4th Sunday after Epiphany, February 2, 2020
– Matthew 5:1-12, 1st Corinthians 1:18-31
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –
When the Apostle Paul said, “The message of the cross is foolishness for those who are perishing,” (1st Corinthians 1:18) he was referring to us and people like us, whose financial situation buffers us from the hardships of life. Now let me make myself clear by saying that financial security is not a sin, but if our security is governed by the agenda of those whose sole purpose is to make more for themselves at the expense and sacrifice of those who have little or nothing; and if we are willing to continually tolerate those governing powers to maintain our buffer of security, then we are numbered among those the Bible refers to as the uncommitted “lukewarm” that God will spit out (Revelations 3:16)
Paul urges us to cast our lot on the side of the absurd and to acknowledge that true and lasting peace will never come to our nation or planet until the plight of those who suffer most has been resolved.
The Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the beatitudes or divine blessings, is an absurd and nonsensical statement of faith by material standards. How can the poor, barren of material comforts, feel blessed? How can the meek, robbed of all manner of security, feel blessed? How can the persecuted, crushed by the constant onslaught of callous brute force, feel blessed? And how can the peacemaker, crippled by a cavalcade of broken international promises and treaties that crumble into escalated warfare, feel blessed? Such is the nature of the nation and world in which we live; the nation and world to which we have contributed, which makes me wonder, “Why are good people goose-stepping down this path of tolerance and destruction?”
I’m reminded of the time I purchased a peace pipe at a Native American marketplace. Looking it over, I saw some very small print at the bottom. He took it to the merchant from whom I bought it to ask him what it said. After carefully analyzing the inscription, he read it aloud: “Smoking can be hazardous to your health.”
Why do we assume that we can achieve peace through causes that kill us? And “what does it profit to gain the whole world only to forfeit your soul?” said Jesus (Mark 8:36). We have continually journeyed down self-made paths of peace through financial coercion and military might and repeatedly come up short, even as the voice of God has chimed through millennia, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than put confidence in mortals.” (Psalm 118:8)
So, the question I ask you is this: “Are we peacemakers or peacekeepers?”
Peacekeepers are military and police officials whose purpose is to maintain order by brute force if necessary. But they are also people like you and me who discourage deep-seething conversations from occurring, prevent opposing personalities and points of view from confronting each other to maintain a facade of conformity. We’re discouraged from discussing religion, politics, or other sensitive matters that cast an ominous cloud over an otherwise pleasant occasion, while the truth lies dormant. How often have you assumed the role of peacekeeper?
Peacemakers, on the other hand, are those who create occasions, settings and environments where honest, even painful, dialogues can occur, where opposing personalities and points of view may be heard. Peacemakers provide the means where adversaries may live and dine with one another, in each other’s communities, homes and sanctuaries to intimately understand and appreciate each other’s conditions and experiences; an awareness that leads to lasting peace. How often have you assumed the role of peacemaker?
The message of the cross is foolishness for those who are perishing, meaning those whose god is the golden calf of selfish material gain, along with those who quietly tolerate and endure them for their own security. The urgency of the cross is that the time has long passed for tables to be turned that favor the oppressed and down-trodden.
Jesus associated and dined with the privileged to open their hearts to the oppressed. And this is why, as a church, we attempt to create a forum where all sides can be heard; where there are no winners and losers, but where everyone gains by consensus. Yet we also recognize that we are among the privileged who, in the Spirit of Christ, must condition and gird ourselves for the time when we must live and dine in the communities, homes and sanctuaries of those we now fear, so that the walls that separate us may be torn down and recycled into structures that contribute to reconciliation and lasting peace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:10) Amen