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Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

By Kate Ott
Director, Stead Center for Ethics and Values

August 9, 2023


By Kate Ott
Director, Stead Center for Ethics and Values


**This sermon was delivered on July 23 at St. Andrew UMC by invitation of the pastoral staff. The St. Andrew community spent the summer examining the Beatitudes in the gospel of Matthew. It was also an opportunity to introduce the Stead Center Art of Ethics project.

I have been praying with this verse from Matthew 5:9 for two months: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” The beatitudes in Matthew have this wonderful symmetrical quality, almost inviting the reader to use them as a meditation.

Breathe in. . .

Blessed are the peacemakers,

Breathe out . . .

for they will be called children of God.

Breathe in. . .

Blessed are the peacemakers,

Breathe out . . .

for they will be called children of God.

Peacemaker . . .

Interestingly this Greek word appears only once in the Christian Scriptures or New Testament. It is not in the version of the beatitudes in Luke’s gospel. Peacemaker is an active, descriptive word literally the combination of make + peace. It is more of a command than a state of being. It signals something like an on-going process that forms habits through repeated actions. In ethics, we would describe this as moral formation—who we ought to be and what we ought to do are mutually reinforcing. We make peace and become peace makers. We practice virtues to become virtuous.

Children of God . . .

The use of “Children of God” is much more common in scripture than peacemakers. Jesus uses this extensively to refer both to actual children by age as well as adult believers including the disciples. This metaphor positions God as parent. With this metaphor come a host of complicated issues because the use of family metaphors inevitably brings up the shortcomings and even past traumas of our experiences of family, of being children.

Thankfully, Rev. Amy Stapleton has already primed us for delving deeper into this discussion with her sermon on June 25th related to the beatitude about the “pure of heart.” Amy reminded us that Jesus often pointed to children as moral models and as examples of disruptive theological questioning, like the child blowing dandelions at her Grandfather’s funeral or those pesky children in the market approaching Jesus when the disciples wanted to shoo them away. Jesus’ welcome of children and chastisement of the disciples to be like them – invites us to understand being a “child of God” not as an idealized vision of children, but as the actual children that surrounded Jesus, showed their faith through sharing loaves and fish, or questioned religious authority like Jesus himself does as a pre-teen in the temple.

I think Jesus paired these two—peacemakers and Children of God—because children have a way of reminding adults that moral formation is an active, creative process, not simply a list of unchanging rules. Peacemaking takes creativity, collaboration, and compromise; three things children are doing all the time. We explain it this way in the Art of Ethics project at the Stead Center:

Conversations on ethics and values (things like peacemaking) usually start with adults. We want to change that. Not because we have some simplistic vision about “the children as our future” or “child-like understandings.” Not at all. We believe the opposite. Children and youth are not naïve to the daily survival and thriving of their families, communities, and the planet. They respond to it and generate new possibilities in the process. Using moral imagination requires us to be aware of current realities and seek a new vision. Children participate in constructing their worlds in and through the relationships around them, first with family and then with friends, broadening out as they meet new people.

I wondered: What would being a peacemaker look like for a child, how would I take on the perspective of children, children of God?

Twenty-five years ago, the leader of the Children’s Defense Fund Marian Wright Edelman held a rally in Washington DC to encourage people everywhere to “Stand for Children.” She ended the speech that day with this prayer.

“O God, forgive our rich nation where small babies die of cold quite legally.

 . . . where small children suffer from hunger quite legally.

 . . .  where toddler and school children die from guns sold quite legally.

O God, forgive our rich nation that lets the rich continue to get more at the expense of the poor quite legally.

 . . .  that thinks security rests in missiles rather than in mothers, and in bombs rather than in babies.

 . . .  for not giving YOU sufficient thanks by giving to others their daily bread.

O God, help us to never confuse what is quite legal with what is just and right in YOUR sight.”

It is a fact that adults and the social systems we support do violence to children.

Blessed are the peacemakers; they will be called Children of God.

  • According to the State of America’s Children report in 2023, children remain the poorest age group in the U.S. – 11 million children live in poverty, including 1 in 7 children of color and 1 in 6 children under 5.[1]
  • In a one-year period, over 600,000 children in the U.S. experienced abuse. The most common reported form is sexual abuse. Overwhelmingly abuse and neglect happens in the home from a parent. There is no demographic in the U.S. free from experiences of child or domestic abuse.[2]
  • In 2020, for the first time ever, Guns became the leading cause of death for US children and teens.[3]

Adults and the social systems we support do violence to children.

Blessed are the peacemakers; they will be called Children of God.

Other children do violence to children.

  • At least one-third of middle and high school students have reported cyberbullying. LGBTQ youth are disproportionately targets of peer cyberbullying. Only 40 percent of cyberbullying victims report it to their parents, and only 30 percent report it to a teacher.[4]
  • 1 in 3 young people will be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship, experiencing sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional dating violence.[5]

Blessed are the peacemakers; they will be called Children of God.

Numbers like these can sometimes overwhelm us and lead us to think there is no way to “make peace”. And, yet, we can respond locally to each of these massive issues: poverty, food insecurity, abuse and neglect, bullying, gun violence, and unhealthy relationships. 

