The Call to Be Peacemakers

7 10 2013

by Brad A. Martell, Peace and Justice Ministries

Brad A. Martell, Peace and Justice Ministries

Brad A. Martell, Peace and Justice Ministries

Peace” is pervasive in our world today, and yet it has come to mean so little. Peace and its symbol are simple feel-good expressions, a doodle on a notebook, and a successful advertising campaign. “Peace” is found on consumer products like coffee, chocolate, cell phones, travel mugs, jeans, earrings, and hats. In fact, we can find and buy “peace” practically everywhere. But is this the kind of peace God calls us to pursue?

Perhaps, when we think beyond the bumper stickers, our first thought is that peace is the opposite of war and violent conflict. Daily in our Temple Sanctuary and throughout our congregations worldwide we offer prayers for peace for war-torn countries like Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestine, Israel, Afghanistan, Syria, Colombia, and many others. We pray these conflicts will end peacefully. But is peace only an end to war and violent conflict?

We express the need for peace in relationship to hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, domestic violence, suffering, and disease. As we desire an end to war, we also hope and pray for abolishment of poverty, the end of domestic violence, overcoming hunger, and protection of Earth’s life-sustaining systems. But is the peace that God calls us to pursue just an end or an opposite to poverty, ecological distress, and disease?

We also seek peace for ourselves, our families, friends, neighbors, and church communities. In our daily lives we may experience moments of anxiety, loneliness, anger, fear, depression, and brokenness. At these times we pray for an inner peace to end the burdens we carry. Additionally, we ask for peace that will heal the brokenness in our relationships. But again, is peace only the absence of inner personal strife and interpersonal conflict?

All of the above approaches to pursuing peace are critical. We continually need to hope, advocate, and pray for peace for all these things. However, the challenge of relating to peace pursuits in only the negative (i.e., the end, opposite, or absence of something else) has a great potential to perpetuate a sense of separation from each other—an “us versus them” mentality.

God’s call to be peacemakers is much more than working against or being opposed to something. God calls us to loving and righteous relationships in sacred community. To be called by God is to go deeper and beyond the political, economical, social, and ecological barriers that can separate us from each other and creation. Thankfully we are blessed with understanding the breadth and depth of God’s peace revealed through Christ’s embodiment of shalom.

Jesus Christ—Embodiment of Shalom

Pursing peace through Christ is invitational and holistic.

Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s shalom, invites all people to come to and receive divine peace in the midst of the difficult questions and struggles of life. Follow Christ in the way that leads to God’s peace and discover the blessings of all of the dimensions of salvation. —Doctrine and Covenants 163:2a

With Christ as our model, God calls us to pursue a peace that is positive, holistic, relational, inclusive, embodied, reconciliatory, and transformative. It is not peace that is merely an end to something. It’s a peace that brings us to new beginnings and into right relationships. God’s peace is a gift of grace for all of creation. When we accept God’s gift of peace through Jesus Christ it permeates every aspect of our lives. We proclaim in our Christology statement:
Christ is our peace, breaking down the dividing walls of hostility between us. He promises us the redemption and healing of our relationships with God, one another, and all of creation.

The promises of God in Jesus Christ are sure—that by the Holy Spirit we will be given grace to do the things we have been asked: courage in the struggle for justice, passion for peace in the midst of violence, forgiveness of our sin, stewardship in place of materialism, healing of body and spirit where there is hurt, and eternal life in the face of death.

We live and serve in hope that God’s kingdom of justice and peace will indeed come, bringing healing to the whole, groaning creation. Putting our trust in the Risen Christ, present among us by the Holy Spirit, we press on together, giving blessing, honor, and glory to God, now and forevermore. —www.CofChrist.org/ourfaith/christology.asp

As disciples we devote ourselves to living God’s peaceable reign here and now. We proclaim God’s promises that Christ is the reconciliation for our relationships. Christ is the strength and passion for our work toward justice. Christ is the promise and hope for our healing and peace. Christ is our shalom.

God’s Shalom

Perry Yoder in Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice, and Peace describes shalom this way:

Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, has three shades of meaning. First, it can refer to a material and physical state of affairs, this being its most frequent usage. It can also refer to relationships, and here it comes closest in meaning to the English word peace. And finally it also has a moral sense, which is its least frequent meaning.

