Matthew 5: 9 – Blessed are the Peacemakers for they will be called children of God.
Notice the word used in this beatitude is Peacemaker, not Peacekeeper and not Peace builder, but Peace maker. You might be thinking – What’s the difference?
To be a peacekeeper is deploying some sort of reactionary measure to try to expand the possibilities of keeping the peace and preventing conflict to escalate. To build peace is to “identify and support structures” that will provide durability to be proactive, and avoid any sort of conflict in the future. But peacemaking is a very human act. To be a peacemaker is to bring groups together to try to come up with some sort of agreement in order to prevent conflict from going forward. It sees the conflict, honors it, and finds a way forward. It is in mediation, in relationship, and deeply rooted in love.
Right now, parts of our world are at war. I have found myself watching the news the last couple nights, trying to stay up to date on what is going on in the world. I weep for both the Ukrainian and Russian people. I have a deep ache for those who are innocent in this conflict but are not strong enough, or maybe too scared, to try to change the situation. And then there are other countries who are in this as well – the UN – the United States – all trying to be Peacemakers – placing sanctions on Russia, hoping that this will make their president stop the destruction. This is not peacemaking. Unfortunately, the Russian president is not being inconvenienced in most of this – power hungry folks rarely think about those who are truly affected by any conflict they directly and indirectly impose.
Did you know that the bishop for the United Methodist Churches in Ukraine is also the same bishop for the United Methodist Churches in Russia? Can you imagine the turmoil that this bishop is feeling, all of the churches that he serves are hurting?
The United Methodist Social Principles states this about war – “We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy. We oppose unilateral first/preemptive strike actions and strategies of any government. As disciples of Christ, we are called to love our enemies, seek justice, and serve as reconcilers of conflict. We insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to work together to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them. We advocate the extension and strengthening of international treaties and institutions that provide a framework within the rule of law for responding to aggression, terrorism, and genocide (2016 Book of Discipline, Social Principles paragraph 165.C)
The teaching and example of Christ is that of a peacemaker. To be a peacemaker is to reconcile with those who are in conflict, or rather, to assist those who are in conflict to be reconciled. Oh, I know, we often think of Christ stirring things up a bit – sometimes using action like overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple instead of talking it out – remember, Christ WAS human as well as divine.
In the larger picture, we see Jesus as peacemaker. As the prophecy states, the ultimate purpose of Jesus coming into human form was to make peace between humans and God. This commitment to peace is of extreme value for the Jewish people. Paul wrote about this often with the various churches he visited after Christ’s death. In a letter to the church of Ephesus he states this:
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2: 14-17 NIV)
This speaks to that ultimate peacemaking mission of Jesus – to which he was crucified for in the end. His commitment towards peace between God and humans was fierce.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be children of God. – Basically, blessed are those who are on this path of peacemaking – of reconciling with others – of honoring the conflict and finding a new way to live around it, with it – of having both sides find peace together – for they will be like Christ, who was the Son of God.
This is a concept that is hard for us to do when we see Ukraine and Russia at war. It’s hard to do when we see our president participating in more peacekeeping actions – reactionary actions that aim to stop the war – right now, they are doing only harm, and ass Methodists, we aim to do no harm.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has made several attempts at peacemaking. In his speech on February 23rd, he states “Neighbors always enrich each other culturally” adding later that this conflict “doesn’t make them a single whole.” My heart goes out to this president who has tried to talk with the Russian President, but with the invasion, he has also had to defend his country, his people. The “turn the other cheek” preaching that comes later in the Sermon on the Mount was not something Zelensky was willing to do, and in all honesty, I’m not sure he should have. Even with this war continuing, Zelensky continues to attempt to be a peacemaker, talking out the conflict with Russian leaders when possible.
This is what the leader of the Ukraine is doing, but when we see what is going on, it’s easy for us to think – what can WE do to be peacemakers? Prayers always seem to be the only thing that comes to mind – we do not necessarily have the power, the clout, the knowledge to come to the negotiating table between any two countries. What we can do is make it known, open and clearly, our stance against this war – and war in general. We can ask our elected leaders, locally and nationally, to consider the people who are truly hurt during this time – it's not the leaders of these nations – but the innocent families, children, people who are really the ones hurting.
Bishop Hagiya from the Cal-Pac Annual Conference wrote this in his letter to his conference on how we can be people of peace – how we can be peacemakers:
“Christ did not trample on the rights of others, nor did he advocate for one nation dismantling the freedoms and liberties of another. He presented peacemaking and relationship building as hallmarks of life of faith that increases in the face of doubt, hope that sustains in spaces of despair, and love that prevails when all else fails.
“As followers of Jesus, the Christ, may we find ourselves in prayer for faithful, righteous and expedient ends to atrocity. May we find solace in knowing we serve a God who is not asking us to stake any claim except one that binds us in love and unity. May we find ourselves speaking truths that magnify support for the people who stand to lose life, livelihood, and vitality.”
If you are like me, you might feel powerless right now, but this statement helped me to see that prayer is not a powerless option and that I have other options as well. I can write to my national leadership – asking President Biden to consider what it would be like if the tables were turned, and sanctions were placed on the United States – making our dollar almost worthless – those who would be hurting would then be the American people. The same is true for the sanctions placed on Russia - I truly believe that the Russian people are the ones hurting from the sanctions that have been put in place. I can also help through my monetary gifts – UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief) is already the boots on the ground with the churches in both Ukraine and Russia, assisting those who are in need. If you wish to give to UMCOR – where 100% of your donation goes directly to those affected, you can do that through the local Methodist Church or umcmission.org.
As we consider this very current conflict, let’s also consider the conflicts that are present in the rest of our lives – how are we being peacemakers in our everyday life? How are we reconciling differences, striving for ends to the atrocities that are present that are both seen and unseen? I wish I had more concrete ways for all of us to walk this path of peace – but I hope I have given some nuggets that ignite something in your mind and in your heart that spur you to motion when conflict arises.