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08.20.17 Minority Movements—Possibilities Matthew 5:38-48 Sermon Summary

by on August 21, 2017

One of the slogans of the Reformation was the Latin phrase “ad fontes”: “back to the sources.” Groups that looked only to the Bible introduced some problematic practices. Fortunately, some looked to the early church also.

Summary Points

  • Why more than one source is important
  • Peacemaking as the best response to Jesus’ teaching on peace
  • Commonality as a way of peacemaking
  • Ways of practicing commonality as a congregation

The Reformation of the 16th century was in part a rediscovery of ancient Christian practice. As reform movements went “ad fontes,” back “to the sources,” they looked to the Bible and the early church (called the Patristic Period). Some of the reformers who didn’t look to the patristics (fathers of the church), came to justify armed resistance, polygamy, forced conversion, and the ban. They were part of the Anabaptist movement. Other Anabaptists looked to the early church and rediscovered more helpful ancient practices, including the pursuit of peace and sharing goods in common.

It is instructive that opposite positions can be reached by interpreters of the Bible. In the same faith community, some found cause for armed resistance, others discovered forms of pacifism. This observation invites us to maintain a broad conversation, to “turn with caution” as I encouraged last week.

The Anabaptist of today most well-known for peace is the Mennonites. They follow the teachings of a Dutch Anabaptist named Menno Simons. Returning to the source of Scripture, the pursuit of peace comes most directly from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. One of Jesus’ most famous illustrations has to do with the pursuit of peace. In speaking of this topic, he instructs his disciples to “turn the other cheek.”

The interpretation of Jesus’ words has taken various forms. One form is pure pacifism, which is the refusal to acknowledge any value to war or to engage in war. Another form is non-resistance, best known through the 20th century social reform movements of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi.

Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus blessed his disciples with these words: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” They are in the context of being a peace-pursuing people. He knew what he was talking about. Those who pursue peace are often persecuted. The early Anabaptists were, as were King and Gandhi. Even today peace activists are maligned by some who don’t understand that a person can be patriotic and peace-loving at the same time.

Perhaps the best way to interpret Jesus’ words on non-resistance and peace is to remember the beatitude from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

On the practice of peacemaking, consider the following description.

Peace is not just about the absence of conflict; it’s also about the presence of justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. even distinguished between “the devil’s peace” and God’s true peace. A counterfeit peace exists when people are pacified or distracted or so beat up and tired of fighting that all seems calm. But true peace does not exist until there is justice, restoration, forgiveness. Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free. (Common Prayer, p. 382)

The main points of this perspective of peacemaking are that peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. It works towards inclusive solutions that reconcile differentiated groups. And it is redemptive for all involved. Peacemaking is about relationships. Sounds to me like the heart and example of Jesus.

Another positive Anabaptist rediscovery is the common ownership of goods. It is based on the testimony of the early church in Acts. It is, in fact, a means to peace and justice. “Common”, of course, means “held by all.” It’s a hard concept to fathom in a culture of independence. Perhaps it can be made easier for us to remember that common also means “ordinary”. It helps because even though we are special, we are not more special than others. Gandhi put it this way: “There is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

Our failure to pursue commonality has a negative impact on our social fabric, but also on our spiritual lives. Commenting on Psalm 132, and invoking the Acts passage above, Augustine had these words to say about verses 3-5: “I will not enter my house until I find a place for the Lord.”

Many people have no interesting in making a place for the Lord; they seek their own interests, love their own possessions, rejoice in their own power, and are greedy for private property. Anyone who wants to make a place for the Lord must take the opposite line. . . It is on account of what we own individually that litigation is instituted and enmity, quarrels, and fights break out. Uproar, dissension, scandals, sins, unjust actions, and even homicide are all the result of private ownership. . . I will not enter the tent where I dwell, [the psalmist writes], until I find. Find what? When you find a place for the Lord, will you then go into your own tent? Or would it be truer to say that the place you have found for the Lord will become your tent? How can that be? Because you will yourself be the Lord’s place, and you will be one with all the others who have become the Lord’s place. (p. 159-60)

Here the main points are that creating a place for the Lord creates a place for others. It creates a common life, a shared life, a just life for all, and a peaceful life for all. The primary obstacle is our fascination with private ownership. Our Buddhist friends would agree.

While our culture makes it impossible not to practice private ownership, we find some guidance from Jesus. He sent his itinerant disciples into the world to preach with nothing, purposefully making them dependent. We can have that same attitude, no matter how much or how little we possess. We can remember our dependence on God, which makes us sensitive to everyone else’s dependence, and which compels us to compassion, generosity, and commonality. It’s how we remain God’s possession, how we keep our possessions from possessing us.

Pursuing the common good, as common people, moves us towards justice, moves us toward peace, and moves us toward Christian faithfulness.

Envision for a moment a church of common-ality and peace:

  • The building and grounds would be functional, safe, and attractive
  • The sanctuary would accommodate differently-abled people and families with children
  • The fellowship hall and kitchen would be functional and comfortable
  • Recovery groups would meet there
  • Homeless families would live there
  • It would participate in food and clothing drives
  • It would gather school supplies for needy children
  • Members would vote in elections according to the common good
  • They would pledge time and talent to the ministry
  • They would talk about hard issues with civility
  • They would pray for peace and justice, even when it is uncomfortable
  • They would support local businesses

I hope this list sounds familiar because your church is already doing these things. My church is doing or preparing to do these things. The more we think about peace and commonality, the more such activities we’ll discover.

The Bible calls us to such pursuits, and we can thank the Anabaptists who have kept this witness alive for us today.

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