“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Yeah right Jesus…have you seen the news? Blessed are the peacemakers. They better be blessed because all their peacemaking is more than likely going to get them killed than it is to see them heralded as the Children of God!
Today, we commemorate the 100 anniversary of the end of World War I. But, since the end of that “War to End All Wars” the world has experienced the horrors of World War II in which millions suffered and died in the Holocaust, and even more millions were killed in battle and it took the dropping of not one but two atomic bombs to put an end to the madness. Since the end of World War II with its genocide upon genocide the world has seen the violence and untold murders perpetrated by the likes of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot. More recently repressive regimes together with the greed of capitalist consumption continue to perpetrate violence and genocide upon the peoples of Yemen, Somalia, and the Rohingyas. Refugees fleeing violence are cast as fearsome caravans, and kids just out to enjoy some country music are gunned down in affluent neighbourhoods. Blessed are the peacemakers indeed. Jesus hasn’t got a clue. About the only thing peacemakers are likely to inherit is the right to die trying.
Wars and rumors of war are the order of the day. Face it, humans are a violent lot and violence and war aren’t about to end soon. So, I’m sorry Jesus, but this way of life that you keep encouraging us to embrace is only going to get us all or over-run, or enslaved, and killed. But then what would Jesus know? War sure ain’t what it was in Jesus’ day. War has gotten uglier as our means of destruction have gotten more efficient.
Had enough yet? Do you wish you could just find a remote and turn me off? Doom and gloom, just like the news. Over and over again the drumbeats get more and more intense. These are dangerous times. So, be afraid. Be very afraid. We live in the midst of violence and war as horrible as it is, war is a necessary evil. So, before you tune me out, please hear me out. For the times they are a changing.
The truth is our ancestors were far more violent than we are. The truth is, and statistics will bear this out, the truth is that violence has been in decline for years and years and years. Today, dear friends we are living in the most peaceful time in our species’ history. So, blessed are the peacemakers because peacemakers will be called the children of God.
Now lest you think that I am suffering from delusions, let me lay out a few facts. For centuries now, violence has been on the decline. I don’t have time to delve into the orders of magnitude in the decline of violence over the centuries. So, let’s just look at the last century. Many of us look back fondly at the good old days, of the last century, because we honestly believe that things are getter worse and not better. But the truth is that since 1945 in Europe and the Americas, there has been a steep decline in: interstate wars, deadly ethnic riots (otherwise known as pogroms), and military coups, worldwide, there has been a steep decline in deaths in interstate wars. Back in those good old days, like the 1950s the average number of deaths in battle stood at about 65,000 deaths per conflict per year. Today, that number has shrunk to less than 2,000 deaths per conflict in a year Don’t get me wrong an average 2,000 deaths per conflict per year is still way too many deaths. But since the end of World War II there has been a 90 percent reduction in deaths resulting from civil wars and genocides; a 90% reduction represents, in the history of violence, a colossal decline in violence and war. (Steven Pinker)
For the sceptics among you, who aren’t that worried about the rumors of war because you’re more concerned about violent crimes in your own neighborhoods, let me just direct your attention to our more violent neighbours to the south. In the US, the FBI compiles what it calls “Uniform Crime Statistics” which tell us that violent crime is going down, in fact in the past ten years crime rates overall have returned to levels last seen in the 1950’s. Canadian statistics are even better. You are far less likely to become the victim of a violent crime than your parents were. As for your grandchildren, they have never been safer than they are right now. That’s what the statistics tell us. As a species we have never experienced such peace. It is unprecedented. (Steven Pinker)
So, why are we living in fear? Statistics indicate that we’ve never been so afraid. Even in Canada, where we once took pride in our military because they were among the world’s most respected peace-keepers, we are responding to our fear, and over and over again we hear calls for us to build up our military, not as peace-keepers but as well-equipped warriors. We are afraid, we are very afraid.
