In the news this past week was the story of the passing of the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church Fred Phelps. Now something like this would usually go unnoticed except for the fact that Mr. Phelps seems to always be in the news. His group is the group that protests at funerals of fallen soldiers and others, and his "church", and I use that term loosely, preaches a doctrine of hate. Now I am not sure what god they pray to but it is not the same God that I do as my God, the God of creation, does not hate anyone.
But with that said, we should not rejoice in the death of this man and we should not return his hatred toward his fellow man back on him; that is not what Christians are called to do. We are called to show love in all situations. Sure, we can despise his actions, but he, like the rest of us, has been created in the image and likeness of God, and that is why we must love him.
Since his death, Christian groups have been turning out to hold signs across the street from where his followers are protesting. Signs that read, "We forgive you Fred" and "Sorry for your loss," messages of love and forgiveness that stand in stark comparison to those of hate on the other side of the street. Hatred is easy but love and forgiveness is difficult.
For the past several weeks I have taken my sermon text from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. These are the passages commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount, and they are important passages that summarizes the teaching of Jesus into "sound bites" that are easy to remember. This past Sunday I chose the passages "Blessed are the Merciful" and "Blessed are the Peacemakers" because these verses go hand in hand -- mercy comes from peace and peace comes from mercy.
Mercy is love set in motion, and that motion is expressed in action. We have the actions of God Himself to point to. God showed us His mercy by taking on our suffering, spiritual sufferings, in order to grant us His kingdom. By doing this He sets us free from our captivity to things like hate and not being able to forgive. If we surrender to Him and to His will this will become much easier for us. But this requires action.
Just like mercy, peace also requires some sort of action on our part. To be a peacemaker is to devote yourself to the hard work of reconciling hostile individuals, families, groups, and nations. Starting a war is easy. Bringing peace is difficult but it is a task that we all must engage in. But peace must begin within ourselves, as the old song goes, "let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." It sounds trite but as Mahatma Gandhi said, "Be the change we want to see in others." The work that we have to do is in our self, and if we can change how we act towards others then slowly the world will change -- I am convinced of this.
Jesus Christ is the source of peace and as such He found no price sufficient for that peace other than the sacrifice of His own body on the cross. Christ reveals Himself to us as the reconciler and the Prince of Peace. If we follow His way then the Holy Spirit will bring us that peace that we need and give us the ability to share that peace with those around us. As peacemakers we will share in the peace of God and by His grace we will become sons and daughters of God, but the peace has to begin with us.
Bringing peace into a world that is all mixed up is not easy. Standing holding a sign with a message of peace can open us up to ridicule but it is work that we must do. Going along with the crowd is not good enough; we must buck the system and bring the message of hope, and that message of hope will in turn bring peace. We may never see the results of our work but maybe, just maybe, that one small word or that one small gesture will save someone and then that person will save someone else.
"Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me."