Core Value 5 Matthew 5:38-48 Pathways of Peace
I want to begin this morning by just acknowledging that what I’m about to talk about can be a really controversial subject among Christian people. I’ve been wrestling with how to preach on this topic all week, with the knowledge that there are a lot of good, honest, Christian people who will disagree with my message this morning, and I know that at least some of those good, honest, Christian people are here!
So I want to start by just simply saying that hopefully this will always be a church where everyone is welcome, and where we can disagree and even argue with each other without a spirit of disrespect or coercion.
So, you might really disagree with what I”m going to preach this morning, but I hope that doesn’t keep you from coming back or from calling this your church.
I’m almost done with my preliminary comments–but I did want to say too, that while I recognize there are Christian people in this room who have a wide variety of views on peace and nonviolence, it is my intent to challenge you no matter where you are, to not just accept what you’ve thought your whole life, but to really wrestle with the gospel, wrestle with Jesus, and be open to going further.
We’re in the middle of a series of sermons on the core values of MMC.
Today we’re looking at the 5th core value of this church, which says
We pursue peaceful and nonviolent ways of thinking and living. Jesus came to bring peace and told us to love our enemies. This means we must use loving ways to demonstrate and bring about God’s kingdom, both near and far.
I really struggled with writing this sermon this week.
The harder I tried to work on it, the more work there seemed to do!
So by Friday afternoon, I had finally resigned myself to the fact that sometimes with sermons, done is better than good!
But then a few things happened that made me re-think the whole direction that I was going with this sermon.
First, I had a good conversation. Then I mowed our yard in the rain. Finally, Christine and I went to the Save and Serve Tea Party that was here at the church on Friday night.
And by the time I went to bed on Friday, I knew I wasn’t done with the sermon yet. (of course, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily ‘good’, either!)
See, I was preparing to “make a case” for nonviolence as a way to achieve peace. That’s how it’s always been taught to me–that there is something called “peace”, and that the main disagreement between Christians is how to achieve this thing called “Peace”.
We all agree that peace is a good thing, but what we differ on is how to attain it.
I think it’s safe to say that the majority of Christians today think that sometimes violent means are necessary to achieve ‘peace’.
We Mennonites and some other mainly Anabaptist Christians counter with the argument that the ends don’t justify the means—or that how you get peace is just as important as the peace itself.
So I was preparing to make our traditional argument, that Christ commands us to use only nonviolent means to achieve peace, on national, local, and personal levels.
I was going to talk about Just War theory and then talk about nonviolent revolutions, like the civil rights movement in America, and how effective nonviolence can be as a tool to achieve good, peaceful resolutions to conflict.
But really, what I need to talk about is even more fundamental than any of that.
It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that peace isn’t an end in itself. It isn’t something that can be ‘achieved’, it’s not a destination that you can reach by this way or that way, through violence or nonviolence.
Rather, the kind of peace that Jesus offers and commands; it’s a whole lifestyle!
It has to do with good conversations, and enjoying nature. It has to do with enjoying the fellowship of believers over tea and cookies!
You heard Jesus’ teaching already this morning—
Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let them have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
In other words, ALWAYS go further than expected to show your enemy love.
Those are words that Jesus spoke.
And just a verse later, he says it again in even plainer language: I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
You don’t do these things to achieve peace. You do them because you are peaceful!
And you know, for the first three hundred years that the church existed, this teaching was the norm. It was not the exception, like it seems to be today.
For those first 300 years, Christians were unified on the question of whether or not to use violence to further their cause. It wasn’t even an option.
There’s a reason they were described as sheep being led to the slaughter. There’s a reason the word “Martyr” means “Witness”, because in witnessing to their faith, multitudes died, not as soldiers, but as martyrs–laying down their lives for what they believed.
Willing to die, but not willing to kill in self-defense.
So you might wonder what happened—how did we get from the place where loving your enemy was the norm, to today, where loving your enemy seems to be the exception to the rule?
Well, I want to suggest that it has to do with the mistake of separating the ends from the means…the mistake of identifying “peace” as an achievement rather than a lifestyle.