We are safer than we have ever been. We are living longer than we have ever lived. Statistically, humans have never had it so good. So, why are we living in such fear. Granted, we all know that humans now have the ability to wipe out human life with the kind of efficiency that we have never had. Our weapons have fearsome capacity. But surely, the reductions in violence and war that we have been able to make, might point us in the direction of further reductions in violence and war. Surely, if we find ways to ramp up our efforts, we can capitalize upon the great strides towards peace that we have already made?
War is not an inevitable part of our reality. Yes, humans are capably of great evil. But humans are also capable of such great creativity. Creativity that makes life beautiful. Creativity that alleviates suffering. Creativity that heals wounds. Creativity that strives for justice. Creativity that can ensure that all of the many blessings of this life are shared in ways that make peace.
The ancient Hebrews expressed their hopes and dreams for the embodiment of this creativity in the word: shalom. Shalom represents the vision of a day when the world can live in harmony because everyone has enough, enough food, enough shelter, enough wealth, enough justice, enough freedom from fear so that all people can live into everything that they are created to be. This shalom, this Salem, this pax, this peace, expresses a hope-filled vision of life free from the fear of the “other,” a vision not of some impossible dream, but rather a vison of what is possible because we already have everything necessary to ensure that everyone has enough.
Creation is bursting with this possibility. There is more than enough food to feed the world many times over. There is more than enough wealth to ensure that everyone can live to their full potential. There is more than enough to ensure that we can make peace with the Earth and stop the looting of Earth’s precious resources. There are more than enough ways to ensure that everyone has enough justice. What we are lacking to ensure the embodiment of this hope-filled vision is hope itself. We hardly dare dream of shalom because we see so little hope. Our fear of losing what is ours to the “other”, this fearsome “other” has robbed us of our hope. In so many ways we have become victims of ourselves; seeing fearsome foes around every corner, we have dug ourselves into deep trenches of despair. And yet, we are the very ones to whom so very much has already been given. We are the very ones who are richer and safer than any generation that has come before us. We have stored up more wealth, more security, more stuff than our ancestors could have even begun to imagine. Yet, we cannot summon up enough hope to begin to imagine the hope necessary to envision shalom in ways that inspire us to embody that hope in order to make peace.
Sisters and Brothers, to those of us to whom much has already been given, much is required. It is long past time for us to put away our unfounded fears and embrace the hope that our wealth, our safety and our security ought to inspire. Surely, we who have more than enough can look upon each and every dire prediction of scarcity and doom and bring a word of hope. Surely, we who have so very much that our own fears seem trivial and unfounded, can afford to take the risk of offering hope; hope to one another, hope to those around us, hope to the world.
On this day, when we remember the shattered hopes and dreams of those who have gone before us, it is time for us, the wealthy, the privileged, the safe and secure, the ones who ought to be fearless, on this day it is time for us to move beyond remembrance. It is time for us to put on our big-girl pants, and our big-boy pants, or in the words of our ancestors to gird our loins and step up to embody a hope-filled vison of peace. It is time for us to put away our fears and speak hope into every hopeless situation.
Let us take courage from all those who have gone before us, who faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds and yet had the courage to dream dreams of shalom, salem, pax, peace. Let our remembering be an embrace of all that is possible when we reach out beyond our fears. For the times they are a changing. War is not inevitable. Peace is at hand. But first we, we to whom so much has been given, we must open our hands, let go our fear-filled grasp and open ourselves to the reality that we already have everything we need to ensure that everyone has enough.
Let our many blessings, inspire us to embody hope, so that the world around us might be enraptured by visions of Shalom. Lest we forget, the hopes and dreams of all who have gone before us, we who are so richly blessed, we will remember the sacred vision of shalom, salem, pax, peace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Blessed are you. Blessed to be a blessing. Blessed to offer hope to the hopeless. Blessed to be peacemakers. Peace is at hand. Let it be so. Amen.
Statistics in this sermon are from Steven Pinker’s book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress”