Swords into ploughshares

Isaiah 2.1–5
Matthew 24.36–44


Our nature is goodness. Yes, we do much that is bad, but our essential nature is good. If it were not, then we would not be shocked and dismayed when we harm one another. When someone does something ghastly, it makes the news because it is the exception to the rule. We live surrounded by so much love, kindness, and trust that we forget it is remarkable. Forgiveness is the way we return what has been taken from us and restore the love and kindness and trust that has been lost. With each act of forgiveness, whether small or great, we move toward wholeness. Forgiveness is nothing less than how we bring peace to ourselves and our world. — Desmond Tutu, Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving


Isaiah the prophet wrote this: 

God shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2.4

Well, Isaiah, someone might say—if you’re going to dream, dream big. 

Let’s look at this verse a bit more. It doesn’t only tell us about whatever dreams Isaiah may have had: it tells us of God. 

God shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples…

Nations have gone to war with other nations for centuries. Often—far too often—they claim that God is on their side. They pray for God to make them victorious, and to grind their enemies into the dust. 

Yet in Isaiah’s vision, when God judges between the nations, it is for peace. Not for victory for some or defeat for others. God is the God of peace. When God arbitrates, when God is the umpire, God decides for peace. No one wins, no one loses. Instead,

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks…

We have here a picture of shovels lined up on a wall.  

IMG_1692.jpgSo what?, you may think. Well, these shovels aren’t just hanging in an outsize shed. This is art! It is the work of Pedro Reyes, a Mexican artist. He has looked at the problem of gun control in his country, and reframed it in a positive way. Reyes lives in Caliacán, a city in north west Mexico. Caliacán holds the sad record of being the place with the most gun deaths in Mexico. Reyes started a campaign called Palas por Pistolas, Shovels from Guns. It encouraged people to hand in their guns in return for coupons to buy home appliances or electronic goods; Reyes collected 1527 guns. These he converted into 1527 shovels. These shovels were used to plant 1527 trees. 

They shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks…

Imagine a world in which the energy used to wage wars or build walls and detention centres was channelled into planting trees. The mass planting of trees would go a long way to addressing the climate catastrophe we are already entering. 

Such a simple concept, yet one that generates so much life. So much shalom. 

In Isaiah’s vision, once God has decided for peace, once weapons of war are refashioned into tools for peace, then

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

Not only shall nations not go to war, there will be no use for the study of war. ‘Ain’t gonna study war no more’, goes the spiritual. No point to it! 

Can we imagine a world like that? No need ever to study military tactics? Ever again? 

Isaiah could imagine it. Listen to the first verse of today’s reading again:

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

The word that Isaiah saw

Isaiah sees the word coming to pass in his mind’s eye. It’s not that he looks into a crystal ball, but his vision begins the creation of a new reality. It’s not just Isaiah’s imagination; it’s a revelation of who God is, of what God is putting into place. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of peace. Of wellbeing, of health and wholeness, of people who relate to one another in ways that build the other one up. A kingdom of shalom. 

To be clear: Isaiah lived in a time that was not peaceful. The kingdoms to the north of Judah, the land around Jerusalem, were moving against it. They were in danger. Yet Isaiah paints this picture: 

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established
  as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it. (Isaiah 2.2) 


Here is a photo of ‘the mountain of the Lord’s house’ in our day, which I took from the Mount of Olives. It’s the home of the beautiful Dome of the Rock, and the Al Aqsa Mosque. It’s holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians. 

The point right now though is that this ‘mountain of the Lord’s house’ is not very high. It’s no Everest; it’s more of a Mt Coot-tha. But Isaiah envisages the nations ‘streaming’ upwards to it, flowing against gravity! It will be ‘the highest of the mountains’ because ‘the word of the Lord [comes] from Jerusalem’.

In a time of threat, or potential invasion by Syria and Israel, the idea of the nations flowing up this rather small ‘mountain of the Lord’ might seem to be quite horrifying. The people of Jerusalem could rightly be afraid of this mass of foreigners streaming up. But what are the nations saying?

Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths. (Isaiah 2.3)

God’s paths are peace. In Isaiah’s vision, the nations want to live in peace. 

‘How long, O Lord?’ say so many prophets. How long, indeed, before the nations of the world desire peace? 

I was sent an email during the week, and a thank you to the person who sent it:

A journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall in Jerusalem to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long  time.

She went to check it out. She went to the Western Wall and there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site.

She watched him praying for about 45 minutes. He turned to leave, using a cane and moving very slowly. She approached him for an interview.

‘Pardon me, sir, I’m Rebecca Smith from ABC. What’s your name?’

‘Morris Feinberg,’ he replied.

‘Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?’ 

‘For about 60 years.’

’60 years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?’

‘I pray for peace between Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

‘I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop.

‘I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults and to love their neighbour.

‘I pray that politicians tell us the truth and put the interests of the people ahead of their own interests.

I pray that everyone will be happy.’

The reporter asked, ‘How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?’

‘Like I’m talking to a brick wall!’

How long, O Lord? We just don’t know. Jesus says,

But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matthew 24.36)

We can’t guess exactly when God’s peace may come to the earth. We can trust that peace is God’s will.

Like the Jewish man at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, we can turn up. We talk about being faithful; a big part of being faithful is just showing up. However long it takes. 

West End Uniting can be a fellowship of reconciliation who finds ways to witness for peace for all people. Shall we do that? 

In the name of Christ. Amen.

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Filed under Advent, Church & world, RCL, sermon

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