"The Peace Child"#88-47
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 25, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2023 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Ephesians 3
The usual glow in Bella's eyes wasn't there this morning. Earlier that year, she'd been excited to start the fourth grade, but now she had a cagey look, like she was dreading going back into the ring again, to fight another round.
"Bella, you okay?" Her dad asked.
"Yeah," she said unconvincingly.
"Is Brandon bothering you again?" Brandon was a fourth grade boy in Bella's class.
Bella told the truth. "Yeah, he follows me. He calls me names."
"You told the teacher?"
"Yeah, but he just finds a way to keep doing it."
Jeff and his wife had purposely chosen this school, a multicultural, racially diverse school, to send their daughter, Bella. Jeff and his wife are my age and we were all about Bella's age when Rodney King came on the news on the third day of the L.A. riots, pleading words of peace, asking his famous question. Can we? Can we all get along?
Jeff and his wife had sent Bella into this school with something like King's sentiment on their hearts. They refused to give up the hope that we could get along. But Brandon, the fourth-grade boy in Bella's class was making Jeff rethink this decision. Brandon's mother had recently been released from prison. His father wasn't in the picture. Brandon had learning disabilities and some of his behavior indicated characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome. And after sending Bella to school that day, Jeff was worried. "Maybe we should have made a safer choice."
That impulse Jeff felt that day was powerful. The impulse to protect those we love. But I want to talk to you today about a power that's stronger. And if you would grasp hold of it with me, I invite you to leave Jeff and Bella behind for a moment and travel with me back half a century, halfway around the world, to the southwestern Pacific island of New Guinea.
What power is there stronger than the parental impulse to protect our children? Among the Sawi people of New Guinea, there was only one such power. The promise of the peace child. Peace Child is the title of a book written by Don Richardson, who documented this mysterious ancient practice among the Sawi people. Don describes the ancient jungle culture he encountered in New Guinea in the 1960s where his family were sent from Canada as Christian missionaries.
If you read Don's book, Sawi culture will sound strange to you, but also strangely familiar. There's a common humanity that we share. Just like parents from other parts of the world, Sawi moms and dads want good things for their children. And they would rather live in peace with their neighbors. And on most days they would be glad if we could all just get along.
But there is a sinister side to Sawi culture just like there is in every culture. There is selfish ambition and jealousy, comparison and suspicion. And there is tribalism.
Here's how tribalism manifested itself among the Sawi people. After years fighting between two rival tribes, fighting over food and land and honor, two men hopeful for peace might try to forge an alliance, forge a friendship, across tribal lines. But there was always the possibility that one of them was using the friendship for a more sinister purpose.
He was "fattening him with friendship," as the saying went: fattening for the slaughter. And just when his friend began to trust him, he would lure him into his tribe where the other men were waiting, and they would jump him and brutalize him and take his head for a trophy. Centuries of tribalism had lodged in them a deep distrust of anyone outside of their tribe. And when I read about it, I wonder what's tribalism done to us? What tribalism is lodged in my heart? What is tribalism lodged in yours?
At one time, Don Richardson thought that tribalism was the strongest force in Sawi culture, but he was wrong. Normally the Sawi people had a segregated housing plan, sort of the jungle version of suburban development. The man-made plan to help them all get along was to keep the tribes separate. But when Don and his family moved into the jungle with modern tools to trade and modern medicine to share, the two tribes, long-standing rivals moved together to be near Don and his family. It was a hopeful, yet fragile, multicultural urban jungle community.
Peace didn't last. Soon the drive by bow-and-arrow shootings got so bad that Don told them that he was moving out. That night leaders from both of the tribes came together at his thatched roof jungle hut, begging him not to leave. "But I don't want you to kill each other," he said to them. "We're not going to kill each other," one said. "Tomorrow, we will make peace."
The next morning, both tribes had gathered together on opposite sides of an open area near Don's family's home. One man from the tribe on the left came forward. He came like a broken man, cagey, walking into a fight that he knows he can't win, carrying a child on his back, one of his own sons. The man's wife was following him, sobbing violently. Don and his wife holding their infant son close, moved closer to watch. Everyone was watching the man carrying his son when suddenly his wife desperate wrenched her baby from her husband's shoulders and rushed him back into the crowd. He tried to grab hold of her, but she was out of reach. Other mothers from the crowd began crying, clutching their babies to their breasts. Men on both sides were running back and forth, gesturing, shouting, strange opposing forces of attraction and repulsion were building up an incredible tension between the tribes. Don said, "I could feel those forces crackling around me with an almost physical violence."
Now with all the commotion in the crowd on the left, a man on the other side slipped away unnoticed and returned to his hut in the jungle. This man and his wife had only one son, a six-month-old baby boy they had named Biakadon. The baby was lying on a grass mat in the middle of the hut. He recognized his father, smiled and stretched out his little arms to be picked up. His father reached for him, heavy with what he was about to do. "It is necessary," he told himself. "There is no other way to stop the fighting."
