Reconciliation and Peace


Relationship between reconciliation and peace: peace depends upon reconciliation first taking place,

respectful relationship is essential, necessary before peace is possible.

What complicates relationship: actual and perceived cruelty, mistreatment, injustice. How to repair: confession and repentance, forgiveness; reestablishing trust

Something to consider while we participate in this conversation, as we think together about the way to pursue reconciliation and to achieve peace:

Why do we hear more about preserving freedom than we hear about pursuing peace?

Why is there more interest in freedom than there is in peace?

How does this reality impact the reconciliation and peace process?

What do these statements tell us about what peace means for each of these persons?

–History teaches that wars begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap. To keep peace we and our allies must be strong enough to convince any potential aggressor that war could bring only disaster. Ronald Reagan

–Peace cannot be achieved through violence; it can only be attained through understanding. Albert Einstein

–We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it. Dwight Eisenhower

–Peace has never come from dropping bombs. Real peace comes from enlightenment and educating people to behave in a more divine manner. Carlos Santana

–The peace of heaven is theirs that lift their swords in such a just and charitable war. William Shakespeare

–The United States is not a nation to which peace is a necessity. Grover Cleveland

–We make war that we may live in peace. Aristotle

–The contention that a standing army and navy is the best security of peace is about as logical as the claim that the most peaceful citizen is he who goes about heavily armed. The experience of every-day life fully proves that the armed individual is invariably anxious to try his strength. Emma Goldman

–To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace. George Washington

Promoting personal and national agendas by the use of fear:

Try to place this quotation into our past national history: Mr President, the only way you are ever going to get this is to make a speech and scare the hell out of the country.


When we think together about reconciliation and peace we must begin by acknowledging the distressful state of our world—the presence of evil and suffering—and the reason for this foundational disturbance. Brutal, barbaric atrocities occur at random in our world. They break into our awareness without warning leaving painful and encompassing wounds that we cannot heal. We cannot ignore these kinds of experiences in the lives of persons everywhere. So when talking about reconciliation and peace this awareness is the challenge before us.

In the short history of our own country various incidents come to mind when we reflect on our past heritage, behaviors of our early ancestors. Think for moment: what examples of disrespectful, even unconscionable behaviors do you recall in the history of the United States of America?

(treatment of native people, mistreatment of African persons, religious discrimination against minorities even after experiencing discrimination in Europe before immigrating to the Americas, Japanese Americans incarcerated in 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, others)

And these atrocities are present in the recent past, here in the United States of America. Just imagine how many other similar sinful interactions have occurred while humans have lived in the earth. While I was in Iraq supporting persons displaced from their homes because of violence I recognized resentment still alive within various tribes of residents due to behaviors dating back thousands of years. This disturbance has been passed from generation to generation, and the rule of vengeance remains a strong influence impacting relational dynamics. Although a national identity exists between these people, tribal loyalties continue to be even stronger than national pride. Often disputes that arise from interpersonal relationships are managed by tribal discipline.

The desire to avenge an actual or perceived injustice is deeply embedded in the human spirit. And yet there are isolated incidents where compassion and empathy can cause a person to rise above the need to avenge a wrong. While I was in the West Bank interceding on behalf of persons living under complications caused by the Israeli occupation I knew of two such incidents. In one of them an Israeli boy about 12 years old was wounded by a stray bullet from the weapon of an Israeli soldier. A Palestinian motorist near the scene immediately rushed to the boy, placed his bleeding body in his new Mercedes, and drove him to the hospital where the injured boy was treated and returned to health. In another even more astonishing incident a young Palestinian girl was killed by a random bullet fired by an Israeli soldier. The family agreed to denote the organs of their dead daughter to be used to save the lives of others. The heart of the girl was placed inside the body of a young ailing Israeli girl. The Israeli parents searched for and found the Palestinians parents of the slain girl from whose body the life-giving heart had been taken. They placed their now healthy daughter in front of them and said, “She is your daughter too.”

In theory we might propose that all of us as a global family can start anew right now, begin again by letting past disturbances fall away. All of us can demonstrate the compassion and empathy that is possible to overcome the pain caused by wounds inflicted that we cannot heal. In theory we can imagine a world where everyone has a secure place to live, where every person can enjoy the fruits of their labors, and every family can expect a safe and fulfilling future for their children. Yet as Jan van de Snepscheut reminds us, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice there is.” We as a global community have yet to achieve the capacity to move beyond the interruptions that have been caused by past mistreatments and injustices.

When we recognize the accumulated lingering affects of horrific actions that have occurred in human history we can easily conclude like Omer Musa, in his book, Here Come the Dogs, “It is then we realize that certain things loom larger than forgiveness and reconciliation: memory, for one, and history, bloody history.” And we do well to recognize and affirm the observation of John Toland: There are no simple lessons in history. . . . It is human nature that repeats itself, not history.

Observing how despicable human behaviors can be, we share the feeling of James Baldwin, when he confesses, “Incontestably, alas, most people are not, in action, worth very much; and yet, every human being is an unprecedented miracle. One tries to treat them as the miracles they are, while trying to protect oneself against the disasters they’ve become.”

Growing up in the Southern Baptist church I never heard much about the doctrine of original sin. Although a suspicious part often included in this instruction is intended to assert the total depraved state of the infant, there is also a beneficial element available for us in reflecting on the concept of original sin. This doctrine represents an attempt to take seriously the consequence of past misbehaviors of the human family—conditions that complicate our lives due to the choices made by persons who have lived before us.

While it is true that any sinful behavior no matter how brutal and callous can be forgiven, it is also true that not all the consequences of a sinful act can be removed, eliminated, caused to cease to exist. The consequences of these disrupting experiences linger to affect the lives of those who have suffered because of them, and they accumulate and pass from generation to generation. It seems we live in a bounded field that is conditioned by the choices we make. Humans have some freedom within this arena to decide what actions we will take, and we must live with the consequences of those choices.

