At the most basic level, peace is the absence of conflict. These days there isn’t much peace around the world. Think about Ukraine; think about Israel/Palestine and Gaza; think about Sudan; think about Myanmar and the Karen state. Wars are being fought all over the world: civil wars within states, wars between nations, wars of all kinds. It’s almost as if Jesus had said, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the warmakers, for they will be called children of God!”
War never goes out of style. Even with all of its destructive power, with all the harm it does to human life and property, people do not seem to be any closer to being peacemakers than they were in Jesus’ day. Even when wars come to an end, sometimes the result is not really peace, but just a continuation of violence by another name. One side beats the other, but there is no real peace. Real peace means an end to fear, and provides the means for human beings to prosper. That is true peace.
Jesus knew that peacemaking does not come naturally to human beings. When he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9), he knew it would be hard for human beings to hear and obey. But that is why he taught them! If the need for peacemaking were obvious, and the way to make peace were easy, Jesus could have taught them something else that they didn’t already know, and needed no help in doing.
When Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9), he was teaching them about the kingdom: about God’s reign on earth. In the Lord’s prayer, we pray “thy kingdom come” because God’s kingdom is not yet established among us. The kingdom still lies ahead, it is still to come, beyond all earthly kingdoms and nations.
But the kingdom is present among us, like the mustard seed that Jesus teaches about in the Gospel: it is the smallest of seeds but grows into the mightiest of shrubs, a great tree (Matt. 13:32). Or the kingdom is like yeast that can leaven a whole loaf (Matt. 13:33). The kingdom is hidden, and not visible, like treasure that’s buried in a field (Matt. 13:44). According to Jesus, the kingdom is like a field where the grain grows with the weeds (Matt. 13:26). The weeds and the wheat grow together for the time being until the harvest, when the wheat goes into the barn and the weeds into the fire.
Later in the Sermon, Jesus expands on his teaching about peacemaking. “If you are angry with a brother or sister you will be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5:22). As Jesus says, it’s not enough to avoid killing someone: we must avoid the anger that is at the root of murder! Once again, Jesus is teaching us something very important that we don’t like to hear. Jesus teaches that it is the human heart that is at the root of sin; the human heart that leads us astray. Our hearts are very hard. We need hearts that are at peace with others, and that are at peace with God.
Long ago, God promised to give us those hearts. The prophet Jeremiah foretold, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:31, 33). And it says in the prophet Ezekiel, “a new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26). God wants our hearts, and so he gives us new hearts.
These prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who sends his Holy Spirit among us to give us new hearts. Our confirmands this morning are reminding us of the power of the Spirit to change lives. They are committing themselves to a new life where they will follow Jesus and his teaching. They will need the grace of God, in the power of the Spirit, in order to follow through, in order to be peacemakers whose hearts are at peace.
Today, as we celebrate confirmation and the sacrament of Holy Communion, we see how the kingdom is present among us. It is the treasure that’s hidden, the smallest of seeds, mixed in with the weeds but still springing forth. May God give us new hearts to love and serve him, in this life and in the life to come!