The Urban Grind

Blessed are the Peacemakers


Let's just say Friday morning was a unique experience in my young pastoral ministry.

And [Jesus] opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:1-12)

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is arguably the most well-known messages he preached during his public ministry. As a pastor and theologian I am very familiar with these nine sayings having studied them for years and preached on them many times. On Friday I gained new insight into one particular blessed.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God

In the past two weeks we have had twelve gang related shootings. The community is reeling from the effects of the recent string of violence. Our Chief of Police even received this threat from gang leaders, “You can’t stop us — we’ve got more shooters than you have officers.” The block is hot right now - and I’m not talking about the Lil Wayne track from a decade ago.

Bridge City hosted a community service event honoring the 50th Anniversary of the Mid-South District (the LCMS District that called/sent me to Chattanooga) on Saturday. One project we were working on for the event was erecting a fence around the recently planted community garden at the rec center. Mark and I had planned on driving our beat up Uhaul out to Lowe’s to load up concrete, fence posts, and picket panels on Friday. I was only at the rec center for five minutes when we got word that someone fired off a couple shots around the corner and up the hill from the center. Even worse - we knew the dudes who were involved.

Mark and I hopped in the Uhaul and drove up to make sure everything was cool and everyone was straight. We approached the front door of the house, knocked, and waited for the brothers to come out and fill us in on what went down. Coming out the front door with shirts off I saw scars from previous bullet wounds and scars from surgeries long ago. With agitated voices raised they explained that another dude had showed up at their house to handle some business and when an argument arose popped off a couple of shots into the air. Not unusual - but these brothers stay at their mom’s house and firing a pistol near mom’s house is a sure sign of disrespect and an invitation for escalated trouble. As we listened to the guys explain what happened the instigator of the beef rolled slowly around the corner in his car. That’s when things started going off...

Jumping out of his car Mark grabbed him in a bear hug keeping him from coming at the brothers standing on the porch. Standing at the bottom step I channeled my inner Dennis Rodman and blocked out one of the brothers trying to get at the unwanted visitor. For the next hour we were enveloped in the cacophony of sworn threats, hurled insults, chest-puffing posturing, and dialed conversation with the rest of the set calling for retribution. It was an intense situation for Mark and I trying to diffuse a situation that could have easily escalated into another unnecessary homicide.

Eventually, we were able to them all to chill out, we got the one to leave, and made sure to recommend caution to the brothers moving forward. Hands clasped, backs pounded, sighs released we returned to our orange and white box truck to move on with the service even preparation. As we settled into the bench seat all I could think about were those words of Jesus...

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God

I am grateful for Mark. He is a peacemaker. The trust he has with these men, once innocent boys, allowed us to make an attempt at peace. We both knew the drama wasn’t over. The dude who fired off the pistol was gonna get beat up for transgressing the laws of the gang. Disrespect is the worst offense one can cause to another member of the set - and it had to be punished. We just hoped the nightly news wouldn’t report yet another death of a young black man from our community.

Theoretically, there was room for the guys to make peace in a peaceful way. Theologically, reconciliation comes through peacemaking not violent vengeance taking. Why couldn’t the beef get squashed with a simple confession and absolution? Why was peaceful resolution impossible? Why? The rules of the street aren’t theoretically or theologically correct — and it sucks. Mark and I felt the discomfort in our stomachs as we drove away in silence.

Jesus called for peacemaking because he knew he would die a violent death. Victim of wrongful execution Jesus knew his death would grant peace through faith between God and man. Therefore, all sons of God should pursue peace having received it undeservingly themselves. But, like all the other blessed are the… Peacemaking is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t occur instantaneously. Peacemaking isn’t an inherent privilege. You have to earn the right to make peace — to stand between warring parties.

We live in a violent world. Bridge City Community exists in one of the most violent neighborhoods in Chattanooga. Peacemaking isn’t a luxury or an option for us. I pray that God would give us patience and the courage to continue pursuing peacemaking for the sake of our neighbors — that they may be sons of God as well.

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