He returned to the crowd holding his son one last time. He came to the center and called to a man on the other side. The man came forward. The two of them stood facing each other, both tribes were around them, eyes aglow with anticipation. Biakadon's father said to the man facing him, "Will you plead the words of my people among your people?"
"Yes," he says. "I will plead the words of your people among my people." So he continued.
"Then I give you my son and with him, my name."
The man from the other side received little Biakadon into his arm gently. And then he shouted, "Eehaa! "I will surely plead for peace between our people."
Just then another man from the other side of the crowd came forward, holding his son. He called to Biakadon's former father who was standing there, childless. He says to him, "Will you plead for peace between our people?"
"Yes," he says.
"Then I give you my son. And with him, my name."
"Will the children be harmed?" Don asked them later. "They will not be harmed," they told him. "Both villages will guard the lives of the peace child because if the child lives, the peace lives, also.
Ages of betrayal had made every other demonstration of friendship across tribal lines suspect. But if a father would give his son to his enemies, that man could be trusted and all who bound themselves to this given son would share in his promised peace. And there in the jungle of Western New Guinea, a light of insight began to shine on Don, the Christian missionary from Canada.
Eight thousand miles away, two-thousand years earlier, that same insight was dawning on a Jewish man who'd been struggling with his own form of tribalism. In his mind, Paul was running through the Hebrew scriptures that he had learned. There was the promise that God had made to his father Abraham. God had promised to bring peace to the Gentile nations through Israel, Abraham's descendants. In the scroll of Isaiah, it stands written, "Unto us a Child is born, to us a Son is given and the government will be upon His shoulders. And His Name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Had God made peace? Paul wondered. Had He given His only Son Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, to plead for peace? Had Jesus accomplished it through His death and resurrection? He had. And Paul believed it and he would give his life to make it known.
And so into the multifaceted, multicolored tribes around them, the first Christian church sent Paul and his friend Barnabas. They could've made a safer choice. They were after all sending their sons into danger. Paul would be bullied, beaten, and brutalized by those with whom he shared the message of peace, but it didn't matter. Paul was bound by God's grace to plead words of peace in Jesus. And now years later, Paul was in prison for it, So he wrote letters. He wrote letters to the Gentiles that he had met in his travels, Gentiles who had bound themselves to God's peace Child, Jesus.
Listen to what he said to some of them as recorded in his letter to the Ephesians 3.
For this reason I, Paul, prisoner of Christ for the sake of you, Gentiles—well, certainly you've heard about the plan of God's grace given to me for you and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation. In reading this aloud, then you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the children of men in other generations, as it has now been made known by the Spirit, to God's holy apostles and prophets.
The mystery is this: the Gentiles, the nations, are heirs together, family together with Israel, fellow members of one body, fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel, the Good News. I have become a servant of this Good News by the grace of God, given to me through the working of His power. Although I am less than least of all God's holy people, this grace was given to me so that I may proclaim to the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light to everyone the mystery, which for ages past had been hidden in God, God who created all things.
His purpose was that now through the church, the multifaceted, multicolored wisdom of God would be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose, which He accomplished in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
In Him and through faith in Him, we may approach God with boldness and confidence. I ask you then. Do not be discouraged because of my sufferings on your behalf. These are your glory. For this reason, I kneel before the Father. The Father from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives its name. And I ask Him that out of the riches of His glory, He would strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
And that you being rooted and established in love may have power together with all God's holy people—power to grasp how wide and long, how high and how deep is the love of Christ. And to know this love that surpasses knowledge so that you may be filled to the measure with all the fullness of God.
Don Richardson was with the tribal leaders after he had witnessed their dramatic alliance. He spoke to them in their own language. "I wanted you to make peace without this painful giving of a son. But you kept saying to me, 'There is no other way.' And you were right. When I stopped to think about it, I realized that the Creator, the great Spirit whose message I bear has declared the same thing. True peace can never come without a peace Child. Never.
"And because the great Spirit wants men to find peace with Him and with each other, He decided to choose a once-and-for-all peace Child, good enough and strong enough to establish peace—not just for a while, not just for some tribes, but for everyone, forever. The problem was whom should He choose? From among all the human children, there was none good enough, none strong enough to bring eternal peace."
Don paused to let the words sink in.
The man who had earlier given up his son spoke first. "Whoever did the great Spirit choose?" Don answered him with a question: "Did you give another man's son or your own?"
"I gave my own," he said.
"So did God."
It is God in Jesus whose love is power that led the first Jewish Christians to give their sons over to the Gentile nations. It is God in Jesus whose love is power that led Canadian Christians to give their sons and daughters to the tribes of New Guinea. It is God in Jesus whose love is power—power to dislodge tribalism from every heart, and to clear a space for Christ to dwell there instead.
