A sermon by Pastor Michael Pahl on September 23, 2018, called “Committed to Peace.” The sermon is the third in a series exploring our church vision and mission statements.
Here is a written excerpt from the introduction:
Grace and peace to you through our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Peace,” I say. “Peace through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But do we really believe it? Peace in every way—peace within us, peace between us, peace among us—this full and lasting peace through our Lord Jesus Christ? Do we really believe this?
Our church’s vision and mission statement says that we do!
“We are followers of Jesus Christ,” our mission statement declares, “committed to the way of peace in our lives.”
And that’s not the only place “peace” comes into our vision and mission. “We seek to express the reconciling…love of God,” we say, to be “a nurturing community of peace.”
We are on a journey with Jesus toward this goal, to an ever “greater peace.”
If you’re counting, that’s four separate references to “peace” or “reconciliation” in our vision of who we want to be, our mission of what we want to do. In other words, peace is a big deal to us!
Of course, that reflects our desire to be a distinctly Mennonite church, situated among the historic “peace churches.” Churches in the Anabaptist stream have nearly always been noted for their distinctive “peace theology”—committed to nonretaliation and nonviolence, objecting to war on the basis of conscience, constructively working toward reconciliation and a more just society.
But many Mennonite churches have abandoned a distinctive peace position. They’ve either dropped it from their self-description or they’ve quietly let it gather dust on their theological shelf.
How about us? Are we still “followers of Jesus Christ, committed to the way of peace”?
For many Mennonites, like many other Christians, this is a purely pragmatic question.
Nonviolence is impractical, many of us think. Of course we should avoid violence in our everyday life. But in the big bad world of violent criminals and violent terrorists and violent despots? Nonviolence just doesn’t work, we might think. We tell ourselves that sometimes violent people can only be dealt with through violence.
And nonretaliation? Maybe that’s fine for when that jerk cuts in front of me on the highway, but as a way for society to deal with violent crime? No way! A harsh jail sentence is what’s needed, we might think, sometimes even capital punishment. “A life for a life” is simple justice, we say to ourselves, and it’s a pretty good deterrent to boot.
In other words, many Christians say, “Yes, Jesus came to bring peace: peace with God and peace with each other. But while we can have peace with God now, which gives us peace in our hearts, and while we should strive for peace with each other, we need Jesus to come back before that ‘no more violence, no more war’ thing can become reality.”
But for Mennonites historically, and for many of us still today, this is not about pragmatics. It’s not about whether nonviolence is “practical,” or whether nonretaliation “works”—it’s about obedience to the teaching of Jesus, faithfully following the way of Jesus.
But here’s my even stronger claim: Jesus’ way of peace does actually work, if we will only give it a chance. Jesus has given us everything we need for peace now, peace in every way. Either we just don’t realize it, or we don’t really believe it.