Guest speaker Alex Costanzo illustrates the characteristics of being peacemakers for God.
Good afternoon. It’s always so wonderful to be here. It’s Mother’s Day. So happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there. I’m a mom. Michael and I have three boys who are now 17, 14, and nine. Now we have teenagers, and it’s a strange new world with teenagers. They morph into these bizarre creatures. Their voices drop, they grow hair all over their body, and start to shave. Everything in my house has doubled in size; the laundry pile, the grocery bill. They’re constantly eating. We have a joke, “It’s time to feed the teenagers again.” The noise level, I can barely hear myself think. The boys themselves are huge. They tower over me now. They’ve got these vampire-like sleep patterns. They sleep all day and stay up all night.
The worst is when they argue. I don’t know if it’s hormones or what, but they argue all the time about stupid stuff. In fact, they bicker so much that Michael and I joke that bickering is their love language. Just the other day, they got into this argument about something ridiculous. The argument was about who’s got the better taste in music and it escalated into a full-fledged wrestling match. My youngest son shouts, “I’ll get the popcorn!” He comes back, he’s watching the wrestling match eating his popcorn. My house is like a circus. Our neighbors hate us.
Last summer, the two wrestlers and I, my two oldest, spent the day at the beach with some good friends. We had the best day. It was one of the best days of 2016 for me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Then it dawned on me, the boys didn’t fight. All day long, they didn’t fight. Not at all. It was like the planets aligned just perfectly. It probably won’t happen again for another decade, but they were just chilling and enjoying each other’s company. No quarrels, no squabbles, not even any snarky comments. They were joking around, just having a good time. It was great. It was better than great. It was magical because it was peaceful. I could use more peace in my life. How about you?
We’ve been doing this great series about peace. Today we’re going to talk about our relationships. God wants us to have peace in our relationships. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they are called children of God.” When we live in peace with each other, we reflect God who at His very core, is all about peace. What does it mean to be a peacemaker? To help us explore this, we are going to look at one of my favorite characters from the Old Testament. His name is Joseph. Some of you may be familiar with his story and some of you might not be, but his story takes up a good chunk of the Book of Genesis. We can learn quite a bit from him.
Joseph is one of the best examples of a peacemaker, in my opinion, in the Bible. He didn’t start out that way. Quite the contrary. He started out as kind of a bratty teenager, which I know a thing or two about, but he finishes strong. I also love this story because it’s about family. No one knows us like our family. We let it all hang out with our family, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Joseph’s story gives all families hope for peace. I’m going to start with a little bit of background. Joseph was one of the 12 sons of a guy named Jacob. Can you imagine 12 sons? I can barely handle my three. Jacob is considered one of the patriarchs of the Jewish nation. He has several wives. His favorite wife bore him two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. They’re number 11 and 12 in the lineup.
We’re going to start in Genesis 37. I’m just going to read as they scroll it above.”This is the account of Jacob and his family. When Joseph was 17 years old, he often tended his father’s flocks. He worked for his half brothers, the sons of his father’s wives, Bilhah and Zilpah, but Joseph reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing. Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. One day, Jacob had a special gift made for Joseph, a beautiful robe, but his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him. One night, Joseph had a dream. When he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever. ‘Listen to this dream,’ he said. ‘We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain, and suddenly my bundles stood up and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine.’ His brothers responded, ‘So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?’ They hated him all the more because of his dreams and the way he talked about them.”
Verse 18, “When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance, and as he approached, they made plans to kill him.” Okay, is this a dysfunctional family or what? I think it would’ve made a great reality show. I think we can also agree that there was no peace in Jacob’s family. We have all sorts of unhealthy behaviors going on here. First, Jacob is playing favorites. Whether we’re talking about a family, classroom, or workplace, we all know that playing favorites is divisive. It breeds jealousy, contempt, and insecurities. That fancy coat might as well have been a bullseye target.