When we come into the world we come into a distressed space and there is nothing we can do to change this. So when thinking about reconciliation and peace we must acknowledge the conditions we live in, conditions created both by the past choices of others and the choices we each one have made. Recognizing that this disturbing condition exist is where we must begin.

So I would like for us to begin our series by reflecting on the conditions in which Jesus grew up. Let us try to observe how Jesus came to understand the nature and character of the God of his religious community and how this discovery affected his witness. Jesus was not exempt from the affects of atrocities, pain and suffering that had been inflicted upon others by human actions. This was a part of his reality too. Considering and identifying how Jesus processed this reality will be the subject of our first session.

Then I would like for us to consider how the early church understood the life and teachings of Jesus, and the consequence of one of the most influential of all actions that dramatically changed the historical character of the Christian church. Finally we will reflect upon some practical considerations for prompting reconciliation and promoting peace.

LECTURE 1: How Jesus reconciled the contradictory representations of the God of his community

Jesus grew up in occupied territory, much like Palestinian children do today. Although their weapons were not as sophisticated as those of the Israeli army, the Roman soldiers and enlisted auxiliaries were just as brutal and savage. They were present for two main missions: to maintain the preferred order by immediately repressing with violence any uprising intended to promote a national identity and independence from Rome; and to ensure the collection of tributes or taxes to help fund the Roman empire. Roman officials understood peace as the absence of war so their policy was to establish decisive control over their populations. Often the auxiliaries acted as militias with little or no oversight. Thus they were free to impose their power on residents in order to obtain personally gratifying benefits.

While managing the distress of living in a territory occupied by a foreign military power, Jesus became well instructed about the religion and history of his people—their concept of how the creator God had accompanied and provided for them, their bondage in Egypt, and their travels to the land promised to their ancestor Abraham. He knew of the ten commandments and the other 653 laws that had been crafted to guide the behaviors of his people in their relationships both with themselves and with their God Jehovah/Yahweh.

Jesus knew of the conquests that Joshua lead in acquiring the promised land. He knew of the curse spoken against young Canaan by Noah that gave reason for assaulting the descendants of Canaan who inhabited the promised land when the Hebrews arrived there. Jesus knew of the slaughters that had occurred, how the Hebrew soldiers were ordered to ravish Canaanite cities by killing woman, men, children, even animals so that nothing survives, yet preserve their gold and wealth for our treasures.

Jesus knew of the Valley of Megiddo which lay just to south of Nazareth, the site of many historical battles between the Israelites and the Philistines. Jesus knew of the historical city of Kedesh just to the north of his home town, one of the six Cities of Refuge where persons who had unintentionally injured or killed another could find safety from family members obligated by the law of vengeance to take revenge on the person responsible for the accident.

And Jesus knew of the teachings of the prophets who proclaimed the loving kindness and tender mercy of that same God Jehovah/Yahweh. Jesus would have had to reconcile these contradictory concepts of the nature and character of the God of his religious community—a God represented as being cruel, jealous, using violence to accomplish divine objectives and a God represented as being compassionate, forgiving, and welcoming.

We begin to see how Jesus came to establish his own concept of God’s nature and character when he arrives in the Jordan River valley to be baptized by his cousin John. Scholars are pressed to explain why Jesus wanted to be baptized by this primitive, eccentric figure who was calling for persons to be baptized as a sign of their repentance for past sins. John was declaring a radically modified approach to God. John claimed that by simply confessing and repenting of their sins the people would be forgiven. This procedure bypassed all the elaborately developed rituals of sacrifice and penitence that the religious and temple system demanded.

Because Jesus is represented as having no sin we cannot know for certain why Jesus wanted John to baptize him. Jesus did not explain this action. It is important for us to recognize that John the baptizer was likely a part of the Qumran community to the east of the Dead Sea. So he came to the Jordon River just north of the sea to proclaim his message. One can stand here and see both the city of Jericho and the Dead Sea. We are told that all of Judea came to hear him.

It was at this same location on the Jordan River just to the east of Jericho where 1200 years earlier the Hebrews had crossed over into the land promised to them as an inheritance. And their first activity was to prepare for war against the Canaanite city. It did not matter that killing and coveting the possessions of others had been strictly forbidden in their ten commandments. Clearly the mandates of these commandments were not to be applied to the outsiders, those removed from their exclusive community.

Did Jesus want to baptized as a sign of repentance for the corporate sin of his community in their indiscriminate slaughter of Canaanites and the stealing of their possessions? It is unmistakeable by observing his pattern of ministry that Jesus came to recognize and embrace the prophetic formula of the nature and character of God—one who embodied everlasting love, tender mercy, forgiving compassion for all persons, neighbors and enemies alike, both good and evil persons.

Throughout his ministry Jesus called for persons to nurture relationship with other humans as a sign of their love for God. The words he used, the stories he told, the actions he took, all these witness of how Jesus understood the nature and character of God. Perhaps it was the struggle with and anxiety produced by his recognition of the inconsistency in the historical application of the religious beliefs of his community which prompted Jesus to cradle his most clear and decisive teaching about humankind’s relationship with God, not in the parameters of religious thought but rather in the folds of secular consciousness—behave toward others, all others, as you desire that they behave toward you. By doing this you fulfill all the commandments of God.

Jesus used the observable pattern in the natural world as an example for his audiences to follow. He appealed to the birds and the flowers as a demonstration of how his followers could trust in the prevailing, sustaining provisions provided by God for their presence in the earth. Like those who first heard this direction at first this seems like a hollow claim, that God is caring for birds and flowers here today and gone tomorrow, vulnerable creations that perish under all kinds of forces beyond their capacity to protect themselves.

