Please pray with me: Dear God we gratefully acknowledge your presence with us as we gather to worship you. We ask that the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. Amen
As we noted earlier, The United Methodist Church has designated this as Peace with Justice Sunday. Please be assured I am not so egocentric as to put myself in the title of today’s message. The pronoun “me” is intended to encourage each of us to consider how he or she is related to and involved with “Peace with Justice.”
I know a lot of Christians who would quickly tell us that they believe Peace and Justice are both important and desirable and that they think it would be wonderful if Peace and Justice informed everyone’s behavior and characterized our environment. I think almost any Christian we might ask would agree that we are immersed in a world, a nation, and a society where peace and justice seem extremely difficult and perhaps impossible to achieve. Most would tell us that they, themselves, do nothing to inhibit peace and justice, but I’m not sure how many could tell us what they do to promote peace, justice, or both.
It’s easy to conclude that there is very little you and I can do to bring about peace with justice.
- I cannot stop a mid-eastern dictator from using poison gas against his people.
- I cannot prevent terrorist attacks and senseless shooting sprees that occur so frequently in our nation and throughout the world.
- I can’t possibly stop some man from getting drunk and killing someone in a bar or going home and beating his wife and children.
- Most of us are not even aware that suspects of crimes in our nation, the United States of America, are often denied their constitutionally guaranteed rights, and convicted criminals often suffer considerable injustice. The guilty are to be punished, but justly.
- We know human rights are even more flagrantly abused in other countries.
- Some of the brightest minds available (and some not so bright) are unable to figure out how to end the longest and most violent military conflicts in history.
- Slavery is unjust and far from peaceful. Although it has been legally abolished everywhere in the world, it is still practiced in this country and throughout the world.
Sure I’m for peace with justice. Who isn’t? But is there really much we can do to bring it about.
It is noteworthy that the Church has seen fit to advocate for peace with justice rather than for each of them separately. With a little thought, it is apparent that the two are linked, as Dr. King articulated in our thought for the day,* and addressing either is likely to be beneficial in addressing the other. They are obviously complementary Christian objectives. Actual or perceived injustice almost inevitably results in breaches of peace, whether by nations, groups, or individuals. What passes for peace in the absence of justice may be achieved by such a high level of oppression that visible dissent is suppressed. Similarly, it is impossible to sustain a just environment between or among those who are not at peace with each other.
By designating this as “peace with justice Sunday,” the church is not only declaring that there are things Christians can do, but that there are things Christians are obligated to do in the interest of peace with justice!
Ignorance is a severe impediment to our exercising our Christian influence for this purpose. We must be aware of breaches of peace and justice, not just superficially but in enough depth to understand them and how they may be addressed. This almost always involves empathy. A young person needs to be able to see an older person’s perspective, and vice versa. An American of European descent needs to have a sense of what African Americans, native Americans and persons from other backgrounds experience. A person without impediments needs to fully appreciate what living with a physical or mental handicap means.
Once we have an understanding of relevant issues, we can and should become involved in seeking and promoting peace with justice in at least three ways.
One way is political, (which is neither a dirty word nor a breach of the principle of separation of church and state.) You and I have governments that act on our behalf. Fortunately, we live in a nation where we should be able to participate in the process by which these actions are decided upon, authorized, and implemented. Although there are interests that have some success in thwarting our voting rights, for the most part we can and must provide direction to our governments at all levels.
One way we do this is by participating in elections. At a minimum, this means voting for candidates and issues in ways consistent with our commitment to our Christian values, including peace with justice. Participation in political campaigns is to be encouraged. If one votes, encourages others to vote, helps voters understand issues, and facilitates their participation, one is making valuable contributions to peace with justice.
Another way we participate in providing direction to our governments is by communicating with government officials. Expressing of opinions in meetings and by correspondence is a powerful means of participation. Such participation has been encouraged and made more accessible by organizations, including the United Methodist Church. These organizations facilitate communications regarding issues in which such organizations have an interest. Some of the current UMC initiatives are discussed below..
Although many of us are not attracted to politics, active and responsible participation by Christians and others acting in moral and ethical ways is an important duty and makes a significant difference. When my nation, state, or local political entity is acting or failing to act in a way that I, as a Christian, believe to be morally inappropriate, I should be making an effort to effect change. Yes, political irresponsibility is a sin.
The second way a Christian can and should, advocate for peace with justice is by participating with the church and other organizations that advocate for actions and policies that promote peace with justice. Organizations can be much more effective than individuals in gathering and analyzing facts, educating the public, and exerting influence on public opinion and government decisions.
- These organizations are usually sources of extensive information.
- These organizations often expose facts that reveal potential threats to our society.
- These organizations can reveal that some information being used in decisions is erroneous and likely to produce damaging results.
- These organizations sometimes initiate court actions that prevent the implementation of illegal actions by government entities.
- These organizations, with the help and support of people like us, contribute substantially to the achievement of peace with justice.
In the United Methodist Church, the agency that addresses these issues is the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. The following excerpts from the agency’s website provide a brief indication of what it is about:
The General Board of Church and Society with headquarters on Capitol Hill and at the Church Center for the United Nations in NYC, is dedicated to the work of living faith, seeking justice, and pursuing peace. Addressing more than 30 social issues on which The United Methodist Church has claimed a position, Church and Society communicates with policymakers and leaders around the world with the mission of transforming the world.
As we look at the number 30, it is readily apparent that the ever present issues that limit or prevent peace with justice are numerous, many more than 30. The agency has made it easy for you and me to join them in advocating for Human and Civil Rights, Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Health and Wholeness, Peace with Justice, and Women’s and Children’s issues. If you take nothing else from this message, I humbly urge you to visit this website. Google “The General Board of Church and Society.”
I encourage you to visit the websites of other organizations that complement your Christian commitment; there are many. As you review the ideas, agendas, and positions presented, give them serious and open minded thought and ask God to help you discern what he would have you support, and how. You will find many organizations that are deserving of some of your time, effort, and resources. This is an integral element of our Christian witness.
Politics and organized advocacy are essential to the achievement of peace with justice. But we often fail to fully appreciate our role in supporting peace with justice as individuals. The way we conduct ourselves in our business and personal interactions is either conducive to peace with justice or possibly detrimental to it. Do you and I make an effort to avoid unnecessary confrontations? Are our decisions, as individuals, jurors, managers, customers, clients, or business persons objective and fair? Are we compassionate? Selfish? Accommodating? Greedy? Gentle? Do we maintain integrity in all our dealings?
Do we take time to choose our words carefully to avoid offending, even unintentionally, those with whom we are dealing. The term “politically correct” has been misapplied and given a negative connotation. Is it not our Christian duty to be sensitive to the perspectives of others and avoid needless offense? Do we realize that many things we have every right to say and do accomplish little beyond needlessly hurting or antagonizing another?
Do we deal with others as we would deal with Jesus? Do we comply with his direction: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,….” Are we forgiving, as Jesus told us God requires?
Do we urge others to be combative, or are we peacemakers? Some people never outgrow the schoolyard tendency to encourage fights rather than try to prevent them. Remember Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
We all favor peace with justice, like motherhood and apple pie. Do we facilitate peace with justice or inhibit it? Imagine a world where every professed Christian commits to do what he or she can in the interest of peace with justice, where each of us asks herself or himself –
- What am I doing in the interest of peace with justice?
- What will I do in the interest of peace with justice?
As each of us seeks peace with justice, we find good advice from Paul in the 12th chapter of his epistle to the Romans, annotated in my Bible as “Marks of the True Christian,” it reads in part:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
May it be so.
* “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”