In addition to being the first part of Jesus’ seventh beatitude (in Matthew 5:9), these words also make up the epitaph for my great-grandmother, Lena Baxter Schenck, who died in 1983 and is buried at the Rochester Cemetery up in north Topeka.
We always knew her as “Deb”. She was born in 1895, so all my memories of her are from the latter years of her life. I remember in particular her work at the Charles Sheldon study. Sheldon was the famous author of the book In His Steps, which challenged readers to live by question “What would Jesus do?” Many years later it also spawned the WWJD? bracelet trend that was popular among Christian teens. For years Sheldon’s study was a historical attraction out at Topeka’s Gage Park. Deb had been a devout follower of Sheldon and served as one of the tour guides. (Today it is at the Ward Meade Park, closer to downtown Topeka).
Sheldon died in 1946, and in the latter years of his life he became a vocal advocate for peace. He was a pacifist himself, but he was tolerant of people who felt differently out of genuine Christian conviction. Personally he couldn’t imagine Jesus wanting people to go to war. Part of this may have been because he lived to see the end of World War II, which of course included the atomic bomb.
I think of this and I think of all that my great-grandmother’s generation saw in their lifetimes. In her childhood years she lived through the Spanish-American War. In her young adult years she endured what was known as “the Great War” (and later became known as “World War I”). And after the Great Depression, she endured the Second World War, complete with the devastation of Pearl Harbor and the holocaust. Then came the Korean War, and the years of the cold war – where we had nuclear missiles pointed at each other. And in the latter years of her life she saw the Vietnam War come to a close. So “blessed are the peacemakers” was an appropriate epitaph for Deb. It reflected a yearning for a more peaceful future, a hope for something better.
Christians in America, Japan, Germany, Vietnam, Korea, and Spain have all inherited Bibles with these words of Jesus in them. The beatitude says in full, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” It emphasizes the character of God being revealed in His children. Sometimes a person is said to look like a parent, a grandparent, or a sibling. This is what happens with God as well. It isn’t a physical semblance, but it’s a Christlikeness – a spiritual semblance that carries over. This is emphasized in a couple other passages of scripture…
• In Matthew 5:44-45 Jesus said to love your enemy. Why should we do that? So “that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” This is consistent with God’s character, since He sends sun and rain (the basic substances of life) on both the righteous and the evil, the just and the unjust.
• In Colossians 1:19-20 the apostle Paul uses the same terminology to explain how God was making peace with humankind by the shed blood on the cross. God reached out and absorbed the blows of a broken world on our behalf, for our reconciliation.
Philip Yancey, in his book The Jesus I Never Knew relays a scene from the 1982 movie Ghandi. A Presbyterian missionary named Charlie Andrews was walking with Mahatma Ghandi in a South African city when suddenly they found their way blocked by thugs. Andrews turned to run away, but Ghandi stopped him with a question: “Doesn’t the New Testament say if an enemy strikes you on the right cheek you should offer him the left?” Andrews said he thought the phrase was metaphorical, but Ghandi replied, “I’m not so sure. I suspect he meant you must show courage – be willing to take a blow, several blows, to show you will not strike back nor will you be turned aside. And when you do that it calls on something in human nature, something that makes his hatred decrease and his respect increase. I think Christ grasped that and I have seen it work.”
We take that kind of thing to heart as we think about what peacemakers do. John MacArthur, in his book Kingdom Living: Here and Now names three things…
1. “Make peace with God yourself.” This is important for each one of us. For me, when Deb died in 1983 I was forced to face up with some of my convictions: “God is real. I’ve been pushing Him away so far, but I’m inevitably going to meet Him someday. I want to be on good terms with Him when that happens.” These kind of thoughts led me to begin praying to God each night.
2. “Help others make peace with God.” If you can help someone go from feeling alienated with God and life to having a resonant sense of God’s love, you’ve done the world a great favor. We can’t change other people, but we can do the work of an evangelist. That is a peacemaking work.
3. Make peace with other people, bringing them together with each other. MacArthur is a man of strong opinions on doctrine, and some of his ideas can be controversial. But he tries not to let them damage Christian fellowship: “I always try to find the point of agreement, the point of peace, because once you have established peace, you can build on it.”
God bless you,
Andrew McHenry, Pastor – First Congregational Church
The blog of Andrew McHenry, Pastor of First Congregational Church of Emporia, Kansas.