Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Oct 29, 2020

Dear Preachers,

I am frequently awed by the prescient collision of scriptural themes in the lectionary with themes of life playing out around us. This Sunday is one of those moments. I wonder if any of you preparing to preach from the Beatitudes for All Saints Day have had similar feelings.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Jesus’s proclamation in Matthew 5 is a far cry from the political rhetoric ringing in our ears as Americans inch toward the finish line of a deeply contentious election season where violence and hatred have been embraced by all sides. It feels to some of us that this is a whole new, and thoroughly unwelcome world, but sadly, it is not the first time we have been here. Countless of the saints who have gone before us knew this all too well.

Howard Thurman is one of those saints on my heart this week. After returning from a pilgrimage to India where he met with Mahatma Gandhi in the 1930s, Thurman became an early and critical voice in the developing nonviolence movement in America. Throughout the mid-twentieth century, Thurman’s ministry as Dean of Chapel at Howard University and later Boston University brought his theology of peacemaking to a new generation of black religious and civil leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr. When King was assassinated in 1968, Thurman’s memorial statement heralded King’s legacy of nonviolence that became “the informed conscience of the country”:

Martin Luther King was the living epitome of a way of life that rejected physical violence as the life-style of a morally responsible people. His assassination reveals the cleft deep in the psyche of the American people, the profound ambivalence and ambiguity of our way of life. Something deep within us rejects nonviolent direct action as a dependable procedure for effecting social change. And yet, against this rejection something always struggles, pushing, pushing, always pushing with another imperative, another demand. It was King’s fact that gave to this rejection flesh and blood, courage and vision, hope and enthusiasm. For indeed, in him the informed conscience of the country became articulate. And tonight what many of us are feeling is that we all of us must be that conscience wherever we are living, functioning, and behaving….He was killed in one sense because mankind is not quite human yet. May he live because all of us in America are closer to becoming human than we ever were before. (Printed in Thurman’s autobiography, With Head and Heart, 223).

Let us pray together for the healing, reconciliation, and peace desperately needed in America and around the world, in our homes and churches, among young and old, friends and enemies, those heard and unheard, seen and unseen. Perhaps we will find, in the midst of this struggle, the blessings suggested by another saint who has gone before us:

A Franciscan Benediction
May God bless us with discomfort
at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
so that we may live from deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless us with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them
and to turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness
to believe that we can make a difference in this world,
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done,
to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

Blessings and Peace,

Jennifer's Signature.png

Rev. Dr. Jennifer Ackerman
Director, Ogilvie Institute of Preaching
Brehm Center | Fuller Theological Seminary

Worship Resources for Peace and Courage

God of Justice, Love, and Mercy
New hymn text authored by the Fred Bock Institute’s Ed Willmington, sung to the tune of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Download the hymn or lead sheet.

Instrument of Peace
In July of 2020, The Porter’s Gate Worship Project quarantined a small group of musicians at a farmhouse in rural Virginia to write and record new worship songs around the themes of justice and lament.

Fuller Dialogues: Theology and Protest 
The Pannell Center’s academic dean, Dr. Dwight Radcliff Jr., hosts a series of dialogues with African American leaders to discuss their work of activism and advocacy toward justice, as well as the theologies that drive protest. 

Blessing the Enemy

This essay by Brehm Texas Director, W. David O. Taylor, closes in prayer:

O Lord, you who ask us to do the impossible—to bless our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and to love those who seek us harm—we pray that you would do the impossible in us: change our hearts by the power of your Spirit so that we might love our enemies as you love them. Help us also to remember who our true enemy is: Satan, death, and the spiritual forces of evil. Perform, we pray, a miracle in the heart of our enemies as well that they might know and love you as a merciful good Shepherd. In your mighty name we pray. Amen.

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