While on one of my training sorties my instructor and I were returning to the local air base from practicing flight maneuvers. We were about 1500 feet above the ground when it happened. Suddenly, in an instant, less than a second—a moment really—we both saw it. A sparrow was directly in front of the speeding jet, just to the right side of the center of the canopy. There was nothing to be done; it was impossible to avoid the collision. A dull thud and a small smear were all the evidence that suggested the small creature was ever present. It just disintegrated. After about 30 seconds of silence my instructor remarked, “Well, that’s one he didn’t take care of.” I remained silent. I did not know what to say.

Maybe this example of the vulnerability of birds and flowers to forces beyond their control is reflective of your own experience. How many times do we see beside the road animals that have been struck by passing vehicles while they were innocently moving through their lives by following their own natural sense of direction? How many flowers blossom and fade in places where they are never seen?

Now I understand better what Jesus was intending for his listeners to hear in this discussion. Birds and flowers perform their intended function by instinct, by an internal prompting. They follow a pattern within their designed nature, a pattern they have no other alternative but to obey. Jesus is saying to his audiences that this kind of obedient trust in his message—to behave toward others as you desire that others behave toward you—this kind of undeviating attention will bring to them abundant life. Jesus is calling for us to trust his way of honoring God’s intention for human life in the earth without regard for either the expectations of others or the fear of consequences.

The vulnerable consequences in which the people lived during the time of Jesus were immediately acknowledged. Their struggles, their pain, their poverty, their repression. So it is no surprise that his community had developed a strong anticipation of an intervention by their God to rescue them from these tormenting distresses. All they had been able to do had been unsuccessful. The people had realized that if they were to be saved then it would take an act of their God, the coming of a messiah—one anointed by God—to make possible for them the provisions that had been promised in this land: a large expanse flowing with milk and honey where they would dwell in security, where they would enjoy the fruits of their labors, where there would be a safe future for their children.

Because of the past events in the life of their nation the necessity of some divine intervention to restore to them their ancient heritage, this intervention was their only hope.

When Jesus rode the colt into Jerusalem on what was probably March 31, in the year 30 of our calendar, there were three separate terms being circulated among the Jewish community which referred to some divinely supervised activity being crafted for their benefit, terms that described who this coming messiah would be and what the messiah would do. The term messiah means the anointed one. When Hebrew kings were appointed they were not crowned; they were anointed with oil.

–One of the terms used during the time when Jesus lived to describe a coming divine intervention is “messianic kingdom,” sometimes with a person associated with it and sometimes only a general characterization of a time when the nation would reacquire the privileges in its former glory under King David.

–Another term being circulated is the phrase “son of man.” This reference applied to a transcendental figure who was preexistent—a heavenly being having been created by God before the foundation of the world and hidden until an appropriate time. In this figure is the fullness of compassion; its character is marked by wisdom, understanding, and righteousness. With this figure is hidden all the secrets of the universe. The time will come when this divine being will be revealed in all splendor to judge both heaven and earth. The godly will be delivered and will share in the eternal kingdom.

–The third term referring to a coming intervention is the “suffering servant.” This representative prepared by God will bring relief from oppression by leading a fight—warring against the enemies of Israel, eventually dying in the conquest and thereby providing inspiration for the ultimate victory of his followers in the pursuit to establish political domination and national independence.

The vast majority of Jews during the time of Jesus were more attracted to the concept of a messianic kingdom than either of the other two. And there is no evidence that these three forms of divine intervention were ever combined together to produce a figure who would perform some or all of the different functions represented by these three distinct characterizations.

When Jesus rode the donkey into the holy city the people believed that he was declaring himself to be the coming king, the anointed one of God. The crowd would have expected Jesus to initiate a military-type conquest that would reestablish the nation as a superior political entity, independent and totally freed from the formerly indefensible harassment delivered upon Israel by her enemies.

During the ministry of Jesus he discouraged his disciples from referring to him as a messiah. Rather Jesus preferred to be identified with the son of man figure. Now Jesus deliberately associates himself with the longed for messianic kingdom. That Jesus pauses to weep over the city and to be in anguish because of the inability of the people to understand what was happening to and for them, it is evident that the understanding of Jesus about the purpose and method of his ministry and that which was expected of him by the people, these two understandings are quite different. What the people expect of Jesus is not what Jesus intends to do either as the son of man or as the coming king anointed by God.

It may have been that not only the people were to be surprised by the action of Jesus as the coming king. Jesus himself may have been uncertain of the exact nature of his performance as God’s anointed king who also simultaneously assumes the identification of the son of man.

Clearly irritated by the merchandising being conducted in the temple area, for a second time Jesus assaults the sellers and money changers, displacing their presence in the space intended to be a place of prayer. Jesus uses force to declare his aversion to this exploitation of persons seeking refuge in the presence of God. To those following Jesus this would seem to be a consequence compatible with their understanding of the work of a messianic figure—one who uses force to accomplish his divinely ordained objectives.

There follows a few days of Jesus teaching in public even though he is now identified by religious leaders as a threat worthy of death. However no opportunity can be found for officials who despise him to take Jesus into custody.

Then at the final supper with the disciples Jesus cautions them that the immediate future is uncertain, that it will be dangerous, and those who do not have a sword must arrange to get one. All actions so far after the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem indicate that Jesus is preparing for a forceful announcement and demonstration of his kingly, messianic authority.

However something profound happens between the time Jesus and the disciples leave the upper room and the moment when Jesus is arrested on the Mount of Olives. There is no explanation of it. Nothing in the words of Jesus describes this transformation. It is only in the silent agony he experienced while waiting for his accusers to arrive can there be found the reason for the change in how Jesus would present himself as the messianic king-son of man.

When the soldiers take Jesus, Peter draws the sword that Jesus had directed him to acquire, and he assaults one of the servants. Immediately Jesus tells Peter to put the sword away. This rebuke is such a surprise that the disciples become unbalanced and distressed. They were told just a few hours before to expect danger and to prepare to defend themselves with swords. Now they are confused. They have no capacity to remain in the drama, and so they run away. Jesus is submitting himself not only to the temple guards but also to the consequence of his message of prevailing compassion—love for his neighbor and his enemy as for himself. There will be no violence from Jesus, even if it means that his own life will be taken.

