“Blessed are the Persecuted Peacemakers”
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
November 26, 2017
University Baptist Church
Today, we conclude our traverse through the Beatitudes by considering the final three (Matthew 5:9-12). The climax of the beatitudes is the seventh one: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” This is where the beatitudes point us. This is the goal. We all want to be children of God. We long for peace and we want to be worthy of the name peacemakers (especially at Thanksgiving). But it’s not the end of the story. There are two other beatitudes that follow: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute your and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…” Peacemaking incites opposition. It’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s for the brave, the courageous, the audacious. That’s what Jesus was getting at. Hence the title of this sermon: “Blessed are the Persecuted Peacemakers”.
Jesus didn’t say those who receive peace are the children of God. He did not even say those who preach peace or love peace are the children of God. Jesus said those who make peace are the children of God. We need to be making peace all of our lives. It’s not just a one-time thing, like winning a war. It’s a lifestyle choice. And it’s how you know that there are children of God around.
We need this vision of peacemaking, especially as Sufi Muslims in Egypt are the latest victims of terror. How important it is to keep the work of peacemaking alive.
Peace is not when people stop fighting, peace happens when people begin to heal and forgive. Peace happens when people begin to love one another. The question for u then is how do we get to that love and bravery and focus which will make us into peacemakers? That’s where the beatitudes come in.
We cannot live that life of peace which we so desire without first recognizing, as our first beatitude says, that we are poor in spirit and in need of God’s grace to see us through.
In order to be peacemakers, we must mourn for the ills of this world and our subsequent lost condition. This mourning process will yield us strength for the journey ahead.
We must embrace meekness as a lifestyle in which we submit to God’s plan for out lives and not simple settle for that which will make us popular in the eyes of the world.
In order to be peacemakers and be called children of God, we must hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice. For we know that true peace cannot happened without justice first being established. The prophet Jeremiah rails against those prophets who ignore the need for justice and cry “peace, peace where there is no peace.” It turns out there were pundits and consumers of fake news even 2600 years ago too.
In order to be peacemakers, we must embrace mercy, as the fifth beatitude says, so that our motives will be toward healing. When that happens, we end up being healed too.
With purity of heart we must approach God and each other lest our motives and loyalties become questioned. The pure in heart listen, because they are merciful, they are gentle, they seek the truth. And when they do so, they confront their own flaws. And when we do so, we see God. The point is to see God.
Only after we have done all of that are we truly ready to embrace a life of peacemaking. And when we do that, when we become peacemakers, then people will call us the children of God and it will be true. We will become born again. We have a new life and so do our children, and so does the world.
Clarence Jordan said, “When Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God on earth, he was not offering to make people more comfortable in their sins. He was calling them to a new life in the spirit and to citizenship in his beloved community which is alone capable of peace.”
This is the great reversal of the Gospel. Embrace the things that seem impossible and foolhardy. For it is the hope of the world.
It’s been great to have my daughters back this weekend. Amanda told me that a conservative group on campus has taken to calling people who care about things like human rights and inclusive language and sexual harassment, “snowflakes”. It’s a way of demeaning people with a conscience as being too sensitive. But this is not a new thing. My friend Rachel McGuire reflected about this on Facebook this week, by saying this is something that Friedrich Neitzche argued about a few generations ago. Rachel writes:
Neitzche rejects what he calls the "weak" love of Christ and embraces his more muscular "will to power." He knows that in choosing a path of coercive and violent power, he is rejecting the teachings of Jesus.
His writing on the moral choice between facing evil with muscle and facing evil with love struck Martin Luther King Jr. deeply in graduate school. Was Neitzche right? With the racist atrocities being committed in America, is the Christian path of love an anemic and immoral choice?
In the end, King chose the paradox at the heart of Christ's teaching -- to address evil through the lens of love for self, neighbor, God, and even enemy -- to suffer appearing weak (as Paul says, to be a "fool for Christ") while dwelling in God's strength.
