SERMON TEXT: Blessed are the peacemakers
I was really moved this past week to read the story of Albert Goering. Albert Goering was the brother of Hermann Goering, one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi Party who had famously vowed to destroy the RAF. Albert was however, quite different from his brother Hermann. Albert never became a Nazi. While Herman Goering was found guilty in 1946 of being complicit in the Holocaust, Albert by contrast often risked his life to save those the Nazi’s were bent on destroying.
When the Nazi party rose to power in Germany, he moved to Austria and spoke out against the Nazi Party.
When Germany however annexed Austria in 1938, Albert rushed to distribute visa’s to Jewish residents to try and get them out and save them from what he could see was surely coming. He was also reported to have confronted Nazi soldiers in the streets who were forcing elderly Jewish people to do degrading things in public, such as washing themselves in the street. These were acts of bravery which could easily have resulted in him being shot on the spot.
During the second world war, Albert Goering managed to save hundreds of Jews as well as many anti Nazi dissidents. He also used his connection and influence with his brother Hermann to persuade him to release many prisoners of concentration camps under the pretext that they were “good Jews”.
During this period, Albert was in fact arrested on a number of occasions by the Nazi’s. Each time however he was fortunate to be released due to his connection with his brother Hermann.
Ironically however, after the war, Albert was imprisoned for 2 years for the very same reason, that he was the brother of the infamous Hermann Goering, and when he was finally released, this same fact of being the brother of Hermann Goering made him unemployable despite the fact that he had risked his life for so many. Although he died penniless, Albert Goering was looked after by many of those he had helped and saved during the war.
In our 8th Beatitude today, we hear the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
What the story of Albert Goering reveals is that being a peace-maker is often a costly thing. Many people in this world like the idea of peace, but there are not as many who are willing to pay the price, working for peace in this world. Albert Goering was one of them. And to those who were recipients of his help in a time of terror and violence, to them, he must truly have felt like a son of God, one in whom God’s likeness could be seen.
Returning to the beatitude, in Matthew 5:9, the word that is used for peace is the Greek word (i-ray'-nay) eiréné from which we get the English name Irene. The root word is eirō, which means "to join, or tie together into a whole". Instead of dividing the world into categories us versus them, the peacemakers of this world are those who often risk their lives to bring people together, to join them into one whole. Peacemakers are those who see beyond our human divisions to see the common oneness of our humanity.
The word that Jesus would have used would have been the Aramaic word ‘shlama’ or ‘shaloma’ which in Hebrew is word Shalom. The word Shalom speaks of a peace and a wholeness that encompasses the whole of life. It refers firstly to a deep inner peace that comes from a life that is in alignment with God, a heart in which the deep peace and presence of God dwells, a heart that has learned the art of being still and becoming aware of the Presence of the Great I Am who dwells at the heart of all of life. The heart of Shalom or inner peace, is a heart that has given up all forms of inner conflict within oneself and towards others. And from those still quiet waters within, that peace is able to radiate outward towards the rest of life, so that the person of Shalom, radiating God’s Peace, is brought into alignment and right relationship with our fellow human beings and with creation itself, in relationships with others that are fair and just, loving and caring so that those who live in the shalom of God seek the highest benefit not just for their fellow human beings but also for God’s creation as well.
The life of Jesus is a supreme example of a life lived in God’s Shalom. And so according to Paul, Jesus life reveals God’s secret plan from the foundation of the world, to bring all things together in oneness and unity and thereby in harmony and peace. But again, Paul recognises that this is costly work for which Jesus sacrifices his life. Paul writes in chapter 2:14 “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… his purpose was to create one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body, to reconcile both of them to God, by the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
Getting back to the beatitude, William Barclay points out that the blessing of this beatitude is on the peace-makers, and not necessarily on the peace-lovers. It is not enough to just love peace as an idea and do nothing about it in practice. There are many peace lovers in this world, but very few peace-makers, very few who actually put their desire for peace into the kind of actions that actually make for peace.
I heard on the BBC news this week that a recent survey shows that a lot of people like the idea of saving the planet and building a cleaner more sustainable world, but more than half of those interviewed indicated that they were not willing to make changes to their own lives to make that possible.
On this Remembrance Sunday, as we pause to remember the sacrifice of those who chose not to simply live for themselves, but who were willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of protecting the world from a cruel and violent Nazi Empire, so I believe their witness asks of us today whether we like the idea of peace or whether we are willing to make sacrifices in order to help it to become a reality. Do we like the idea of a clean, peaceful and stable planet, or are we willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the peace, wellness, wholeness and well-being of the planet?
To truly live in the way of Shalom, the peace of God, and the peace for which Jesus lived and died and sacrificed his life, it means that we cannot simply aim for our own little private peace, but that we should desire and actively seek this peace for others too, that we should desire the health and well-being of the whole and not just our little part and that inevitably incudes the whole of creation. And not just that we should desire it, but that we should translate that desire into actions, even if it is costly to do so.
The second half of the 8th beatitude tell us that those who are peace-makers will be called children of God. William Barclay writes that in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages there are not a lot of adjectives. He writes that often when ancient Hebrew speakers wished to describe something, they used not an adjective, but rather the phrase “son of…”. And so Barnabas in Acts who must clearly have had a warm, empathetic and comforting way about him, is called “a son of comfort” or a “son of consolation”. As William Barclay puts it when this beatitude says: “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons of God”, what it means is: “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be doing God-like work.”
A few months ago I came across the following story: Two senior British officers were surveying the carnage of the battle field at the end of one of the great battles of WW1. One was an atheist and the other a Christian. The atheist said to his Christian comrade, 'Where is your God in all this?" (Where is your God in all of this conflict, violence, destruction and death. Just then two British soldiers staggered into view carrying a badly wounded enemy soldier, and the Christian replied, 'There is my God'.
It is a fascinating story. Even in midst of a situation of conflict, those two British soldiers, as they rescued from the battlefield, not just the fallen and wounded soldiers from their own side, but also the fallen and wounded enemy soldiers, they were engaging in God-like work.
Peace-making always begins as an inside job. If there is war and hatred and division within our own hearts, how will we be peace-makers in the world?
What an amazing thing that those two British soldiers could engage in a terrible war without hatred in their own hearts. Their desire was not just for the life and well-being of themselves and those they were fighting with, but somehow, miraculously, their desire was also for the well-being and the health and wholeness even of their enemies.
In that act of rescuing wounded enemy soldiers who had fallen on the battlefield, those two British soldiers were acting in God-like ways, engaging in God-like work, paradoxically living as peace-makers in the middle of one of the greatest conflicts the world has ever seen,
“Blessed are the peace-makers” says Jesus, “for they shall be called children, sons and daughters of God.”