Micah 4:1-5 (NIV)
In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.
That passage from Micah is a beautiful vision of the future God promises, but at times like these it can seem impossible. But then the incarnation should have been impossible, and the resurrection should have been impossible. Christian faith rests on the belief that nothing is impossible. That doesn't really solve the problem though. If peace is promised and possible, why is it still so elusive? I think perhaps the truth is that we have not truly believed in it, and so we have scorned the promise and rejected the possibility. We have not dared to hope for peace and so we have prepared for war. We have not discovered the power of love and so we have succumbed to the power of hate. We have worked against God instead of working with God. But it is not too late. If enough people believe in the promise and the possibility of peace, it can happen. ‘The Troubles’ is a rather twee name for a conflict that tore Northern Ireland apart for nearly thirty years, and brought violence to other parts of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The consequence of a bloody history of political and religious conflict going back centuries, it must have seemed impossible to imagine any lasting peace. And yet after many years of complex talks and proposals and compromises, the Good Friday Agreement was accepted by referendums in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, with a record breaking turnout returning an overwhelming majority in favour. Peace came not because one side battered the other into submission, but through the will of the people.
I watched the final episode of ‘Derry Girls’ again this week, which sees the main characters negotiating the challenges of late teenagehood and wrestling with the responsibility of voting in the Good Friday Agreement referendum. None of them want the violence to continue, but they realise that ending it is not straightforward, as they have to reckon with the fact that the agreement will mean the early release of Michelle’s brother, jailed for murder as a result of his role in paramilitary violence. Speaking to her grandfather, Erin shares her dilemma: “People died. Innocent people died, Granda. They were someone’s mother, father, daughter, son. Nothing will ever make that okay. And the people who took those lives, they’re just gonna walk free. What if we do it and it was all for nothing? What if we vote yes and it doesn’t even work?” Her grandfather understands her fears, but he offers her another possibility: “What if it does [work]? What if no one else has to die? What if all this becomes a ghost story you’ll tell your wains one day? A ghost story they’ll hardly believe?” And when she goes into the poll booth the next day, we see her vote yes to that possibility.
Like Erin, we have to believe in the possibility of peace. We have to yes to it and then we have to take whatever faltering steps we can to walk towards it. Because peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but an active commitment to a better vision. To quote from ‘Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals’: “Peacemaking doesn't mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.”
I cannot give you a simple guide to how to interrupt injustice and disarm evil and find the third way, but I would like to suggest some founding principles or practices. First, prayer. This is about grounding all our peacemaking in a connection with God, relying not on our own wisdom or strength but on that which comes from the example of Christ and the power of Spirit at work in us. Second, protest. This might look like taking to the streets with placards and petitions, but fundamentally it is about speaking for truth and justice, being unafraid to challenge the harm we see in the world. And third, prophetic living. This is about modelling the kingdom values of peace and compassion and justice, living in such a way that other people understand that another kind of life is possible and seek to join in.
There are also plenty of models that we ourselves can look to. For example, the author of ‘Common Prayer’, Shane Claiborne, is himself a peace activist. One of the projects he is involved with is RAW Tools, based in Philadelphia. They make gardening tools out of guns, in a modern twist on beating swords into ploughshares. They also run workshops in restorative justice and deescalation, going beyond Micah’s word that we will no longer train for war in order to train for peace. And they encourage people to engage in personal reflection and community projects, so that everyone might sit under their own vine and fig without fear or hatred. There are good people doing good things, and I really encourage you to seek out role models as a source of hope and inspiration.
Peace is part of a wider vision of justice and joy and fellowship and flourishing, and so I want to end by broadening our view. First with some words from later in the book of Micah: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” And finally with some words from a modern prophet, Martin Luther King Jr: “We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make this old world a new world. We will be able to make [us] better. Love is the only way.” So let us believe in peace even when all the odds are against it. Let us act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God. And let us make of this old world a new world through the redemptive power of love.