Sunday, November 27, 2016

Swords into Plowshares


Preached at Ascension on Advent 1, 2016.

THE WORDS ARE CARVED INTO A WALL ACROSS FROM THE UNITED NATIONS BUILDING:
THEY SHALL BEAT THEIR swords into plowshares,
AND THEIR SPEARS INTO PRUNING HOOKS;
NATION SHALL NOT LIFT UP SWORD AGAINST NATION,
NEITHER SHALL THEY LEARN WAR ANYMORE.

WHAT A BEAUTIFUL VISION. IT’S A VISION THAT WAS first SPOKEN TO A PEOPLE IN RUIN, CAPTIVE TO THEIR ENEMIES, WITH NO REASON TO EXPECT A BETTER FUTURE. IN THEIR DESPAIR, THEY HEAR A WORD OF HOPE. have those words make a difference?

THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD SEEMS TO BE A HISTORY OF WAR. IF THERE IS EVER A TIME WHEN SWORDS ARE TURNED TO PLOWSHARES, IT’S A SHORT-LIVED TIME. FOR WE SEEM TO BE HELL-BENT ON OUR OWN DESTRUCTION. WE SEEM INCAPABLE OF TOLERATING OUR ENEMIES, LET ALONE LOVE THEM. AND WE MUST ALWAYS HAVE ENEMIES. THERE MUST ALWAYS BE SOMEONE TO BLAME, SOMEONE TO HATE, SOMEONE TO SERVE AS THE OBJECT OF OUR FEAR AND ANGER.

THEY SHALL BEAT THEIR swords into plowshares. IT’S AN ABSURD IMAGE IF YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE WORLD WE’RE LIVING IN. FROM SYRIA TO STANDING ROCK, GOD’S VISION OF PEACE FOR THE WORLD ELUDES US. AND YET, IT’S A VISION PEOPLE UNIVERSALLY LONG FOR.

A PROJECT CALLED PALAS POR PISTOLAS WAS INITIATED IN WESTERN MEXICO AT THE EPICENTER of violent DEATHS, MOSTLY RELATED TO THE ILLEGAL DRUG TRADE, AN ARTIST WAS COMMISSIONED TO DO SOME WORK AT A BOTANICAL GARDEN. IT BEGAN WITH A LARGE-SCALE CAMPAIGN FOR PEOPLE TO VOLUNTARILY DONATE THEIR WEAPONS. GUNS WERE EXCHANGED FOR A COUPON WHICH COULD BE TRADED IN AT A LOCAL STORE FOR ELECTRONICS.

1527 WEAPONS WERE COLLECTED. 40% OF THEM WERE  military style AUTOMATIC WEAPONS. THEY WERE CRUSHED WITH A STEAMROLLER.

THEN THE PIECES WERE TAKEN TO A FOUNDRY AND MELTED. THE METAL WAS SENT TO A HARDWARE FACTORY TO PRODUCE 1527 SHOVELS.

THE 1527 SHOVELS WERE DISTRIBUTED TO A NUMBER OF ART INSTITUTIONS AND PUBLIC SCHOOLS WHERE ADULTS AND CHILDREN ENGAGED IN THE ACTION OF PLANTING 1527 TREES.

THE ARTIST SAYS HIS PURPOSE WAS TO SHOW HOW AN AGENT OF DEATH COULD BECOME AN AGENT OF LIFE.

tHERE ARE OTHER EXAMPLES OF WEAPONS BEING REPURPOSED. AFTER WW II, TANKS WERE TURNED INTO TRACTORS. AFTER SOME OF THE  WORST ACTS OF VIOLENCE OUR COUNTRY HAS EXPERIENCED IN MODERN TIMES: WITH THE AMISH CHILDREN IN PENNSYLVANIA, COLOMBINE, NEWTOWN, CONNECTICUT… GUNS HAVE LITERALLY BEEN MELTED DOWN TO BECOME FARM INSTRUMENTS. THE SYMBOLISM IS POWERFUL. AND IT’S A REMINDER TO US OF THE WORDS FROM ISAIAH.

BUT TURNING SWORDS INTO PLOWSHARES ISN’T JUST A VERSE about literally turning instruments of war into instruments of peace. IT’S A VISION OF THE WORLD GOD WANTS FOR US.

AND IT’S A WORLD WE WANT FOR OURSELVES, as well. IN THE EARLY DAYS OF OUR NATION, THE WORDS OF THE SPIRITUAL SPOKE TO OUR LONGING…
I’M GONNA LAY DOWN MY SWORD AND SHIELD,
DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE.
I’M GONNA STUDY WAR NO MORE.

the longing continues. i think of the words of the songwriter:
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Ironically, the man who wrote those words, john lennon, was gunned down in the streets of new York city. the dream eludes us. and yet, we can’t let it go.

WE’RE PREOCCUPIED WITH VIOLENCE IN OUR Country. (sex, too, but that’s a topic for another day. i’ll be sure to let you know when it’s coming.) OUR ATTACHMENT TO GUNS IS IRRATIONAL. OUR PARANOIA OVER TERRORISTS IS CRIPPLING US. AND OUR MisUNDERSTANDING OF the use and abuse of POWER THREATENS TO DESTROY US.

