…with an Xbox or PlayStation you can level a city…A player in a video game can kill an opponent on screen and get extra points for head or chest hits…Hollywood is obsessed with movies about war and Armageddon…What about the language of peace? What about the concept of building bridges instead of walls, or bringing opposing forces to a shared understanding?”3
When asked to define peace, many will rightly reply that it is the absence of conflict. However, the Hebrew word “shalom” is deeper and broader. It means health and wholeness. It speaks of well-being not only in our bodies, but also in our minds and in our souls.
New Testament professor, Margaret Aymer, points out that in this beatitude, Jesus does not bless the “peace wishers, but the peacemakers. Peacemakers do more than speak words, they find ways to make peace a reality.”4
A colleague notes that some people think that “peace” suggests “we do nothing or that we be passive in the face of evil. But Jesus did not say, ‘Blessed are those who are passive and do nothing,’ he said, ‘Blessed are the doers, the makers of peace’. To make peace, you have to get busy, you have to act; you have a world of work ahead of you.”5
Peacemaking is not a lack of action, it is a special type of action. As one writer puts it, making peace “opens a faucet that allows poison to run out of the soul.”6 That is what must happen, isn’t it? We cannot make peace with poison in our soul. We cannot make peace if revenge is in our heart. We cannot make peace if anger dominates our emotions.
Author and Episcopal priest, Cynthia Bourgeault, says that to become effective peacemakers, we must tame our animal instincts. We must “no longer wield the sword of the binary operator that divides the world into good guys and bad guys, insiders and outsiders, winning team and losing team. When our field of vision has been unified, the inner being comes to rest, and that inner peacefulness flows into the outer world as harmony and compassion.”7
All of us know people who are peacemakers and we know people who are conflict-makers. Conflict-makers harass, belittle, provoke, speak incendiary words and take aggressive actions that ignite anger. Peacemakers affirm others, search for common ground, extend respect, and promote noble ideals. Jesus prompts us to search our souls and ask ourselves: Am I building bridges or burning them?
Mahatma Gandhi moved to India when he was 45 and he was immediately struck by the animosity between Hindus and Muslims. He discerned his calling to be one of overcoming hostilities and striving for peace among people of different faiths. “Each day when his community gathered for prayer, they read excerpts from Hindu and Muslim scriptures, the Hebrew Bible, plus Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which begins with the beatitudes.”8 Gandhi took to heart the words of Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” and the words of Jesus that come later in the same chapter as the beatitudes: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
After reading scripture from these four world religions, his community sat in silence for 45 minutes meditating on these words and listening for the ways the ancient wisdom spoke to their own time. “They concluded with a hymn about the all-inclusive love that reconciles everyone, even enemies…Gandhi wrote, ‘There will be no lasting peace on earth unless we learn not merely to tolerate but to respect the other faiths as our own.’”9
Would not each of us have a better chance of becoming a peacemaker if we spent more time in prayer focused on how we can become more respectful of others – mindful that prayer is intended not to change God, but to change us.
And one of the crucial changes that must take place in us is a desire – no, a dogged determination! – to become peacemakers. To be a follower of Jesus, we must make a conscious decision to resist the tide of our time which fosters conflict, strife, contention, and division. And choose instead to do the extremely challenging work of peacemaking.
In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Peace, the Reverend Martin Luther King declared, “I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history…I refuse to accept the idea that (human beings are) unable to influence the unfolding events that surround them. I refuse to accept the view that (humankind) is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace can never become a reality.”10
Peace will not come despite us, but as a result of our faithful actions. Peace will not come as a by-product of wishful thinking, but as a consequence of steely determination.
What are some concrete steps we can take? Listening to people with whom we disagree. Refusing to give in to the urge to seek revenge. Remaining true to the values of honesty, integrity, and compassion. Showing respect and keeping a friendly tone. Supporting a just cause because there is no peace without justice.
Peace will not come unless we are willing to take risks. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment.”
If we wait for others to take the initiative, it may never happen. But if we commit ourselves to the path of Jesus, we might just garner the courage to take the first step.
We take your confidentiality seriously. Please know that only the Prayer Ministry Team receives this information.
We take your confidentiality seriously. Please know that only a pastor receives this information.