Blessed are the Peacemakers

Uniting Church in Australia President Stuart McMillan preached at the opening worship of the South Sudanese National Conference in Brisbane from 25-27 September, 2015. His sermon is below. 

This is the Rev Dr Gawirrin Gumana AO. I am his son by adoption. When you are in relationship with Australia’s First People, who continue to practise their law and who have retained their language, it is important for them to know how to relate to you. So I was adopted into a Clan/Nation. There are over 50 in North Eastern Arnhem Land. This means I use relationship terms for people in all these Clan/Nations of Arnhem Land, indeed across the Top End and Centre of Australia.

Stuart and Gawirrin

I want to tell you part of Gawirrin’s story. He lives in a remote North East Arnhem Land homeland community. His father as a boy lived with his extended family in this same area. The white men who rode through much of the Territory shooting and killing “blacks” came to this place his father was living. His Dad jumped into the billabong and got under a bank edge hidden but able to breath. The men on horses shot and killed every other person. Later that night when there were no sounds of guns or horses or groaning he came out of the water. His whole extended family were dead. You can imagine how this man grew up and how my Father, Gawirrin hears this story. The emotions, the anger and bitterness. 

Our passage from 2 Corinthians opens in verse 16 with the declaration: “From now on we regard no one from a human point of view.”  Paul continues. When we have received Jesus as Lord and Saviour and are filled with the Spirit of God, then we are made new in Christ. Our old self is put to death with Christ. Now, we have new life in Christ. Thanks be to God!

In the “be-attitudes”, Jesus is recorded as saying “blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.”

The capacity to regard no one in the way we once might have is to be found in this enabling mercy of God in Jesus. In Gawirrin’s case, God’s forgiveness, God’s grace-filled mercy which Gawirrin truly experienced, enabled him to let go of all bitterness towards the white men who had killed his family members, indeed for all white people.

One commentator speaks of this capacity as, “having received mercy, we become channels of mercy.” You see, sharing the mercy, sharing the forgiveness we have received with others is imperative because it’s the bridge re-connecting. Re-establishing our relationship with God and the promise of life.  Forgiveness and mercy becomes the ‘Bridge of Hope’ for us and for others.

Sometimes mercy is translated as love and that is close. However, compassion is a better way to understand mercy. I said in my installation sermon in July that my definition of compassion is “to ache with”, to feel another’s pain. The greatest demonstration of compassion is God in Jesus dying our death so that we might live his life.

Joy Balazo worked for the Uniting Church and developed the international Young Ambassadors for Peace program. She worked with young adults in many Asian and Pacific nations to build local peacemaking teams. Often there would be young adults from different faith communities or tribal groupings who traditionally had not associated, and in many instances had been killing one another for generations. A new book titled Live Peace, in which people tell their own stories of change, was launched at the 14th Assembly in July. Often these people, in recognising the humanity of another, began to open themselves more to each other and to let the walls of hostility be broken down. They began to build bridges of hope, to start to believe in a new future – in life.

I don’t pretend to fully understand the causes of the violence and loss of life in the South Sudan. But my friends, as a Christian I know that all people are created in the image of God. A God of love and forgiveness, a God of mercy and compassion, a God who in Christ has destroyed the walls of hostility between people and who calls us and equips us to be peacemakers. A God who promises in Christ life evermore.

In the 2 Corinthians passage, Paul reminds the church in Corinth that they are to be a new community, a fellowship of reconciliation. The ministry of reconciliation has been entrusted to them. He refers to them as ambassadors. They would have understood they were ambassadors charged to demonstrate and live out the love of Christ shared among them and within the Roman-governed communities in which they lived. Christ’s love becomes a source of life and the motivator for their actions among each other and towards the wider community.

This is true for you my South Sudanese sisters and brothers. You are called to be ambassadors of God’s grace, of Christ’s love, peacemakers, blessed and called children of God.

This “blessed” is translated from a Greek term which has a fuller meaning than the English. It is about wholeness, well-being, joy and holistic peace or in Hebrew, “shalom”. It describes an inner stillness, satisfaction that Jesus spoke of in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give it to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” It’s yours, it’s mine and it’s ours in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

It’s this gift you share with one another. It’s this gift shared with one another for your nation. It’s your gift shared which is also for us in this nation. In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi he talks of the Christians “shinning like stars”. I was so blessed by the four young adults from the South Sudanese community who came to the National Young Adult Leaders Conference (NYALC) at the end of 2014. They shone like stars! I was looking forward to being with you for this 1st National Conference, because of being inspired by their interaction with the community that gathered for NYALC.

I also ached deeply with you for the situation in the South Sudan. Recently I called our church to pray for the peace talks and I rejoiced when the peace deal was signed. Preparing to speak tonight I thought what can I say to this community as an outsider, what can I offer? And then God began to impress upon me about God’s mercy at work in your community, of God’s blessing for you as peacemakers. God who calls you beloved children, no matter your clan/nation.

The governing SPLM in South Sudan has said that reconciliation, unity and forgiveness are the top priorities in this time of transition. As people of faith, we need to pray for this to be a reality.

Your community here in Australia is a sign, a foretaste of the new community of Christ, of the unfinished work of Christ which he calls us to in him. The reconciliation and renewal of the whole creation. And friends, this absolutely includes South Sudan! Praise God.

The Uniting Church in Australia rejoices in your partnership in the gospel with us as it partners with the Presbyterian Church of the South Sudan and is in solidarity with the South Sudanese Council of Churches in faith, prayer and actions for peace and wellbeing in your home nation.

In contrast to the revolutionary zealots of his day, preparing people for guerrilla warfare, Jesus prepares his disciples in grace and sends them out on a mission of healing.

Practically for us now that looks like the partnership with the Presbyterian Church of the South Sudan and the Midwifery school. I’m interested to hear from you and to understand how within the Uniting Church you are being prepared as disciples. What are the bridges of hope for you and how do we live out together the call to be peacemakers?

The final words the psalmist penned were: “For there (ie where kindred live together in unity) the Lord ordained his blessing, life forever more.” Jesus is recorded in John 10:10 as saying he came to bring life, abundant, uncontainable, overflowing life! This is what I look forward to as we share together at this conference.

Beloved, I believe in and pray for, this life to be shared within your community here in Australia and shared within the wider community of the Uniting Church.

I dare to believe for this life to be shared within the Christian community in Australia. And I dare to believe in this life shared among Christians in South Sudan.

I dare to believe in God’s blessings through peacemakers for South Sudan – life!