EVERY HOUR OF EVERY DAY, TAXPAYERS IN THE UNITED STATES ARE PAYING 8.36 MILLION DOLLARS FOR THE TOTAL COST OF WARS SINCE 2001. I THINK I NEED TO SAY THAT AGAIN SO IT CAN SINK IN. EVERY HOUR OF EVERY DAY, TAXPAYERS IN THE UNITED STATES ARE PAYING 8.36 MILLION DOLLARS FOR THE TOTAL COST OF WARS SINCE 2001.

DOESN’T THAT MAKE YOU SICK TO YOUR STOMACH? CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE IF WE BEAT THOSE SWORDS INTO plowshares? CAN YOU IMAGINE HOW WE MIGHT FUND HEALTHCARE, EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, TEACHERS SALARIES, REBUILDING OUR INFRASTRUCTURE, JOBS, FOOD PROGRAMS FOR THE HUNGRY, SCHOLARSHIPS FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS?

WE’RE STILL RECOVERING FROM A CONTENTIOUS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. I VOTED, BUT I HAVE TO ACKNOWLEDGE that THe person I voted for doesn't share my values when it comes to peace and violence. THE SAD REALITY IS THAT a person who shares my values could NEVER BE ELECTED president of the united states.

I’ve been hearing the word nationalism used a lot lately and it scares me. There is a difference between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism is a love for your country. Nationalism insists that your country is superior to other countries…our lives are worth more than the lives of people in other countries…our country is always on the side of good, and any country who is against us is evil. and, of course, god is always on our side. It’s nationalism that takes nations to war and i suspect it probably goes without saying that nationalism has no place in the church.

when we talk about how our country is the greatest country on earth, i hope we realize that people of every country think their country is the greatest country on earth. but objectively, what does it mean to say that? it’s an emotional statement. what empirical evidence do we have to support it? That depends upon how you measure what it means to be great, doesn't it?

If we measure greatness by military strength, there is no doubt that the us is number one. We spend more money on our military than the next eight countries combined. But is that what makes a nation great? Is that what we would learn from the scriptures? Is that what we learn from Jesus?

THIS YEAR A GLOBAL THINK TANK FOR ECONoMICS AND PEACE RELEASED THEIR FINDINGS OF THE MOST PEACEFUL NATIONS ON EARTH. THEY LOOKED AT 23 FACTORS RELATED TO PEACEFULNESS, INCLUDING each country’s involvement in internal and external conflicts; crime, terrorist activity, violent demonstrations, relations with other countries, stability of politics, proportion of the population being internally displaced or made refugees, and levels of militarization. the authors OF THE STUDY define peace as “the harmony achieved by the absence of violence or the fear of violence.”

THEY LOOKED AT 163 AREAS OF THE WORLD. OF THOSE, OUR COUNTRY RANKED 100th. DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE MOST PEACEFUL COUNTRY IN THE WORLD IS? ICELAND.

WELL, WE DON’T LIVE IN ICELAND. WE LIVE HERE. AND, IF WE LONG FOR THE WORLD THAT ISAIAH DESCRIBES - a WORLD WHERE NATION SHALL NOT LIFT UP SWORD AGAINST NATION, NEITHER SHALL THEY LEARN WAR ANYMORE – if we long for a world like that, it's hard to know what we can do about it.  

Isaiah's vision is not unlike what Jesus was talking about when he called us to be a part of the reign of God. WHEN WE Live withIN THe reign of god, WE DON’T STRIKE OUT IN VENGEANCE at THOSE WHO DO US HARM. WE PRAY FOR THEM, WE TURN THE OTHER CHEEK. AND LET’S BE CLEAR. THIS IS NOT PASSIVE SUBMISSION TO THOSE WHO THREATEN US. IT IS RESISTENCE. IT’S A REFUSAL TO GIVE IN TO THE WAYS OF THE WORLD THAT DRAW US FROM THE WAYS OF GOD.

this might be a good time to remind us all of the radical way of life we enter into through the waters of baptism as we recall the words of our baptismal liturgy. every time a person is baptized in our congregation, the pastor asks three very pointed questions of the congregation.  

Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?
And you all very boldly respond: I renounce them.
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?
And you all say: I renounce them.
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?
I renounce them.

ISAIAH’S WORDS DESCRIBE A WORLD THAT MAY SEEM ABSURD TO US BECAUSE IT’S SO CONTRARY TO THE WORLD WE’VE COME TO KNOW. do we renounce the ways of that world, really?

HOW DO WE RECEIVE ISAIAH’S vision of a world at peace? Is it NOTHING MORE THAN WISHFUL THINKING FOR US? Or DOes it CHALLENGE US TO WORK FOR SOMETHING MORE?

1 comment:

Barbara Williams said...

Powerful. Thank you.

I taught US history at the high school level for many years. When kids had trouble distinguishing between patriotism and nationalism, I told them that nationalism is patriotism on steroids... abnormally strong, causing irrational rage and violence, but stunting other growth as a side effect as well. They got it.