“A Servant of Peace”
Matthew 23: 1-12 & Micah 3: 5-12 ~ Northwood UC ~ November 5, 2023
Remembrance Sunday is among the most difficult of days to gather. We follow the Prince of Peace; we value peace; we seek peace. Yet peace ,at times, seems unattainable. And to further add to this complex matter, this not just a problem Christians deal with. Peace is a tenet of all major world religions. However, the state of the world does not reflect this belief that so many of us hold. Yet, we still gather…gather and wrestle with these very complex parts of our faith and consider how today, how am I be a servant of peace?
After World War 2, German Christians wrestled this. Troubled by the way the Christian tradition had seemingly prepared for authoritarianism that led to the virtue of obedience to the supreme power of the Nazi regime. Theologians like Dietrich Bonhoffer, and later Dorothy Soelle who would continue his work, would help us to have a better understanding of spirituality that is functional and that which is harmful. In Soelle’s book “Beyond Mere Obedience”, she outlines the two outcomes of spirituality. Authoritarian spirituality is what Jesus is calling into question when people blindly followed the Scribes and Pharisees. Authoritarian spirituality is also what we saw unfold in World War 2 Nazi Germany. Soelle explains that this form of spirituality has, as its mantra, the saying “obey the rules”. And, sadly, we have seen the outcome of such obedience in many applications.
There is, however, a second form of spirituality that Soelle explains. It is called “emancipatory spirituality”. It is the kind of spirituality that Jesus is teaching about. It is where love is the central virtue, and its prime virtue is the exercise of responsible freedom. Listening to the two texts that Pam read for us this morning, we hear examples of emancipatory spirituality. Micah challenging the false prophets who lead people astray. “who cry ‘peace’ when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who [are hungry]”. Jesus’ challenging of the religious officials of the day. The Scribes and Pharisees putting things too heavy to bear upon the shoulders of others, yet are unwilling to lift a finger. Those who do their deeds to be seen by others, who take the best seats at the banquets, and need to be greeted in the city with respect. Indeed, Jesus teaches “the greatest among us will the servant. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted”.
So, how shall we be servants of peace? What might that look like? Or is this a conversation that has been going on since the time of Micah, then the time of Jesus and into modern day…and there is nothing left to say?
I wanted to spend most of our time on the peace research work of Johan Galtung. Born in Norway in 1930, Galtung is considered to be the founder of the various faces of peace research across the world. Contributing 160 books and 1600 articles to the discipline of peace, Galtung founded the Peace Research Institute of Oslo in 1959, and continues to contribute to the disciple at the ripe age of 93! At the foundation of his work, Galtung presents a “mini theory of peace”. Peace is defined as a relation between two or more parties that are in conflict. The parties may be inside oneself – where you do not have inner peace. The parties may be a state or nation, a region or civilization, and so on. The absence of peace occurs when there is disharmony between the warring parties. Galtung’s work has inspired many disciplines. But for our purposes here, I wanted us to focus on his three approaches to peace making as we consider how we might apply it in our faith-filled lives. Galtung’s three strategies are peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peacebuilding. As you will hear, these strategies are not meant to function separately or in a particular order. They are interrelated and must be applied proactively as we seek the direction of peace.
Peacekeeping is the most urgent and immediate of all peace strategies. It must be the primary aim as one intervenes when actual violence, conflict or discord is occurring. Personal safety is the priority as ‘buffer zones’ or ‘peace zones’ keep warring parties separated. In the case of a couple in conflict, they need time apart after blow up before peace can be sought. For the individual, when inner peace is threatened, individuals need time to breathe, pray, and meditate as conflicting voices are separated. Countries at war need to keep borders and so on. Galtung warns that peacekeeping can be effective is situations of ‘horizontal violence’ when parties have relatively equal power. In the case with unequal power, protective accompaniment and observer teams can further establish the goal of peacekeeping. A trusted friend steps in during a fight. A world organization, like the United Nations, arbitrates. As physical safety is established, the work of peacemaking and peacebuilding will be allowed to unfold. It is interesting to ponder for a moment Galtung’s premise that safety is necessary for all parties. I wonder how our values, our egos, and our efforts align with this need of others for safety? Do we care about the other’s safety? The value of keeping ‘the other’ safe through the process – whether it is our internal warring voices, a conflict within a relationship, a conflict between two regions. Honoring the needs of the other to feel safe in order for peacekeeping to begin is paramount.