Jesus believed this action reflected the nature and character of God. This is how Jesus chose to define himself as the messiah-son of man and also as the suffering servant. Jesus chose to establish the kingdom of God on earth, not by taking life but by giving it.

Jesus reconciled within himself the contradictory representations of God present in his religious community and thus he was able to trust the supervision of God over the entire creation regardless of what appeared to be in jeopardy. And we must make this same journey—finding a way to reconcile within ourselves the nature and character of God that will guide our thoughts and actions, regardless of what might appear to be in jeopardy.

When we observe the behaviors of religious persons in the earth today they reflect many distinct images of the nature and character of the creator God. Some of these are conflicting; some of them are disturbing. Why, when given a description of God either as a gentle shepherd who loves the sheep or as a jealous ruler who uses violence to accomplish divine purposes, why do humans choose a God who hates rather than a God who loves?

–open discussion: the impact of this understanding on the pursuit of reconciliation

–words make a difference; the curse of Noah on young Canaan because of the action of Canaan’s father Ham: a servant of servants you shall be

–Jesus’s appeal to the pattern of nature

–about our predicament, inherited complications that cause disruption in community; challenges to reconciliation; there is sometimes a criticism about expecting a messiah to save us, that it relieves us from trying to make changes in the desperate conditions under which we and others struggle

–the instruction to Abraham of a land of promise, you shall possess/inherit the land; how the difference in translation affects posture; story of Gene Stowe’s account of Ross sisters giving extensive NC plantation, two gold watches, to two Black Americans.

–some Muslim scholars have discomfort with, question the description of Muhammad’s behavior after he arrived in Medina destitute in 622, then encroached upon the Jewish tribes who had befriended him, two surrendered without resistance and the third, Banu Qurayza, he assaulted in 627, beheaded around 700 man and adolescent boys and took women and girls slaves. Yet no Old Testament scholar I know of is uncomfortable with, questions the description of the slaughters that occurred during the conquest of the promised land.

LECTURE 2: How the church has understood and applied the peaceful witness of Jesus

Now we will first consider how the early church understood the message of Jesus. Throughout his public ministry Jesus consistently presented the character of God as represented by the Old Testament prophets and not as the contemporary religious establishment reflected the divine nature. Jesus believed that God cared for and supervised the creation and could be trusted when incidents occurred that confused and even tormented the people. He called his followers to pattern their lives after the law of love regardless of how conditions affected them.

It is clear in the witness of the early Christian church that they believed it was important, even essential that they acted in ways that reflected the same kind of motivation that Jesus demonstrated. During the early years of the church, Christians were sometimes persecuted because of this lifestyle, yet many remained faithful to the way of Jesus even when it cost them their lives. To be called “Christ-like” was a cherished title for them. The Martyr’s Mirror is a massive volume published in 1660 that describes the horrific experiences of devote followers of Jesus. It is a graphic example of how some of these and nameless others like them found an inner sense of satisfaction from following in the way of Jesus to be dearer to them than trying to preserve their lives in the earth

The early church understood that Jesus had given his life to validate the wisdom of the golden rule. Regardless of the result they recognized that Jesus made this choice because it was what he believed would honor God’s intention for human life in the earth. The axiom “do no harm” describes their response to affliction and abuse. However something happened in the fourth century to drastically alter this behavioral norm.

In the year 354 in northern Africa in what is now Algeria a boy was born who became a brilliant orator and a master of rhetoric. He was reckless in his youth, pursuing and enjoying every form of pleasure he could imagine. When he was in Milan, Aurelius Augustine while serving in a teaching position began attending the church where Ambrose served as pastor. Augustine had no interest in christianity. His only motivation in attending church was to observe Ambrose who had a reputation of being a gifted speaker. Then slowly his conscience began to trouble him, bringing to his realization the reality that his life was shallow and meaningless. He began to be attracted to the way of Jesus yet no matter how much he struggled he could not find the will power to be faithful in a commitment to order his life by the teachings of Jesus.

On one occasion when he was in the midst of intense inner turmoil and anxiety Augustine opened his bible randomly and his eyes fell on the last few verses in the eighth chapter of Romans. Here Paul advises persons who are interested in being faithful to the Christian lifestyle. “Make no provision for the flesh, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Suddenly, miraculously Augustine was liberated. All his resistance melted away. In this divine counsel he discovered the power to be true to his inner longing to follow Jesus. When he returned to his homeland news of his conversion excited both local priests and peasants. Augustine was immediately consecrated as a priest and six years later became the Bishop of Hippo, a city on the Mediterranean Sea between Constantine and Carthage. It was in this setting that a subtle characteristic in how Augustine interpreted Paul’s advice changed the course of Christian history.

When Augustine lived the leaders of the church were teaching that there was no salvation outside the Christian church. “Unless you have the church as your mother you cannot have God as your father.” Moreover the church was routinely described as the “body of Christ” as Paul also represents it to the Corinthian church in chapter 12 of his first surviving letter to them. So when Augustine read “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” he understood that he would dedicate his life to serving the church—the body of Jesus. At least he would serve his conception of how the church should be composed and managed.

When Augustine becomes bishop he is obligated to engage a controversy already 100 years old. In 314, Constantine the Roman Emperor has converted to Christianity ending a 60 year period of intense persecution of the Christian church. Previously some church officials had denounced their faith and submitted copies of sacred writings in order to avoid punishment and death. Now in the present religious climate some of these same officials are appointed to high church offices. One of these, Caecilian, is named Bishop of Carthage. Many persons in the territories under the bishop’s supervision are annoyed that such a traitor should be ordained to rule over them.

These believers contend for pure New Testament churches comprised only of those who evidence repentance and faith. They are disappointed with the priests whose lives do not model the way of living which Jesus had lived and instructed for his disciples. They practice a congregational form of church government and maintain it is their right to choose their own clergy. In order to ensure this arrangement they often reject priests assigned to their perishes by the bishop. As a consequence they organize among themselves, leave the Catholic church altogether, and select their own bishop, a man named Donatus.

