In our 5th week of our Summer Series on the Fruits of the Spirit, we began to deal with the 3rd fruit Paul names – peace.
Peace, it seems to me, is a bit of a scandal in a society such as ours. Our society thrives on conflict, gossip, discord, greed, violence, warfare, racism, hatred, competition, etc. All of which are counter to the way of peace. Peace, as we discovered yesterday in class, is a “way” and a “fruit”. So for our purposes, we will say “peacemaking” or “reconciliation” is the “way” (or, if you prefer, the “practices” that lead to peace) while “peace” or “shalom” is the fruit that such practices bear out in the world.
As we have done with each fruit of the spirit, we started with a biblical overview of the fruit. Here were some of the conclusions about biblical peace we came to in class:
1> Peacemaking and Peace are “ways” (indeed Christianity’s first name was not “Christianity” but “the Way” – per Luke’s second gospel, the Acts of the Apostles). Since Christians are now beginning to recover what it means to follow Jesus on the “way” rather than propagating a set of mental “beliefs”, it is important to note that Christianity is now concerned about what it bears out into the world. It is participation in a kingdom ushered in in the person of Jesus the Christ. A way of life. A way that ultimately is counter to the ways the world offers. In Mark 8, we are called to follow Jesus on the “way” of cruciform peacemaking, bearing the fruit of peace and reconciliation out into the world. (II Cor. 5:14-21; Mk. 8:27 – 9:1; Eph. 2:14-18)
2> Peace is not the absence of conflict, rather the peacemaking community enters into conflict to bear witness to the Prince of Peace. The name the church gives to this “entering” is Incarnation. “As he was in the world, so you are to be…” so says John.
3> The peace community cannot be possible without the practices of confession and forgiveness of sins. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “There can only be a community of peace, where such a community does not rest on lies and injustice.” The best concrete example of this in recent history is the “Truth and Reconcilation” commission in South Africa that sought to bring healing post-Apartheid. Perpetrators of all sorts of crimes and violence and murder, were offered total amnesty if they bore witness to their sins and crimes. But, they had to bear witness to them before the family members of the ones they killed, raped, stole from, or hurt. Desmond Tutu led the commission. What Tutu understood was that true forgiveness must be based on true confession before authentic healing can take place, and peace replace discord. So, we say all of that to say this: the establishment of peace where there was once war or violence or discord, is representative of the healing power of God to forgive sins, and of his community to “forgive sins as you have been forgiven.”
4> Peace-making takes the shape of the cross. Suffering is required of the peacemaker. Biblically speaking, you will never be a peacemaker with one finger on the trigger, ready to defend your own honor, or another’s honor. Mark makes it painfully clear in Mark 8 – if you want to make peace, if you want to follow Jesus, then the cross is the only way. Imperial vocabulary has always employed three words as propaganda to its citizenry: peace, justice, and security. But what Jesus knew that we so often fail to see, is that such peace and justice and security is always offered on the empires terms. Never does the empire consider suffering a virtue. But when we take up to follow Jesus, count the cost, and follow him, we take up the way of the cross in the world. Yesterday, in church we sang a song that I fear misses this point. “With the world behind me and the cross before me.” Well, the cross is the firmly planted in the midst of the rebellious world! And we are called, not just to worship the man-deity upon it once upon a time, but to follow him to it ourselves.
We also named several obstacles to peace:
1> Self-Centeredness. One keen class member quickly noted that Self Centered people almost always sow discord rather than peace. One thing Jesus will not allow of his followers is a life lived in the sole interest of oneself. The theological reasons undergirding this are too numerous to name. But one reason is that living life looking out for #1 presupposes that I am more valuable or important than others. And the pursuit of my own self interest is at the very least a neglect of others, and often times guilty of violence against others.
2> Scripture Dodging or Scripture Excuse Making. No matter how you slice it, if you claim to follow Jesus, you are called to “Love your enemies, and do good to those who abuse you.” This is inevitably going to require something new for you, and me.
3> Identity & Allegiance issues. A lot of times, whether or not we employ the means of Christ or the means of the world, is going to boil down to how we see identify ourselves. (I Pt. 2:9-12; Gal. 3:26-29; Mt. 5:38-48)
Next week, we will be hosting a panel discussion to interact with the complex issues that face us as we start to apply these difficult texts to our contemporary context. We will host a participatory conversation with the rest of the class to help one another struggle with the complex and radical call to be peace makers in a violent and sinful world.