King wrote, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
I'm grateful for Neitzche's sensitive articulation of this choice, and I land with King and Jesus and all the practitioners of wild and holy love through the ages. Call me a snowflake if you will. I've thought deeply about my choice. Have you?
Both Christ and MLK were murdered not because the authorities viewed them as weak little snowflakes, but because their combination of love and activism was viewed as a power to be feared.
Peacemakers are called the children of God and a lot of other things. The final beatitudes point this out. You will be ridiculed and persecuted for advocating for peace. Embrace it. Revel in it. They did this to the prophets before and they’ll do it again.
For when you do the work of peacemaking, you expose the lie of worldly power. And the people who are citizens of this new commonwealth, those who follow the Sermon on the Mount and live the beatitudes, they have the focus of their lives on God’s spirit and the real truth which sets us all free. We will see through the lies. We will see through those who use religion to support meanness. We will see through the scapegoating of immigrants all while passing laws to make the rich richer and rob health care and citizenship from the poor. Yes, when you take away voting rights, you rob people of citizenship. Mass incarceration pulls people off the voting roles. Restrictive voting rules takes people off the voting rolls. Denying voting rights and keeping people afraid robs people of their citizenship. We see through this, even if that makes us seems like an enemy of the state. Jesus’ commonwealth of spirit and truth is the moral enemy of systems built on power, greed, oppression and falsehood.
Clarence Jordan who knew a thing or two about being called a kook said, “Persecution is a terrible thing, but unfaithfulness is far worse.”
To people whose loyalty is to this world, Christians, true Christians who are willing to be pure in heart and peacemakers who hunger and thirst after justice—these people are subversive agents and enemies who cannot be tolerated.
And so the Malcom X’s and Martin Luther Kings, and Mahatma Gandhis and Oscar Romeros are cut down, persecuted by assassins bullets. They could have avoided this persecution if they had compromised their faith in God. But if they did so they would not be the prophets they were. Blessed are the persecuted for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Do you recognize anything interesting about the last half of the 8th beatitude? Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven? The very first beatitude has the exact same result of blessedness. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
And so we have come full circle.
With this beatitude we have made a switch. We are no longer talking about the stairway to blessedness. We have not reached the last beatitude, the top step. Now we are talking about a way of life. We are now looking at following Jesus, the one who said, “For everyone who would come after me, let them take up their cross and follow me.”
Listen to the words attributed to Paul in 2 Timothy 3:12 &13:“Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But the wicked people and the imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived.” That’s why it’s important not only to endure suffering, but to endure suffering for the right reason. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. These are the people who are persecuted for sticking their necks out on behalf of someone else, in accordance with justice and love.
And you’re in good company. Almost all of the prophets who dared to speak the truth about the plight of their corner of the world were persecuted. Jeremiah lamented time and again about his life. He was abandoned by almost all of this friends and certainly his family. He tried to stop preaching God’s word, but as soon as he tried to stop, God would confront him again. When God called him, God said:
“But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. 18 And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.”(Jeremiah 1:17-19)
Yes, if we are to dare to stand up to worldly power on behalf of God’s plan of justice and love, then we will be strengthened with God’s strength.
As we finish this series on the beatitudes know that the world does not understand the beatitudes. The world does not know what it means to be truly poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers, or to endure persecution for the sake of God’s plan.
The world does not understand this. But we do. What the world does not understand, it tends to reject, but we do understand and now we must commit to living in the way that Christ taught us. The challenge for us, then is to constantly and continually look for new and redemptive ways to implement God’s plan for us. May we never sway far from the constant reminders of the lifestyle of the beatitudes which should guide our lives.
The world doesn’t understand the blessedness that comes as a result of being a child of God and being a citizen of God’s commonwealth. But the blessed result is the peace we make regardless of the cost. That’s the great redemptive reversal we celebrate. May we this day and every day, seek to live into the lifestyle of the beatitudes and rejoice and be glad even when the world rejects us. For our place is with God.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)