When Augustine becomes bishop the number of persons in Donatists congregations exceeds the number of persons in the Catholic church in northern Africa. Augustine begins dialogue with the Donatist’s leaders maintaining that the character of persons in the church is not an important matter. Rather the church is saved by God because of the holiness of its leader Jesus. The Donatists persist in claiming that the lifestyle of church members is an important part of the church’s witness and function in the world.

Fightings are breaking out between the two groups as each side claims the others are heretics and hypocrites. The Catholic church convenes a meeting and accuses the Donatists of doing injury to the body of Christ. Augustine could have taken the third way but he did not. He believes he is obligated by his commitment to “put on Jesus Christ” to mend this tear in the body of Jesus, the church. So when all his persuasive powers have been exhausted he does a new thing. Since Christianity is now the state religion of the Roman Empire, Augustine chooses to appeal to the power of the state to force the Donatists back into the church, by violence if necessary. Many of the Donatists leaders are put to death, and great numbers of their congregations are forced into exile.

The thought process which promoted this close association between the institutional church and the civil authority gave rise to the application of power that we know today as the Just War Theory or the theory of justified violence.

This posture introduces a new, additional axiom for defining the behavior of those who desire to follow the way of Jesus. To the existing axiom, do no harm, there is now a second axiom, protect from harm. This transition seems innocent enough yet the consequence of it has resulted in the Christian church’s support of the use of violence that began with the initial assault against the Donatists. This position has dominated the Christian discussion on the use of violence from the time of Augustine until now.

Augustine sincerely believed that he was performing a beneficial service to those individuals who had separated from the Catholic church. He was concerned for their eternal destiny and wanted to save them from damnation. So he set out to force them against their will to submit to his concept of want would bring salvation to them. However by betraying the law of love that Jesus had given his life to manifest Augustine gave in to the temptation to use disrespectful and unjust behaviors in order to accomplish his objective because it was such a noble and divinely ordained cause.

Using violence to protect from harm betrays the content of the message of Jesus, that regardless of what seemed to be in jeopardy Jesus chose to behave toward others as he desired that they behave toward him. Here we come face to face with the unreasonable dimension of the teaching and example of Jesus. How we reconcile this apparent contradiction with the orientation of the human spirit to preserve life will determine how we order our lives in the earth.

Often the discussion regarding the importance of obeying the directives of government in its choice to use force to accomplish some important objective revolves around the counsel of Paul in the 13th chapter of Romans. Herein the apostle describes the divinely ordained role of government in the life of the community.

In his instruction to the Christians in Rome the apostle talks about the institution of government. Paul declares that government comes from God, that government officials are God’s officers, that resisting authority is rebelling against God, that we must obey governing authorities because of the fear of punishment, that these authorities carry out God’s revenge by punishing wrong doers. …What is Paul thinking?

Paul’s premise is that government should be an active participant in God’s intention for how persons will relate to each other. Government will offer no resistance to persons who choose behaviors that are good—behaviors which affirm and honor God’s intention for human life in the earth. Eventually as the conversation unfolds Paul happens upon a clear explanation of his assumption of how government should work. He insists that the only obligation followers of Jesus have in relationship to government is to behave toward others in a way that demonstrates that we love them. Let me repeat this: Paul insists that the only obligation followers of Jesus have in relationship to government is to behave toward others in a way that demonstrates that we love them.

So when Paul is praising the choice to obey government authorities is he also indirectly describing the intended function of government: to ensure that the law of love is preserved?

This seems to be his instruction. Paul identifies government as the agency that should be working to ensure that the storms of violence are prevented. Paul is insisting that government operate in a way that opposes the use of violence to manage conflict because the obligation to love the neighbor and the enemy demands that no harm be done to these persons.

A government which ensures that the law of love will be respected and honored, this is a government we can affirm, one we can support and participate in. So when we criticize, when we protest actions of our government, when we engage in civil disobedience, we are identifying some function of government misbehavior that is doing harm to the neighbor and the enemy.

Managing conflict without using violence is not a strategy we hear about much today. It is not a strategy that people have much confidence in. Because the use of fear to control and to regulate the behavior of persons is so effective, violence has become the means to cause someone to reject certain behaviors in order to avoid punishment. So it is quite logical in this system of maintaining control that persons will spontaneously choose violence as a way to manage conflict. Violence is the preferred agent of change in our world.

Appealing to the content of Romans chapter 13 has produced numerous occasions for persons in authority, both in religious communities and in civil societies, to manipulate persons and to control how persons respond to various conditions. By designating that authority is to be obeyed because it is a function ordained by God has secured obedient devotion to pursuits that in no way represent the intention of God for human life in the earth. Is there some other source of wisdom and direction available to us when occasions arise that cause us to wonder if what we are being told to do by persons in authority is worthy of our investment, consistent with our commitment to honor God with our lives?

Well there is available to us a source that we can always trust. We have within our human spirit a source of wisdom that is compatible with the message of Jesus. This wisdom is within the content of the human conscience. Jesus had complete confidence in the provision of the human conscience to provide all the necessary direction when we are at an intersection where we must choose what we will do. Many times Jesus responds to the situation of those he met by telling them, “Go and sin no more.” That was all he needed to say. Rather than give a list of rules for them to memorize and review, Jesus simply told them to order their lives by what they knew already to be good and right. Conscience seeks to transform the egotistical, self-centered human spirit into a holy spirit that will guide our choices so that they conform to God’s intention for human life in the earth.

Conscience is the inherent ability of every heathy human being to perceive what is right and what is wrong, and on the strength of this perception to control, monitor, evaluate, and execute their actions.

