Peacemaking in an Age of Anger
Steward theology is the basis of The Steward’s Journey. Among other things, it teaches us that every relationship that God brings into our life should be treated as a gift, and as a gift it is an opportunity to let people see Jesus in us. How do we steward the relationships around us? When we think about friends and family it may be easy to answer in the affirmative. But what about the hard people? What about those relationships that are challenging, difficult, frustrating, or even intimidating? How do we steward relationships with angry, closed-minded, unfair, and uncaring people?
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount he calls those people who make peace ‘blessed’. Somehow, engaging in peacemaking bears witness to the world that we are children of God.
In our current cultural climate, peacemaking may be one way that we can be salt and light in a dark and broken world. Let me share with you one example that speaks so clearly to this opportunity that greets us almost daily.
A week or so ago my wife came home from running errands and when she walked into my office, I could tell from her face that something had happened. She fought back tears as she told me something very significant happened to her. People who know my wife know Linda to be compassionate and caring. They also know she is no pushover, strong in character and someone who holds her own. Both sides of her came through as she recounted the story.
“I was at the bank looking for a place to park. It was really crowded and so I decided to drive on and try to park in the lot in the store next-door. I paused to let a man in a large silver pickup truck come into the parking lot and as he went by me, he began shouting through his window. I rolled down my window to find out what was wrong and he screamed at me a series of expletives. He was red-faced and furious, yelling at me that I had blocked the only parking space left and he was trying to turn into it. I apologized saying I had no idea there was even a space there, but he just continued to yell. I rolled up my window and drove on kind of shook, not knowing exactly what I’d done. I went and parked in front of the store next-door, got out and started walking back to the bank. He had pulled into that parking space, gotten out and was now walking down the sidewalk directly toward me. I folded my hands in front of me and walked directly up to him and just said, ‘I’m sorry again, I really didn’t know there was a parking space there. I didn’t mean to block you’. He would have nothing of it. He began shouting at me again and I waited until he was done and just said politely, ‘Again, I really am sorry, I didn’t mean to block the space’. And then I just said, ‘I hope you have a better day’. As soon as I said that I saw his face completely change. He kind of slumped his shoulders and looked down, drew a deep breath and said to me, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not having a good day. I just came from my doctor, and he told me I have cancer. I don’t know how to handle it, and I’m just not doing very well’. My heart about broke and the only thing I could think to do was to put my hand out and take his and say ’I will pray for you, I’m so sorry’. He looked up and what he said really surprised me. He said, ‘you know, God brings people together in strange ways, thank you so much for praying for me’. And we both walked on. I just can’t get him out of my mind, my heart breaks for him but I’m so glad I was able to let him know that I’ll pray.”
Linda and I sat with tears as we held hands and prayed for this unknown man. There are so many remarkable things to learn in this interaction. I told Linda that not only did she defuse a potentially escalating situation, but she set that man free. He could’ve gone home and not only bore the fear of his medical diagnosis, but also carried the shame of having acted so harshly towards someone who he knew didn’t deserve it. I told her that her act of kindness freed him from that shame and allowed him to have one less burden on his heart. It also likely opened him up to remember that there is a God to pray to who is the Great Physician. Who knows the long-term ramifications of this brief but Christlike encounter?
I set this story in the context of a culture where frustration, fatigue, anger, and vitriol are sweeping our nation. Study after study is showing that people in our nation today are operating on a knife’s edge, teetering near an emotional breaking point where even the smallest frustration can cause them to snap. Consider the stories of fights breaking out on airlines, in school board meetings, at sporting events and even in shopping malls. Add in road rage, the verbal abuse of wait staff and attacks on customer service workers, and the pain is everywhere to be seen.
And then there are these words of Jesus. I did a word study on this quote from the beatitudes, and I was surprised to learn that the Greek word for peacemaker could be translated as ‘the process of making someone whole’. Amazing. That means you and I have been given a mandate as a faithful steward to go into the world and watch God make people whole by the way we interact with them. Restoring people’s spirit by our simple acts of making peace in a broken and hostile world.
That is a powerful understanding of the opportunity you and I have every day as we chose how we will interact with the lives of everyone we meet. Or put another way, how we will steward every encounter for the glory of God.
So I ask you, how are you stewarding the relationships around you? They may be major ones like your spouse, your children, or close friends and the people we work with. Or they may be the briefest, momentary encounters;the person who cuts us off in traffic, the person in front of you who takes too long in the grocery store line, maybe even a kindhearted woman who blocks your parking space.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. May people see in you and me today the image of God, the heart of Jesus, the love of the father by our own acts of compassion and kindness. May the testimony of the people you interact with today identify you as a child of God.
Who in your life desperately needs to be made whole? This is the day that the Lord has made, steward every relationship wisely and be amazed at what God will do.