Rummaging around on Facebook the other day, I came across a picture that moved me. It was taken on the streets of Kiev, Ukraine. There has been a lot of political unrest in Ukraine in recent weeks as anti-government protestors have gathered in the streets to call for the resignation of the current president. The protests and the government’s reaction against them have grown violent, and the situation is volatile.
The photo that caught my attention was of a Ukrainian priest who was standing between a group of protestors and a line of government riot police. He was dressed in his clerical robe and was calmly holding a small cross toward the crowds.
At the same time that I saw this picture, I was in the middle of studying the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) in preparation for Sunday’s sermon, and I couldn’t help but hear Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” If you were in worship this past Sunday, we explored a few of the Beatitudes together: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are those who mourn.” But we didn’t have time to go into all of them, and we quickly sailed by “the peacemakers.”
What does it mean to be a peacemaker? For much of my life, I have thought of myself as a peacemaker. Maybe it comes from being the youngest of four children and always hoping that “we could all just get along!” But I always thought being a peacemaker just meant staying out of conflict. I avoided conflict like the plague. When people in my family or at school or in the workplace were in conflict, I stayed out of the way. I didn’t provoke conflict. I never started a fight, and I escaped one that involved me in any way that I could. I thought that made me a peacemaker.
But in recent years, I have been learning that “peace” does not just mean the absence of conflict. Two nations or two people can come to a cease-fire, but they have not reached God’s reality of peace. God’s peace comes when we do the hard work of reconciliation. When we come face-to-face with those who oppose us, speak the truth, listen earnestly, ask for and offer forgiveness and commit to doing things differently.
So, a peacemaker is not one who simply avoids conflict but one who is willing to enter into the midst of it. A peacemaker will step into the crossfire and invite others to a new way of dealing with each other. That is what that Ukrainian priest in the photograph represented for me. He was willing to risk his own safety. He didn’t take one side or the other but stood in the middle. He offered a vision of the cross and invited the opposing forces to consider a different way.
How can we be instruments of reconciliation? In our daily living–especially in the church–it’s much easier to run from conflict than to walk toward it. But if we walk toward it holding onto the cross, then we can trust God to protect us and/or use us to build real peace. Maybe we start within our family. With a friend. A colleague. Who knows where God could take us from there? Maybe even across the world.