September 6, 2016: Peacemakers Are Killed

Posted on : Sep 6th, 2016 | By | Category: Still Speaking

One of the most-quoted teachings of Jesus from the Beatitudes is “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Do you really believe that? “In our violent world just how crazy is Christ’s insistence that we practice peace?”

About a week ago people stood in line for hours to attend a vigil for two Nuns, Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill, who were found murdered in the house they rented in Durant, Mississippi. The two nuns, from two different Religious Orders, were nurse practitioners who spent decades helping the poor and often providing the only medical service in one of the poorest counties of one of the poorest states, Mississippi. A suspect was arrested and charged with robbery, grand larceny, and murder.

A nephew of one of the Nuns said, “What is so ironic is that either of the sisters would have given the man anything he needed, if he had just asked. That’s just the kind of people they were. They would give you the shirt off their back if you were in need. And besides that, they lived a life of intentional poverty, so they had nothing of value to steal in their home.”

Capital murder is punishable by execution or life in prison in Mississippi. The sisters’ religious orders and their families issued a joint statement against the death penalty, asking that whoever is found responsible not be put to death. The Rev. Greg Plata, who is the priest at the church where the two sisters led Bible Study, said, “Justice for a heinous crime demands punishment, but it does not demand revenge.”

Matt Fitzgerald, in this week’s God Is Still Speaking devotional tells the story of “a Dutch Mennonite imprisoned for refusing violence and arguing against infant baptism.” The Mennonites, a religious denomination known even today for their commitment to peacemaking and non-violence, have ironically been the victims of much violence because of their opposition to violence.

After you read the story below about Dirk Willems and think about the life and death of Sister Paula and Sister Margaret, take a moment to think about what it means to be a Peacemaker. Then think about which persons in these stories exemplify for us what it means to be “a child of God.”






A Christian Story

Matt Fitzgerald

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” – Matthew 5:9

Here is a great Christian story. Dirk Willems was a Dutch Mennonite imprisoned for refusing violence and arguing against infant baptism. After his arrest in 1569 Dirk was held in the prison tower of his hometown.

After months of little food and constant prayer Dirk Willems escaped. He tied together strips of cloth to make a rope, which he used to slide down the prison wall. As he raced across the countryside, a guard spotted him and gave chase. In Dirk’s path was an ice-covered river. It was late winter and the air was warm. The ice was thin. Dirk took the risk and crossed safely, aided no doubt, by his prison emaciation. As he ran atop the ice he could hear the frigid water gurgling beneath his feet. His pursuer was a well-fed man. He broke through the ice and fell into the deadly water.

Was this God’s rescue? No. For Dirk knew that it is Christ’s peace that saves us, not our violence. He turned back, waded into the icy water and saved his enemy. That was God’s rescue.

It is a great story. But it is a Christian story. Which is to say it has a cross in it. As soon as his pursuer was on dry ground Dirk was arrested. Later that year he was executed near his native village.

In our violent world just how crazy is Christ’s insistence that we practice peace? Tough question. But we ought to remember that Jesus doesn’t promise peacemakers will make sense. All he guarantees is that they will be called the children of God.

Dear God, give us the faith we need to practice your peace so that we might be counted among your children. Amen.

Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Paula United Church of Christ in Chicago. He is the host of “Preachers on Preaching,” a weekly podcast sponsored by The Christian Century.

Leave a Reply