“What do you get when you cross an insomniac, an agnostic, and a dyslexic?” “Someone who stays up all night wondering if there is a Dog.”
Now that would not make for a peaceful night’s sleep. Psalm 34:14 says, “Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.” And Romans 14:19 exhorts, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”
The Bible is consistent when it comes to peace between you and others: You must seek it. Peace needs to be pursued. It doesn’t come to us passively.
Christ said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” He doesn’t say blessed are the peaceful. I’m sure he thought they were blessed. Christ wanted to give support for those who take this to another level, to that of those who make peace. He knew this isn’t easy, and that’s why he applauds those who take the much further step of making peace, pursuing peace.
Don’t let someone else determine when you know peace vs conflict. Wrestle against the desire to fire back. Turn the other cheek and elevate your commitment to finding common ground.
At 7 p.m. on October 20, 1968, a few thousand spectators remained in the Mexico City Olympic Stadium. The last of the exhausted marathon runners were being carried off to the first-aid stations. More than an hour earlier, Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia had crossed the finish line, the winner of the 26.2-mile run.
As the remaining spectators prepared to leave, those sitting near the marathon gates heard sirens and police whistles. All eyes turned toward the gate. A lone figure wearing the colors of Tanzania entered the stadium. His name was John Stephen Akhwari. He was the last man to finish. His leg bloodied and bandaged, severely injured in a fall, he grimaced with each step as he hobbled around the 400-meter track.
The spectators rose and applauded him as if he were the winner. After crossing the finish line, Akhwari slowly walked off the field. In view of his injury and having no chance of winning a medal, someone asked him why he had not quit. He replied, “My country did not send me 7,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 7,000 miles to finish it.”
The Lord doesn’t ask us to try peace and see if it works out. If it fails, well then, “At least you tried.” We’re supposed to pursue it, all the way to
the finish line, when we’re tired, when we’ve tried it before and it hasn’t turned out as we hoped, and even trying it again when we were the one causing the conflict or pushing it further.
Don’t think that because you’re not good at bringing something good out of something gone wrong that making peace isn’t your job. Bringing reconciliation, seeing the positive in someone else’s view that disagrees with you, calming down those who are agitating, clarifying your position or restating it better, letting someone off the hook who took a big swing at you, keeping the faith that to divide does nobody any good, realizing that the instant gratification of tearing into someone is always followed closely by the remorse of having done it, pursuing peace even when you haven’t always been good at it is always a good choice, the better option, the biblical way. It’s Christ’s call in you.
Too many have given up on being peacemakers in today’s world. There’s so much anger, confusion, and disagreement. Peace, other than the kind when you go into your prayer closet, kneel, fold your hand, and stay in there until you at last reemerge, depends on finding value in the person before and after anything is said or done.
You can’t be a peace maker if you dismiss someone else. If you think that person is crazy or without a valid point or without a life experience that in some way has brought him or her here, then you haven’t seen the moment for what it is. That person is holy to God. That other person is loved by Christ. The Holy Spirit is devoted to keeping her or him in grace.
That moment is God’s opportunity to make holy the ground between you and the other person. We have the chance to love someone as Christ loves them. We have the power to let the Holy Spirit works its magic.
Don’t turn people away. Realize the gift. Keep your friends. Make more of them. Make peace and be a child of God.
The author of Hebrews was concerned that some of his readers were about to drop out of the race because they were fainting under God’s “discipline,” that is, persecution. Those Christians had no chance of enacting peace through strength. They could only find peace in the midst of their obvious weakness. In this regard they are almost nothing like us.
We like to say, “peace through strength.. When it comes to international relations it probably has a certain legitimacy to it, though there are some who argue that peace through strength easily enough become peace through war.
When it comes to interpersonal relationships, again it has a certain legitimacy to it, since nobody ought to be someone else’s doormat.
But in both cases if the emphasis on strength overrides that of the goal of peace, the way we live is not peace through strength but strength through strength. In other words, we lose the purpose of our strength, and it becomes an end in itself. It is peace we seek, not the power that gives us a chance at peace or a chance at merely getting our way. Seeking peace ought to result in bringing peace.
