From non-violence to peacemakers

Philippians 2:1-13 NIV

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

            We love Jesus around here, don’t we?  I hope so.  We love everyone, so surely we love Jesus.  We love his grace, we love his mercy, we love his love.  Even outside of the church we find many people that like Jesus.  Jesus was a great guy, or as the t-shirt say, “Jesus is my homeboy.”  (Does anybody say homeboy anymore?)

            If so many people love Jesus, why are so many churches in the Western society struggling with attendance and financially?  I would think that it is in large part because the church fails to look like Jesus.  When we fail to offer the grace, mercy, and love that Jesus offered, we become a whole lot less attractive to others.

            You see, I believe that there are a lot of Christians out there that are quick to accept the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus and then stop right there.  But we are not called to stop there.  We are not called to simply keep the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus to ourselves.  We are called to share it with others.  We are to be like Jesus.  We are called to follow him daily with our lives.

            Evidently this is a problem that the church has had for the last 2,000 years or so because the apostle Paul seems to be picking up on it as well.  He writes to the church in Philippi that if they have any encouragement from being in the love of Jesus and if they enjoy being in the fellowship of the Spirit that they will make Paul’s joy complete by also loving one another.  I will put this in common language for you.  Paul is saying, “You like Jesus, so why don’t people like you?”

            Yeah, it sounded better coming from Paul, but I think that is really what he is trying to get at.  The church in Philippi loves Jesus!  They just don’t love each other.  They are really good at loving God, but they don’t really think too highly of one another.  There is bickering and fighting among the people.  They really just don’t seem to be able to get along.  When the pastor stands up at the end of the worship service and gives the benediction, the people scatter to their cars and go out to eat or back home to eat lunch by themselves and don’t see each other again until the next day of worship.

            Paul gives them some advice for how to fix this problem.  Essentially he tells the people to stop being so selfish and to stop looking down on one another.  Stop thinking that you are better than this guy or that lady.  Instead, humble yourself and put their interests first.

            Then Paul goes on to give the ultimate example of what this would look like.  He draws the Philippian’s attention to a man named Jesus and tells the Philippians that they are to have the same mind as Jesus.  Paul quotes what seems to be an early hymn or a creed that Jesus, though equal to God, did not exploit who he was, but left all of that behind and come to this earth…as a slave.

            Now some versions of the Bible will translate the word dulos as “servant” because it makes the text a little softer and less offensive.  But dulos is often translated as slave.  A servant gets paid, a slave doesn’t.  Jesus didn’t take on the role of a servant to make a few extra dollars.  Jesus took on the role of a slave and got punished.  Paul continues and says that Jesus, this slave to humanity, was tortured and killed on a cross.

            So I think that what Paul is trying to do here when he tells the Philippians who are fighting among themselves to be more like Jesus is that he is telling them that the best way to end the fighting and the bickering is to become a slave or a servant to those with whom they are fighting.  Serve them and don’t expect to get anything in return.  Then you will better understand them and the reasons that they do the things that they do.  Being like Jesus means that we serve others, even those who we don’t like, even those who don’t like us, even those who want to kill us.

            Now Paul was obviously talking to the church at Philippi and instructing them of how to get along with one another: Don’t fight, serve.  But I think that this is teaching that can be applied at all different levels.  In the church, in the community, nation-wide, and world-wide.  If you want to get along, humble yourself and serve others.  Peace comes through humble service.

            We often talk in the church about how we are called to love our enemy, pray for those who persecute us, and turn the other cheek.  Our denomination is historically known as a peace church.  Mennonites have refused to fight in wars and refused to defend themselves in physical altercations.

            I believe that Jesus calls us to be non-violent.  I sometimes will use the word “pacifist” in the church.  A pacifist is someone that is against violence of any kind.  But there is something that is a bit misleading about the word pacifist and that is that it sounds like the word passive.  Passive is the opposite of active.  A passive person might see the violence in the world or in their own back yard and do nothing about it; maybe they will complain a bit, I don’t know. 