Peacemaking is Galtung’s second element of peace. Settlement between the two parties is the main concern. Peacemaking is all about discussion, dialogue, conversation…actions which all lead to a possible resolution to the conflict at hand. Typically, peacemaking activities include mediation, conflict resolution and dialogue at various levels. The focus here is on discovering the interests of the differing parties. As the positions of conflict are discovered, the shift of all parties towards a path of nonviolent conflict resolution is moved towards. In the first text Pam read, Micah is challenging the leaders in this area. How can the prophets cry ‘peace’ when their people have full bellies. And later cry war against those neighbouring lands that are starving? It is about getting to the primal needs of each of the parties, isn’t it? Do we compassionately look at the other and wonder what their needs are? Do we wonder why they are struggling, and why they are in conflict? Jesus was a master at peacemaking. In this morning’s text he was challenging the ways of the religious leaders who thought they were above all others. Feeling they were superior created separations. Allowing those divisions to expand made things worse. Jesus taught that the truly great one is not the one who exalts / places themself in high regard. The truly great one is the servant. The one who exalts themself will be humbled and the one who humbles themself will be exalted. Perhaps the most memorable demonstration of Jesus’ teaching in this area was when he washed the feet of his disciples as they came into the Upper Room. Are we ones who ‘need to be right’… ‘who need to be better’ … are we like the Scribes and Pharisees in the passage? Or are we able to, increasingly, be like the servant Jesus teaches about…can we work towards being Servants of Peace?
Peacebuilding is the third broad strategy Galtung teaches. Peacebuilding is aimed at changing the conditions which have allowed or caused the conflict or violence to occur in the first place. By focusing on longer term change, social level change allows the slow shaping of the structural cause of the violence. Peacebuilding, of course, needs to take the long-term perspective as it encompasses a huge range of activities designed to reduce fear, prejudice, and mistrust. The slow work of humanizing former opponents and building positive relationships is the long-game. Yet it must be done! Peacebuilding is about developing a ‘peace-culture’ where peace is the ultimate value being worked towards. Jesus’ efforts did a lot in this area didn’t they? It is hard to imagine what might have happened if Jesus didn’t gather with women – and show women to be of value, or gather with lepers – who were socially outcast, or gather with sinners. Our actions of radical welcome in the church are all inspired by those ways of Jesus! I recall having the discussions about same-sex marriage in the pastoral charge I was serving when it became legalized in 2005. It was a new conversation for us to have, and it challenged some people’s biases. It was ALSO a theological conversation about radical inclusion. And it was a time when I saw Jesus fully present when we moved ahead as a local congregation and offered this ministry! This is the same type of work happening with our General Council on their 40 Days of Engagement on Anti-Racism that many of us have been taking in. As Galtung notes, this work of social change requires a long-term commitment. Massive ships require a long space to correct course, yet the right course that is based on justice can be found with wise, patient decisions. We have seen this through the Civil Rights movement, and even today as people continue to consider what ‘white privilege’ means. For me, as a white heterosexual male, it is my commitment to peace to consider how I might participate in social change. How are you taking part in the peacebuilding process in your context? In your community? In your world?
Peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding are, each on their own, very challenging to fulfill. Yet it is truly the call of the servant of peace to participate in each aspect of its movement. The Kingdom of God that Jesus teaches is that radical inbreaking where the last is first, where the humble is exalted, where peace is the dream and goal of all God’s creation.
May we further live in ways that contribute to the unfolding of God’s dream of peace on earth.