What Price Peace?
(Acts 10: 34-43)
When I was a child in the late 50s and early 60s me and my friends played War. We would argue over who was going to be a G.I. and who was going to be a Nazi. No one ever volunteered to be Neville Chamberlin, the British Prime Minister who tried to appease Hitler and negotiate for peace. Afterall, they had already fought the war to end all wars and look how that turned out. Where was the fun in that? It was only when we got older that we realized the consequences. Those who had survived Vietnam were beginning to come back and the stories they told didn’t sound very glorious, if they talked about it at all. My Methodist minister grandfather had already sent one son off to fight the Nazis and two grandsons off to a small country in southeast Asia that had known nothing but war and occupation for generations, and he wasn’t keen on sending anymore of his grandsons. Luckily for me, the war was winding down and my draft number was sufficiently high enough to give me time to pick my branch of the service if necessary. I still have an interest in conflict, but it is more towards how it came to be and what could have been done, in hindsight, to avoid it, and what can we learn from taking the wrong path that could help us avoid conflict in the future. I’ve read many books on the topic and do not have a Nobel Peace Prize idea other than it takes more work to promote peace than to wage war.
Even if you are only vaguely familiar with the Old Testament, you know that the times were pretty violent with wars breaking out yearly as ruthless rulers cast a greedy eye on what some other country had or sought to seek revenge for some perceived national slight or insult. Countries were always in a state of readiness with a wary eye towards the horizon watching for the next invader, praying that God was on their side. If only there was another way to live where we could all get along and live in peace. Please God, send us someone to save us.
In our scripture reading for this morning the Apostle Peter addresses God’s desire that people from all nations live together in peace. I like the way it’s put in my Wesley Study Bible, the Common English Bible, when Peter said; I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him. This is the message of peace he sent to the Israelites by proclaiming the good news through Jesus Christ: He is Lord of all! God doesn’t favor one nation over another or one people over another. Rather, whoever worships him, regardless of where they live or call themselves, are acceptable to him if they do what is right. He sent this message of peace to the Israelites who had been in their fair share of wars and knew what it meant to be a conquered people. War seemed to be an inevitable way of life. God is telling his people to take the lead on promoting peace. What a novel idea.
So, what does our United Methodist Book of Discipline say about war and peace. Paragraph 165 of our Social Principles, War and Peace states; We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy. We oppose unilateral first/preemptive strike actions and strategies on the part of any government. Pretty good start. Jesus, God with us, was not the god of war. It’s not what he taught and not the example he set of loving your neighbor, even the one you didn’t like. It goes on to say; As disciples of Christ, we are called to love our enemies, seek justice, and serve as reconcilers of conflict. That sounds a little touchy-feely and labor intensive. Love people we don’t like, people who are different from us, do the right thing, and be the ones to settle disputes? Sounds like quite a commitment. It then says; We insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to work together to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them. It says all nations, not just the United States, but we must work together using the resources at our disposal to arrive at a peaceful resolution before they fester into a bigger, irreconcilable problem and the innocent pay the price. As Methodists; We advocate the extension and strengthening of international treaties and institutions that provide a framework within the rule of law for responding to aggression, terrorism, and genocide. That means working together with other countries and organizations to bring pressure to bear upon those rogue nations that are aggressive, employ terror and commit genocide upon those they wish to oppress. As Methodists; We believe that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale, and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned. In other words, we must place a higher value on human life than the military arms race where now we see rogue nations like North Korea and Iran resuming their efforts to build nuclear weapons and longer-range missles. The section concludes by stating; Consequently, we endorse general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control. Efforts should be made to where we are working worldwide to deescalate the arms race and bring militarization under control. You know, beating our spears into plowshares.
Most, if not all of the books on the various wars I’ve read to date have explored the root issues for the outbreak of war in the first place. More often than not, it’s economic. One country wants what the other has or desires to fight to keep what it has. The war could be over whether or not to keep slaves, whether or not to impose unreasonable taxes, or to break oppressive embargos or tariffs, or a land grab for more room and natural resources. It just takes one or two selfish and self-serving individuals to create a spark of anger and then fan the flames of hatred that leads to an escalation of hostilities to where innocent people are the ones who suffer the most. Sure, you can point out that Jesus tried peace and look what happened to him. Jesus was a threat to those in power who wanted to keep the power and all it entailed to themselves and they used violent means to keep that power. But Jesus wanted to show that violence, fear and hate were not the way. He wanted to show that peace, calm and love were the way. And, he has prevailed through his followers where those who have opposed him are gone and forgotten and his disciples have gone to the ends of the earth to make disciples, disciples for the Prince of Peace.
Don’t you think that if God had wanted to force his will upon the world, he could have? He could have done it as an authoritative dictator, but he knew a conquered people do not follow that sort of leader willingly. Instead Peter tells us that Jesus traveled around doing good and healing everyone oppressed by the devil because God was with him. That’s our cue. Like Jesus, we must go out into the whole world doing good and helping people who are oppressed by evil dictators and rulers because God is with us. You really can’t achieve a lasting peace through war. If you could, there wouldn’t have been anymore wars after World War One because that was the war to end all wars. You would have thought we would have learned our lesson from that one, or the many that followed. Peace relies on reason and love where war relies on hate and weapons.
Peter told his listeners that; He (Jesus Christ) commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. God has appointed Jesus as the one who will judge the actions of those who commit evil upon the world and God’s children. They will have to answer for their acts. But we too have an obligation as disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We have to act. We have to speak out. We are called upon to love our enemies, to seek justice not only for ourselves but for others around the world who are oppressed by dictatorial regimes and to also make sure we, ourselves, are not the oppressors, and we are to serve as reconcilers of conflict. We cannot sit idly by claiming that it is not our problem. As God’s children, our brothers and sisters in Christ live all around the world, and their problem is our problem. It’s the price we pay for peace.
Please pray with me.
Teach us, God of every nation, to see every question of national policy in the light of our faith, that we may check in ourselves and others every passion that makes for war, all ungenerous judgment, all promptings of self-assurance, all presumptuous claims. Grant us insight to recognize the needs and aspirations of other nations, and remove our suspicions and misunderstandings, that we may honor all people in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.