Sunday, October 14, 2012

Peace-building and Peace-being

Peacebuilding and the People of God
Luke 4:1-21

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So we begin today with a series of three sermons,
and worship services,
focusing on our call to be peacebuilders,
which grows out of our call to follow Jesus in daily life.

I like the term peace-building.
It’s come more into vogue in the last couple decades.
In almost all my old sermons about peace,
the term “peace-making” was my word of choice.
Nothing wrong with that. A good word.
It’s biblical. Kind of.

The Beatitudes say, in English translation,
“Blessed are the peacemakers.”
But that’s the only time the word appears in the Bible.
The original Greek word is a lot like the English.
It’s a compound word, peace + makers.
Except in the Greek, the second half, translated makers,
is fairly generic.
Means different things in different contexts.
But always points to something happening,
or causing something to happen.
So, whether Greek or English, it’s a pretty simple word.
It means, essentially, actively helping peace to come about.

So, “peacebuilding” would make a very good translation of the word.
But what’s the difference between peacemaking and peacebuilding,
and does it matter?
In contemporary conflict theory,
the two terms do have different meanings.
Peacemaking refers to a process aimed at
arriving at an agreement, a settlement between factions,
through negotiation, mediation, whatever the process.
When an agreement has been reached,
peace is “made.”
Peace-building is a longer process,
and comes after peace-making.
Once the fighting has stopped,
there is much more work to be done,
in order to build lasting peace.
Peace-building is deeper reconciliation,
normalizing of relationships,
helping “peace” become the new normal.

I have no doubt Jesus endorses that idea.
His beatitude is aimed, I think,
at those who devote themselves to
helping peace take root, and grow.
They are blessed,
and are called “children of God.”
_____________________

It almost goes without saying,
that being a peace-builder,
working for lasting peace and reconciliation,
is a lot of hard work.
We know that . . . from the Bible stories we’ve heard.
We know that . . . from the stories of the Anabaptist martyrs.
We know that . . . from the stories of some of our own Mennonite
parents and grandparents.
We know that . . . from the stories of all kinds of courageous
peacebuilders throughout history.
And some of us know that . . . from first-hand experience.

We love hearing these hero stories of peace.
What tremendous courage and sacrifice it must have taken
for the OT prophets to confront powerful kings with only words;
for Paul and Silas to sing hymns sitting in prison,
instead of trying to escape their injustice;
for Stephen to lift hands in prayer while being stoned to death;
for some 16th-century Anabaptists to face burning at the stake
with a word of praise to God, instead of bitter vengeful words;
for my grandfather, Lloy Kniss,
to take physical beatings and psychological torment
in a World War I training camp,
because he refused to obey military orders.
Before alternative service was an option.

Being a peacebuilder is not easy.
It’s hard work to row a boat upstream.
To respond to real threats with a peacebuilding move of some kind?
To move toward our enemy, not with fists clenched,
but hands and arms opened and exposed?
with the will to engage the other with honesty and hospitality?
That requires hard work, training.
We have to put in the time to develop our peacebuilding muscles.

There is always an overwhelming urge to take the short cut.
To accept a quicker solution where
there is a winner, and there is a loser.
Of course, the winner is always the one with the biggest guns.
This is the way the world works, we’re told.
It’s what we’re taught.
It’s what we see demonstrated every day around the world.

But it’s not just external, cultural pressures to
to solve conflict with bigger firepower.
The pressures are within us.
We’re human.
And humans grasp for power,
because we want to be in control.

But to take the path of peacebuilding is to take a risk.
To live without violence,
to live with hospitality toward the other
is to let go of our need to control the outcome.
And that is going against the flow.
That is rowing upstream. Hard.
That’s work.

Oh, but we love hearing the stories.
The Bible stories.
The stories of the Anabaptists.
The stories of modern peace heros.

We hear the stories, and we say . . . WOW!
How did they do it?
What courage.
What sacrifice.
What hard work.
We stand in awe of them,
and wonder if we could ever do the same thing if we had to.
_____________________

But as much as I admire my Grandpa Kniss,
as much as I stand in awe of Felix Manz and Michael Sattler,
as much as I am inspired by early Christian peacebuilders,
there’s real danger in hero worship.
They were made out of the same stuff I’m made out of.
They were human beings like me.
They made mistakes like I do.

And if I make them superhuman,
then I separate myself from them.
I bracket them out, as the exception.
and I convince myself that I could never be like they were.
We are all called to join God’s mission of building peace,
nurturing shalom.

So what should I do to be a better peacebuilder?
How can I be more faithful in following Jesus’ call?

Well, I guess, try harder, right?
Mennonites, with our rock-solid work ethic,
that’s something we can do—try harder.
If peacebuilding is hard work, we’re half-way there.
We know how to work hard.
We go out and do a good job,
we build peace, and we build it right.
We build harder, and we build smarter.
That’s how to be a better peacebuilder, right?
Well, no . . . sorry to say . . . it’s not.

Peacebuilding is hard work and demanding work.
We do need to do everything possible to equip ourselves.

But when the day is over,
working harder and smarter for peace,
is not going to make us children of the Prince of Peace.
Hard work is something we must do,
but it is not the ground of peacebuilding.
_____________________

The ground of peacebuilding has more to do with who we are
than with what we do.
If we want to be better peacebuilders,
we have to start where Jesus did.

Jesus started in the wilderness.
That’s what we learned from today’s text in Luke 4.
It was in the wilderness that Jesus found out who he was.
In the wilderness Jesus had wrestle with the temptation to either
be who God was calling him to be,
or be who others wished he would be.

That’s what these temptations in the wilderness were about, I think.