Material Well-being and Prosperity

Yoder says the biblical expression of shalom was used as a greeting and/or farewell for best wishes to another person. More than saying “hi” or “good-bye,” it expressed concern for another’s physical and situational well-being.

By offering another person “shalom” one really was asking: Are you safe? Are you OK? Do you have all that you need regarding food, water, shelter, and a means of making a living? Is your life going well? Are you free from such things as disease and violence? And even more importantly are you prospering and living a life of abundance? Are you experiencing God’s blessings?

We find several examples in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, where shalom is offered to ask of another’s well-being and to give blessing. One example is after Jesus’ resurrection as he appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem. He greeted them, saying, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36 NRSV).
The disciples were fearful and in hiding. Jesus’ appearance terrified them. They believed they were seeing a ghost. When Jesus wished them peace, he was reassuring and comforting them. Even more, the peace he offered was to bless them with the fullness of God’s shalom for all aspects of their lives and relationships.

One way we, too, can offer God’s shalom is through the tradition of “passing of the peace” by saying to one another, “May the peace of Christ be with you.” When we say this, we express best wishes and God’s blessings of shalom. As we share God’s holistic peace through Jesus Christ we invite the Holy Spirit to heal and transform our relationships.

Additionally, when we take the time to offer each other God’s shalom, we open ourselves to each other and to the many needs of those in our communities.
Justice and Relationships

Shalom is about just or righteous relationships. Yoder describes how shalom also was biblically understood to mean positive and right relationships between nations and in one’s personal life. Are our relationships respectful and just? Are our relationships free from judgment and oppression? Do we move across cultures and nationalities to work together for the mutual benefit and prosperity for all? Are all people treated fairly and justly by their governments, or do people experience injustice and persecution?

In Doctrine and Covenants 164:5–6a we received additional counsel on how to embody relationships of justice, love, diversity, and shalom:

Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity, no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of God.

As revealed in Christ, God, the Creator of all, ultimately is concerned about behaviors and relationships that uphold the worth and giftedness of all people and that protect the most vulnerable. Such relationships are to be rooted in the principles of Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness, against which there is no law.

This scripture describes the holistic, diverse, and just relationships God calls us to create as peacemakers. This guidance is for all our relationships—personal, cultural, political, ecological, and economical. As peacemakers we are called to build relationships, communities, and nations overflowing with God’s shalom through Jesus Christ.

Moral or Ethical Behavior

Yoder’s third meaning of shalom is connected with questions and actions of morality and ethics. Do we live with integrity, honesty, and respect? Are our relationships honest and without deceit? Are our choices responsible and just? Do our choices benefit others and all of creation? Are we free of hypocrisy, anxiety, and guilt?

Our Enduring Principle of Responsible Choices embodies the link between God’s shalom and moral or ethical behavior. God has given us the freedom of choice to follow Christ’s example. When we follow Christ our daily choices uphold the Worth of All Persons, the Sacredness of Creation, Unity in Diversity, Blessings of Community, Grace and Generosity, and the Pursuit of Peace (Shalom).

In his book, Yoder says it is not enough to limit our efforts to one or two of these understandings. All are essential in our pursuit of peace. The material, relational, and moral are interconnected. We need to practice all three because God’s “shalom defines how things should be” not how they are. All people and all of creation need to experience God’s shalom of well-being, prosperity, justice, non-oppression, and ethical behavior.

Shalom in Action

Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace. —Doctrine and Covenants 163:3b

Being a peacemaker is active and relational. Building relationships requires leaving our comfort zone, being open to others’ perspectives, and being open to where the Holy Spirit guides us. As we come to understand the importance of the relational aspect of peace, we can draw on the deep well of God’s community in pursuing peace in the face of injustice. We believe and experience God’s shalom, embodied in Jesus Christ, through loving and sacred community.

And it is as a community of Christ that we are called to be peacemakers. We are called to become more involved in working toward positive, holistic, and transformational change for our world. Whether at the congregational, mission center, national, or world level, we must continually become more active to fulfill the counsel in Section 163. Opportunities abound for all of us according to our passions, skills, and ministries.

God calls us to go deeper and beyond that which separates us from each other and all of creation. God calls us to boldly live out Christ’s mission. God counsels us to relinquish our fears and journey into spiritual and relational transformation. God calls us into sacred community.
God calls us to be peacemakers!

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