Monday Matters (March 16, 2020)


Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God

Here we receive an invaluable practical lesson in the art of prayer, and prayer, be it remembered, is our only means of returning to our communion with God.

The great essential for success in prayer…is that we first attain some degree of peace of mind. This true, interior soul-peace was known to the mystics as serenity, and they are never tired of telling us that serenity is the grand passport to the Presence of God.

It is serenity, that fundamental tranquility of the soul, that Jesus refers to by the word “peace”, the peace that passes all human understanding. The peacemakers spoken of in this Beatitude are those who make or bring about this true peace or serenity in their own souls, for it is they who surmount limitation and become actually and not merely  potentially the children of god.

As long as there is fear, or resentment, or any trouble in your heart, that is to say, as long as you lack serenity, or peace, it is not possible for you to attain very much.

Excerpts from Emmet Fox’ book THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Blessed are the peacemakers

Jesus said: Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

In 1993, Yasir Arafat, Palestinian leader and Yitzhak Rabin, leader of Israel, met on the White House lawn to announce a peace agreement. Here’s what I remember: Mr. Rabin looked pained in the process. He noted that you don’t make peace with friends. You make peace with your enemies, with those who oppose you, maybe those who hate you. Peacemaking is work. Hard work. It ultimately cost Mr. Rabin his life.

There are lots of ways to think about peacemaking. It’s something to consider in this extraordinary season, with our focus on health issues. How will do the hard work of peacemaking? What will it take to manage the understandable anxiety that has a grip on us? How do we move to peace of mind?  Will that be hard to do? Does our faith have anything to say in this moment?

I’m mindful of all the places in scripture where we’re told to live free of anxiety and worry. Is that naïve? Pie in the sky? Bobby McFerrin singing “Don’t worry. Be happy”? Again and again, the biblical record points to peace of mind in the most anxiety producing situations. In the book of Isaiah (26:3) we read: You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. In the book of Lamentations (3:22-24), the prophet Jeremiah makes this claim: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,”therefore I will hope in him.” These prophets do the hard work of peacemaking, issuing a call to faith when exile loomed large, and anxiety was a most reasonable response.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” He cites the birds of the air and lilies of the field as models of life free of anxiety. This preached by a man who knew his journey headed for the cross, in a gospel written at the end of the first century after Jerusalem had been destroyed and the church experienced persecution.

In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul writes: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This was not written from the splendor of fancy rectory or academic ivory tower but from a prison cell.  Imagine what such a place was like in the first century? What would it take to be a peacemaker in those circumstances, to speak of rejoicing and gratitude and not worrying?

This week, how can we be peacemakers, specifically making peace in the face of our own anxiety and the anxiety surrounding us? Is such a thing even possible? Like peacemaking between Rabin and Arafat, it will take work. It’s counter-intuitive, to put it mildly. It doesn’t mean we ignore or minimize the health crisis. It’s real. It’s big. Perhaps unprecedented. It doesn’t mean it will be easy or free of pain.

It does mean that the witness of scripture is that people discover the peace of God in the middle of the storm (and we’re in one now). That takes faith, trust, confidence that while we may not know what the future holds, we know the one who holds the future.

I’ve been thinking of the line of the hymn: “O what peace we often forfeit, o what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” For people of faith, this is time to claim the power of prayer, not as last resort, but as first response. We are called to engage in healing prayer, to pray for our leaders, to pray for those who care for those who are sick. Our prayers are not withdrawal from the problem. They are not denial. They indicate the intention, the hard work of trust.

Then we allow our prayers to guide our action in the world: reaching out to the most vulnerable and fearful, helping those facing hardship because of changes in their work situation. Maybe in your social distancing you can send a note each day to someone who is alone, or reach out by phone or Facetime or email or text. Maybe you can support (directly or through your representatives in government) those in need, for instance, students who depend on schools for meals, workers who scramble for child-care.

It may be hard to be a peacemaker in this moment, to overcome anxiety with trust in God. In many ways, it’s a leap of faith. And that’s the work before us this week. Thank God we’re not alone in this.

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

Contact: Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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