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The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko

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Easter Sunday

John 20:1-18

 Resurrection Peacekeeping in an Age of War


The President's Speech

Five years ago on the 19th of March, President Bush inaugurated the War in Iraq with these words:

The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.

Since the founding of our nation, we have only enjoyed 32 years of peace. During the early years of our nation we waged wars against the Native Americans who resisted our conquest of their homeland. When nationalists rebelled against our control of the sugar cane and banana industry, the US sent troops to the Philippians and Central America to defend the commercial interests of American businesses.

When I was a new Christian I often wondered how the nation that claimed to worship the Prince of Peace could justify spending 86% of its history engaged in some form of armed combat. How could the nation who claimed to worship the Sovereign God of Love be so quick in sending its own soldiers into hostile situations that required them to either kill or be killed all in the name of national defense. How could believers who are called by his name affirm the words of the psalmist:

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of a man;

Ps 147:10

but spend billions of dollars building their own weapons of mass destruction and deploying their armed forces throughout the world.

I still wonder how so many people seek inspiration in Jesus' own words

Blessed are the peacemakers
for they shall be called sons and daughters of God

Matthew 5:9

be so complacent toward to the killing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even in a justifiable war, children should never be part of the statistical count of casualties or considered unavoidable collateral damage..

Since Jesus first uttered his words the church has struggled to understand and apply them in the real world. The Mennonites took them literally and throughout the history of their church have been been pacifists and conscientious objectors. Others argue that the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount did not apply directly to this present age. The teachings they believe describe how believers will live in the next life. Therefore, the teaching should not be directly applied. Another group within the church has argued that the application of the Beatitudes should be limited to the personal lives of believers and does not have any social implications. The blessed person is the one who finds peace in his or her own heart. They explain

In every one of us there is an inner conflict between good and evil; we are always tugged in two directions at once; every man is at least to some extent a walking civil war. Happy indeed is the man who has won through to inner peace, in which the inner warfare is over, and his whole heart is given to God.1

William Barclay argues for a different interpretation. He states that Jesus was probably borrowing an idea from the Jewish rabbis who held that the most noble task of a person was to reconcile one person to another. The English scholar explains that some people are known as storm centers. Wherever they go, whatever they do, they are always in conflict with others. These people just seem to disagree disagreeably with everyone and anyone. They can be found in any group or society. They just cannot seem to get along. Fortunately, these negative personalities have their own antagonist—the peacemaker.

The peacemaker is the reconciler. The person in whom bitterness, strife, conflict and division just cannot abide. These are the people who have a knack for bringing warring factions together. They are able to resolve disagreements. They know how to find common ground. We are called to be these types of peacemakers in every social setting in which we live. While this begins with our personal relationships, it can and should extend beyond our immediate social groups to include our role and responsibility as citizens.

In an unpublished paper entitled The Spirituality of Peacemaking, Henri Nouwen wrote that while the Beatitudes are for every believer in every time, there are times when one saying may speak louder to the church than the others. The author of Ecclesiastes presented the essences of this thought

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

Ecclesiastes 3:1

Nouwen stated that in the 13th Century St Francis of Assisi brought the blessing of the poor to prominence. The 19th Century witnessed greater attention to the purity of believers and their devotion to personal holiness. Nouwen believed that now is the time for peace because without peace there will not be life.

What we are called to is a life of peacemaking in which all that we say, think, or dream is part of our concern to bring peace into the world. Just as Jesus' command to love one another cannot be seen as a part time obligation, but requires our total dedication so to Jesus call to peacemaking is unconditional, unlimited, and uncompromising. None of us are excused.2

The application of this urgent call begins in our personal relationships. What good would it accomplish for a person to read and study about international peacemaking but be unable to maintain harmony within his or her own family. That may be why the church struggles in its calling to be effective peacemakers, globally. We have a difficult time living in peace with friends, family and other church members. I wonder how many of us have a list of people from whom we are estranged; people who were once friends but now with whom we seldom talk must less do anything.

