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A Better Peace Prize

The heart of a peacemaker
This sermon is part of the sermon series "Change of Heart". See series.


At the turn of the 20th century, a man named Alfred was one of the preeminent scientists and entrepreneurs of his day. He made his fortune by inventing and refining explosives—his most famous invention being dynamite. His intentions were that these explosives were to be used for constructive purposes, like building highways and laying foundations for buildings. But soon their value for warfare became evident, and most of Alfred's money was made by selling his material and devices to the military.

Toward the end of his life, Alfred began to ponder his legacy to humankind. While his inventions were meant for good and had been used for good, it was also true that his inventions had equipped armies of the world to deliver new and improved forms of death and destruction. Was that how he wanted to be remembered?

So Alfred rewrote his will and used the bulk of his fortune to establish a series of international awards to be given each year to scientists, thinkers, and leaders who had made a remarkable contribution to the betterment of humankind. That man's name was Alfred Nobel, and the most famous of those awards is given to the person or persons "who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the promotion of peace." We call it the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is one of the highest honors bestowed on a human being.

The first Nobel Peace Prize went to Jean Henry Dunant, a Swiss who helped to found the International Red Cross and the Geneva Convention, in 1901. In recent years, the Peace Prize has been given to people like Mother Teresa for her work on behalf of the world's poor; Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and human rights advocate; Nelson Mandela for his work in dismantling apartheid in South Africa; the unlikely trio of Yassir Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin for their efforts to bring peace to the Middle East; Pres Kim Dae-jung of South Korea for his human rights work throughout East Asia; and most recently Al Gore, Jr., for his research and advocacy related to global warming and its impact on humankind, especially the poor.

What a list! Each of these individuals has used their minds, talents, and influence to advance the cause of world peace and the betterment of humankind. But after reading through that list, one unsettling fact remains: after all that these individuals have accomplished, we are no closer to world peace today than we were 100 years ago. The world is as violent, volatile, and frightening as ever, if not more so. Peace continues to be the most elusive of all human ambitions.

What exactly did Jesus mean when he said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God?" He makes it sound as if it's really possible—that human beings can bring about peace between people and nations. But we just rattled off the names of some of the most brilliant, powerful, and dedicated men and women in the world, and their best efforts, over the course of 100 years, have brought us no closer to world peace. If they couldn't do it, with all their brainpower and influence and dedication, how can ordinary people like you and me make peace in the world? What we're going to learn is that peacemaking begins with a change of heart.

Who are the peacemakers?

First, notice what Jesus didn't say. He didn't say, "Blessed are the peaceful, for they shall get a good night's sleep." Peace of mind is a wonderful thing, and peacemaking often begins with inner peace, but Jesus wasn't pronouncing a blessing on peaceful people. Secondly, Jesus didn't say, "Blessed are the peaceable, for nothing seems to bother them." He's not calling for an easygoing, "no worries" kind of temperament. Everybody likes peaceable people, but they don't often change the world. Thirdly, Jesus didn't say, "Blessed are the peace-loving, for they shall stay out of trouble." We all love peace—we prefer it when people and nations get along—but there's more to making peace than avoiding conflict.

Jesus didn't say "Blessed are the peaceful, or the peaceable, or the peace-loving. He said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." It's an active word. It implies initiative, intervention, and risk. Peacemaking is not for cowards. Peacemakers are often, misunderstood and unappreciated. Sometimes they get caught in the crossfire.

We tend to think of peace as the opposite of war or the absence of conflict. A cynic once observed that "peace is the pause that gives nations time to re-load." But when Jesus uses the word "peace" here, he has in mind the Old Testament idea of peace, captured in the Hebrew word shalom.

Shalom is one of God's favorite words, appearing 250 times in the Old Testament. It's the promise of that great benediction: "May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord turn his face toward you and give you his peace." Shalom is much more than the absence of conflict. Shalom means wholeness and wellness. To experience shalom is to be in harmony with God, with others, and with yourself. Shalom is global, and it's personal; it's vertical—between people and God—and it's horizontal—encompassing relations among people. Shalom means everything is in order; everything is as it should be.

Shalom is essentially the Old Testament word for salvation. It is to be rightly related to God and others, so that God's gifts flow freely to you and through you. Peacemakers, then, are those who actively and effectively extend God's shalom in the world—who spread the tent of God's blessing wider and wider, so that more and more people come under its shade, where they find peace with God and with each other. One commentator says that peacemaking means to be "actively engaged in bringing all God's redemptive purposes to bear on human society." Being a peacemaker means having a "reaching" heart. People with reaching hearts aren't satisfied simply to be enjoying God's shalom themselves. They want to extend it to others; they want to spread the tent wider.

What did Jesus do?

I went looking for a passage in which Jesus demonstrated a reaching heart, as we've consistently looked to Jesus' character during this series on the Beatitudes. I quickly realized you can't point to any one instance in which Jesus was a peacemaker. It's what he was doing all the time!

