What does it mean to live in the blessing of peace?
Jesus was declaring a revolution of the kingdom of heaven when he preached his Sermon on the Mount. The fifth through seventh chapters of the Gospel of Matthew record the message Jesus shared from the side of the mountain as he preached about the revolution of peace he would be leading. Rather than focusing on overthrowing the kingdoms of the world, Jesus’ message about the kingdom of heaven focused on the redemption of the world.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us that a large crowd of people gathered from across the regions of Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan had begun following Jesus. Included in the crowd that followed Jesus were two sets of brothers whom Jesus had called to follow him. Their names were Peter, Andrew, James, and John and they had left everything to be part of Jesus’ revolution as he taught them how to fish for people.
Likely included with these first disciples of Jesus’ were the unlikely people whom Jesus identified as being among the blessed in the kingdom of heaven. To appreciate the irony of Jesus’ inclusion of these unlikely people whom Jesus pronounces as blessed, it is important to understand the meaning of the Greek word in the Gospel of Matthew that defines blessed. That word is Makarios. The idea behind Makarios is that when God blesses us, (God) … enlarges God’s mercy to us. God lengthens (God’s) (grace) in our direction.”
To put another way, the unlikely people Jesus identifies as being among the blessed are the people who cling to the faith that God is holding them even when they find themselves clinging by their fingernails to their faith in God.
In his book, Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buchner describes these unlikely revolutionaries of the kingdom of heaven. The first six groups of people Jesus identifies as the blessed in the beatitudes are:
Not the spiritual giants, but the “poor in spirit;” as he called them, the ones who spiritually speaking, have absolutely nothing to give and absolutely everything to receive.
Not the champions of faith who can rejoice in the midst of suffering, but those who mourn over their own suffering because they know that for the most part, they’re brought in down on themselves.
Not the strong ones, but the meek ones … (who) somehow (make) the world more human.
Not the ones who are righteous, but the ones who hope they will be someday and in the meantime are well aware that the distance they still have to go is even greater than the distance they’ve already come.
Not the winners of great victories over evil in the world, but the ones who, seeing it also in themselves every time they comb their hair in front of the bathroom mirror, are merciful when they find it in others and maybe that way win the greater victory.
Not the totally pure, but the “pure in heart;” to use Jesus’ phrase, the ones who may be as shopworn and clay-footed as the next one, but have somehow kept some inner freshness and innocence intact.
And then comes the seventh beatitude:
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God,”
Buchner describes this beatitude in this way:
Not the ones who have necessarily found peace in its fullness, but ones who, just for that reason, try to bring about wherever and however they can-peace with their neighbors and God, peace with themselves.
I describe the seventh beatitude this way. This beatitude is the vision statement of Jesus’ revolution of peace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”
The key word in Jesus’ vision statement of peace is “Peacemaker.” This is a title bestowed upon Caesar, the emperor of the kingdom of Rome, who made peace by conquering and subjugating. This is not Jesus’ vision of being a peacemaker in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus’ vision of being a peacemaker does not come lightly as Jesus teaches in the closing beatitudes that the presence of peace in the kingdom of heaven does not equate to the absence of concerns or conflicts. Rather, Jesus teaches that peacemakers in the kingdom of heaven will face great peril as they confront the “powers that be” with the truth that Jesus is God’s blessing of peace.
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.
While the seventh Beatitude provides the vision of Jesus’ revolution of peace, I believe the closing Beatitudes provide the mission for Jesus’ revolution of peace. With this beatitude Jesus teaches Peter, Andrew, James, and John their first lesson about what it means to fish for people in the kingdom of heaven.
Next month will mark the second year of the Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine.
When the war first began, news of the war trickled into Russia and to Father Ioann Burdin, a Russian Orthodox priest of a tiny, remote parish on an island off the northeast coast of Russia. Father Burdin grew greatly distressed by what he was hearing. There was no doubt in his mind that the actions of his country and his countrymen were antithetical to everything he believed as a Christian. On Sunday, March 6th, 2022, Father Burdin put on his vestments, stood before just a handful of parishioners, and said these words as part of his sermon:
“Russian soldiers are killing their brothers and sisters in Christ. We Christians cannot stand on the sidelines while brother kills brother, Christian kills Christian. We cannot bashfully close our eyes. We cannot call black white. The blood of Ukrainians is not only on the hands of the leaders of the Russian federation and the soldiers who carry out their orders. Their blood is on the hands of each of us who approve this or stand silent.”
Father Burdin then finished up the service like any other Sunday. The congregation dispersed. A few hours later though, Father Burdin received a call. It was the police. They wanted a word with him down at the station. Father Burdin went. For the next 4 or 5 hours, he was interrogated, badgered, threatened, and released.
He was brought to trial, found guilty for discrediting the Russian military and fined with the threat that should this happen again he could be sentenced up to 15 years in prison.
The original audience for Father Burdin’s message of peace, by his own estimates, was about 30 people. 10 people who were at church when he preached and about 20 people who saw it posted on the church’s website. That’s it.
But once the story got out about the Putin regime’s attempts to suppress his message, it was picked up by news outlets across the globe. Father Burdin’s message of peace and the kingdom of heaven has been heard by people in kingdoms across the world.
How are you sharing the blessing of peace?
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Blessing of Peace
by Pastor Marc Brown
January 29, 2023
Accompanying Scriptures: Matthew 5:1-12
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for January 29, 2023
Scripture Lesson Matthew 5:1-12
The Good News “The Blessing of Peace”
Music “Shalom” by Dan Forrest
Closing Music “O Savior Sweet” by J.S. Bach
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