I gave a short meditation during a worship service for our Virginia Mennonite Conference summer assembly: “Jesus is our peace.” They asked me to share about Jesus’ beatitude on peacemaking from Matthew 5: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Below is what I came up with.
Isaac S. Villegas
July 24, 2009
I will start with a confession: I desire power. I want you to listen to me. That’s why I’m up here. That’s why I said yes when they asked me to share tonight. I’m up here because I want to have power over how you think, and I want you to trust me as I exercise my power. I want you to respect my opinion and even to seek it out, to ask me what I think. I want my ideas about the future of our church to matter to you. I want Owen Burkholder to call me up and ask for advice—to have my phone number on speed-dial. I want my church in Chapel Hill to be the best one in the conference. I want to be a good preacher—no, a great preacher, a brilliant speaker who can attract all sorts of people in Chapel Hill. I want them all to come so they can hear me preach. I want to be a good pastor, an influential pastor, a pastor who can fix all the problems in your life with one conversation. I want to be the pastor who everyone wants at their church. I want my prayers to work every time, to work like magic—I want to get what I want when I want it. And I want you to think this is the best talk you have ever heard at a Virginia Mennonite Conference assembly. This is just the beginning of my confession. I can keep on going all night. My desire for power is endless.
Power. I want power. And I bet you do too, maybe in different ways—power over your kids, over your spouse, over co-workers, over your health, over your finances. We all want to be able to control something; we all want to be able to influence someone. We want to be significant, to be meaningful. All of us want to matter, to make a difference, to change things for the better. To be human is to want and have power, even if it’s just a little bit. And all of this talk about power has everything to do with peacemaking; power and peace go hand in hand. [More…]
“No Isaac,” you may be saying to yourself right now. “You’re all mixed up. Peace has to do with making guns and bombs go away; peace is what we need to work for and strategize about in Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine.” Yes, of course, we want people to stop killing one another. But Christ’s peace runs much deeper than that. Christ’s peace has everything to do with the desires of your heart, your desires for power.
“Blessed are the pure in heart”—that’s what Jesus says right before he says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The beatitudes are interrelated. One verse flows into the other. “Blessed are the pure in heart” flows into “Blessed are the peacemakers.” You can’t have one without the other. The purity of your heart, the purity of your desire, has everything to do with being a peacemaker. Purity of our hearts has everything to do with how we work for peace. Christians are people who pay attention to what’s going on in the depths of our desires. Is my heart pure? Why do I want this? What are my motives? Will you still trust me after I tell you my secrets?
Power. All of this is about power over others—my power to control your reaction, to manipulate your response to what I say. And all of this has to do with peace. We can’t live at peace with someone who we have not yet confessed our desires. We can’t live in peace with people who do not know our motives. “Blessed are the pure in heart”—that comes first. Then Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The best way to know if your heart is pure, the best way to know if your desires for power are not manipulative, is to actually confess your desires. Ask someone. Be vulnerable and expose what you’d rather keep hidden. “Blessed are the pure in heart.” That comes first. Exposure. Vulnerability. Confession. Making public our desires for power. The purification of our hearts. All of that is the beginning of peace.
There is no special strategy for this kind of peace. Sure, there are plenty of institutes and experts out there who want to sell peace as if it were a shrink-wrapped product. But the peace of Christ can’t be bought and sold. It’s not a theory about how to rule the world with less violence. Instead, we build peace, we create peace, we invite peace, when we confess our desires for power, the desires of our heart. A pure heart is fertile soil for peace to grow.
But this is messy business. Confessions are messy; desires are messy. Peace isn’t a straightforward process—there are always twists and turns. You don’t know what someone will think or what someone will do when you tell them your motives. But that’s how it goes for the kingdom of God’s peace. We can’t control it. We can’t predict it. We can’t make it happen on our terms. God’s peace defies our manipulation. But at least we know one thing: “Blessed are the pure in heart” comes first. Then follows “Blessed are the peacemakers.” So all we can do is pray that as we expose our desires, as we confess our need for power, as we purify our hearts—we pray that we may be good soil for the seeds of God’s kingdom of peace.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God; blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
May we purify our hearts and bear the fruit of peace by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen