Jesus bids farewell to his disciples, the Holy Spirit arrives and makes her presence known, and the Church is born: diverse, inclusive, and rooted in equality by God’s unconditional love in Christ. The church arrives as a new creation, a community of people organized by God’s new ethic of inclusion.
Where the Tower of Babel is about the confusion that reigns when humans want to be gods, the story of how the Holy Spirit made her presence known at Pentecost by creating a new kind of community, where everyone had a place and everyone was given the ability to understand each other, ushering in the new creation of Christ’s work, the new society where humankind is to work together to make God’s love real for all, not to become gods, but to live out the Peace that Jesus leaves behind; the way of Peace; the lifestyle of peacemaking; the way of Christ that makes those in poverty the highest priority for the church, the new society of the Holy Spirit.
What Jesus is all about, for John’s gospel, is Peacemaking. “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you,” he says. A peace unlike the one previously known by human society. Jesus, in the gift of the Holy Spirit to humanity, is leaving a legacy of peacemaking. Not just setting our hearts at rest, thankfully, about who God is: the embodiment of compassion; the resurrector of hope; the restorer of wholeness in a broken world. Note that none of these is Zeus with the long white beard and frown, hurling lightning bolts down on humanity! Christ Jesus not only sets our hearts at rest about who God is, but also leaves a legacy: a blueprint for peacemaking in humankind. His foot-washing kind of peacemaking is about revealing all human relationships as fundamentally equal. He exposes all the human made distinctions of social status: insider/outsider, winners/losers, makers/takers, as false. There ARE no such distinctions for God and thus in the new creation of the Church.
The Holy Spirit gives her first and greatest gift to show how Jesus’ kind of peacemaking gets done. She gives the gift of understanding. She gives the gift of interpretation. She gives the gift of communication to humankind. It’s like she’s saying, “the way to Peace in the world is through understanding,” and the only way we can come to understand each other is by talking to each other. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? And we know from experience how true that is. If we have a misunderstanding with our spouse or partner, and we don’t talk about it, it festers into resentment! Being able to communicate with each other as the first option, is the way to Peace. But it’s not the quickest way. It’s sometimes the most inconvenient way. The most time-consuming way, because differences are expressed. Some that are deep seated, even organic.
Look at humanity in all its diversity: the majority of humans try and keep to their most familiar type, the type of people most like themselves because it’s so challenging to try and understand a person that isn’t like ourselves. We have busy lives! We want to get things done! We want action, not talk! It feels like we haven’t given up the “Tower of Babel motivation” yet: putting the project itself ahead of right relationships. With the ministry and teachings of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we see that God’s priority is not project completion, but process. The process of sitting down and actually talking to each other, and coming to mutual understanding, seems to be the Peacemaking way of the new creation of God. Community-building, taking the time to learn about, and be in real relationship with our neighbor, and serving the needs of the whole rather than just some; all these are the ways of Christ, that are the Peacemaking ways he leaves the world. And the Holy Spirit is about making it happen.
Throughout human history, we see that nations still don’t have the patience for this kind of peacemaking. World War I began because of the lack of communication between nations. Acts of aggression broke out all over Europe between countries that didn’t understand what the initial cause was all about and like a chain of dominoes, nation after nation panicked and declared war.
And then the seeds of World War II were planted in the Treaty of Versailles, signed a hundred years ago this summer. President Woodrow Wilson had a vision for an international organization where all the countries of the world would have a place to communicate with each other, come to a mutual understanding, a place where grievances and misunderstanding and disputes could be discussed; and compromises reached. He called it the League of Nations. The United States did not sign the Treaty of Versailles, because the Treaty signers didn’t want a League of Nations, they wanted to punish Germany. But Congress also did not vote to join the League of Nations. Congress didn’t want to get involved in the problems and disagreements of other countries. “America First”, was the sentiment. An international forum for conflict resolution was seen as a waste of America’s time. So Germany re-armed itself and sought revenge against the Treaty signers and their punishing ways. And Hitler’s armies began their evil quest for world dominance.
These are the lessons of the two World Wars, and the World cannot afford a third. But without an international structure for nations to meet together, and sit down with each other to talk over their differences, and an international court for crimes that would otherwise lead to armies seeking revenge, war and the threat of war, continues to be the first option in international relations. It is good to be reminded that peace is not the absence of war. Sometimes peace is mistaken for the quiet before the storm: the quiet that Europe knew while Hitler’s evil was growing.
I think it must be very frustrating and disappointing for God. Her Spirit comes and gives us everything we need to make the peace-making ways of Jesus real. And we say they’re just too inconvenient. That it would be too expensive to do it any other way. We still seem to be Tower of Babel project managers down here! How frustrating it must be for God! But God hasn’t given up. The Holy Spirit of peacemaking is still alive. There are incredible people doing amazing work, for the sake of World Peace. I believe that’s God’s vision for the world, the way given to us in Jesus life and teachings, and empowered by the Spirit. A way that shows up in all people of compassion and conscience.
Most of the world has been remembering the two World Wars this summer, and hearing stories of the survivors and witnesses, now in their ‘90’s. One such witness is the subject of a new Netflix documentary I watched, called “Prosecuting Evil.” I recommend it to you as a testimony to the on-going work of peacemaking and an inspiring testimony to the Holy Spirit, still at work.
It’s the story of Ben Firencz, who was only 27 when he was asked to be one of the two war crimes prosecutors at the Nuremburg Trials in 1945. His family fled Romania at the beginning of World War I, and came to the US as refugees. He graduated with a law degree from Harvard, and enlisted in the Army. He was part of the liberation of Auschwitz, and was given the task of helping to meet the needs of the survivors.
Those memories created a furnace of energy within him, as he dedicated the rest of his life to the cause of peace among nations. Ben Firencz who is now 99 years of age, is known as a pioneer in the writing of international law. He believes that the only way to stop nations from fighting each other, is for them to have a forum to sit down together and resolve their differences according to mutually agreed upon laws. He says we have no other option now. World War III is not an option. His passion for international communication and dispute resolution comes from his experience of liberating the Nazi concentration camps: his witness to the suffering that all War creates. He spent the next 60 years of his life, writing international law, lecturing, and advocating for a new model of international relations: one where nations could meet as fellow members of a world community and not as adversaries on a battlefield. His efforts led to the creation of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, an organization the United States refuses to be a part of today, because just as it was after World War I, it’s still “America First” that we seem to like best today.
But I am hopeful, because of people like Ben Firencz: an American veteran, an American citizen, a refugee who was given life by this adoptive nation. I don’t even know if he believes in God or not, and it doesn’t really matter to me because the God I’ve come to know and worship believes in world peace. And the fire of Peacemaking burns brightly in people like Ben Firencz. God bless him and his family. And God bless the body of Christ, as we strive to live out the ways of Jesus, and the peacemaking he makes known to us, that the world has yet to embody.