Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Divine DNA

James 3:13-18
Matthew 5:9

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

My friend Rich Horton once said, “Imagine that! People who make peace share God’s DNA.” Right? Children share their parents’ DNA. I think there is something profound in that statement.  I was the camp pastor for a senior high winter camp several years ago. Watching the teenagers play their first ice breaker game, I looked at one girl and said to myself, “She has to be a Bofferding.” The Bofferdings had four children and attended Fairwood UMC, where Steve and I raised our children. The oldest Bofferding girl was one of our daughter’s very best friends. I hadn’t seen the family in a number of years, but there was no mistaking the family resemblance. In a few minutes this young woman turned around and I could see her last name printed on her jacket—Bofferding. There was something else about being a Bofferding. Their very wise mother, Diana, taught her girls and their friends that they were princesses. Princesses had many privileges, one of which was to be trusted to be kind, and thoughtful, and to do the right thing. Therefore, they had tremendous freedom to make choices. But, if they their behavior was harmful to themselves or another person, they would lose the privilege of being a princess and have to abide by very strict rules. I assume that the youngest, who was a boy, was treated as a prince.  Even if she hadn’t been wearing her name on her jacket, by the end of the retreat, her behavior over the weekend proved that she was a Bofferding princess.
My friend Rich’s observation that peacemakers share God’s DNA implies that to be identified as God’s child, we would be known by our behavior as peacemakers. Every parent knows that there are temporary measures we can take to achieve a few moments of peace, but to affect a lasting peace, all parties must be content that their needs have been met. No one can feel wronged or betrayed. No one can suffer loss at the expense of someone else’s gain.
Remember how often an angel’s greeting to a frightened human being was “Peace be with you,” or “Do not be afraid.” According to Luke’s gospel, an angel choir greeted shepherds with tidings of peace on the night of Jesus’ birth. Peace is God’s desire and God’s offer to humans. But Jesus did not live in a time of peace. Jesus’ audience knew well the injustice and oppression of living in an occupied territory. Enmity between tribes and nations in the Middle East was as real then as it is now. Enough of what Jesus said in his lifetime gained him the reputation of being a zealous Zionist who threatened Rome’s rule, for which the penalty was crucifixion. And yet, Jesus would not resort to violence, even to save his life. He may have turned tables in the Temple and confronted injustice and unethical behavior, but he also fed people and healed the sick. He offered forgiveness and restored people to their right minds. The core of his ministry was reconciling people with their Creator and their community. His actions caused Jesus to be identified by those who followed him, the gospel writers, and even a Roman soldier at the foot of the cross as “the son of God.”
In my lifetime, there have been more years of war than of peace. The last few years have seemed to be particularly violent around the world. Our culture seems to be addicted to violence. I can’t think of a time when peace seemed more unattainable and perhaps na├»ve. But our souls long for peace. Don’t we long to bring our men and women in the armed forces home? How long can we live with the destruction to bodies and minds and families? Don’t we long for peaceful settlements of international disagreements? I can vote and write letters, but I’ll tell you, I feel pretty helpless in making international peace. I pray for our president and leaders in our government and military, and for their counterparts around the world.
Is there any way for us, as children of God, to begin to build a more peaceful world from our little patch of ground? I think there are a number of ways that we can learn to be peacemakers in our homes, our schools, our workplaces and our community. It starts with love—not the romantic kind—but the kind of love that wants the best for the other person. The kind of love that respects the complete otherness of the other person (as in not just like me, not mine to do with as I choose, not a reflection of me, and not a screen on which I can project my own issues). The kind of love that respects the complete otherness of the other person and understands that the other person is also God’s beloved. The kind of love that acknowledges that the other person has the same needs that we do. We will see things differently because we are are unique creations, but we all have valid needs. If we start with love and respect, we at least have a beginning.
Then we have to learn how to communicate in ways that are non-violent. There are resources available here on Vashon to learn non-violent communication. After I studied the book Non-Violent Communication with a church group, I realized how much I needed to learn, and how effective being able to communicate clearly and respectfully can be. You all probably know way more than I do about being peacemakers because you live on an island. I know there is a group on the island that wants to learn how to mediate disagreements in a peaceful manner.
And I know that you have learned from an expert interim pastor how to love one another even when you disagree. There are commitments that you make to one another to honor the integrity of this faith community.
Learning to make peace requires so much more commitment and expertise than learning to make war. I know that’s true in families. If we start with the smallest segment of culture, the nuclear family, we know how much easier it is to pick a fight, escalate an argument, and start a cold war than it is to make peace. It’s also the place where we learn how painful a lack of peace can be. Don’t we long for peace where our souls are at home? Home is where we learn the truth of our connectedness—we share the same DNA.
I want to share with you one of my favorite poems from the book Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West. The poem was written by Hadiz, the most beloved Persian poet who lived from 1320-1389.  Daniel Ladinsky, the editor of Love Poems from God, writes of Hafiz, “He is rightfully called ‘The Tongue of the Invisible,’ for through his works he continues to sing beautiful and wild love songs to this world from God.”[1]
“I Have Come into this World to See This”

I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men’s hands even at the height
of their arc of anger

because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His—the Christ’s, our

I have come into this world to see this: all creatures hold hands as
we pass through this miraculous existence we share on the way
to even a greater being of soul,

a being of just ecstatic light, forever entwined and at play
with Him.

I have come into this world to hear this:

every song the earth has sung since it was conceived in
the Divine’s womb and began spinning from
His wish,

every song by wing and fin and hoof,
every song by hill and field and tree and woman and child,
every song of stream and rock,

every song of tool and lyre and flute,
every song of gold and emerald
and fire,

every song the heart should cry with magnificent dignity
to know itself as
part of God;

for all other knowledge will leave us again in want and aching—
only imbibing the glorious Sun
will complete us.

I have come into the world to experience this:

men so true to love
they would rather die before speaking
an unkind word,

men so true their lives are His covenant—
the promise of

I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men’s hands
even at the height of
their arc of

because we have finally realized
there is just one flesh

we can wound.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they know that there is only one flesh that can be wounded. Blessed are the peacemakers. They have found within themselves and the other the image of the Holy One. They will be called children of God. May it be so for us.

[1] Daniel Ladinsky, ed., Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West (New York: Penguin Compass), 152.

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