On 22 September our community gathered in the Peace Garden on Epiphany Island to prayer for peace along with Christians around the world. The readings used were Psalm 34; Micah 4:1-4; Luke 37-46. Here is my reflection:
Yesterday was the International Day of Peace (21 September) which was started by the United Nations. It is traditional for the closest Sunday to that day to be designated as Peacemaking Sunday which churches around the world remember.
Mother Theresa highlighted the emphasis on peace ‘making’ rather than just peace. She said: “Peace is not something you wish for, it’s something you make, something you do, something you are, something you give away.”
Jesus also said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Those who set out to make peace have a particular family resemblance to their heavenly Father.
Likewise Psalm 34 asks us to ‘seek peace and pursue it’.
Why the emphasis on peacemaking? Why have a special day? As the resources on the Act for Peace website makes clear (http://actforpeace.org.au/site/DefaultSite/filesystem/documents/Peace%20Day/International-Day-of-Peace-5-factsheet.pdf) conflict is a major factor in reducing the quality of life for millions the world over. The statistics are sobering. Around one quarter of the world’s population lives in a country where there is conflict. Looking at 30 conflict-affected countries it’s estimated that by next year these countries will account for: half of all child deaths across the world, a third of children who do not complete primary school, a third of deaths from HIV/AIDS, a third of people who lack access to clean water. That is a huge impact.
Poverty and conflict go hand in hand. In developing countries which are free of conflict poverty is being beaten. One startling example of this is Somaliland. It is a country which is not recognised internationally yet that doesn’t hold it back. Its economy is developing, the political system works, new buildings are going up rapidly. Amazingly, Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia just 22 years ago. Long years of civil war had left the country devastated. The capital, Hargeisa, was reduced to rubble. Now those who fled the conflict are returning to their homeland. Traditional culture is experiencing a revival. There is a huge book fair run every year which attracts people from all over the world. It is one of the largest celebrations of literature and the arts in East Africa. Unlike in Somalia where women are often repressed, they are fully included in this event. Somaliland shows what can be achieved when conflict no longer dominates the life of a country.
The theme for this year’s Peacemaking Sunday is taken from the Gospel of today: ‘the things that make for peace’. Micah looked forward to a time when things would make for peace. Surely there is a suggestion that everything was gathering pace to this very end when Jesus was cheered on his way into Jerusalem. Now was the time! Now the promises of God would come true. Not just Jewish pilgrims coming for Passover, but members of all nations would make their way to Jerusalem longing to be taught directly by God how to live their lives. God’s justice would be established and everyone would live in safety under God’s rule.
However, Jesus saw things differently. He wept when he saw Jerusalem, not for joy but out of grief at the way that the city seemed unable to recognise that God was visiting it in the form of Jesus. They completely missed seeing the things that made for peace. Instead, the authorities would shortly conspire to kill the Prince of Peace, God’s only Son. The outcome was not going to be justice and security. Instead, the Romans would lay siege to the city and eventually destroy it, casting down its stones. The people would be crushed, killed, young and old together.
Jerusalem, representing God’s chosen people, struggled to recognise Jesus. Probably there was confusion over what the Messiah would be like and he just didn’t fit the picture. Many of the Jewish leaders were more intent on protecting their own power and influence than watching out for God in whatever way he might visit. Jesus was just a nuisance who was stirring up trouble for them. Jesus certainly caused a stir when he went on to the Temple and overturned tables, complaining that a place which should have welcomed all to prayer from every nation, was a place of corruption and injustice, a den of robbers.
The church is just as likely to miss the things that make for peace also. The sad story is told of a ladder outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This is a very important site in the Christian tradition, the location of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Yet six different denominations claim it as their own, leading to the area being divided up. When a ladder was placed on a ledge of the church in the 18th Century by one denomination, another denomination complained that the person was on their land and would not allow him to retrieve it. It remained where it was placed until someone removed it, but it was then put back to allow the arguments to continue! In the place where evidence of God’s visitation was shown, Christians are arguing about ladders.
Each of us is called individually to be peacemakers, noting where injustice prevents human flourishing and working with God to bring about change. We need to be alert to notice where God may already be at work. We cannot just carry on with our own lives and ignore human need around us. Are our churches corrupt, our homes unwelcoming, our money misdirected?
The peace we are to work for is more than quiet, more than lack of war, more than an easy life. It is the sort of wholeness that Micah foresaw when all nations would acknowledge God’s ways, all would experience justice, all would live wholesome and secure lives, all would belong.
The following poem was written by Reuel Norman O. Marigza on the theme of peace and justice. It’s called God of Life, Lead us to Act.
God of life, lead us to justice and peace;
you are the very Source of our very lives
you created us in your own image
with dignity and worth
you gave meaning and purpose for life
without you we cannot achieve
full justice and peace.
God of life,
lead us from injustice and un-peace.
to justice and peace;
lead us to see injustice in Asia and in this world
of people against people
of people against nature
of structures and systems
that dehumanize and ravage creation
lead us to realize that there can never
be peace where injustice exists.
God of life,
lead us to do justice and peace;
you chose to call out a people
to witness and manifest your will,
awaken us to the truth;
that we are to work together with you
to bring about justice and peace;
that we are not just to pray
but also advocate and do
and work for total salvation
which you worked out ahead
and for the world.