The content of the human conscience is the basis for Jesus’s call for persons to behave toward others as they desire others to behave toward them. All of us know what causes pain and suffering for someone, and what brings refreshment and comfort to others. We know this because we have experienced these same things. It is not a stretch to imagine that other human creatures will respond to similar situations in the same way that we do.

Not many of us know the name Randy Kehler. Randy is a Harvard graduate with a degree in government. He had long been a pacifist, yet was moved to increased action by Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech during the March to Washington. Randy began withholding the federal tax on his telephone bill, a tax which was long used for direct support of military engagements. And he returned his draft card to the Selective Service Board.

His non-compliance with the draft lead to his arrest in 1969. Just prior to his sentencing Randy made a speech at an anti-war conference sponsored by the War Resister’s League at Haverford College, an institution founded in 1833 by the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers. There he told of his pending jail sentence and spoke about his excitement of soon joining some of his friends who were already in jail for resisting the draft.

Unknown to Randy, in the audience that night was a high-ranking official of the State Department. This gentleman had served as a military analyst for presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy and now was on president Johnson’s staff. Because of his expertise he had been selected to contribute to a top-secret study of classified documents regarding the conduct of the Vietnam War. Because he held an extremely high-level security clearance, he was one of a very few individuals who had access to the complete collection of documents.

These documents revealed that the government had knowledge early on that the war would not likely be won, and that continuing the war would lead to many times more casualties than was ever publicly admitted. Further these documents showed that high-ranking officials had a deep cynicism toward the public as well as disregard for the loss of life and injury suffered by both soldiers and civilians. This gentleman’s disillusionment of the war was the reason he was in the audience that evening on the Haverford College campus in August 1969.

Later he recalled his reaction to the speech given by Randy Kehler. “He said this very calmly, that he was about to be sentenced for draft resistance. It hit me as a total surprise and shock because I heard his words in the midst of actually feeling proud of my country, listening to him. And then I heard he was going to prison. It wasn’t what he said exactly that changed my worldview. It was the example he was setting with his life, how his words in general showed that he was a stellar American, and he was going to jail as a very deliberate choice because he thought it was the right thing to do. There was no question in my mind that my government was involved in an unjust war that was going to continue and get larger. Thousands of young men were dying each year. I left the auditorium and found a deserted men’s room. I sat on the floor and cried for over a hour, just sobbing.”

Not many of us know the name Randy Kehler, but almost all of us have heard of Daniel Ellsberg. That night Ellsberg decided he too was willing to go to prison if need be and wondered what he could do to help end the war. He realized he had possession of more than 7000 pages of documents. After trying in vain to persuade some sympathetic senators to present the documents on the Senate floor, he began leaking the documents to the New York Times and about 18 other newspapers across the country.

Ellsberg hid out with friends and was never found, although the FBI was under enormous pressure by the Nixon administration to locate him. Later he learned of a plot that had been crafted to have 12 persons who had previously worked with the CIA to “totally incapacitate him.” A Waterhouse burglary attempted to seize medical records held by Ellsberg’s psychologist in order to discredit the informant. Sixteen days later Ellsberg turned himself in at the United States Attorney’s office in Boston, believing he would spend the rest of his life in prison.

Some counsel given by Daniel Ellsberg about his experience of working in government should give all citizens of this country cause to be cautious about war. Ellsberg said, “I have seen a lot of classified material in my time, I mean tens of thousands of pages, and have been in a position to compare it with what was being said to the public. The public is lied to every day by the president, by his spokespeople, by his officers. If you can’t handle the thought that the president lies to the public for all kinds of reasons, you couldn’t stay in the government at that level even for a week.”

Compare this statement with the documented fact that officials of the George W Bush administration on at least 532 separate occasions made 935 statements known to be false when they were reported, all for the purpose for gaining international public support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq by military forces of the United States and a few trusting allies.

Not knowing what we can believe about the motivations for objectives being promoted by persons in positions of power and influence prevents us from effectively measuring them by the formula that Jesus presents to us. Yet we can anticipate and observe the affects of these objectives on the lives of our neighbors and enemies and use the wisdom within our conscience to measure their validity. When we discipline our human spirit by the directives of Jesus then we begin to be advised by a holy spirit rather than the self-serving orientation of the human spirit.

There seems to be two major ways of understanding the meaning of peace. One way is to regard peace as a characteristic measure of relationship; the other way is to understand peace as a description of existence. The first way of defining peace prompts attitudes which are intended to build inclusive community with other living creatures in the universe. The second way prompts attitudes which lead to fashioning context and self-satisfaction by establishing control over other components of the population.

Let me suggest a progression for making reconciliation and peace a reality. The first step is to position ourselves for the possibility of reconciliation by practicing justice and embodying righteousness. The second step is to promote peace by sharing the light we have rather than sending others into the darkness so they will have to find their way alone. And finally we move toward reconciliation and peace by engaging the present time with the confidence that we are even now on our way to meet the coming kingdom of God in a renewed earth.

This progression describes the biblical testimony of the way to achieve reconciliation and to make peace. It is seen in the pattern of Jesus—faithfully witnessing to the supremacy of love for God and for the neighbor and the enemy, resisting evil by going good, even to the extent of giving his own life.

I wrote an article once for the Austin American-Statesman while serving as pastor of the Mennonite Church in Austin Texas, titled Freedom is Not the Most Important Thing. Saying that there is something more important than freedom causes us to submit to the unreasonable dimension of the content of the gospel. The hard truth is that Jesus died because he refused to preserve his freedom by using force. Jesus gave up his freedom in order to bear witness to the surpassing value of preserving relationship—relationship dependent upon sustained, nonviolent behavior toward others—all others— regardless of what appears to be in jeopardy.

Making this confession causes a person to move against the current of the American spirit that celebrates independence as a highly praised, vigorously protected individual right. This witness denounces participation in methods to promote peace that are driven by understanding peace as a description of existence, being free, and declares that peace is a characteristic measure of relationship.

