A Third Way to Follow Jesus Week 10: Peace is at the heart of the gospel

Dirk Willems ran for his life! The year was 1569. The place was Asperen, Holland. Dirk had been accosted by a guard who meant to arrest him. As Dirk sped across the frosty ground trying to make his escape, he came to a body of water covered by thin ice. He darted onto the dangerous ice, endeavoring to evade capture. But suddenly he became aware that the guard, too, had followed him onto the ice but with terrible consequence; the thin ice had broken leaving the guard flailing futilely in the icy water!

Dirk quickly turned around and aided the drowning man, dragging him safely to the shore. The grateful guard intended to allow Dirk to go free, but a stern magistrate would hear nothing of it. He reminded the drenched man he was under oath to deliver criminals to justice. Dirk was bound and sent off to prison, interrogated, and tortured in an unsuccessful effort to make him renounce his faith. He was tried and found guilty of having been rebaptized, of holding secret meetings in his home, and of allowing baptism there—all of which he freely confessed. He was sentenced to execution by fire and died a cruel martyr’s death.

Why did Dirk not just continue on towards freedom?  Why did he turn around and actually help out the person who was coming to arrest him?  Why did he save the man from drowning, because we all know that if the tables were turned the man would have probably let Dirk drown?  

Dirk was seeking to live out this third way faith that we have been talking about in our A Third Way to Follow Jesus series.  Dirk was seeking to live out the reality that we will be talking about today, the fact that peace is at the heart of the gospel.  And that living out the gospel in the world includes a commitment to peace.  And as part of that idea, means that we are called to love our enemies.  Dirk exemplified that belief, a belief that led him to save his captor, even though he knew it would mean his death.  He truly lived out the words of the Scripture that we are going to look at today.

Today, we are looking at the gospel of Jesus which includes a commitment to the way of peace.  We’ll explore what it means to be committed to the way of peace, defining the word peace, seeing how this commitment is definitely a third way of following Jesus, and explore our Scripture together.  

Before we get to the Scripture we need to define a few things first, including what peace is, the two other ways regarding peace and what a third way would look like.  

Now many of you already know where this is heading.  The word that we translate peace is actually the word Shalom which is a Hebrew word that is more holistic than just peace.  In fact the definition for Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord. Shalom comes from the root verb shalom meaning to be complete, perfect and full.   Another definition that I found that I like is Shalom is the way that things should be.  So Shalom is so much fuller than our english word peace.  

Now so often when we talk about peace we limit it and we limit the scope of it.  Often when some evangelical Christians talk about peace it is just related to peace between God and myself and maybe peace between myself and others.  Other times other Christians, more what we would call progressive Christians, when they talk about peace they might include peace between nations, peace between humanity and creation, and maybe between God and ourselves.  But in this case it isn’t either/or ion regards to peace but a both/and.  Shalom really affects everything regarding our faith.  It includes but is not limited to peace between God and myself.  It includes but is not limited to peace within myself.  It includes but is not limited to peace between myself and other people.  It includes but is not limited to peace between humanity and the creation itself. It includes but is not limited to peace between nations.  It includes but is not limited to peace between all of humanity.  

Third way followers of Jesus, unlike other Christians, would believe that this peace position is not optional, not marginal, and not mainly related to the military.  On the basis of Scripture third way followers of Jesus renounce violence in all human relationships. We see peace and reconciliation- the way of love- as being at the heart of the gospel.  God has given his followers this ethic , not just as a point to ponder, but as a commandment to obey.  It was costly to Jesus, it may be costly to us, and it was definitely costly to Dirk Willems. This way of peace is a way of life.  Peace is truly at the heart of the gospel and as followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we need to be committed to finding non-violent alternatives and learn how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society, and between nations.  Part of living out this upside down, radical, call of Jesus- the true Prince of Peace means doing the hard work, and the difficult call to love your enemies, a call that Dirk Willems lived and died for.  

So let’s now jump into exploring the Scripture that Dirk Willems lived out in his life and even more so in his death, that of Luke 7:27-36 which says, ““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. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.   But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

The first thing we need to notice is the context of Luke 6.  Now right before this teaching on loving your enemies, Jesus is sharing some Beatitudes, in what is called the Sermon on the Plain.  This teaching is very similar to the teaching of the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5 that we looked at last week.  To get to the place where you can live out this teachingwe have to live our lives following Jesus and his upside down, countercultural Kingdom.  We need the Spirit residing in us to give us the strength to walk this teaching on loving your enemies out, because we won’t have it on our own.  Even to us who seek to follow Him, we can struggle with these teachings, because they don’t seem to make any sense to us.  To live out peace in the midst of violence, hatred, war, strife, and conflict, takes someone who is committed to Jesus, His Kingdom, His gospel, being filled with the Holy Spirit and the fact that this King, His Kingdom and his gospel includes a commitment to the way of peace.  