First, Jesus was always noticing people—recognizing their deep need and their inner beauty: a widow on her way to the cemetery to bury her only son, a blind man by the side of the road, a man in the crowd with a withered hand, children who were eager to be blessed.

Second, he was always engaging people—even people who didn't necessarily want to be engaged, like the woman who snuck up to touch his robe, or the tax-collector who was hiding in the tree, or the Samaritan woman who was minding her own business at the well. Jesus reached out to them and engaged them in conversation, not to embarrass them, but to affirm them—to let them know they mattered.

Third, he was always connecting people. He turned that unlikely assortment of disciples into a band of brothers who one day would change the world. He partied with people who were normally excluded from decent company—prostitutes and thieves and drunkards. He reached across cultural barriers to engage Samaritans and Gentiles. He invited women into his circle who normally had no place in the public expression of faith and ministry.

Fourth, Jesus consistently acted to meet people's needs—feeding the hungry, healing the sick, delivering those in bondage—even when the needs were great, and even though it got him in trouble.

And at every turn, Jesus helped people take the next step on their spiritual journey. Sometimes that meant challenging them to follow him, as he did with Peter. Other times it simply meant fielding their questions and pointing them in the right direction, like he did with a religious leader named Nicodemus, who wasn't ready to believe.

Jesus was always making peace.

What do we do?

Now we've seen how Jesus lived as a peacemaker, but how do we do it? We're not Jesus, nor are we scientists or politicians or authors. How, then, can ordinary people like you and me make peace in the world?

There are many people in our congregation who have had the opportunity to go to different parts of the world and be peacemakers. Some of you have served in Africa by bringing clean water to rural villages; some of you have offered medical care to those who don't have access to it; some of you have helped run a VBS for under-privileged children.

But you don't have to go on mission trip to be a peacemaker. When you walk across the lobby to introduce yourself to someone from another culture, you are being a peacemaker. When you invite an international student to come to your home for Thanksgiving dinner, you are being a peacemaker. When you're from a minority culture and you tough it out in a white suburban church, patiently helping to bring down barriers, that's peacemaking!


Right about now some of you are saying, "Wait a minute. All along you've been telling us that these are the Be-attitudes, not the Do-attitudes. Peacemaking sounds like a lot of "doing" to me." You're right to think that way. This is one of the first Beatitudes that really asks us to "do" anything. But don't miss that fact that all these actions—recognizing, engaging, helping—are the outward expressions of an inner condition and a changed heart—a reaching heart. If that's not the case—if our hearts are not transformed—then all this peacemaking is not going to be very effective or satisfying.

Before we become people who reach people, we have to become people with Christ-like hearts. We have to be transformed from the inside out, so that our hearts naturally go out to people, the way Christ's heart went out to people. Unless and until that transformation takes place, we will never become people who reach people, no matter how many series like this we do.

Earlier this week, I was out for a bike ride. It was a sparkling autumn day, and the scenery was stunning—blue sky, blazing leaves, all shades of brown in the meadows and marshes. I was so thankful to be living in such a beautiful place, and for the health and freedom to be out on a bike enjoying it all. It happened to be my birthday so I was feeling especially reflective; I was humbled and amazed by God's gifts to me the life he's called me to. As I rode along, I began singing a Chris Tomlin worship song in my head: "Everything that's beautiful, everything that's wonderful, every perfect gift comes from you."

Right about that time another rider passed me going the other way. We exchanged the usual biker greeting—a very subtle nod of the head—and as he passed I thought to myself, Does he know? Does he know that every perfect gift comes from God? Does he know that the God who created all this also created him, to display his glory as surely as the leaves on these trees? Does he know the joy of praising God as he rides? In that moment, I wanted him to know all of that.

Then I began thinking about the people who live on my block. Do they know? Some of them are religious; some aren't. But do they know this kind of joy and meaning in their lives? I started thinking about other people I knew. I started thinking about some of you, actually, who I know are still sorting things out spiritually, and in that moment I wanted everyone to know God's love and goodness and purpose. I didn't want anyone to have to live another day apart from God. I began to pray, "Lord, how can we tell them? How can we share this with them?"

It wasn't until later in the week that I realized what was happening: God was creating in me a reaching heart. He was stirring something up deep within me. I wasn't content simply to enjoy that day and my relationship with God by myself. I wanted others to know what I knew, to experience what I was experiencing. I wanted it so badly; it was all I could do to keep from shouting it out loud, or from crying my eyes out.

So a couple days later, when I heard that we were going to get Mike Timlin of the Red Sox here to talk about his faith, it was the most natural thing in the world for me to start calling my neighbors and inviting them to come. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I wanted them to know, and if listening to a baseball player talk about his faith could bring them one step closer to God, or get them one step closer to church, then making a phone call was the only natural thing to do.


When you have a reaching heart beating within you, you can't help but do things like that. Like Jesus, you're always looking for ways to bring people closer to God, and closer to one another. Are we prepared to ask God to change our hearts so that we might become instruments of his peace?

Bryan Wilkerson is pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Who are the peacemakers?

II. What did Jesus do?

III. What do we do?

IV. Do-Attitudes?