Written for Third Church on August 21, 2022
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” Frederick Buechner
That quote, and many others attributed to Frederick Buechner have been filling my social media feed since his death on August 15th.
Carl Frederick Buechner (/ˈbiːknər/ BEEK-nər; July 11, 1926 – August 15, 2022) was an American writer, novelist, poet, autobiographer, essayist, preacher, and theologian. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister and the author of 39 published books. His work encompasses different genres, including fiction, autobiography, essays and sermons, and his career spanned more than six decades. Buechner’s books have been translated into 27 languages for publication around the world. His writing has often been praised for its ability to inspire readers to see the grace in their daily lives. (Wikipedia and Frederickbuechner.com)
Somewhere on or near my desk is “Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner” which has selections from his writings. These are his thoughts about the Beatitudes (pp. 256-257):
If we didn’t already know but were asked to guess the kind of people Jesus would pick out for special commendation, we might be tempted to guess one sort or another of spiritual hero—men and women of impeccable credentials morally, spiritually, humanly, and every which way. If so, we would be wrong. Maybe those aren’t the ones he picked out because he felt they didn’t need the shot in the arm his commendation would give them. Maybe they’re not the ones he picked out because he didn’t happen to know any. Be that as it may, its’ worth noting the ones he did pick out.
Not the spiritual giants but “the poor in spirit” as he called them, the ones who spiritually speaking have absolutely nothing to give and absolutely everything to receive like the Prodigal telling his father “I am not worthy to be called thy son” only to discover for the first time all he had in having a father.
Not the champions of faith who can rejoice even in the midst of suffering but the ones who mourn over their own suffering because they know that for the most part, they’ve brought it down on themselves, and [those who mourn] over the suffering of others because that’s just the way it makes them feel to be in the same room with them.
Not the strong ones but the meek ones in the sense of the gentle ones, i.e., the ones not like Caspar Milquetoast but like Charlie Chaplin, the little tramp who lets the world walk over him and yet, dapper and undaunted to the end, somehow makes the world more human in the process.
Not the ones who are righteous but the ones who hope they will be someday and in the meantime are well aware that the distance they still have to go is even greater than the distance they’ve already come.
Not the winners of great victories over Evil in the world but the ones who, seeing it also in themselves every time they comb their hair in front of the bathroom mirror, are merciful when they find it in others and maybe that way win the greater victory.
Not the totally pure but the “pure in heart,” to use Jesus’ phrase, the ones who may be as shop-worn and clay-footed as the next one but have somehow kept some inner freshness and innocence intact.
Not the ones who have necessarily found peace in its fullness but he ones who, just for that reason, try to bring it about wherever and however they can—peace with their neighbors and God, peace with themselves.
Jesus saved for last the ones who side with Heaven even when any fool can see it’s the losing side and all you get for your pains is pain. Looking into the faces of his listeners, he speaks to them directly for the first time. “Blessed are you,” he says.
You can see them looking back at him. They’re not what you’d call a high-class crowd—peasants and fisherfolk for the most part, on the shabby side, not all that bright. It doesn’t look as if there’s a hero among them. They have their jaws set. Their brows are furrowed with concentration.
They are blessed when they are worked over and cursed out on his account, he tells them. It is not his hard times to come but theirs he is concerned with, speaking out of his own meekness and mercy, the purity of his own heart.
Our beatitude focus today is, Matthew 5:9, Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.
This beatitude would have been understood “… against the background of a well-known liturgical line [from Jewish tradition], that God makes peace, from which it follows that others who make peace are like God and so God’s children.” (Dale Alison, p. 55 The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiriting the Moral Imagination)
God’s peace or Shalom isn’t a quiet rest; peace is the wholeness or fullness of life and love for each, and for every child of God.
Peace isn’t a place we arrive, but a world we construct.
The blessing is for those who can’t find peace, so they cobble together broken pieces, formulate new ways to live in, and even in great pain, birth peace into existence again, and again. The blessing is for those doing the hard work.
Peace is not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love.
Children of God are always working for peace within themselves, peace with God, and peace with one another.
One of the ways we work for peace is to pray. The most famous prayer for peace is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury… pardon. Where there is discord… unity. Where there is doubt… faith. Where there is error… truth. Where there is despair… hope. Where there is sadness… joy. Where there is darkness… light. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek: To be consoled… as to console. To be understood… as to understand. To be loved… as to love. For it is in giving… that we receive, It is in pardoning… that we are pardoned, and It is in dying… that we are born to eternal life.
*This is the version of the prayer I purchased from the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi
Francis of Assisi may not have written the words of the prayer attributed to him, but he certainly lived them.
No one believes Francis wrote this prayer but we believe that this is how he lived.
And that’s the thing about prayer, worship, sermons, and all of the things we say we believe; we have to live as if we believe them.
Our beliefs are reflected in our prayers, in the ways we talk to God and how we talk to ourselves.
Our prayers are reflected in the way we interact with our family, friends, neighbors, and enemies.
Our prayers are reflected in the way we use our time, talent, and treasures.
We gather as Third Church weekly to worship to remind us of who we are and whose we are. We are children of God, who are working for peace, for Shalom. We are a group of Christians who are working to eradicate racism in ourselves and in the systems that sustain our common life. We are people who see others as beloved of God worthy of clean air and water, healthy food, access to medical care, and safe places to live. We support organizations like East End Cooperative Ministries, Global Links, and Days for Girls with our volunteer time and our donations. We are working for the fulness of life for every person. We are the peacemakers.
We are the peacemakers. We can see the beautiful in the world and the terrible. And as people of faith, we choose to respond with more beauty, truth, and love. Do not be afraid. We are in this together. We are the peacemakers.
Benediction: We will see beautiful and terrible things. Do not be afraid peacemakers. We are in this together. Go with God’s blessings and with God’s peace.