Friday, December 4, 2015

Swords to Plowshares by Peter Hawisher-Faul

Sermon delivered December 2, 2015
Scripture: Isaiah 2:1-5

In many of his sermons, Martin Luther King Jr. imagined a future for our world he liked to call “the beloved community.” The beloved community is a future where we have used non-violent principles to abolish racism and poverty. Reverend Doctor King believed that all peoples could get past the differences which segregate, divide, and stratify our societies. He knew it would never be easy, but he thought that we needed that kind of optimism to strive for real justice in our communities.

The prophecy in Isaiah we read points Israel to a similar hope. Isaiah gives all kinds of warnings later in the book; warnings that God will condemn Israel to be conquered by other nations; warnings that much of Israel will live in exile; warnings that God’s people must learn to live justly and follow God. In spite of all the hardship, Isaiah tells the people that one day, God will come and build a house on a mountain, and all the peoples of all the nations will come to it and seek God’s instruction. When this happens, God will mediate conflicts so that war will no longer be necessary. Weapons will be recycled into farming equipment.

In their history, the people of Israel did find glimpses of peace. Many of the people were eventually able to return from exile and Solomon’s temple, which had been destroyed, was eventually rebuilt. But history moved on, wars returned, and the prophecy of Isaiah still urges us to wait for the day that God will abolish war.

As Christians, we see the fulfillment of the establishment of God’s house in the incarnation of God in Christ and the sending of the Spirit. Jesus may not have built a house on a mountain, but Jesus proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God, healed the sick, lived in non-violence, and taught us to forgive and love one another. Jesus commissioned his followers to spread his gospel and the early Christians began to understand themselves as the body of Christ, continuing the work of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

But history moves on, wars return, and the prophecy of Isaiah still urges me to wait for the day that God will finally abolish war. This waiting is sometimes called the “already but not yet” of Christian hope. God has already brought salvation in Christ, but that salvation is not yet done being worked out in the world. We live between the times. This waiting is part of the meaning of advent. We decorate with evergreens in winter because we look for signs of renewal in the world around us. We wait in advent for the celebration of birth of Christ, but we are also are waiting for the end of a world sustained by violence.

But where does this leave us? It is tempting to think that it leaves us as the keepers of God’s teachings. Sometimes Christians like to think of the church as God’s city on a hill, where we wait expectantly for all nations and people to stream into our sanctuaries in search of God’s truth. This is the temptation to believe that if all the unbelievers would just become Christians, then violence would cease in the world. If we look at Isaiah, however, I don’t think we get off the hook that easy.

Right after the image of all the nations streaming to Zion, the scripture pleads to its audience “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” This is our task: to walk in the light of God’s teachings, the teachings that will make war unnecessary and transform the tools of destruction into tools for growth and life. We are not a city on a hill that is above reproach and immune to failure. We resort to violence and perpetuate injustice just as easily as the people of Israel did. Rather than hoping for non-violent solutions to conflict, we have often looked for the next war to be the solution. There was a war that was supposed to end all religious wars. There was a war that was called “the war to end all war.” There was a “Cold” War with proxy wars to end the arms race. And now we seem to have wars to end the threat of terror. I don’t know that these wars could have been prevented, but these wars show even Christians are far from beating their guns into trowels. Rather than being in the position of Zion as teachers of God’s instruction, Christians are right alongside all the nations and peoples who seek God’s instruction at the house of God.

We may have some knowledge through Christ that helps us to live in non-violent love with each other, but that knowledge is not a privilege---it’s a responsibility. If we have heard God’s instruction, we are responsible to obey. We who claim to follow Christ should know better, making it all the more convicting when we fail. We do not wait sitting down in idleness, but walking in the light of the Lord and seeking to follow God’s instructions.

Because we walk in the light of the Lord, we do not wait passively but actively, working and praying for a more peaceful world. In the light of the Lord, we may find hope in the potential for peace. One day, the United Nations and the international community may reach a point where all of its conflicts are resolved nonviolently. One day, the work that began in nuclear disarmament might be completed as total disarmament. As Martin Luther King Jr. looked for paths of peace and reconciliation, we look for ways to follow God rather than assume that violence is a necessity. Rev. Dr. King might have been optimistic, but he was not unrealistic. He knew there would always be conflict both locally and internationally, but he believed that it could be resolved non-violently. Isaiah affirms that with God’s help this is possible.

We may not live in a world without war, but we are still called to imagine such a world and to work for it. We walk in the light of the Lord, following God’s instruction as we have been taught by Jesus. This advent you are likely to sing or hear “O Come O Come Emmanuel” again, whether it be in the supermarket or in your home church. When you hear or sing it, I challenge you to pray not only with expectation of Christ being born in Bethlehem, but to pray in hope for this world and its leaders. Pray that all the nations would hear and heed the instructions of the Lord. Pray with Mr. Luther King Jr. that one day, maybe even in our lifetime, God would lead all peoples to resolve conflicts without violence.

Sometimes it is difficult to even imagine a world without violence. Creative and life-giving imagination takes work. It might be difficult to imagine a world without violence altogether, but should it be so hard to imagine a world without public shootings or murders in the street? To help us imagine a more peaceful world, there is a group of Mennonite welders in Colorado who formed an organization called “rawtools.” In the spirit of our passage in Isaiah, these welders take guns and weld them into farm tools. They hope that confiscated illegal guns can be recycled into tools of cultivation, creating a powerful and embodied symbol. As our responsive activity, I would like each of you to describe or draw a way that you can imagine the world without violence.

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