Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Give Peace More Than a Chance

Give Peace a Chance. It was a song for John Lennon, a rallying cry for tumultuous times, and now a nostalgic throwback to the good ol’ days and heady times, man. Like “All You Need is Love,” “Give Peace a Chance” is either a gross oversimplification or a small step up a huge mountain. I’m opting for the latter. But either way, it’s only a beginning. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Mt. 5:9). I think this covers significantly more ground, because giving peace a chance is a good start. But making peace requires a lot more of us.

It is a vital skill, peacemaking, increasingly lacking in our culture and world. It is such a vital skill that Jesus—the Prince of Peace—commends it as a chief characteristic of God’s children. If this is so, then why aren’t we as the church working harder to be those blessed peacemakers?

Interesting that Jesus’ instructions when sending out the Seventy (Lk. 10:1-12) are to, “…first say, ‘Peace to this house!’” I wonder how much better the church might do in reaching the culture if our initial orientation is one of offering peace. How much more vital might our presence be—might God’s presence through us be—if we were known for peace and hospitality rather than judgment, alienation, and divisiveness.

Jesus’ further instructions seem to be to: 1) Fellowship and build relationships; 2) Demonstrate God’s healing, restorative power; and 3) Proclaim the presence of God’s kingdom. That’s it. Certainly the message of the kingdom will cause conflict as it challenges other powers, including our own self-righteousness and entitlement. And Jesus acknowledges that there will be those who reject the ministry of kingdom peace and, thus, heap judgment upon themselves. But as much as it’s up to the Seventy, they are to be messengers of God’s peace.

There’s an overarching theme in Jesus’ instructions not to waste time with those who aren’t receptive, characterized by those who reject peace. And undergirding the ministry is a full reliance on the presence and faithfulness of God—praying for the Lord to send laborers, living with simple provisions, relying on the hospitality of others, and proclaiming only the message of God’s power and kingdom. Here we see a life of peace with God propelling the mission of peace.

Later we see Peter reaffirming the message of peace intertwined with the message of the kingdom: “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36).

The context of Peter’s words is the good news coming to the Gentiles. Peter precedes that line by affirming that “God shows no partiality…” In this it appears that Jesus is a bridge-builder, God’s agent of peace between God and people, and people and people.

So, again, the gospel we preach—as much as it is the true good news of the kingdom—is primarily a gospel of peace: peace with God and peace among people, “by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all.” This is the cross-shaped ministry of reconciliation that Paul commends to us (2Cor. 5:16-21). It all rests in Christ’s lordship. Because Jesus is Lord of all, there is no person outside of his lordship. And, thus, there is no one who should not be approached with his peace. It binds us together and should begin within the church and extend outward. So why doesn’t it?

I’m sure there are a number of reasons for the church’s failure to be those blessed peacemakers, but I’m going to focus on two, beginning in the church and extending outward.

First: rampant individualism. Our consumer culture has resulted in individualism running rampant through the church. From church shopping to church hopping to church a la carte (i.e. “What programs do you have for me?”), church has become all about the individual and has lost one of its chief characteristics, namely people living in community under authority.

Someone upsets us, we leave. Leadership takes us in a direction we don’t like, we leave. Expectations for growth and involvement get too high, we move on to somewhere that will let us just be spectators. And with every move, every shirk of responsibility or abdication of commitment, we lose our ability to make peace.

Thinking in terms of military engagement, I dare say retreating, or especially abandoning a post or going AWOL are not the same as making peace…not the same at all. But that’s exactly what you would expect from someone who puts self over corps and country. Yet we have somehow gotten the idea that self is more important than church, or that church is just a collection of interchangeable selves. While the church certainly ministers to the individual, and we would never encourage someone to stay in a destructive situation, nevertheless the church is more than the sum of its parts. We’ve forgotten this. So when peace needs to be made, we just take our football and go home…leaving the team behind.

Second: culture wars. The phrase says it all. In the name of values that we have been told by secular media are Christian, we have been swept into a war on the culture. What hope can there be to make peace when we are bombarded with the message that we are to make war? If this is the case, Jesus’ instructions might be more like, “When you engage people, first offer them peace…unless they vote for a different political party or watch different TV channels or question that this is a Christian nation or say ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas.’ We’re at war with those kinds of people!”

As a result of this culture war message ubiquitously washing over masses of evangelical Christians, any talk of peacemaking has become synonymous with hippie-dippy liberals and abandonment of the truth and downright unpatriotic (which, of course, equals un-Christian). Make war, not love.

Yet Jesus’ instructions to his sent ones—that’s all of us, by the way—are to first, offer peace. Jesus’ description of the blessed children of God is that they are peacemakers. The message of the apostles, after serving a three-year intimate apprenticeship with Jesus, was about the “peace of Christ, the Lord of all.” This being the case, today’s church would do well to Give Peace a Chance.

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