Second, Joseph is a spoiled, bratty tattle-tale, spying on his brothers and bragging about his dreams. You kind of feel for the older brothers because it’s a drag to feel like you’re a second-class citizen. But the brothers allow their anger and jealousy to bloom into outright hatred, so much so that they decide to get rid of Joseph. It’s like they develop this mob mentality. What I find interesting is that no one is trying to work on these relationships. Not the dad, not Joseph, and not the older brothers. The dysfunction is so deeply ingrained that they aren’t even aware of how messed up it is. Yet they’re consumed by it. They don’t seem to value peace. If they don’t value peace, how can they even come close to experiencing it?
The brothers decide not to kill Joseph after all, but they do sell him into slavery. They still want to get rid of him. There are some local traders that are going to Egypt, which is a great distance away. They tear up Joseph’s coat, spill goat’s blood on it and report back to their father that a wild animal must have killed him. Jacob, the father, is devastated. His favorite son, gone. God wants us to desire peace. Why? Because unhealthy relationships can lead to heartbreak. Whereas peace leads to joy.
Let’s look at this verse in Proverbs. “Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy.” Those who promote peace have joy. I believe that the first step in reaching peace in our relationships is to care. The second step is to be self-aware. Have you ever heard that truth, “You can’t control anyone except yourself?” God wants us to be intentional about how we live and to take responsibility for how we interact with others. So here’s my first idea. ‘Peacemakers desire peace and take ownership for their own behaviors and attitudes.’ They take ownership.
Motherhood has been pretty challenging for me, and not just because of my visual impairment as that certainly comes with its own issues, but I never felt like I had the maternal instinct. Kids were never my thing. Of course, I’ve come to really treasure and love my kids deeply. They’re amazing, even though they drive me crazy. Over the last 17 years, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’m selfish, impatient, and even demeaning to my kids. I don’t even know that I’m doing it. I don’t even notice it. I totally get how Joseph’s family could become complacent and even blind to their family dynamics. But kids are like your mini me’s. If you have kids, you know what I’m talking about. They imitate all that’s modeled to them. They model the words, the tone of voice, and the body language. When I hear the boys arguing with each other, I hear my ugly tone of voice, I hear my harsh words. I call it the paradox of parenting. You set out to develop good character in your kids, but you find yourself confronted with your own character flaws because your kids reflect them right back at you.
I especially clash with one of my sons. I won’t tell you which one, but it’s the one in the middle. It’s always the middle child. He’s an amazing kid. He’s the life of our family, but man, when we go at it, it is bad. Maybe it’s because we’re so alike, but he knows how to push my buttons. Sometimes Michael has to step in and put me in a mommy timeout. He will say, “You are supposed to be the grown-up here.” One day I came to the realization that, if I kept this up, I would lose my son. I had to take responsibility and work on my relationship with him. I’m glad to report that it’s getting better little by little. I haven’t had a timeout in a while, which is good.
The point is, God wants us to work on ourselves. Not to blame others, but to work on our own stuff. Check out this verse in Romans. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” With everyone. I can’t help but wonder if the drama in Joseph’s family could have been avoided. If the family desired peace, the way God desires it for us, and they had worked on themselves, would things have worked out? We’re going to come back to Joseph’s story a little later, but right now let’s take a look at the handout. I think this passage in Colossians beautifully articulates how God wants us to live in peace with each other. I asked them to put it in two translations, but I’m going to read from the NLT.
“Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others, and above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony, and let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts, for as members of one body, you are called to live in peace.” If I had to distill this down to one statement, it would be “keep the peace with each other.” Jesus says, “Keep the peace with each other.” I think the operative verse is verse 13, “Make allowances for each other’s faults and forgive because the Lord forgave you.” Other translations say, “Bear with one another and forgive, tolerate one another and forgive,” and my favorite, “Put up with one another and forgive.”