See, there was an emperor—his name was Constantine. Basically he saw that roughly %10 of his empire was Christian, and he also understood that Christianity was spreading like wildfire!
And since (like I’ve already said) being Christian was the same as being pacifist at that point, he knew he had a problem. His problem was that this new religion that was sweeping through his empire, it was taking away his soldiers!
How can you maintain an empire if your kingdom turns into a bunch of pacifists?
This nonviolent religion was growing and taking the empire by storm, even though it was an illegal, illegitimate religion.
So Constantine was facing the reality that in a few years time, he might have an empire where the majority of the citizens might refuse to fight his wars because of their religious beliefs.
So he gave the church something it had never had (status and power) in exchange for doing something it had never done before (participate in war).
And so for the first time, in some stuff a guy named Augustine wrote, you see a Christian making a difference between peace as an end and peace as a means.
He talks about achieving peace (something all Christians were interested in), and how the method used to achieve that peace could be separated from the end product.
He really lifted up the end result, basically saying “so what if a few are converted by fear, or torture, or a few people die, at least they’re being converted, and everybody has to die sometime anyway!”
Combine some of that thinking with lavish gifts of money, status, and power never before enjoyed by followers of this new religion, and suddenly you’ve got a dangerous mix of people ready to die and kill to protect this new privileged lifestyle.
All because at the root, they could tell themselves that the ends justified the means.
And so before long, Christians went from across the board agreement that killing your enemy is never justified, to a point in history when being Christian was actually a prerequisite to being in the army! They thought that Christians made the best soldiers, because they were loyal, honest, and obedient!
But I’d like to suggest that peace as an end was never what God intended!
A word that’s commonly translated as “peace” in the OT is “shalom”. It’s peace, but it’s a lot more than peace. It’s more like ‘wholeness’, or ‘fullness’. It’s how things should be when they’re in balance; when you can really enjoy the world and all is as it should be.
It’s this concept of “shalom” that we should think about when we think of Biblical peace. It’s not just the absence of violence. It’s about balance, and completion, and fullness.
Shalom is the peace that passes understanding. It’s the calling that Jesus lived and died and rose again to proclaim—It’s the unified message of the gospel and of the first 300 years of the church, the message that was spoken with boldness and sincerity by so many for so long…
—But it became contaminated with the idea that the ends can justify the means.
And so from that point, you saw basically a big, long, 1700 year long power grab by the church.
See, the ends don’t justify the means. NO, the means create the ends–in fact, they ARE the ends.
I’m talking about what it means to enjoy and create shalom, and what the consequences are when we break it.
I’m talking about enjoying a conversation on a beautiful day with someone who has been at war, who has seen things that noone should see, who has done things that noone should do. I’m talking about hearing their stories, feeling their anguish–trying to offer balance, and fullness in that moment.
I’m talking about how we respond to the horrific flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico because we have finally cut the earth so deeply that it bleeds because of the violence of our lifestyles.
Our pursuit of peace–of shalom–it should make us drive less and ask some very big questions because of what’s happening right now.
It’s not just BP’s fault. At least part of the blame rests on each of us and our insatiable appetite for cheap energy.
It’s just one of the ways we’ve broken the peace that God has given us.
So what’s it look like, to offer balance and fullness into this moment?
When it comes down to it, we either believe Jesus is Lord, or we don’t.
If Jesus is your Lord, then it’s up to you to walk in His Shalom Now, to embrace the life that only Jesus offers, and to embrace it now–everyday!
See, I’m convinced that Pacifism is Crazy. I know that Nonviolence doesn’t make any sense.
Refusing to violently defend yourself or your spouse or your nation—it’s crazy at its best and it’s just plain irresponsible at it’s worst.
That is, if you’re living a normal, life and you’re concerned with normal things.
But we are not citizens of a normal kingdom!!!
We are an odd, peculiar, shalom-minded kind of people!
Our allegiance is not primarily to our selves, our families, our state, or our nation! Our allegiance is to Christ alone!
So I’d like to close with a passage from Romans chapter 12.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on their heads.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
May it be so in all our lives, from now and forevermore!