On Tuesday morning a few of us meet for prayer using the Daily Prayer litany from the Book of Common Prayer. In the litany a set of prayer petitions have been written out for each day. For example on Sunday evening, we are called to pray for

  • the healing of all who are sick,

  • the comfort of the dying

  • the renewal of all who despair

  • the Spirit's power in the church

I have found such a litany very helpful because it provides variety every morning and evening that I use it. The prayers also focus on different parts of the world so my vision of the whole church is always expanded. The litany on Tuesday morning has a petition that I would probably not think about during my personal prayers if I was praying extemporaneously.

  • Those from who we are estranged.

The prayer is convicting because it forces me once a week to think about people with whom I may be in disagreement on a particular issue in the church. It also makes me think of ways that I can seek reconciliation with these people who may not be speaking to me because of our disagreement.

The call to peacemaking should also inspire us to move beyond personal relationships and into the greater community. Metropolitan Detroit is badly in need of more peacemakers. This is a community that is deeply divided by race and ethnicity. Anglos, Arabs, Asians, Blacks and Chaldean's all share a level of hostility, bigotry and even racism toward each other. We live in isolated pockets and only intermingle when we are forced by educational requirements or consumer needs.

The call to peacemaking should also cause us to ask ourselves what is our role and responsibility at the national level. Some may be called to pray for our troops who are serving in areas of military conflict. They may even be called to volunteer to serve those veterans who are recovering from war related injuries. One veteran who served in Iraq wrote in Sojourners

Veterans’ families also suffer and, in many cases, are being torn apart. A high percentage of married U.S. troops in Iraq say their marriages are headed toward divorce; 2,200 U.S. children have lost a parent in Afghanistan or Iraq. New studies suggest that deployments have also led to a dramatic increase in the rates of child abuse in military families.

Americans can open their hearts, open their homes, and lend a hand. We can support this new generation of veterans by volunteering our time, donating money, or reaching out to a local military family in need. Offering to baby-sit for children in a family where a parent is deployed, or shoveling snow in a wounded veteran’s driveway, can make a big difference to a family under great strain.

Our country’s newest generation of veterans needs our help and compassion, and it is up to each of us to provide that. Democrat or Republican, young or old, it doesn’t matter whether you’re for or against the war. We all have a moral obligation to care for the troops who fought in it. 3

Others will be called to pray for our President to bring an end to the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still others will be called to actively work for peace by preventing future presidents from embarking on ill advised and immoral preemptive strikes.

The role of a peacemaker is not an easy role. It is challenging and can even be dangerous. It calls us to go against the tide; to stand between warring factions. It calls us to risk our reputation and for some even their life. That is why such a sermon is so relevant on Easter morning. Without the promise of resurrection, without the promise of life after death we would not have the courage to serve as peacemakers. We would not be willing to dare to risk. We would be more concerned about our personal safety and security. We would be more focused on protecting our material possessions. But we who confess faith in Christ know that because of this morning, we risk, we can serve in dangerous situations because this life is not all that we have.

The resurrection of Jesus also reminds us that the powers of darkness and evil are defeated. When we intervene in conflict we know that we are on the winning side not because we have taken sides but because the God of peace raised Christ from the tomb.

This week we celebrated the fifth anniversary of a war that may have been prevented if the church of Jesus Christ had truly been fulfilling its call to be peacemakers. It would not have been prevented by marching for peace or writing letters protesting the deployment of troops to Congress or the President. It would have been prevented by years of faithful service of God's people throughout the world in resolving conflicts, reconciling enemies, and proclaiming good news.

The miracle of Easter morning is not just what God did for you and me in conquering death but what the power of the resurrection enables us to do. Will we continue to live as people bound by the fears of Friday or we will live by the power of Sunday morning by going and living as peacemakers in a hostile world.

1The Gospel of Matthew : Volume, ed. William Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975), 109.

2Henri Nouwen, The Road to Peace, ed John Dear, Second Printing (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), 6.

3Paul Rieckhoff, Wounds of War, Sojourners, March 2008

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