A few weeks ago, I got a phone call in the morning from my oldest son, who’s a high school junior. He had taken the car to school that morning; “Mom, I got hit.” Of course, the first thing I wanted to ask him was, “Was it your fault?” It’s really expensive to insure a teenage boy in San Francisco. But I was good, and I asked him, “Are you okay?” Then I asked him, “Was it your fault?” It wasn’t his fault, thank goodness, and he wasn’t hurt. But the incident made me think about keeping the peace with people. Driving is actually a really good metaphor for keeping the peace. There are certain rules of the road you’re supposed to follow, but sometimes the car will break the rules and put you at risk of a collision. You didn’t do anything to provoke the driver, or maybe you did, but you have two choices; you can do all you can to avoid hitting them, compensating for their offense, or you can just hit them. The thing is, it takes a lot more effort to avoid the crash than to just crash. Don’t you just love how the blind girl’s using a driving analogy? That’s a good one. It works. Sometimes in order to keep the peace, we have to put up with bad drivers, literally and figuratively.
Like verse 13 says, “We have to make allowances for other people’s faults and forgive because the Lord forgave us.” We have to be the bigger guy. We have to be okay with not getting our way. I’m not saying that you should keep the peace in a situation of abuse or criminal offense. I’m talking about getting along with each other and avoiding conflict that’s fueled by pride or pettiness. Let’s look at the Philippians verse. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, rather in humility, value others above yourselves.” Value others above yourselves. Don’t be selfish, put others first, which brings me to my next idea. ‘Peacemakers keep the peace by putting others first.’ That’s how you do it.
What does this look like? The Bible has a lot to say about how to get along and live in peace with each other. I couldn’t narrow down what I wanted to show you, so I summarized some of my findings. I call this ‘Seven traits of highly effective peacekeepers.’ Let’s walk through these together. This is not an exhaustive list, just the ones that jumped out at me. One; peacekeepers don’t gossip, but they speak love and truth directly to a person. They’re not two-faced. If they have something to say, they’re going to say it one on one, face to face, not Facebook to Facebook or on Twitter.
Two; they’re good listeners. They’re present, not self-absorbed. They don’t interrupt, they’re sincere and interested. Three; they’re impartial, accepting all kinds of people. They can get along with all walks of life, not just the ones in their socioeconomic class. Four; they’re givers, not takers. They’ll give even when it’s inconvenient or it costs them something. They’re willing to take one for the team. Five; they’re slow to anger. They have a long fuse. They don’t take things so personally. They give people the benefit of the doubt. Six; they resist retaliation. Even when justified, don’t repay evil with evil, the Bible says. Even when they didn’t start it, peacekeepers understand the power of restraint. They’ve learned not to react. I think this is a tough one for a lot of us, especially in the heat of the moment. Seven; they encourage others to peace. I have people in my life who love me enough to set me straight when I’ve lost my way. I sure hope that you do as well.
Of course, all of these attributes describe Jesus, and all of these take work. They take work. Again, the verse in Romans says, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” But sometimes it’s not possible. We’re going to crash the car. We’re going to break the peace. Conflict is inevitable. Relationships would be so easy if we didn’t have to deal with people. But we’re all human. We’re imperfect. We’re going to disappoint and hurt one another even when we take vows not to.
I ran into an acquaintance of mine who was getting married in just a few days, and he asked me, “Any advice on marriage?” I think he was expecting, “Oh, enjoy and love her, cherish her.” Do you know what I told him? “Lower your expectations.” I don’t think that’s what he was expecting me to say. Don’t get me wrong, Michael and I, our marriage just keeps getting better and better. We’re actually celebrating our 25th anniversary this year. Isn’t that great? But I am not proud to say that we have hurt each other in egregious ways. But we’ve also learned how to resolve conflict.
These days, Michael’s been dealing with a lot of back pain and I have chemotherapy every three weeks or so. The other day, when we were both feeling pretty lousy, he said something kind of unkind to me. I said something even more unkind back. He left for work in a hurry and I started slamming a bunch of kitchen cabinet doors and stomped around to make sure he knew I wasn’t happy. Early in our marriage, we might have stewed over this incident for days. Do you ever do the whole, “I’m not saying sorry until he does it first?” But a few hours later, he sent me a text. “Sorry. I’m grumpy. I love you. Red beating heart.” My iPhone will actually describe the emojis to me, which I think is kind of cool.