In the beginning of our discussion I asked you to consider why we hear more about freedom than we hear about peace. Discussion

(I expect the reason is that freedom allows us to defend our individual actions regardless of how they impact the lives of others. However often times achieving peace requires that personal liberties be surrendered in order to find resolution for the good of the community.)

–open discussion: the impact of this understanding on the pursuit of peace

–reflection on Augustine’s choice to use force to accomplish a noble objective; a burning house; how this same reasoning is used today by religiously motivated persons

–the ultimate measure of honoring human life; presentation at Culture Cafe, Iraq–nurture empathy

–benefit in following the witness of conscience when deception is a constant reality

use of fear to manipulate people; confession of Iraqi woman, Saddam was a good leader because people feared him; the grad student in Amman who said fear of punishment is the only thing that will regulate human behavior

–review the handout, statements about peace and using fear to achieve president’s objective

–what does it mean when we say In God We Trust? What is the nature and character of this God?


–priority is to honor God’s intention for human life in the earth, regardless of the cost; we cannot expect to be rescued from danger, yet it is in this reaction to life around us that we honor the way that Jesus has asked us to live

–this is where reconciliation begins and peace proceeds, for the individual, for the community

We cannot know where our faith in God will take us, yet our lives and ministries will unfold in the same pattern as it did for Jesus—by holding on to faith in the essential supervision of God over creation and letting go of the expectations of people and the fear of consequences. We can believe that our obedience to this formula is worthy in itself to honor our lord and creator.

Focus on what you have the power to contribute: you are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world—your witness can save the entire creation

LECTURE 3: Reconciliation and Enduring Peace

Texts: John 14:27; John 21:15-17

Reinhold Niebuhr is likely the predominant American theologian and ethicist of the 20th century. His reflections, particularly his wistful insights for advancing the social and cultural impact of the words and life of Jesus, are remarkable. In his book, The Nature and Destiny of Man, Niebuhr discusses what he calls an inherent contradiction in their created state with which human creatures must struggle to manage. Niebuhr considers how this contradictory environment has been established. As a part of nature the human creature is a physical being; as part of eternity the human is a free spirit.

Niebuhr states that he does not believe this contradictory situation is evil, however it leads to the temptation from which evil arises. According to Niebuhr’s analysis, our involvement in finiteness and freedom generates insecurity and anxiety, and this condition combined with the vision of unlimited possibilities prompted by creative imagination inevitably tempts us to sin—to use inappropriate, unjust, disrespectful, unloving behaviors and methods in order to accomplish our objectives.

The freedom of human being is the essence of humans fashioned in the image of God. This freedom of the self to choose how life will be engaged gives life a creative power, but inextricably interwoven into the creative power of freedom is its destructive power. It is the humans’ freedom that sets them apart from other creatures—the human is the only creature who can transcend the self to rise in imagination above the limitations and necessities of nature.

This contradiction according to Niebuhr, has always been the vexing problem for humans. In his book, An Interpretation of Christian Ethics, Niebuhr concludes that we as creatures of necessity and freedom, like Moses, must perish outside the promised land because we can envision what we cannot reach.

In the scripture from John chapter 21, we see a person who before was pursuing a vision, trying to achieve what he could not accomplish. Rather than being ridiculed, punished, and berated because of his past behavior he is reclaimed, forgiven, and charged with serving the community on behalf of his master. Here is a compelling example of the readiness, even the longing of Jesus to embrace everyone, even those who have on former occasions discredited and mistakenly betrayed him. This demonstration occurs early one morning on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus appears as a stranger on the beach, while day is breaking on the weary fishermen who have labored through the night in vain. Jesus inquires about their lack of success, then suggests one last attempt open to them. Reluctantly the fishermen throw the net one more time, and they catch a miracle. Then they know that it is Jesus who is addressing them. They come ashore and see already fish cooking on a campfire and also bread. Maybe Jesus had crafted the fish and the bread from some stones he found upon the shore. They eat together, reunite themselves, reestablish their eternal connection, refocus their lives as disciples of a living leader and lord.

Then it happens. Jesus confronts Peter with a series of questions. It is in this dialogue that the unfathomable depth of God’s love in Jesus can begin to be measured. Read John 21:15-17

In our translations of this conversation, we loose the essential message that is being communicated between Jesus and Peter. This happens because in English we have only one word for love, and the language in which the gospel was written has three separate words. In the Greek vocabulary one word for deep physically generated affection is eros. It describes a sensual, passionate attraction. Another word used in Greek writing is phileo. It describes an enduring friendship and abiding adoration driven by deep emotional attachment. The other Greek word used for deep affection is agape. It describes an unconditional attraction and commitment, one that is not dependent upon the behaviors of the object of its affection. In the English language we use the one term, love, to describe all of these attractions—eros, phileo, and agape. We translate these distinct words in the Greek vocabulary in the same way, as simply love.

Now it is important that I tell you I have found no commentator who agrees with me that John’s use of two different Greek words, which we call love, in this recorded conversation is really important. No scholars I have read believe this is significant. They all maintain that John freely interchanges words that describe deep affection only for linguistic enrichment without having any deeper intention. And I should also tell you that I remember one of my seminary professors telling our class that if we have an opinion that differs from every other informed source we know about, there is a chance that we could be wrong.

Still I believe that John deliberately chooses to use two separate and distinct Greek words in the account because it represents the content of the conversation between Jesus and Peter and as such opens a significant understanding for us of what was transpiring between the Lord and his disciple early that morning on the seashore.

I will read this account as John actually wrote it, and you decide if it is significant or not that the author chose different words for love to tell this amazingly compassionate story.

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these, do you love me unconditionally like I love you (agape)?’ He said to him, ‘Yes Lord, you know that I am your adoring friend (plileo).’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me unconditionally like I love you (agape)?’ He said to him, ‘Yes Lord, you know that I am your adoring friend (plileo).’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, are you my adoring friend (phileo)?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Are you my adoring friend (plileo)? And he said to him, ‘Lord you know everything, you know that I am your adoring friend (phileo).’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’”

Now, do you recognize what is happening here? Does this account make more sense to you, this apparent repetition of questions and answers?

