By Rod Benson
Good preaching positively unsettles us. It inspires wonder in God’s character and ways. It draws adoring worship from bruised, parched and self-absorbed souls. It encourages new thoughts.
Good preaching is a light in the dark. It challenges the status quo, instills vision and prompts reform. It uncovers common ground and builds bridges. It heals wounds, plants seeds and satisfies the hungry.
Good preaching about peace does all this and more. It goes to the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. The great Jewish prophets anticipated a future shaped by universal shalom, a key biblical term for salvation (Isaiah 11:1-9).
This shalom originates in God and comes to us through the work of Jesus, God’s Messiah (Isaiah 9:6-7; Luke 2:14).
The Bible describes the consistent message of Jesus as “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).
As my friend, David Gushee, observes, Jesus “both voiced and embodied the prophetic vision of an eschatological shalom in God’s coming future.”
This ideal future invades our present as we are reconciled to God, and God grants us perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3).
As this priceless gift does its work in us, it extends to others, easing relational tensions, ending hostilities and establishing justice.
When did you last hear good preaching about peace? When did such preaching last move you to embrace new thoughts, decisions, actions?
Abiyot Ahmed Ali was born in the small Ethiopian town of Beshasha. He trained for military service and served as an officer during the Ethiopian Civil War, the Ethiopia-Eritrea War and in Rwanda.
In 2006, at age 30, he was posted back to his hometown after a mob attacked a group of Christians, killing six and wounding 15. Ahmed was instrumental in restoring order and addressing ongoing communal tensions in the community.
Subsequently, he entered Ethiopian politics, founded the Religious Forum for Peace and completed a doctorate on the role of social capital in conflict resolution.
In 2018, he was elected prime minister, and in 2019 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to ending the 20-year post-war territorial stalemate between his country and Eritrea.
Ahmed is an active evangelical Christian. I have never met Ahmed, but I expect he could teach us a lot about peace and peacemaking, perhaps also about preaching on peace.
There’s little point in preaching on peace when you’re not “walking the talk” in your own marriage and family, your business and social relationships, and your witness in the world to the gospel of peace.
When the writer to the Hebrews called on his or her readers to “pursue peace” (Hebrews 12:14), the words were neither rhetorical nor symbolic.
They constituted a clear ethical challenge, in a context of high tension and imminent persecution, and they continue to challenge us today.
What does it mean for you to pursue peace in your social relationships? What prevents or limits your peacemaking potential, and what would it take to overcome this? What distracts you? What price are you unwilling to pay to pursue peace?
If you are a preacher, what scope do you have to integrate themes of peace and peacemaking into your sermons? What problems and issues could you address by preaching on peace? What vision of shalom in God’s coming future could you cast for your community?
Ahmed Ali took seriously the biblical call to be a peacemaker, to pursue peace, to extend the shalom of God in his fractured community.
Each of us, in our own ways, is called to do the same, working out the peace of God in our own context, making a positive difference to the social capital and relational health of our communities, nation and world.
Preach peace, pursue peace, model peace. It won’t be easy. It could make new enemies.
Initially, it may win you few friends. It could take years for good fruit to develop. You’re unlikely to be awarded a Nobel Prize for your efforts. But do it anyway (Hebrews 12:11).
It is only as you actively and sincerely pursue peace in concrete ways that you can meaningfully challenge others to do the same. But the work of peacemaking must go on.
Who knows? God may use you as God used Ahmed. There may well be future Ahmeds in your audience, in your circle of influence.
May the God of peace graciously pursue you today as you seek peace.