We have learned to apologize, to admit we were wrong, to say, “Please forgive me.” It’s been a process. It’s been hard. There are a lot of tears. It took time and practice, but we have learned how to reconcile. Some of us might be good at keeping the peace, but once it’s broken, we’re not good at restoring it. We hold a grudge. Maybe it’s pride or we’re so hurt by someone, that our heart starts to harden. Maybe we grew up in a home where reconciliation wasn’t modeled and saying sorry, we’re just not good at that. Or maybe we don’t even know what happened, but the relationship is definitely broken. It feels strange, different, but we don’t feel like we should have to make the first move. We didn’t do anything. Meanwhile, the distance grows farther and farther apart; bitterness and resentment can take root.
A true peacemaker not only desires and keeps the peace, but he also restores it. Peacemakers take initiative and they reach out. They don’t wait for the other person. They seek to close that gap and restore the connection. This is what Jesus did on the cross for us. He allowed us to be reconciled to God because sin separated us from God. His death on the cross made peace with God forever. It closed that gap. God wants us, in the same way, to be reconciled to each other. We’re his children, remember? This brings me to my next idea, ‘Peacemakers restore peace by pursuing reconciliation.’ They pursue reconciliation.
You may be thinking, “Well, making up after a silly fight is no big deal,” but I was betrayed, deceived, and abandoned. I was really hurt. It’s too much to forgive, too late to reconcile. Let’s go back to Joseph’s story. Remember, his brother’s disposed of him. They got rid of him, selling him into slavery in Egypt. I want you to watch what he does. Remember, I said he would finish strong because it’s absolutely mind-blowing. 20 years have passed. Joseph experiences highs and lows, including a prison sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. But after a series of extraordinary events, the tables have completely turned. Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to buy food during a famine. They think they are bowing down to an Egyptian ruler. Just like in his dream. They’re all bowing down to him. But it’s Joseph. They don’t recognize him, but he recognizes them right away.
We pick up the story in chapter 45. Try to imagine the scene in your mind’s eye as we go through this. “‘I am Joseph,’ he says to his brothers. ‘Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers were speechless. They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them.” It’s like a scene from a revenge movie, right? This must have struck terror in their hearts. Joseph was Pharaoh’s second in command. They must have known that he was holding all the cards. “‘Please come closer,’ he said to them. So they came closer and he said again, ‘I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt.'” Now, look what he says next. It must have completely taken his brothers off guard; “‘But don’t be upset and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.'”
Joseph was the one who suffered unspeakable cruelties at the hands of his brothers, but he’s playing the role of the comforter here. “Don’t be angry with yourselves. It’s okay. Now hurry back to my father and tell him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says.’ God has made me master over all the land of Egypt. So come down to me immediately. You can live in the region of Goshen, where you can be near me. I will take care of you there, but there are still five years of famine ahead of us.’ Weeping with joy, he embraced Benjamin, and Benjamin did the same. Then Joseph kissed each of his brothers and wept over them. After that, they began to talk freely with him.”
Just amazing. Talk about a family reunion. What an astounding thing Joseph does. Consider where this family started; the jealousy, hatred, and 20 years of separation. If you think about it, he could have done so many other things. Who could have blamed him? He could have taken vengeance and had his brothers thrown in prison or even killed. He could have refused them and sent them away to die from hunger. He could have even sold them grain without revealing his identity. But he went all the way. That chasm that existed between them, he closed that gap by forgiving them and restoring peace.
