This sermon is based on the scripture text, Isaiah 2:1-5.
I fussed with the text from Isaiah this week. Did you know there is a statue of a muscled man beating a sword into a plow outside of the UN building in NY with these words underneath? These are famous words. The idea that not only will there be a time in human history where weapons will not be needed, but people will even forget how to make them is inspiring. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? The thought of it simply makes us pray, come Lord Jesus.
If you are the father of Specialist Gerald Jenkins, an American soldier from Circleville killed in Afghanistan in October, we may hear these words and ask why not sooner, Lord? If you are the mother of 31 year old Tia Hendricks or grandmother to her two children, Tahlia or Tyron, all three brutally stabbed in their home Thanksgiving Day in the North End of Columbus, we may hear these words and ask why not now, Lord? When we hear of the desperate saber rattling by crazy rulers in North Korea with nuclear bombs, we have to ask when Lord? It seems much more likely we will collectively kill ourselves, one knife or handgun victim at a time or by a massive, mushroom cloud before God has a chance to save us.
Do any of us show up on Sunday morning and really believe that this 3000 year old vision of the future will ever happen? How many simply chalk it up to the naiveté of the ancients? There is a lot of stuff in scripture that most of us arch our brow when we hear. According to different stories in the Old Testament, there were half god, half human giants that once roamed the earth, talking donkeys that saved a city, fish that can swallow and digest men without harming them, and people turning into pillars of salt. Maybe, this vision is one more story that should only illicit a collective shrug.
I did a little reading about this text written by the prophet Isaiah. He was no Pollyanna, that’s for sure. 90% of what he wrote in this first part of the book that bears his name was pretty negative, not hopeful like this. He was a thorn in the side of the leaders of Jerusalem. They were worried about outside forces coming in to their city, plundering and destroying it. They responded by making alliances with dubious characters on the world stage and beating plows into swords not the other way around. They taxed their people an obscene amount to build these weapons, denying them justice, keeping them poor in order to maintain control and focus on their bigger problems. They wanted peace but they were going to use every means of war, injustice and deceit to get it.
To this Isaiah said, you’re wrong. Peace will not happen through better swords or more horses for our Calvary. It will not happen by crafty alliances and unjust treatment of our people. Peace only happens when everyone, the leaders of Jerusalem and all the nations of the world stream up the mountain to the temple to worship God. There is no peace, true peace, outside of God. There is no true peace that leaves people hating and hurting after her implementation. Isaiah’s vision of peace clearly started with some hard advice for Jerusalem. Shape this place up first, then you will see the great things God can do.
Another writer I read this week said it differently, if we are to be people who dream about a day of justice and peace than we need to be a people about justice and peace today. We better start beating our swords into plows now, if we are going to hope that tomorrow others will do the same. We must live this dream ourselves for it to come to pass.
Isaiah’s vision hinges on a day when all people, Jews and Gentiles would follow the wisdom of God. We have seen God revealed in Jesus, so as Christians following this wisdom means living life like Jesus, full of grace and mercy. Just as Isaiah told the Jewish leaders to live like you say you believe, we say the same to each other. Unless I forgive someone who hurts me, no one will believe my announcement of a God of forgiveness. Unless I turn the other cheek when someone hits me, my neighbors will not counter aggression with love. Unless I give the coat I am wearing, not just the coat that I haven’t worn in years that gathers dust in my closet, my family won’t see the point in sharing wealth by sacrificing for others.
Accepting this vision as our own is not only trying to live like Jesus. It also means that we beat our own weapons into plows. We gather weapons in our life when we feel threatened by our neighbors. Most of us don’t have arsenal filled closets, but there are weapons in our homes none the less. Don’t just throw these weapons out, transform them, recycle them and use them as gifts useful and not deadly in God’s world.
For the years I led a church youth group, I could see these weapons accumulate. There was Connie who was molested by her uncle at 11 who became promiscuous at 14. There was Jacob who was bullied by his stepfather who throughout high school was expelled for fighting. There was Kathleen, whose mom told her she would never be as smart as her sister, who weekly skipped classes.
What weapons are in your house? A biting, mean tongue that like a serpent strikes others before they can put you down? Beat this weapon into the gift of teaching using your words to convey truths that you uniquely understand. A fascination with guns and swords that hides feelings of helplessness? Beat these weapons by selling them and using the money to entertain a boy or girl on weekends with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, an organization full of children who believe they have no worth in our world. Nights full of sexual encounters with no commitment or relationship? Beat this weapon into insight for others about our relentless sexual culture that leaves us empty and wanting rather than fulfilled and satisfied.
To find peace, we begin by submitting to God and end with a surrender of our weapons. We don’t simply put them on a shelf. We use the weapons we have accumulated to transform the corner of the world God put us in. Swords used to kill people become plows used to feed people. Just as Christ could take an instrument of death a cross, and give hope to creation. We can take the weapons in our house and give hope to those around us.
If I was asked by Specialist Gerald Jenkin’s father why this hasn’t happened sooner, I would ask for forgiveness. It starts with me. Peace begins here when this congregation, the 600 or so active worshippers at Messiah, decides to love like Jesus rather than fight and defend like the rest of the world. When all 1.5 billion Christians around the world do this, we become God’s plan to transform the world into this vision from Isaiah. Soon, there will be no need for weapons, war will be forgotten. This is not a fairy tale, but God’s promise for creation realized in Jesus. Amen