Peacemakers Now and For The Long Haul
(following the death of George Floyd)
Prejudice. Intolerance. Discrimination. Rudeness. Violence. Stereotyping. Bigotry. Injustice. Bias. Inequality. Disrespect. Hostility. Anger. Self-Deception. These are some of the persistent, almost intractable features of the human condition that we must work against as we shape our lives under the tutelage of the gospel. No corner of the globe, no slice of time, has been free of these. Our spot on the globe, the United States, and our era, the 21st century, is dramatically marred by these things. That is a weak way of putting it. The human cost of these things is more than a blemish. Lives are lost, pain is put on people that will last a lifetime, tragedies befall many innocents, violence begets violence---and so much could have been avoided.
Pausing to ask what contributes to each of the dozen or so realities mentioned above shows the complexities of our predicament. In a snap, I can think of a dozen things that engender in our society violence, to pick one from the list, and there are probably two dozen more contributors to it. A dozen realities, each fueled by handfuls of other realities. No wonder our problems seem so intractable. And yet at the heart of Jesus’ teaching is the summons to be peacemakers and the promise that we shall be helped in that vocation. The local church is where our attitudes and action come under the tutelage of the gospel and we learn, ideally, the counters to the evils above. They include (at least): Acceptance. Tolerance. Fairness. Kindness. Gentleness. Justice. Equality. Respect. Peaceability. Equanimity. Truthfulness.
Others can, and have, weighed in on the kinds of policies that will help overcome our ills, policies related to economic flourishing, fairness in the workplace and schools, and so on. What I want to say is that every local congregation can model the new way of being human inaugurated by Jesus Christ, the peaceable way of life. The church is meant to be ‘the new community,’ a new way of being human within the created order. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew this. We should know it, too. I have been committed to the local church since my teens because, for one reason, it is a transformative community that, day by day and week by week, keeps at the long, slow, steady work of bearing witness to the kind of world God wills right now and, one day, will bring to pass.
It is a long, slow work. It takes stamina, and a whole lot more: wisdom, a steely resolve to keep at it (and not just parrot utopian slogans), and courage. But if we keep at it, we can pour into the world a flood of people whose hearts and minds, renewed weekly by our teaching and practices, will make a good, godly difference in the world. Imagine a teacher whose classroom is quietly transformed by her transformation. A lawyer whose work in mediation transforms disputes because she knows she has been reconciled by God’s grace. A policeman acting with wisdom and grace because he knows God has been gracious and patient with him. A community that believes in the common good and seeks to share all things with all people. And so on.
Others can put out slogans, capture the headlines, and do their part. For my part, I’ll make a plea for all of us at St. Paul’s to embrace our mission statement “to offer a full expression of the Christian faith” and to “call all people to a new life of discipleship” starting with ourselves. A full expression means: We weep with those who weep over the loss of loved ones. We open ourselves to God’s corrective judgment. We repent of ingrained attitudes and actions that harm others. We deploy the gifts God has given us for the common good. And we ask for a great big dollop of empowering grace to overcome ‘the principalities and powers’ that keep us ensnared. And we trust God for it all, daily, for the long haul.