Nearly everyone says they want peace, the question is how to get it. Mostly people believe that peace comes through security; that is we create bubbles of calm in this world when we secure our borders (however we define them) from those who threaten our peace (ie our enemies). The reference to borders and bubbles was unconsciously done, but it's true that most people imagine their peace is like a haven from the pandemic of violence that lies 'out there'.
Michael Gorman in his book Becoming the Gospel describes the way Rome (and every powerful nation?) thought about peace by drawing attention to a famous altar called the ara pacis (altar of peace). It was built during the reign of Rome's first Emperor, Augustus, and seeks to show how Augustus (and his family) have brought peace and prosperity to Rome. Most of the panels on the altar show life inside this bubble of peace, but one panel shows a female warrior (Roma?) sitting on a pile of weapons (see image). And that, of course, is how the Roman peace worked - by conquering and then suppressing the peoples of the Empire.
Gorman then offers a blunt picture of Paul's theology of the peace Jesus brings by summarizing Galatians 2.15-21: "If violence and war is the way to peace, then Rome was right, and Christ died for nothing". Jesus' way of peace was through enemy love and forgiveness. Needless to say, Rome's way is still preferred by most.
I don't however think that Paul thought of Christ's peace as only an absence of violence and flourishing of life. It is also connected to an inner confidence that one is loved and accepted by God and other people.
This week in NZ we've been hearing the victim impact statements from the survivors and families of the Christchurch terrorist attack on Muslim worshipers. Most impressive throughout the months following the attack has been one of the victims, Farid Ahmed. And again this week, when asked by journalists whether he intended to go to court and give an impact statement he said no. Instead, he said he'd like to talk with the terrorist once things have calmed down: "I do not expect a criminal to be an angel overnight,. I'm not delusional. But at the same time, I don't give up hope...I would just talk from my heart. If I can't understand, then maybe I can help to change the hate". (Dom Post 22.8.20).
He's a Muslim, but he clearly gets Jesus' recipe for peace: love your enemies.
So that's my challenge if I wan't to learn something from peacemakers like Farid Ahmed. Who are my enemies and what will it take for me to love them? Funnily enough, I suspect most of my enemies are people I've never met. I'll let you know how I get on.
I was going to right a list of the more and less pure-hearted (single-minded-kingdom-devoted) aspects of my life. Instead there have been two things in my life over the past month or more that, now I think about it, seem relevant.
The first is a new prayer-practice. I've taken on Scot McKnight's suggestion of saying the "Jesus Creed" when I wake and before I go to sleep - and random moments in between. If you haven't come across it, McKnight wrote an award winning book called 'The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others' back in 2005. He argues that Jesus, as a faithful Jew, would have prayed the Shema (Deut 6.4-5) everyday of his life. And then points out that the gospels give us his twist on the Shema in answer to the question 'what is the most important commandment' (Mark 12.29-31). So McKnight argued that it would be faithful to Jesus and good for our own prayer life to take up Jesus' version of the Shema as a prayer rhythm. So since lockdown, that's what I've been doing. Notice how closely it aligns with the interpretation of pure in heart that I'm working with. Here's the Jesus Creed:
Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
It's early days to see the way in which this habit changes me. But I'm hoping the constant refrain "with all", said day and night, will help align my thoughts and deeds more consistently around what Jesus said was the most important thing - loving God and loving others. Maybe I will see God more clearly; at least see his glory in the faces of others?
My second experience of pure-hardheartedness hasn't been about me, but rather a young man in our church whose prayers and witness has been touching many of us over the past while. Through Jesse God has been surprising us by his grace. Simply and beautifully, God and Jesse have got something going on that caught me by surprise. And it feels very pure-hearted, and more and more I'm seeing God's glory in Jesse's face. No one contrived it, let alone expected it. Jesse's pure-hearted love of God has just been a beautiful gift from God, wrought deep within him by the Holy Spirit. It reminds me that God is indeed with us - something I am very grateful for.