            Pacifists have been called a lot of things by non-pacifists: lazy, leaches, burdens, complainers.  But while I believe that being a follower of Jesus means that we should be pacifists, I don’t believe that it means we need to be passive.  If we are passive about making peace, then others have the right to complain about us being lazy leaches and burdens on the rest of society.

            What I want to do with the rest of our time today is to call us to move past being non-violent people to being peacemakers.  I believe that we can get so bogged down with discussions about the theoretical stuff that we never get to the practical.  We can spend hours discussing whether it was right for Bonhoeffer to try to assassinate Hitler or not.  We can spend hours discussing whether or not one should defend their self if attacked or defend their family if they are attacked.  We can spend hours discussing how much force we can use and when it can be used.  And these are all good discussions, but I think that we could spend a lot of time on these things and nobody would change their opinion.  But regardless of where we are on that continuum, I believe that we would all agree that as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be peacemakers.  And as our scripture for today shows us, we make peace through serving others.

            Check this passage out from Luke 6:27-28, Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  This is a bit of an outline for what we are to do when we are in conflict.  First thing that we must do is love our enemies.  We control our emotions.  We have the option of loving someone or hating them.  Granted, there are some that make it easier to love them than others, but if they were easy to love they wouldn’t be our enemies.  So our part is clear, we love.

            But we can’t always make someone love us back.  I do believe that it would be a lot more difficult to hate someone that is showering you with love, but someone might still choose to hate you even if you love them.  Jesus says to do good to those who hate you.  Remember, we are not called to be passive, but active in our efforts to make peace.  So you are to do good to those who hate you.  Serve them.  Mow their yard, wash their car, offer to pick up some groceries.  If someone hates you, you are not to just sit back and allow them to hate you.  Jesus calls us to serve those who hate us.

            Jesus gives a good example of this in a story that I referenced just a few weeks ago commonly known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Samaritans and Jews were not friends in Jesus’ day.  They belonged to different religious groups and each one thought that the other was wrong.  The Jews believed that they were the true offspring of Abraham and the Samaritans thought that they were the true offspring of Abraham.  That might not seem like a big disagreement to us, but to them this was an issue worth killing over.  We find stories of Jews that were trying to travel from one place to another and they would go far out of their way just to avoid traveling through Samaria.  It would be like someone traveling through Charlottesville on their way from Harrisonburg to Staunton just to avoid going through Verona.

            In the story of the Good Samaritan we find a Jewish man was traveling by himself and he is robbed, beaten, and left for dead along the side of a road.  Two men pass by, both religious men, both Jewish men.  And both of these men chose not to help this person who was in need.  Then along comes a Samaritan man.  And as Jesus tells this story I can just hear the people hissing and booing at the mention of a Samaritan. 

            The Samaritan man stops, helps the man get to a place where he can receive care, and even pays for the Jewish man’s healthcare.  And he tells the man providing the healthcare, “If this isn’t enough money, I’ll be stopping by again later and can give you more.”

            That is a great story, in part because the bad guy is actually the good guy.  It shows that maybe, just maybe there is something good within the Samaritan people.  And from the perspective of peacemaking, the Samaritan man served his enemy.  He served someone who hated him.  And I am going to bet that it was a lot more difficult for the Jewish man to hate the Samaritan after that.

            But that was just a parable, right?  Nobody would actually help out their enemy if they didn’t have to.  But Jesus did.  Remember that Jesus was living in a territory occupied by the Roman Empire during the first century.  Romans didn’t like Jews and Jews didn’t like Romans.  I am starting to think that maybe the Jews were a tough people group to get along with in the 1st century.  But we find in the New Testament when a Centurion, a leader in the Roman army, comes to Jesus and asks Jesus to heal one of his servants.  We also find the story of a Roman “Official” who comes to Jesus and asks him to heal his son.  These Romans come to Jesus and they ask him to heal these individuals and he looks them deep in the eye and he says, “Are you kidding me?  The world would be better off with one less Roman!”  No, he heals them, he serves his enemy, he loves his enemy.  And even though the Bible doesn’t say anything about these people and their future relations, I am going to guess that they had a lot more difficulty looking at the Jews as enemies after one of their leaders healed a loved one of theirs.

