This morning Northern Ireland woke up to a new Local Assembly and social media has everyone giving their tuppence worth about what it means. In some of the banter I was called an eejit (derogatory name for idiot!) and that my friendship with Fr Martin Magill was “clearly discernment lacking”.
It all took me back to this West Wing episode. It is one of the many defining moments of the Jed Bartlet’s Presidency in West Wing, the series that is perhaps God’s reason for giving humans the ability to create moving pictures.
Congressmen have been killed in Gaza and the American people (over 80% a poll is telling us) are demanding revengeful justice. It is of course a echo of 9/11 but Bartlet ain’t no George W Bush and so he is thinking the slower burn of peace that will bring security on a more long term basis rather than the fast knee jerk feel better response that perhaps makes people feel safer in the short term but leads to larger body counts.
Bartlet sets out to find peace, the peace he read about when reciting the Beatitudes at the funeral of his great friend and naval expert Fitzwallace, killed in the same attack. When a joint delegation of Washington’s most powerful politicians arrive, behind the speaker of the house, to demand immediate military response and tell The President he is going to go on television to announce such a strike he turns and says, “I am trying to find a way to make peace... and when I do you can go on television and explain why you were against it.”
It is an argument stopping phrase; like the simplicity of epiphany. What else would we be ambitious to do? Maintain hate and sectarianism? The Old Testament was built around the idea of bringing shalom to earth. Shalom is a peacefulness that is also a wholeness, a harmonious relationship between human and human, human and the earth and human and the Creator. It is about a restoration of all that was lost in the Garden of Eden.
It is the redemption and salvation Jesus came to bring, tearing the curtain in two and breaking down the dividing walls (Ephesians 2). It is all about peace which is why it is so important to Jesus that he should say that peacemakers are children of God. Yet for so long Northern Irish evangelical Christians actually disdained the peace makers calling them liberal heretics. Perhaps on the day of judgement we will have an opportunity to hear before the living God why they were so much against it.
Speaking of judgement, I hear you ask about justice. Justice is what the heavy politicians and American people wanted in West Wing. It is an important player in the Scriptures too. It has a role to play and perhaps its difficult but vital marriage with mercy will actually be an avenue to the peace that is sought. Yet, when we stop to think about it, there will be no need for justice in the New Jerusalem that John sees in his vision that we get to read about it in Revelation.
It is not justice that will fill the air of a new heaven and earth; it will be peace. Peace is God’s goal. The angels sang about it at Jesus birth. Jesus won its victory at his cross and resurrection. If we are about his business then we are going to be called children of God in heaven even if we get called more disparaging vulgar names. I do not believe that it is a coincidence that “blessed are the peacemakers” comes next to “blessed are you when people persecute you” in the Beatitudes. The world wants vengeance not peace.
The past twenty years has seen blessed changes in Northern Ireland. It has been a real period of Divine intervention and grace. And yes, when grace plays its part then we have to experience some very uncomfortable relationships. We might find ourselves in the ludicrous, almost sickening scenario that Jesus was in when he declared he had not seen so much faith all of Israel as a Roman centurion who was crucifying Jesus own people at the side of roads! And if we haven’t been in such awkward situations, can we claim to be following Jesus?
Another scene in the same episode of West Wing has President Bartlet awake in the night pondering his dilemma. His wife Abbey joins him and as he is telling her that it would be so much easier to please the people and authorise a military attack of vengeance and justice, leading to pictures of bombings on CNN and a few charred bodies, Abbey responds, “Do you want easy?!”
Easy is not a word that takes up much space in a Bible Concordance. Jesus never did easy. Jesus never mentioned easy when he was describing what it would be like to follow him. Peacemaking is never easy.
For the people of Jesus’ day it was not easy to live with the forgiveness granted to tax collectors, prostitutes, Roman centurions and a convicted criminal hanging on a cross. Peacemaking comes with some pain.
Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel and that reconciliation is vertical and horizontal. I have committed myself to that Gospel mandate. This election result says that there is work to be done for the Kingdom to come on earth. Personally, with my commitment to reconciliation I was slightly encouraged by the results; just slightly.
Moving forward, from yesterday's election results (I will blog no doubt more next week!) there is much more to do to bring us what Jeremiah 29 calls us to pray for - “peace and prosperity”. Northern Ireland needs sons and daughters of God to step up and boldly attempt peacemaking, to deny themselves, take up crosses and follow Jesus into reconciliation. I personally believe that God is asking me to be working for Shalom, a kingdom on earth that is like heaven which is peace filled. I find nowhere in Scripture where that call could be refuted.
And when the vicious vitriol comes on social media or real life, then I am happy to paraphrase Jed Bartlet, “I am trying to help God to make peace and when there is peace I want you to stand before God and explain why you were against it!”