We can even start smaller with the way we respond to each other –

  • are we quick to hit or push our sibling in an argument?
  • or yell at our family member when we are frustrated?
  • or maybe we lash out with negative comments to pressure a friend into following along?

Being a Peace maker is an on-going moral choice. It is an active stance, not a one-time activity with a golden ticket to the “children of God” club. 

To be peacemakers, to become Children of God, we must recognize it is a choice even if it is burdened or limited by our circumstances. As womanist ethicist emilie townes writes in her essay, “Searching for Paradise in a World of Theme Parks”:

“If you and I refuse even a limited agency when it comes to living and doing justice, then we abdicate our agency and place our fate in the hands of a powerful and absolute dominating Other that is not divine but all too human, if not inhumane.”

A choice to not engage in peacemaking, means that violence will continue to seep into the cervices of our relationships, disrupting community cohesion, and tearing the fibers of our social fabric. We must acknowledge that violence, directly and indirectly, harms our mental health and overall well-being. For example, sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional violence harms, sometimes irreparably, a victim-survivor, but it also morally deforms the perpetrator and our silence as bystanders morally deforms us as well. This happens even if the victim is someone we don’t know online. We harm ourselves when we do violence to others or when we allow violence to continue, no matter who that other is.

Peace activist, Prof. Maya Soetoro-Ng of the Matsunaga Institute for Peace reminds us that peacemaking must start internally and then ripple out through our relationships and into or communities. Soetoro-Ng says, “If we develop personal peace, we become courageous and resilient enough to look outward, nurturing our relationships and subsequently our communities through our engagement. By coupling courage within with compassion toward another, we can solve problems. By wedding curiosity with careful listening, we can deepen understanding of the other and reduce fear. Then, with a commitment to action, we can build trust.”[6]

We start with ourselves and then, given the statistics, intimate, familial relationships and friendships. We need to start with our daily interactions on and offline. Soetoro-Ng suggests, “A contemporary peace movement must bridge family, school, and community.”

Peacemaking does not imply an absence of conflict. It does, however, suggest that two or more parties work through conflicts without resorting to violence or abuse. If violence or abuse is happening, it is not the responsibility of the victim-survivor to make peace; safety is the priority.

Peacemakers cultivate, what Black and Korean feminist ethists, Traci West and Christine Pae describe as spiritualities of resistance ways of being and doing that are countercultural to violence, spurred by spiritualities of hope, defiance, and activism. These can be communal, like providing education to all children and youth on developing healthy sexual relationships and preventing abuse. Or individually through conversations at home about how being a Christian means we should be an upstander online and call out bullying. Or on policy levels like Rev. Cho, a few weeks back, talked about how to join with Bread for the World to end global hunger that affects millions of children globally. As Soetoro-Ng reminds us, “Peace is not simply the absence of war but the presence of social justice.” 

No moral action is too small or insignificant. So, back to Art of Ethics.  At the Stead Center, we are inviting communities to recognize what we usually classify as small or insignificant as powerful. As people striving to be Children of God, play, storytelling, and art provide a forum for moral imagination to contribute to self-transformation and world making. It is a place to cultivate spiritualities of resistance and become peacemakers. I want to share with you some of the submissions we have already received that describe the ways children, Children of God, do this on a daily basis:

Jackson – 9 years old  “Find Pleasure in Each Day!”

Spending time doing something you love, like playing video games or playing baseball, ensures that a part of you stays joyful each day!

Charley – 6 years old  “Empowerment

Charley cares for herself through prayer with God, and this practice also equips her to encourage those around her. Her masterpiece shows a cross as a symbol of her conversations at night with God, hearts to show how she works to lift people up around her, and a sunset to demonstrate she also values calming down and giving herself rest.

Luke – 9 years old  “Animal Kin-dom Care”

Creating a space where animals feel loved and cared for is paramount for Luke. Pictured here is a self-filling water dish and electronic arm for distributing food to his dog, so that, should he forget, his pet is never left without.

Josie – 14 years old “Art of Ethics logo”

When I drew the logo for Art of Ethics, I almost immediately focused on the word Art and the word Ethics. I drew an easel, paint brushes, pencils, a paint pallet, and a fruit bowl to represent the word art because those are common tools used in my art classes, and the fruit bowl seems to be frequently pictured in artwork. For the word ethics, I thought to draw a scale because, to me, ethics relates to equity, balance, and justice. As a mixed-race person wanting to be treated fairly, the ethics of the people around me matter. It all came together to become the Art of Ethics logo.

What is or will be your daily practice to cultivate a spirituality of resistance, to be a peacemaker?

I invite young people to take the lead in responding to this question, and if you choose, share your creative art response with us! Join the Art of Ethics project.

Breathe in. . .

Blessed are the peacemakers

Breathe out . . .

for YOU will be called children of God.

View the full sermon here as preached at St. Andrew, United Methodist Church, Highlands Ranch, CO.





[5] The NO MORE Project . “Dating Abuse Statistics.”

[6] From “Any successful contemporary peace movement must look at peace through different lenses.”