For some reason, peacemaking and persecution go hand in hand. I don’t know what it is about peacemakers that troubles so many in our society. Not many people would come out and proclaim how wonderful war is, but when people seek to make peace, they become targets in society. Congressman John Lewis was a leader in the Civil Rights movements in the 60’s. He was involved as a freedom rider: a group of black and white people who would commit what some thought was the unpardonable crime of sitting together on public transportation. This action was met with violent resistance. In one of the most famous (infamous) moments of the fight for equal rights, Congressman Lewis led a march from Selma to Montgomery to protest for voting rights. They were met with tear gas and billy club swinging state troopers. That day is known as Bloody Sunday and Congressman Lewis received a skull fracture as part of his injuries.
The non-violent protests of those who sought to bring peace among all people eventually won out in the legal sense, although we still have a long way to go before there is true peace among all people. Even today, people will persecute those who seek to bring or enforce peace. The persecution may not be as intense as it once was, but there are still those who think they are superior to others by virtue of the color of their skin. In today’s world, we are still called to be peacemakers. The battles may not be the same, but the virtue is. In today’s world, we will still face persecution for making peace, but make peace we must. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:9-10)
Jesus knew something about political peacemaking. He lived in Jerusalem under Roman occupation. The land seethed with revolutionary ideas. If Jesus had spoken the word, there were thousands of people who would have joined Him in overthrowing the boot of Roman tyranny. Yet Jesus counseled that His followers carry the Roman soldiers’ burdens twice as far as the law prescribed. Did Jesus know how to make peace? His disciples included a tax collector who collaborated with and worked for the Romans as well as one of those who had sworn to kill Romans and collaborators. Yet they walked in peace. The result of Jesus’ peaceful methods and teaching was to invite persecution from the religious leaders.
Part of the reason for that persecution, though, was that Jesus sought to teach people how to have peace with God. He taught that you can’t be at peace in the world if things aren’t right with God. When you look at the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, it’s amazing how many had a pastoral background. Once they were right with God, they sought peace in the world. People who are angry at everything may get their way, but they will never have peace in this world. Our first responsibility in peace-making is to lead people to be at peace with God. If you want to be a peace maker, share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let people know that they can be forgiven. Let them know about God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace. The strange thing about all this is that this will bring about persecution. In some countries, it may invite physical harm. Here in the United States, the injury may come in other ways. To those of us who seek to follow Jesus, His response is still the same: blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are you when you are persecuted for righteousness sake. Today, let the world know that you are a child of God; today, stake your claim in the Kingdom of Heaven by seeking to make peace not matter what the consequences.
Oh Lord, I live in a world at war that piously proclaims a love for peace. Help me to be a peacemaker today. While I don’t seek persecution, should it come, let me respond by continuing to make peace.