I know there are times when we pray for God to give us strength to help us stay calm. Some people work against our best instincts. They’re tough on our spiritual growth. We face real challenges with that co-worker, or a neighbor, a sibling, even a parent or a child.
Psalm 58:4 says this when describing people that push us hard or are incredibly taxing:“Their venom is like the venom of a snake.…” Today, we say they’re toxic. Having someone like that in your life can mess up your attitude. It can mess up your friendships. It can mess up your marriage.
There are some people you just can’t get along with because no matter how nice you are to them, they’re still going to be mean to you. People who are toxic are going to blame anyone but themselves — including you — for the problems in their lives. They may love to blame you for their pain. It’s important to realize it’s not about you. It’s about them.
Scripture says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Notice the two qualifiers in this verse. First, it says “if” it is possible, not “it is.” Second, it says “as far as it depends on you.”
It’s not always possible to live at peace with everybody. It doesn’t mean you don’t care but it does mean you know you’re not in control of him or her. You ain’t God. Sometimes loving from a distance is all we can do—for the time being.
Still, we keep the faith. Let your prayers cover them.
Florence Chadwick was the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. On July 4, 1952, she attempted to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast. The challenge is not only the distance, but also the bone-chilling water. To complicate matters, a dense fog lay over the entire area, making it impossible for her to see land. After about 15 hours in the water, and within a half mile of her goal, Chadwick gave up. Later, she told a reporter, “Look, I’m not excusing myself. But if I could have seen land, I might have made it.”
Boy, do I ever know that feeling.
If we could see the land, if we knew where the finish line was, if we knew how much was needed, and whether this was going to pay off, then we’d be a shoe-in for sainthood. But would it be sainthood?
Our scripture says, “Strengthen the hands and knees that are weak,” whether yours or someone else’s. Who would ever be weak if we knew where the land was and where the goal line stood? Nobody. It’s precisely because we do not know that we can grow.
Don’t wait until you know whether your pursuit of peace will “reach land” or “cross the finish line.” You carry as far as you can. Be a peacemaker anyway. Out of this good work springs a holiness and a wholeness with which God blesses God’s children.
Of course there are times when pursuing peace isn’t just something that takes place between two individuals. It has larger dimensions, as we all know. And nobody can demand this larger peace from others, especially when hatred is involved. It’s not easy to get people to change their views about others. That’s not what peacemakers are called to do, many times.
We’re called to stand with those who are under siege.
In 1993, in Billings, Montana, a white supremacist threw a cinder block through a Jewish family’s window because they were displaying a menorah. In response, thousands of non-Jewish residents began displaying menorahs in their own windows. At first the vandalism intensified, but the act of solidarity continued, and in the end the violence and intimidation ceased.
Inspired by that story, one Philadelphia neighborhood mobilized when a gay man’s house was being vandalized because he had a rainbow flag flying outside his home. Scores of neighbors began displaying rainbow flags outside their own homes and eventually the homophobic intimidation ceased.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of solidarity, even on a more massive scale. One person said, “In college I spent a year studying in Germany. It was the late ‘70s, and up until that time there had been no public reckoning in Germany about the Holocaust. When the PBS mini-series Holocaust was broadcast on national television, it was a historic occasion.
After each episode, viewers could dial into a radio forum to share their feelings. Thousands of people called in to pour out their grief and shame. I can still hear the sobs of one elderly woman who described seeing her Jewish neighbors being taken away in the night. She cried repeatedly, “Why didn’t I do anything?” Nearly 40 years later she was still tormented by her inaction.
But the sad reality is that by the time the Gestapo came for her neighbors, the machinery of hatred was already well in place. The time to stand with those who are coming under attack isn’t when the Gestapo is knocking at the door. It’s much, much earlier. It’s when distortions and untruths and smaller acts of verbal and actual violence first begin.
Peace doesn’t just happen. We make peace.
Can the church say Amen.