"Making peace is holy work"
A sermon by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, in Trefoldighetskirken, Oslo, Saturday 09/12/2017
Text: Matthew 5:9
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
“The peacemakers.” A beautiful term. It concerns the best part of our humanity; it concerns what allows us to live the good life together. It concerns the peaceful ones. Those who create trust and foster good relations. Those who try to bring out the best in us. Those who attempt to solve conflicts. Those who identify what unifies us. They are needed, like before—perhaps like never before.
It is easy to tear asunder everything that is encompassed by the word “peace” (shalom, saalam, eirene, pax): Community, unity, solidarity, willingness to share, everything that makes one belong to the herd that cares for one another. Peace is wellbeing, health, happiness, and life. We need peace to live in community. It pertains to what we ask for when we pray for the “daily bread”.
This is a great and compelling life task: to protect our peace, to act in a way that enables us to be one—even though we are different. We need examples of our potential to change the world for the better. We, the people at large, can contribute to peacemaking, making the world a more peaceful place. We need encouragements, such as this year’s Peace Prize, to see that it is possible. It is possible for ICAN—it is possible for all of us.
Everyone needs peace. We need it in our closest relations, on a local level, nationwide, worldwide, between different groups and peoples, between different ethnic groups and races, and between different religions and convictions.
This world is screaming for those who can keep us united in peace and justice, so that we can be one in our efforts to share the resources, to preserve the climate, the sea, the earth. So that we can create a future for our children and grandchildren that they can look forward to.
We need words that can unite us. We need words that can establish norms and agreements about how things should be, even though things are not actually so. Not yet. The world needs international agreements, but not when everyone is finally in agreement and every problem has been solved—we need them now. Every nation can contribute to the creation of a world without nuclear weapons. Survival of the fittest is not the sole mode of operation that shall prevail. Several paths towards peace must be attempted. Human rights and international law are needed. And respect for human rights and international law is needed. Otherwise, there will be no peace. We need words that compel us to believe in peace. We need words that compel us to make peace.
Many things are harmed by malicious words and by crude and irreconcilable speech. It harms our close relations and pits us against each other, within our families, within our nations, and within our world. It is harmful, whether in tweets from presidents and others seeking to exert power in such a way, or in warmongering propaganda. It is dangerous to lead people and nations by dividing and creating bad blood between different groups. It is very dangerous to use religion as a means of spawning conflict.
However, in today’s world, the wounds of humans extend beyond words: Millions carry wounds and marks inflicted by various weapons in the world today. Many people are fleeing from their own homes. Many people are faced with closed borders when asking for asylum. Many people are dead.
Survivors of war carry around the wounds from the terrible things that have happened, whether on their bodies, or in their souls—or both—for the rest of their lives. Some of those who survived the only nuclear bombs used in war to date, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, are still among us. They bear witness to the fact that war is the worst that can happen, and that in war, the use of nuclear weapons is the worst that can happen. Not only can they cause damage—they can destroy everything. Absolutely everything.
Peace is very tangible to those who have experienced its opposite. Peace is a condition of life.
Unto all people—peace and rejoicing!
We sing that during our celebration of Christmas.
We sing that during our celebration of the Peace Prize, too.
God is the God of peace.
We, as humans, have been given the same task that falls to God himself: Making peace. Nothing less than that.
The word of Jesus qualifies our work for peace through the strongest words: Beatified are the peacemakers. Blessed are the peacemakers. Making peace is to do what is best, to realize our dreams, but also to fulfil the will of God. Making peace is holy work.
Peace is not just a topic for the negotiating table. Peace is a matter of life for the people at large. Peace is something we all can make. Peace is something we must dare to believe in and act accordingly.
One of the stories I have carried with me through life, is one my mother told me about the day when “peace came”. She spoke of peace like a friend, who came and changed everything. She was a student nurse working on patients, carrying them to bomb shelters in hospitals whenever the air-raid sirens sounded here in Oslo during the last part of World War II. She talked about how she felt one day in May 1945, when they had heard rumours of peace, not knowing whether they were true or not. They made their way downtown to ascertain the truth. She was convinced once she saw the bonfires illuminating the streets that night. They were burning the blackout curtains. The people were convinced that there would be no more air-raid sirens. That was the people’s faith in the word of peace; that was the action that demonstrated peace as a reality.
When we venture out into the December darkness with our candles tonight, we are part of that same flame of peace, that same people’s faith in peace. Indeed, there is more: We are part of the active battle to free earth and humankind from the threat of a nuclear holocaust.
In that same spirit, we of the World Council of Churches have, during this advent season, encouraged the lighting of our advent candles—all around the world—for peace on the Korean peninsula, where a peace agreement still does not exist. On the contrary, there are threats of weapon use; moreover, there is danger of nuclear weapon use. Either way, an armed conflict there would be an incalculable disaster—for the people in Korea, North and South—and for the entire world.
The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the greatest honours available in this world today. Uniting the peoples and nations of the world around a treaty prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons, prohibiting threats of such use, and thereby also prohibiting possession of nuclear weapons, is a great act of peace. It is deserving of great honour.
Winners of the Nobel Peace Prize are not the only ones capable of peacemaking. We can all help carry the vision and the hope for peace forwards and turn it into something tangible. We can all be pilgrims of justice and peace, humans who are willing to change and who are seeking new paths towards our common future.
Jesus assigns the highest honour to the work of peacemaking: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. They receive the highest status the God of peace can bestow upon them.
If we want to, we can all help make peace. That is our highest honour. Today. Tomorrow. Every day. Making peace is holy work. It makes the world safer for all of us—for all children and grandchildren.