            If someone hates you, serve them.  If they curse you, bless them.  If they harm you, pray for them.  This isn’t a blueprint for success, it is a blueprint for faithfulness.  We know that this method of subverting hate with love and service does work.  But we also know that sometimes it will be costly to us, and just like Jesus, it can cost us our lives.

            You may be familiar with a Christian organization that works for peace in some of the least peaceful areas of the world known as the Christian Peacemaker Team.  From Wikipedia:

“The inspiration for the group came from Ron Sider at the Mennonite World Conference in 1984. At it, Sider criticized Mennonites and Brethren in Christ for reducing their peace witness to simple conscientious objection:

Unless we Mennonites and Brethren in Christ are ready to start to die by the thousands in dramatic vigorous new exploits for peace and justice, we should sadly confess that we really never meant what we said…. Unless comfortable North American and European Mennonites and Brethren in Christ are prepared to risk injury and death in nonviolent opposition to the injustice our societies foster and assist in Central America, the Philippines, and South Africa, we dare never whisper another word about pacifism to our sisters and brothers in those desperate lands…. Unless we are prepared to pay the cost of peacemaking, we have no right to claim the label or preach the message.

 

            Peacemakers have gone into the toughest parts of the world and paid the ultimate price.  In March of 2006 a body was recovered in Iraq and identified as a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team who had been detained.  His name was Tom Fox.

            Next weekend is the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Relief Sale.  The Relief Sale is a yearly event held around the United States in effort to raise funds for MCC.  Mennonites and other like-minded Christians work together to provide opportunities for economic development, healthcare, education, and things of that nature.  Essentially we might say that MCC is in the business of serving people.  They use the slogan, “Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ.”  Our own Phil and Anje went to Zambia to work at the Macha Mission Hospital, which seems to have a focus on working with AIDS patients.  That’s what MCC does.

            Just over a year ago there was sad news that came to us from MCC.  An MCC worker named Glen Lapp was killed in Afghanistan as he worked with a medical team there.  If we want to be peacemakers, we need to be willing to step into dangerous situations and offer ourselves up.

            Being a peacemaker does not mean that one needs to go to Zambia, Afghanistan, or Iraq.  We all know that there is plenty of violence right in our own neighborhood and we have the opportunity, no the responsibility to do something about it.

            I listen to a guy from Canada named Bruxy Cavey, he is a pastor in a Brethren in Christ congregation.  Bruxy tells the story of standing in the street doing some ministry when an African-American woman ran by him.  Bruxy said it wasn’t a run like “I need to catch that bus” or “I’m late for work” kind of run.  It was a running-for-my-life kind of run.  Just then a group of white skinhead Neo-Nazi’s came running after her.  And instinctively Bruxy ran after them.

            Bruxy said that he never really had time to think about what he was going to say or do if he was able to catch up with them.  All he knew was that something bad would happen if he didn’t step in and help.  When he finally caught up to them in an alley he saw the white men kicking her repeatedly, trying to kill this young woman.  So Bruxy worked his way to the middle of the group, got down on the ground and wrapped his arms around the woman.  And he said, “I am a follower of Jesus Christ, which means two things.  One, I cannot fight you.  And two, I cannot allow you to kill her.  So if you are going to kill her, you need to kill me first.”

            Bruxy said that there was a little bit of time that passed where he could see them thinking it through.  But eventually they all turned and walked away.

            I believe strongly in non-violence.  But I believe that non-violence is only the beginning of what we are called to as followers of Jesus Christ.  We are called to be peacemakers, not people who sit around passively or just complain about violence.  We need to do something about the violence that we see.  We need to pray, we need to love, and we need to serve.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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