This incident is usually described as a way for Jesus to deliver Peter out of the depression that besets the boastful disciple, that he would be willing to follow Jesus in both suffering and death, yet when the opportunity presented itself Peter three times denied that he even knew Jesus. Yet I believe there is a deeper meaning in this conversation.

We see now a new, different Peter, one who accepts his limitations, one who recognizes that his vision had exceeded his capacity. Peter in his heart wants to love Jesus with the same uncompromising love that Jesus has demonstrated for him, but now Peter realizes he is not able to do so. So he confesses, “Jesus you know all things. You know I am not able to love you as you love me, but I love you as much as I can, as much as I am able to.” And Jesus replies, “That is enough. You are still my beloved disciple, worthy to witness for me, able to serve others in my name.”

We too have sometimes promoted a vision that exceeded our capacity, and when we failed we were depressed, embarrassed, and struggled to continue. In these occasions Jesus responds to us in the same compassionate way that he responded to Peter, “Love me as much as you are able. That is enough. You are still my beloved disciple, worthy to witness for me, able to serve others in my name.”

In the scripture from John chapter 14, we hear Jesus offering to the disciples what may be the most difficult gift for them to receive from him.

John Dear is a Jesuit priest who throughout his life has passionately worked to promote justice, mercy, and respect for groups of persons marginalized by greed and rugged nationalism. He served as the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and was a close friend to Daniel Berrigan and Henri Nouwan. John tells about his work on behalf of the homeless in Washington DC, New York City, Richmond Virginia, El Salvador, and Belfast Ireland.

While working in DC, John met and collaborated his work with the leading advocate for the homeless in the nations’s capitol city. For nearly 20 years Mitch Snyder spoke out against poverty, organized demonstrations for housing, fasted for social change, and was arrested for civil disobedience on behalf of justice for the poor. He directed the largest homeless shelter in the US, a facility with over 1000 beds just three blocks from the US capitol in Washington. John remembers visiting Mitch often in the mid-1980’s while he was managing a small church shelter. The two colleagues discussed the plight of the homeless and worked together in various campaigns to secure decent, affordable housing for them.

Like John, Mitch too had heard the noise of someone crying, “Come over and help us,” and they individually understood that call as a summons from God. They answered the call. Maybe they would have to wait awhile until they saw the holy city Jerusalem coming down from God out of the heavens; maybe they would have to settle for providing a cup of cool water and a modest shade to persons struggling to endure a harsh environment until the river of life began to flow crystal clear from the throne of God who supervises the city. Maybe they would have to rely on soup kitchens and box lunches until the trees of life sprout up along the banks of the river flowing through the middle of the eternal city, producing abundant crops, enough to sustain and refresh every nation in the earth. Maybe they would have to settle for a solitary candle to displace the gloomy darkness of persons having no hope of future for their children until the light of the glory of God’s presence displaces all evil and wickedness.

While waiting for the coming of the fulness of God’s kingdom, John Dear and Mitch Snyder worked together to be a witness of this community of goodness and righteousness.

John Dear goes on to tell more about how Mitch gave his life for the forgotten and the poor. Mitch advocated nonviolence, relationship, and mercy. For years Mitch sought to promote local legislation which would guarantee the right of every person to shelter. Finally, in 1990, his effort was defeated. On July 3 of that year Mitch gave in to despair, and he killed himself.

When Jesus stood among his disciples during his last few days in the earth, perhaps he knew something of the challenge they would face when seeking to demonstrate the way of life that he was asking them to live as his witnesses. After informing the disciples that his words are from the very heart of God and will be validated in the future by the presence and power of a holy spirit that will come into them, Jesus gives to them a parting gift: Peace I give to you, my own peace, a peace the world cannot give. This is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)

As disciples of Jesus his gift is offered to us as well, yet accepting this gift may be the most difficult challenge we will face—a challenge greater than providing a cup of cool water or a box lunch; a challenge greater than assisting the brokenhearted and the distressed; a challenge greater than bringing hope to persons whose lives have been battered and their way of living taken from them by cruel, greedy, selfish persons of power and ambition.

How do we appropriately accept this gift of his peace that Jesus is offering to us? How do we escape the despair and agony which consumed Mitch Snyder when, after serving so many others with compassion and mercy, he was unable to show himself the same compassion and mercy?

Standing in the presence of Jesus on that occasion, the disciples knew they had not perfectly understood what Jesus had taught them or the meaning of the stories Jesus had told his audiences about the kingdom of God. Perhaps they worried about their lack of wisdom, their failure to be all that Jesus had wanted them to be. Perhaps they were anxious about continuing the ministry of Jesus after he left them and returned to the Father. Perhaps they felt inadequate, incapable, unsure about going into the unpredictable future.

When Jesus gives to his disciples the gift of his peace, these are the things he intends for them to hear:

–I have been merciful to you; show yourself mercy

–I have forgiven you; forgive yourself

–I have accepted you as my truest friends; accept yourself as a true friend

–I have loved you unconditionally; love yourself unconditionally

–I have treated you with compassion and kindness; treat yourself with compassion and kindness

There are many distressful circumstances in our world. We will come into contact with numerous situations and conditions that will be absent in the holy city which shall come down to the earth from the eternally loving and compassionate God who until then suffers through evil and wickedness with us.

Let us dare not only to listen clearly to the words of Jesus when he says, “Peace I leave with you,” but also however much thought and energy it may take, to find a way to accept this freeing and ultimately assuring gift as our personal possession.

Henri Nouwan once observed, “Peacemakers often reveal more of the demons they are fighting than the peace they want to bring about.” St Francis of Assisi counsels, “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.”

Eternal peace is the gift Jesus has given to us. Let us embrace it, take it into our spirits and our hearts. Always remember, you are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world. Your witness can save the entire creation. Amen