Now when Jesus was calling his hearers to love their enemies, everyone knew who he meant.  He meant the Roman Empire.  The empire that invaded their land.  Ruled over their land and people.  And ruled by the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, which even though peace is in the name, wasn’t a peace that was brought on by non-violence.  Oh no, the Pax Romana was brought on by the threat of violence, death and execution if you got out of line.  So Jesus wasn’t just calling his disciples to love those who they had a minor disagreement with (though that is included in his call). No, he was calling his disciples to actively resist the call to hate those who hated them, to actively resist the violence that was being done to them by not being violent back, to actively resist the call for revenge, and justice by the sword.  And how were they to actively resist without giving into the call to fight fight with fight, violence with more violence?  Let’s look at the second half of verse 27 and also verse 28, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  Talk about upside down.  A call to live out the gospel of peace, means doing good, blessing, and praying, all for your enemies.  I would have to say that this is probably one of the most, if not the most, easiest and shockingly simple Scripture to understand.  There is really no wiggle room at all.  But just as shockingly easy to understand, it is shockingly hard to put into practice and to live it out.  

We follow a God, a King, who instead of killing his enemies in order to build his empire or his Kingdom, chose to let his enemies shed his blood in order to build his Kingdom.  We are called to respond to enemies in the same way.  To not respond to enemies in the way that they respond to us, but we respond to them in love.  The love that God has for them, living and breathing through us.  Because think about it.  If Jesus treated his enemies with hate, and violence, we would be the ones that would be on that end of things…because Scripture says that while we were enemies with Him, he died for us.  We are the ones that he bled and died for, even when we were the enemy.  

We follow a God, a King who could have called down legions of angels to defend him from dying on the cross.  We follow a God who could have used violence to “defeat” his enemies.  We follow a God who did defeat his enemies not with violence but with self-sacrificing love.  Jesus knew and modeled the fact that use of violence is incompatible, especially lethal violence, with Christian discipleship.  And if we follow Jesus- one who embodied the call of Shalom in all relationships, then we are to also be on the forefront of the movement of Shalom in this world.  

The call to Shalom- to peace and to reconciliation- then effects every area of our lives and how we live.  Because of Jesus love for us, we can actually have Shalom deep within our spirit.  Because of Jesus love for us and for others, we can actually have Shalom with others- even those who are our enemies.  Notice I said Shalom but maybe not reconciliation…after all the Bible does say in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  So true reconciliation may not be possible or even something that we should want.  

Because of Jesus love for us and for his world, we can actually have Shalom with the creation itself.  We can work towards the renewal of all things…which includes the very creation itself.  Christians, because of God’s call of Shalom, should be on the forefront of taking care of God’s creation- of his call in being stewards of his creation.  

Because Jesus love for us and for the world, and all humanity, he calls us to live Shalom, and work for it on a national and world level.  We should be on the forefront of the movement to find nonviolent and creative solutions to conflict.  However, all too often, Christians are sometimes the first people to run to war.  In a Gallup Poll in 2008 it showed that the least supportive groups of people toward the Iraq war were non-Christians and people with no religion, and the most supportive for the Iraq War were Protestants and frequent churchgoers.  How in the world did we get here…with the call of Jesus to loving your enemy, praying for those who persecute you, and a call to non-violence- to a place where Christians favor a war?  Favor killing people that our country calls our enemies?  Too me, it looks like we have lost the true narrative of Shalom that runs through the entirety of Scripture and we have lost the calling of Jesus to love our enemies, to respond with non-violence, turning the other cheek and love.  And no I am not expecting our country to be non-violent, turn the other cheek, lover of enemy- because we don’t live in a Christian country and they don’t follow the Kingdom of God, they live in the Kingdom of this world.  

We need more Christians who will work for Shalom through organizations like Christian Peacemaker Teams.  More Christians who will work for Shalom through organizations like the Evangelical Environmental Network or Green Faith.  We need more Christians who will work for Shalom in victim-offended reconciliation programs.  We need more Christians who will work for Shalom in conflict meditation services like On Earth Peace (within the Church of the Brethren).  We need more Christians who truly believe that peace/Shalom is truly at the heart of the gospel of Jesus and in His Kingdom.  

But what does this look like on the ground?  Let’s spend some more time in the Scriptures and see what stands out to us.  Let’s dialogue around what ways God may be calling each of us into his work of Shalom in our lives in and in the world.  And let’s talk about what God might be saying to our community about being more intentional about working for Shalom in Lancaster and in the wider world. 

1.  Take a few moments and read Luke 6:27-36.  What stands out to you as you read the text?  What questions, comments, insights, etc..does it bring to mind?  What questions do you have about the message?

2.  In what ways do you feel God calling you into the work of Shalom in the world?  In what areas of Shalom (self, God, others, creation, world, etc..) do you feel called to engage in?

3.  What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it?  What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?  How can Veritas be more involved in Shalom-making in Lancaster and in the world-at-large?