Table of Peace

Table of Peace

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if my brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Matthew 18:21-22 (NRSVUE)

Most of us have seen pictures in newspapers or magazines or video clips in the news on television of the gathering of the United Nations, NATO, the G7 Summit, or other meetings that bring together governments and/or representatives from different countries. Around those tables are often leaders from differing backgrounds, cultures, religions, beliefs, and understandings, who often speak different languages. But they come together around a table, even when they don’t see eye to eye, in hopes of finding common ground, in an effort to work together, and with a burning desire to work for peace.

Often, we see conference tables set with flags representing and identifying each country and pitchers of water to sustain the voices and spirit of those gathered during their deep conversations. But peacemaking is hard work, isn’t it? Not only among nations but sometimes even among family and friends and the people we love the most because peacemaking requires listening not simply to hear, but listening with an open heart and mind to understand situations and the world around us differently than we may have before.

Folks, we all have our own agendas, just like nations and countries do. We know what we like and what we don’t like and what we want to happen in our homes, in our schools, in our churches, and the world around us. We have people that we like who we look to for advice and people that cause us anxiety and frustration because we don’t approve of their agendas and we don’t like the same things that they do. But the truth is, my friends, when we allow ourselves to focus only on our differences and constantly complain about the people and the things we don’t like, we step further and further away from ever achieving peace or completing a project, or building a healthy relationship, or being a healthy church. Because peacemaking takes more than a bunch of one-way streets; it takes all of us being open to listening and learning new things rather than controlling our own agendas and pushing our beliefs, our opinions, and our actions on others.

After reflecting on this week’s scripture, I couldn’t help but think about the pitchers of water that are often found on tables at big international conferences. Now, I’m sure that they are just there as an act of hospitality in case someone gets thirsty. But what if they are actually there to remind those that are gathered to wash away their judgment, cleanse the conflict within them, and open themselves up to engage in healthy and helpful conversations?

Friends, when we gather at a table of peace, we welcome each other at the table even when we don’t see eye to eye. Coming to a table of peace may sound joy-filled, happy, and harmonious, and in our minds, we may even imagine a table of peace surrounded by rainbows and unicorns and all kinds of good things. But the truth is, peacemaking is hard work. We must be willing to let go of our control, and our bossiness, and our tendency to judge others, leaving room to listen and to love our neighbors as they are.

Friends, at God’s table of peace, we are called to sit down and find merciful ways to deal with one another despite our differences. And at God’s table of peace, forgiveness is always on the menu! Because it is through forgiveness that we can begin again, with a fresh new start. God calls us to forgive others for the hurtful things that they may have said or done to us and to forgive ourselves for the judgment that we have so often put on them. But folks, please know that forgiveness is not a one-and-done act. We often need to forgive over and over again as we continually let go of the things that cloud our vision and weigh us down. That’s why when Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if my brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus replied, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

Now that’s what the translation in our pew bibles says, but in some translations, it says that we should forgive our brothers and sisters seventy times seven, which is four hundred and ninety times! Folks, in reality, Jesus isn’t telling us to forgive seven times or seventy-seven times, or even four hundred and ninety times. Jesus doesn’t want us to keep count. On the contrary, Jesus is encouraging us to simply live lives of forgiveness. Not holding grudges or judging others or talking about them behind their backs, but always loving and forgiving our brothers and sisters just as God always loves and forgives us.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are going to truly walk in the footsteps of Jesus and sit at God’s table of peace, we have quite a job ahead of us. We need to stop living by society’s rules and start living the life that Jesus calls us to live. So as you journey out this week, here are a few words of scripture to reflect upon. “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be known as the Children of God. But I say to you that hear, listen! Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To those who strike you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from those who take away your cloak, do not withhold your coat as well. Give to everyone who begs from you, and of those who take away your goods, do not ask for them again. And finally do unto others as you would have them do unto you!”

My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!


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