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God’s Covenant Call to Peacemaking

February 27, 2021
This picture was taken at the Kabul International Airport during one of my ministry trips around Afghanistan in 2005 while I was deployed there as a USAF Chaplain.

The flags represent the NATO coalition forces who took part in operations there immediately following the events of September 11th, 2001. These nations cooperated during a time of war, can you imagine if such cooperation was strengthened and expanded for the cause of peace? In the words of the song made famous by Louis Armstrong, What a Wonderful WorldWhat a Wonderful World recording

In the covenant between God and Abraham I see a similarity to the covenant between God and Noah. God made the covenant with Noah, his family, his descendants, and every living creature that God would never destroy the earth as had been done through the flood. God essentially promised that Noah and his sons would “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Gen 9:1b) This was an offering of hope and a promise to the children of God. When God made the covenant with Abraham, it was a promise to Abraham and his descendants. Abraham would become the “father of many nations” which is a slightly different promise than the one given to Noah. I guess you could say that God’s covenant with Abraham could not have been established without the promise to Noah. 

As with the covenant between God and Noah, the covenant between God and Abraham was about something far greater than an individual. This covenant was not simply about Abraham and Sarah having children. Unfortunately, Abraham and Sarah began subverting the covenant due to their impatience. Wanting a child desperately, the plan was concocted for Abraham to take Sarah’s slave Hagar and have children with her. In the long run, this plan backfired thanks to jealously on the part of Sarah and the bickering between she and Hagar. By taking plans into their own hands, they made the covenant all about themselves instead of being about the greater good of God’s people. In the end, Hagar and Abraham’s son did indeed become the ancestor of a great nation. God established a covenant with Ismael saying that he would be the father of twelve princes and that Ismael would be a great nation. Muslims trace their lineage to Abraham through Ishmael. That’s why the three great religions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are often called people of the book.

In the class that I am taking this spring for seminary (Engaging a Multifaith World), we are exploring how interreligious dialogues work and how they can begin the process of peaceful co-existence of the world’s religions. The purpose is not to prove who is right or who is wrong, rather it is about mutual dialogue in order to work together on common issues such as peace and justice. The class and the readings challenge my classmates and me to look beyond exclusion in order to see how the journey towards Shalom (Jewish), Salaam (Islam), Shanti (Hindu and Buddhist), and Peace can begin. The only way we can truly work towards peace and justice is to listen to and learn from each other as we seek to live out God’s covenant call to peace.

The reading from the gospel of Mark has offered me a different insight into this covenant of peace and peacemaking. When Jesus began to tell the disciples that he was going to endure great suffering, be rejected by the religious leaders, be killed, and then rise after three days I am pretty certain that they didn’t hear the part about rising again after three days. While Jesus was focusing on the bigger picture all Peter heard was the “bad” news. Was it for selfish reasons that Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him? If I had been in Peter’s shoes, the rebuke may have gone something like this: Really, Lord? We are just getting your message out about God’s redeeming love. You are healing people, raising the dead, and teaching countless thousands! You really want to die? You really want to suffer at the hands of the religious elite and the empire? I just don’t get it! My inside voice may well have said—What does that mean for me, Lord? Am I going to suffer? I don’t want to suffer and die. Life is pretty good right now!

I have read and heard many accounts of this particular passage where the blame is heaped on Peter. In a way similar to the “doubting” label being placed on Thomas after the resurrection, Peter is being labeled. A closer examination of the passage reveals that it wasn’t Peter who Jesus was rebuking. Jesus was rebuking Satan… rebuking the temptation to duck, cover, and run. Instead, Jesus calls out Satan for “setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33c)

What do these passages from Genesis and Mark say to me today? What is the message that we are being called to listen to? In the PC(USA) Lenten devotional, “The Way to Shalom: A Lenten Journey to Peace and Wholeness,” I have found myself being challenged to look at this Lenten season and the larger world view with a different set of eyes. Through the lens of my seminary class, I am being invited to look at the world and her religions in a new way. During my Air Force career, I worked alongside of chaplains and military members from a wide variety of religious backgrounds. The interfaith or interreligious dialogue that I was a part of wasn’t focused on who was right or who was wrong, who was saved and who wasn’t. My focus was always on finding a common ground in order to facilitate the First Amendment of the Constitution’s “freedom of religion” clause. In order to do this, I had to look beyond myself and my own preconceptions and prejudices in order to meet my fellow military chaplains and military members where they were as they met me where I was. The class is challenging me to take this a step further. In order to have true dialogue, I have to look beyond myself and truly be open to learn from and listen to others from different faith backgrounds. This call isn’t about me, it is about something far greater.

The movement towards peacemaking calls us to rise above human-made walls, fortresses, and boundaries in order to work together for peace and justice. In his book Faith and Violence, Thomas Merton wrote the following about nonviolence which plays a major role in peacemaking: Nonviolence seeks to “win” not by destroying or even by humiliating the adversary, but by convincing him that there is a higher and more certain common good than can be attained by bombs and blood. Nonviolence, ideally speaking, does not try to overcome the adversary by winning over him, but to turn him from an adversary into a collaborator by winning him over. (p. 12) It is in that way that adversaries become neighbors as we seek to fulfill the command of Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves… including our enemies. In the picture at the top of the blog you see the flags of the NATO coalition that was fighting in Afghanistan. What would it be like if such a coalition was working for peace and justice instead? What a wonderful wo

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