Blessed Are The Peacemakers
Blessed Are The Peacemakers
The sermon for this past Sunday we delivered on November 11, 2018, 100 years since the Armistice of the War to End All Wars. The reality is that the past 100 years have seen many more wars, conflict and violence have engulfed the globe. However, this Remembrance Sunday provides a unique opportunity to reflect on the past. To hold in tension our desire to honour those who fought for freedom and our calling as Christians to work for peace.
Scripture: Matthew 5: 1-16
Blessed Are The Peacemakers
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
I find this day difficult. As an individual who enlisted as a Reservist in the Canadian Forces, though I was never called upon to go into conflict zones or war, I was willing.
I find this day difficult. As an individual who now leads a congregation which follows Jesus Christ, who calls us forward in ways of peace. Who asks us to be merciful and asks that we find a way to end war.
I find this day difficult because I hold in tension these two aspects of myself. The part that venerates our hero’s and the part that says why do we war?
This week I have been looking for words which hold and represent this tension. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon the words of the Rev. Peter Bush, a former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and minister at Westwood Presbyterian Church in Winnipeg. Words which I would share with you now.
Peter writes, “This week we balance respectful honour for those who fought in our country’s wars with weeping at the physical and emotional cost paid by human beings because of those wars. I find this week complicated.
“The last Canadian soldier killed in World War I was shot at 10:58 am – 2 minutes before the Armistice came into effect. The ceasefire agreement had been signed at 6 am on Nov. 11, 1918 and the shooting was stop at 11 am (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). Throughout the Western Front, on both sides in the trenches, everyone knew the shooting would stop at 11 am. Yet at 10:58 am the sniper fired and one more soldier was killed.
“How uncommon mercy is. Only 2 minutes left until the ceasefire and an end to the war’s violence. Why not show mercy to the family of this soldier and let him return home? Why inflict this pain?
“Accusing the other side, whoever the other side might be, of being without mercy is easy. We portray our opponents as merciless as part of the rhetoric of verbal conflict. However, acknowledging and confronting our own lack of mercy is far more important if humanity is going to move beyond the conflicts besetting our world.
“Jesus’ words haunt me, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” We are called to make the first move and show mercy. Jesus makes clear that he understands this is not a classroom conversation far from the realities of life, for he goes on to say, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (The implication is beyond just physical striking, it is also about verbal striking: “If someone insults you, do not retaliate.”) Jesus’ prescription for dealing with violence and insult is: Don’t retaliate.
“Such an approach seems irrational, illogical, and even dangerous in a world where conversations are filled with insults and debate quickly degenerates into verbal attack. Retaliation escalates verbal violence to physical violence leaving behind those who have lost limbs, who have been blinded by shrapnel, who suffer from PTSD (called “shell shock” in WWI), and those who have been killed.
“This week we balance respectful honour for those who fought in our country’s wars with weeping at the physical and emotional cost paid by human beings because of those wars. I find this week complicated.”
It is a complicated week. As followers of Christ we are called towards a path of peace, love and understanding. War is not what we should seek. On the table at the front of the sanctuary is a field communion set, that a Presbyterian chaplain used during war. On the walls of this sanctuary we hang the names of those members who went and fought in the Great War and World War II. There are no other names hanging on the walls of this sanctuary. Outside the sanctuary doors hangs the picture of a Canadian War hero, a Presbyterian minister who earned the Victoria Cross for his actions during the raid at Dieppe, the Rev. John Weir Foote.
We are called to turn away from war and advocate for peace. Yet, we venerate those who have fought against evil in a variety of forms and who fought for freedom. We remember our parents, grand-parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, children and friends who have answered the call to service in the armed forces. Who have gone to fight, so that we might know peace.
We share words such as ‘We will remember’ and ‘never again.’ Yet, on this the 100th anniversary of Armistice of the First World War we look back on a century that has been consumed by conflict. Though on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month the guns fell silent, over the past 100 years they have sounded again. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the two Iraq Wars, Afghanistan and countless other conflicts where men and women have been sent to bring peace and security.
Perhaps it is the nature of war or at least our ideas about war which have shifted. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada in 1940, in its loyal address to the King wrote, “We rejoice that we are able to assure your Majesty of the loyalty of our people to the Empire and to the sacred cause in which our armies are engaged. The lives, the material resources, the prayer of our people are and will be dedicated to the cause of righteousness in which your Majesty and the Allied Nations are engaged” (Presbyterian Church in Canada, Acts and Proceedings, 1940, 18).
I do not believe in my life time that I have heard of war referred to as a ‘sacred cause’. Our attitudes have shifted. We recognize that at times we as people and as nations might be called to go to war. To establish values of fairness and equality. To say no to evil in a variety of forms, but we shed a tear that war needs to be the answer. We no longer view it as sacred.
We know that over the past 100 years the guns have not been truly silenced. How do we honour the men and women who have fought for peace, fought for freedom? How do we honour those individuals whose names hang on these very sanctuary walls?
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Author and activist Shane Clairborne writes, “Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.”
How do we honour those who have fought for freedom? How do we also honour God as we engage in this pursuit? We work for peace, just as those who came before us did. The world may be different, the language changed, our attitudes changed, but we still recognize that evil exists. That there is a need for God’s grace, mercy and justice to be brought into the world.
Ultimately, this must be done through selfless acts of love on our part. Love which overcomes the hate. Love which is rooted in the same abiding love that found Christ hanging on a cross. As he hung on that cross Jesus uttered the words, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”
We need that forgiveness now as much as we did then, because we do not know what we are doing. Of the damage we have wrought on the minds and bodies of men and women who have gone forward to serve in conflict. The damage that continues to be inflicted on those who today are posted far from home. We are unaware of the loss that weighs on those who are left behind.
We are called to offer mercy. We are called to find a way forward in peace. 100 years ago that was the belief that Armistice would bring. We know different, but that doesn’t change the need to bring mercy and peace into a broken world.
I look to those words we heard earlier from Micah:
God will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the Lord Almighty has spoken.
Until that time, we will remember. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.