The other day I was with a bunch of 2 and 3 year olds from our childcare…
I commented that there were a lot of people visiting Gettysburg recently,
And I asked if they knew why?….
Immediately they knew the answer…
Why are there so many people visiting Gettysburg?
“VBS!!” they said
Yes, Vacation Bible School is a great reason to visit Gettysburg this summer.
My hunch though is that the children’s answer might not be completely correct.
As we know, 150 years ago, in the town where we live,
On the paths where we walk, on the roads where we drive,
150 years ago, 170,000 men came to blows.
In the words of Margaret Creighton,
“They fought on rocky hillsides,
Charged through wheatfields and orchards,
… fought hand in hand.
(And) when it was over…
witnesses … claimed that it was the bloodiest battle ever fought on the American continent.”
So what do we do as people of faith,
When we want to commemorate what happened in our backyards and frontyards
so many years ago…and yet also we want to raise up Jesus’ words,
“Blessed are the peacemakers.”
What do we do as people of faith,
When we want to honor those who fought valiantly here,
When we are proud of our church heritage as a hospital for the wounded,
When we know that all human slavery is evil and needs to be stopped,
And yet we hear Isaiah long for a time when there will be war no more.
Well for the next four weeks here at St. James
we will live within the tension.
Here we will raise up voices for peace
while the job of others is to raise up the voices of the battle.
We will encourage reflection and conversation and prayer
about how a Christian is called to live in a world of violence –
violence which took place back in 1863
but also the violence which marks our world today.
So let us move back to the gospel reading for today.
Jesus climbs a hill and sits down to teach the disciples.
These words of blessing called the Beatitudes are the first words Jesus shares with them in this sermon which has been called The Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus says to them…
Blessed are you….and then he shares a list of rather paradoxical people whom he says are blessed…
The grieving, the poor in Spirit, the meek,
It makes one wonder
what it means exactly to be blessed…!
Some of your Bible translations may say ‘happy.’
I think we know that blessedness is different from happiness though…
Happiness is eating ice cream after worship like we did last night…
(Extreme happiness is when there’s Cookies and Cream…)
But blessedness? Blessedness is the conversation that takes place as we eat the ice cream.
Happiness is a warm and sunny 1st day of summer…
Blessedness is watching your grandchildren squeal with delight as they spray each other with a water hose.
Happiness is finding locally grown strawberries at the farmer’s market…
Blessedness is looking at that strawberry and recognizing God’s work throughout the planting and the growing and the harvesting and the selling…
Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Notice that Jesus knows that peace doesn’t come naturally to us humans.
Peace needs to be ‘made.”
Jesus says “Blessed are the peacemakers…”
The ones who work on re-making peace again and again.
In homes and workplaces;
Among spouses and siblings; colleagues and friends;
Among states and nations.
Peacemaking doesn’t always make us happy…
We often have to give up things to make peace.
We often have to sacrifice to make peace.
We often have to accept disagreement to make peace.
None of those things usually make us happy.
Peacemaking doesn’t always make us happy…but Jesus promises that it will bring blessing.
and Jesus reminds us that it takes some work.
Sometimes the work of peacemaking happens before a confrontation starts…
But sometimes the work of peacemaking can happen even in the midst of the violence.
To re-phrase something Mr. Rogers once said,
In times of conflict…look for the peacemakers.
Even in war, you will always find someone who is making peace.
So this morning let’s look for the peacemakers in Gettysburg.
And there were many.
Here in Gettysburg residents were called upon to be peacemakers
throughout the battle and its aftermath.
Many people across the country may remember in their history classes that the battle of Gettysburg was 3 days long…
We who live here remember that the trauma of those days
and their recovery lasted far longer.
One of my favorite books about the battle is Margaret Creighton’s
“The Colors of Courage.”
She shares some of the forgotten stories of the battle..
Those of Immigrant soldiers, African Americans, and women.
Women of Gettysburg were peacemakers.
They nursed wounded soldiers, fed troops from both sides, and stayed in town caring for livestock and protecting property while many of their husbands were gone.
One such women was Elizabeth Thorn, known as the Angel of Gettysburg.
It’s a coincidence that a picture of her statue was on the front page of the Gettysburg Times today!
Elizabeth lived in the gatehouse by Evergreen Cemetery.
Her husband, Peter, the cemetery’s caretaker, had enlisted with the Union army, so at the time of the battle,
Elizabeth was left to be in charge of the cemetery and the household.
She was six months pregnant and had three sons who were 7,5, and 2 years old.
During the battle she fed troops.
But the real work for her began after the battle was over.
On July 5th, two days after the battle was over,
the cemetery president, David McConaughy. directed Elizabeth to start burying the dead
who, by that time, were stacked around the gatehouse.
He had tried to get some help for her, but other men were unwilling because of the sight and the smell.
Elizabeth Thorn buried 91 soldiers …both Union and Confederate.
Later that month her daughter Rose was born.
Tom Vossler, retired army colonel, and one of our St. James’ members
Keeps Civil War chaplains close to his heart as peacemakers throughout the war.
He’ll give a presentation here at St. James in a couple of weeks about their role in the battle…
Civil War chaplains – priests, rabbis, and pastors –
served over two million men on both sides in many ways.
Besides leading worship,
they served as mailmen, wrote letters for the wounded or illiterate;
they assisted doctors in hospitals, and sent money home for soldiers;
they became confidants for young men away from home,
they were counselors and preachers;
they provided words of hope in the midst of despair.
When there’s war, look for the peacemakers.
Today first we give thanks for those in Gettysburg who tried to make peace in the midst of a terrible battle:
our ancestors who lived here;
and the Civil War chaplains.
And second, we pray for the courage
to choose to do the difficult work of making peace ourselves
when it would be easier and we might even be happier, if we did not.
Blessed are the peacemakers. Amen.