Jesus convinces me that Martin Luther King was right to reject that view that believes mankind is so tragically bound by the starless midnight of racism and war that the daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never dawn. Even if that were true, my heritage within the context of Church of God teaching, as a follower of Christ, persuades me that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
Selfish interests destroy relationships and make the gospel easier to proclaim than to practice. Broken relationships leave Christians living in a demolition derby of political cross-fire. Ethnic warfare, racial strife, and special-interest groups poison the environment of our global landscape. Seeing the conditions, Jesus prayed that his disciples (us) live “in” the world, but be not “of“ the world.
Saint Paul, the first Christian missionary, came out of his rigid religious world where peacemakers were in short supply. As Saul of Tarsus, he terrorized Christians--in the name of God. His conversion, however, brought a change in his perspective and introduced him into a world of peacemakers. As a result, Paul regarded no one from a “worldly point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:16, NIV).
Among the dominant themes of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians were reconciliation and the church as the functioning Body of Christ. He challenged believers in Ephesus to model a barrier-free fellowship. He called on them to be a holy temple (God’s dwelling place) in the Lord (2:21), held together by the cornerstone Christ Jesus. He rallied these believers to confess-and-renew their calling in Christ (Eph. 4:1, 7, 26).
Paul’s encounter with Jesus redefined his views of humanity and added new dimensions to his life. It transformed him into an ambassador of Christ, commissioned to spread reconciliation and peace everywhere (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). His epitaph could easily have read, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
When Paul introduced the story of Jesus into Athens, he spoke first to the people out of their own tradition. After gaining an audience with them, he offered his resurrection perspective (Acts 17). He reflected on how God lives, moves, and has his being among all of humanity. When they heard his resurrection story of Jesus, they rejected his message.Holding no ill will, he left them, entrusting them to the sustenance and guidance of the Spirit of God.
From early on, Israel’s Prophets had reminded people to trust only in God. Paul recognized the infantile views of the Ephesians’ church and challenged them to a higher level of godliness--a mature spirituality of human equality. He invited them to enlist in the service of their Supreme Commander--God. He taught them to use their spiritual armor and challenged them to share with others the same grace God apportioned them (Ephesians 6:10; 4:14-16; 1:6-7).
Viewing each other from a human perspective comes naturally, but it allows hostile relationships to fester. On the other hand, Jesus’ final commandment reaffirmed our Great Commission--to spread everywhere His unifying love, forgiveness, and reconciliation (Matthew 28:19-20). Wars and rumors of wars repeat themselves. Peace comes from that Palestinian stable where Jesus was born, rather than the conference table. Serving in the “name of Jesus” prompts followers to share cups of cold water with strangers. Sometimes it leads former Presidents to mediate international crises as private citizens.1
“May the peace of God be with you, my brother.” That greeting met me one evening at our North American Convention, as I walked toward Warner Auditorium. It came from the lips of my dear black brother, Dr. James Earl Massey. It blessed my white-man’s heart, but it did something else. It caused me to consider how thoughtlessly we perform our rituals, like passing the peace. I remembered the promise of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” Therefore, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and . . . afraid” (John 14:27, NIV).
That greeting prompted me to personally reevaluate my behavior and take more seriously a theme that has long been a strand in the fabric of our Church of God heritage. It made me sensitive to consciously passing the peace--by intent.
May the peace of God be yours, and grace,
1 Marian V. Creekmore, Jr., A Moment of Crisis. New York: Public Affairs