As I was preparing this message, I kept asking myself, “Why did he do it? Why did he forgive? Why?” I think Joseph forgave his brothers because he loved them. After everything that had happened, he loved them. So simple and yet so profound. The key is I believe that he could love them because God transformed him. Joseph’s heart takes on the character of God. Let’s go back to the passage and the handout. I think it’s so fitting that the passage uses the metaphor of clothing. It’s like Joseph has exchanged his divisive coat, a symbol of hatred and suffering, for the wardrobe of peace. “Since God chose you to be a holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
Joseph has compassion for his brothers. He has a humble spirit, one that wants to be in God’s will. He’s able to recognize that what his brothers meant for evil, God used for good. He shows not just mercy, but grace and kindness. “I’ll take care of you,” he says. Verse 13; “Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Maybe he sees his brothers, not through his human eyes, but through God’s eyes. “Above all, clothe yourselves with love,” there it is, love, “Which binds us all together in perfect harmony, and let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts, for as members of one body, you are called to live in peace.” Joseph’s decision to reconcile not only brings peace, joy, and healing to its family, but saves the Jewish nation from famine, the nation from which Jesus would eventually be born.
We don’t know what God has planned for us after we take that step of reconciliation, but we can be sure that He will use it for good for His perfect plan. In a way, Joseph is the foreshadowing of Jesus. I often ask Jesus, “Why did you do it? Why did you die an excruciatingly painful death? Why did you allow yourself to be betrayed, abandoned, humiliated, and mocked? You’re the son of God.” He did it because He loves me because He loves you. The great philosopher, Thomas Paine, once said, “The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph.” The greater the triumph. Jesus triumphed over death and sin, and He wants us to experience victory also. Not to settle for brokenness, but to experience restoration and healing. He wants us to reach out and reconcile.
The other day, I heard an interview on a radio show with a hospice nurse. It got my attention because when my mom was in hospice care, the nurses were so wonderful. Something about them, they just have this amazing strength and compassion. A nurse was saying in the interview that the one question people ask her all the time is, “What kinds of things do people say right before they die?” It’s a good question. She explained that people, in general, don’t say anything significant or intelligible at all because most of them are unconscious or heavily medicated. She also said that when people ask this question, it’s as if they have something to say to someone, something they have in mind when they ask her this question, something they’re saving for their deathbed maybe. She said, and I quote, “I always tell them, ‘If you have something to say, say it now. Say it now. Don’t wait. If it’s worth saying on your deathbed, it’s worth saying now when you are still living.'”
It’s such great wisdom. Look what Jesus says in Matthew. “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift.” Jesus is saying, “Before you come into my presence, I want you to reach out and pursue peace in your broken relationships. Go now. Now.” Do you hear the urgency? It’s like He’s saying, “Carpe Diem.” What does that mean? Seize the day. Jesus is saying, “Seize the day. There might not be a tomorrow.”
Yes, it’s going to be hard and risky. We don’t like confrontations and difficult conversations. There’s indeed no guarantee the other person will reciprocate. I know. I’ve been there. But we will have done our part and we can be at peace with that. The risk is worth the potential return because if the relationship is restored, it will be even stronger and more joyful than before. Reach out, regardless of how minor or massive the gap is. The Lord wants us to make the first move. Joseph finished strong. He and his brothers finished strong, and his story can be our story too. The Lord will help us. He’ll help us. We’ve been talking a lot about how the Lord can help us if we just let Him. If we are willing to open our hearts to be clothed in Christ and to be transformed little by little, we too can be peacemakers and be called children of God.
As I close, I want to encourage you today. Where in your relationships does God want you to have more peace? Is it with your kids, in your marriage, at work, or with a coworker, boss, or friend? Or maybe you need to reconcile with someone. Maybe you’ve been estranged from someone long enough. Maybe you just want to tell somebody you love them today. It’s Mother’s Day. Or maybe you want to take a step closer to a relationship with Jesus. Ask the Lord to help you take the next step toward peace. Carpe Diem. Seize the day. I’ll say it one more time, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Let’s pray. Father God, I pray that we will be a generation of peacemakers. Lord, I pray that we will make a difference in this world. Thank you for showing us the way to be humble, to love, and to forgive. Help us to seize the day, Lord. Many of us are struggling with our relationships. Help us, Lord. Help us work toward peace in our relationships and our hearts. Thank you for your unfailing love through your precious son. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.