God had a claim on Jesus’ life.
Before his birth, an angel gave him his name.
“He will be called Jesus,” the angel said,
“Because he will save his people from their sins.”
Now, 30 years later, Jesus was beginning to understand his name.
He submitted to the baptism of John in the Jordan River,
essentially being re-christened, re-named by God,
when the voice was heard, saying,
“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
That’s recorded in Luke 3.

And then, immediately after the baptism,
we have today’s Luke 4 story.
He was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness for a time of testing.
God’s claiming and naming of Jesus would be put to the test.
Would Jesus keep submitting to that claim?
Would Jesus keep remembering who had named him?

When Satan tempted Jesus to turn stone to bread,
the real temptation was to avoid hunger,
to escape suffering.
Jesus’ ministry journey was going to become, soon enough,
a journey of great suffering.
Here, at the start, Jesus was tempted to turn away.
But Jesus said no.
Jesus remembered his name.
Jesus remembered who he was.

Then Satan tempted Jesus to bow down to him,
in exchange for power over the kingdoms of the world.
The real temptation was to be who the people wanted him to be—
a political and military savior.
He was tempted to set aside his identity as Prince of Peace.
But Jesus said no.
Because Jesus remembered his name.
Jesus remembered who he was.

Then Satan tempted Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple,
because God had promised to save and protect.
The real temptation was to manipulate God to his own advantage,
to force God’s hand,
to reverse his relationship with God,
to put a claim on God, rather than God putting a claim on him.
But Jesus said no.
Because Jesus remembered his name.
Jesus remembered who he was.

We all know these temptations.
We face them all the time.
To turn aside from the difficult path.
To be who others want us to be.
To manipulate God.

When we set out to be peacebuilders,
these temptations come fast and furious.
We are tempted to make bread from stones,
to avoid hunger pangs, to escape suffering.
We are tempted to seek the kingdoms of this world,
to rely on power over others,
to bring about what we think is just.
We are tempted to jump from the pinnacle,
to manipulate God to our advantage,
to forget who has a claim on who.
These are still the temptations of a peacebuilder,
the temptations of forgetting who we are.

Jesus was able to resist, according to Luke,
because he was “full of the Spirit.”
Jesus was living fully in the presence of God.
That made it possible to say “no” to the lies,
and “yes” to being true to who he was.
_____________________

Now . . . this Luke 4 story does not end in the wilderness.
It ends in the synagogue.
After Jesus left the wilderness,
he went back home, to his own town of Nazareth,
and went into the synagogue, as usual.
And when the time came,
he read from the scroll of Isaiah.

Now there was nothing unusual about this act of reading.
That text was the designated reading for the day.
And this was his hometown synagogue,
all the regulars at the synagogue take their turns reading.
When I was in Israel this summer,
and went to a synagogue several times,
I got to see this very ordinary thing happen numerous times.
The readings got passed around to everyone, even the young.

For Jesus, it was the expected thing to do.
But, maybe because he just came from the wilderness,
because he had encountered the living presence of God,
because he was reminded, in the desert, who he was,
opening and reading this scripture became
a watershed moment for Jesus and his mission.

Some people call these words Jesus’ inauguration speech.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I don’t believe he chose this text.
He just read the assigned passage.
And because of what he had just been through in the wilderness,
when he read it, the lights came on for him.
He saw himself in that text, and he said, with great import,
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

_____________________

Now, this is a favorite passage for us peace-oriented Christians.
We quote it often.
But most of the time, we don’t read it as a part of the larger story.
We read it like a to-do list—
a list of things Jesus worked on the next couple of years,
and which, therefore, we also need to work on.
So let’s get moving.
Let’s get to work.
Let’s bring the good news to the poor.
Let’s proclaim release to the captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind,
and freedom for the oppressed.

When we lift that quote from Isaiah and remove it from Jesus’ story,
it’s just a list of “shoulds” and “oughts” for us to do.
And when we fail at it, it’s a list of things to feel guilty about.

Now hear me. This is a worthy list of things to do.
This was, indeed, the essence of Jesus’ mission,
which makes it our continuing mission.

But Jesus didn’t start with the to-do list.
He started in the wilderness.
It was the clarifying of his identity,
which happened at his baptism,
and in 40 agonizing days of wrestling with his demons
in the wilderness,
that enabled him to embrace this vision for
a ministry of liberation and release and recovery and freedom.

Neither do we become children of peace
by mastering a list of things to do.
We become children of peace
by having an encounter with the living God,
by wrestling with the devil in the wilderness,
and coming out of the wilderness knowing who we really are,
children of God,
followers of Jesus,
persons transformed by the indwelling Spirit of God.

We don’t start with the to-do list,
and then work harder and smarter.
We start with the Spirit in the wilderness,
and from that clarifying encounter with God,
we live out the implications of who we are.
The work of peace-building must begin
by embracing our peace-being,
embracing our identity as children of God.

If we really believe that is the case
it will have profound implications for how we do the work of peace.
If we really believe that is the case
Mennonites have nothing to fear
about losing our so-called “peace position.”
I don’t really like that term anyway—“peace position.”
Our calling is not to hold to a “position,”
as if believing the right thing makes us people of peace.
Our calling is to transformation,
to a life of openness and hospitality to the other,
including our enemies,
a life made possible only by
the clarifying encounter with God in the wilderness.
That is our ground for peace-building.

May the Spirit of the Lord come upon us,
and anoint us for a life of peace-being and peace-building.
And may we thus come to know more deeply who we are,
we are people of God’s peace . . .
we are children of God’s peace . . .
we are servants of God’s peace . . .
Let’s sing that proclamation of our identity, in HWB 407

—Phil Kniss, October 14, 2012

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