And what about Jeff who sent his daughter Bella from the perceived safety of his tribe into that many-colored classroom? What was it that checked his desire to simply protect what he loves?
My friend, Jeff, Jeff Cloeter answered that question in his book, Loved and Sent. It wasn't wishful thinking that we can all get along if we just try harder. It wasn't blind trust in manmade plans for diversity and inclusion. It wasn't a lack of love for his daughter. It is the love of God that has power not only to protect, but also to give the ones He loves.
Jesus lives in Jeff's daughter, Bella. And if you've received Him by faith, He lives in you, too. God's peace Child is alive in you. And He's sending you into suburbs and cities, into small towns and countrysides to offer that peace to everyone you meet.
As for Brandon, the fourth-grade boy who bullied Bella, Jeff's wife was right about him. "I think Brandon likes Bella," she said. "She's one of the only people who's kind to him."
Then why does he bully her?
He doesn't know how to show kindness back. He's desperate for someone to care.
Toward the end of the school year, they found a note in Bella's backpack. The handwriting was barely legible and said, "Bella, sorry I've been mean. I think you're special. Brandon."
If you're willing, I invite you to pray with me.
Father God, who is the Brandon in my life? Who around me is desperate for your care? You have given me Your Son and with Him Your Name. So here I am, send me. Send me so that I may plead Your Words to them, for them, and with them—that they might know the height and the depth and the width of Jesus' love for them and for all, so that we may have peace. Amen.
Reflections for July 25, 2021
Title: The Peace Child
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. Now back to our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you Mark. I'm getting to visit with Rev. Dr. Jason Broge. He is the director of Design and Development with Lutheran Hour Ministries. He's also a regular guest speaker here on The Lutheran Hour. So thanks for joining us, Jason.
Jason Broge: Thanks for having me, Mike.
Mike Zeigler: We've been listening to Paul's letter to the people in Ephesus, the followers of Jesus in Ephesus. And these people were living in the Roman Empire, which was a very highly segregated society, similar to other ancient societies. You had divisions between citizens and foreigners, divisions between land-owners and slaves, between languages, and these set the tone for society. I know you love this letter, Jason. What is it that is exciting and energizing to you about this chapter, chapter 3?
Jason Broge: Paul just wants to hammer home—"I need you to understand there are no second-class citizens in this Kingdom, so don't treat each other that way." The dividing wall of hostility was broken down—not just between us and the Father, in Jesus, but between us and each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. It doesn't matter whether in Galatians he says, "male or female, Jew or Gentile." And this is what he's getting at: he's not saying there aren't distinctions between us. He's saying we have equal value, equal worth, and we should treat each other in the church that way.
Mike Zeigler: As he says, we can each approach God not cowering, not hoping that we can get in, but with confidence, and every one of us has that special relationship with God.
Jason Broge: That is exactly what we want the people within a congregation to be experiencing on a weekly basis.
Mike Zeigler: I know you've gotten to be a part of another podcast that Lutheran Hour Ministries has launched in the last month, and it's called The (Im)partial Church. And it's speaking to this very issue of what the church is called to be, who the church is called to be, but sometimes in our struggle with sin, we're not. And the host of the podcast is another frequent guest speaker on The Lutheran Hour, Rev. Dr. Gerard Bolling.
Jason Broge: Rev. Dr. Gerard Bolling and then his sister, Professor and Deaconess Janine Bolling. The two of them are in this podcast taking a look at the biblical picture for the kingdom of God, and they're also taking a look at some real-world realities of cultural differences that go on, and how we as the church can faithfully be engaging in these conversations. Gerard and Janine do a fantastic job, and the whole team does. The creative producer for that, I want to give a mention to Jon Christopher. He works here at Lutheran Hour and has just been phenomenal. Very thankful for him, very thankful for Christy Bond, the technical producer. The podcast is out now, and it's a season-based podcast. So if you're one of those people who's like, "Oh, I don't want to listen to something forever." It's ten episodes long, and you can go wherever you find your podcasts from. And it's called The (Im)partial Church. And I personally recommend you check it out.
Mike Zeigler: So Jason, tell me where I could find this podcast. Where could I listen to these episodes?
Jason Broge: Well, you can find The (Im)partial Church wherever you listen to podcasts, so Apple, Spotify, et cetera. But if you want, you can also go straight to our website and go to lhm.org\podcasts. And there you'll find The (Im)partial Church along with all of our podcasts, including "Speaking of Jesus" and our Spanish podcasts: Para el Camino and Sentido Latino. There's a little something there for everyone.
Mike Zeigler: All right, well, check it out, listen to it. It's (Im)partial Church, and you can search for it on the lhm.org website. Go to lhm.org\podcasts, or just search The (Im)partial Church.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Entrust Your Days and Burdens" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)