Swords into Plowshares

by Andrew Ware

Series: Christmas Cards from Isaiah

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 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. 3 Many peoples shall come and say, “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.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 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 any more. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! — Isaiah 2:1-5 NRSV

Listen to this Sermon Click HereNote: Audio is not verbatim of manuscript

In 2008 Mexican born artist Pedro Reyes, wanted to find a way to offer back to his community in Culiacán, Mexico a message of hope amidst horrific tragedy of one of the highest rates of gun death in the country. Reyes saw the harm that was being done in his community, and understanding how difficult this problem could be to solve he wanted to offer an image of hope that should we do our part we can turn the tide on these terrible tragedies. In light of that he started a program called Palas por Pistolas (shovels for weapons). Reyes collected over 1500 firearms. He and a crew melted and turned them into shovels for persons to plant trees (http://pedroreyes.net/palasporpistolas.php).

It is this mentality, this imagery that is drawn from this scripture. We look at the state of the world and we see the tumult, chaos, and violence around us, and oftentimes we approach with the apathy not want to do something (or to merely offer thoughts and prayers). Our national political landscape leaves so much to be desired in this area, and we are often left with these thoughts and prayers, rather than transformational action or legislation that creates a more peace-filled society. But why is this? Why do we fail to uphold passages like this? Why do we meet violence with more violence? Why is war the name of the day?

Retaliation and retribution are human-made concepts, they are concepts born out of hatred and contempt for those who have harmed us, and the response to flood the market with more violence or choose to ignore it has become the “Christian” response, rather than looking at passages like this and seeing the transformational change that we are being called toward.

This Advent season, we begin to unpack the nature that is spoken towards through the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah, and many of the prophecies written within the text of this Jewish book, are believed to set the stage for the New Testament biblical messianic image. We look towards Isaiah a lot when it comes to seeing deeper into the nature of Jesus Christ, and yet in the face of the hope that is offered through Isaiah’s prophecy we seem to fall short of where Jesus truly calls us to be. On the heels of looking through the signs of John, I now invite us to turn ourselves towards cards from Isaiah.

Throughout the holiday season we will receive countless cards from friends, family, loved ones, all over the world. They, like the signs in John will point us to who Christ is for us. In this season of advent, this season of preparation for Christmas we turn our attention to what the incarnation truly means for us and how it transforms our understanding of faith. These are Christmas cards from Isaiah. Shepherding in a time of true justice for humanity, and pointing towards something that will be transformational, not just for the people of Judea, but for all humanity.

When we dive into this passage, we encounter a sense of longing from the writer. Isaiah is traditionally broken into 3 sections, often referred to by biblical scholars and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Isaiah. The first 39 chapters are believed to be the original works of the prophet Isaiah. They fall in the time of Israel before the Babylonian Exile, and they look towards a nation that is transformed by the nature of God that can be present within it.

All of the prophecies/Christmas cards we will look at in this series come from this first part of Isaiah. Especially here in chapter 2, Isaiah is looking towards a people who rest their faith in God, and know and understand the need for what God offers to them. There is so much talk about the end-times within many facets of Christianity. They point towards happenstances in our society that relate to some biblical passage, but as people of faith we cannot be so easily drawn in to think that the world just ends, or that we can have any role to play in how it occurs.

Rather, Isaiah looks toward God, for what is to come. As we talked in our discussion on John 1, we know that the Word of God is unending. The book of life is still being written, and in the name of Jesus we see the embodiment of scripture. We look towards Isaiah to give us insight in to the promised hope for Jerusalem, and when we couple that with our understanding of the Kingdom we are invited to understand the role we truly play within the work of salvation and the building of the Kingdom that takes place in Jesus Christ.

Isaiah offers to the people of Israel and Judea an image of the Mountain of the Lord, a holy city, built on a hill. However, we must be willing to approach it in the manner and spirit of God. We do not the Kingdom with end-times destruction. Rather, we approach the Kingdom with the same humility and understanding of peace we receive from Christ.

In the time of the Vietnam War, one of the most controversial wars in the history of the United States, we see this nature of true peace begin to rear itself. In protests for the war we see the manner in which peace becomes discuss hit the fourfold of society. We saw a nation and world look towards what peace truly meant, and even for those who bravely fought we recognized an understanding that began to drive the conversation as well.

One of the great images of this era is a Christmas song, written by John Lennon and sung by he and Yoko Ono, called Happy Christmas (War is Over). Written and produced in 1971, it was the culmination of Lennon and Ono’s years of peace activism, and became the defining theme of wrestling with what peace meant in the context of this holy season we celebrate as Christians. Defined for me in the second verse in which both the words of the verse and background music offer a call towards a greater peace, promised by Isaiah, and enlivened through Christ.

And so this is Christmas (war is over)

For weak and for strong (if you want it)

For rich and the poor ones (war is over)

The road is so long (now)

And so happy Christmas (war is over)

For black and for white (if you want it)

For yellow and red ones (war is over)

Let’s stop all the fight (now)

Verse 2 of Happy Christmas (War is Over) by John Lennon and Yoko Ono (Words by John Lennon)

No ordinary call for Christmas, but one derived from passages like this. Isaiah is calling the people of Israel towards a message of hope, hope in the promised peace of God. We have to remember that it was not easy going for the people of Israel. Their history is one of constant fighting, enslavement, and even exile. It is filled with stories of war and conquest, but as we approach the Babylonian Exile time of Israel’s history there is a shift that occurs, one that begins to point towards the image of the Kingdom of God. One that points towards peace, and in this passage, Isaiah offers that image for hearers.

It is a promise from the Lord, a promise to both turn towards the Lord and for humanity to be transformed by this turning. Here the words in verses three and four again.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

We are called here to recognize God, on the mountaintop, live into God’s word and reside in the kingdom, and in doing so we lay down our arms, all of those ways we hurt people (both physical and metaphorical). The physical imagery of swords into plowshares offered in Isaiah 2 and embodied in the story of Pedro Reyes at the beginning of this sermon show us the transformation of weapons of violence and war becoming tools of service and peace.

In the past few weeks now we have seen terrible tragedies that have rocked our state, and one that hit a little too close to home. Many of us have seen the news of the shooting in Chesapeake on Tuesday night. I woke up seeing on my Instagram feed prayers for Chesapeake. Not knowing what happened I entered Chesapeake into my google search on my phone. Seeing the first news outlets to pop up dropped my heart. Seeing national news outlets report a mass shooting in the next city over, the city I frequent often, broke my heart.

However, in preparing this this sermon it hurt me even more, because these shootings bring back to light “the gun debate.” What do we do with these weapons of violence and destruction. Yes we can offer thoughts and prayers, but in the midst of the senseless acts of violence, coupled with the countless, unreported gun violences that take place in our society, our hearts break for those impacted, but the transformational change feels far away. It is not just the guns then that become tools of violence, but so many more countless tools then become used to hurt and harm one another, and I am sick and fed up with it, because of this passage.

What has ever happened to turning our swords into plowshares? What has happened to turning spears into pruning hooks? Guns into shovels? What has happened to turning our words of hate to words of love?

We have picked up our swords and we will not drop them. Now it is within our nation that we argue with each other, we want peace, but we want it in the face of overwhelming violence. Ever era of peace that has been defined throughout history, like Pax Romana, are not defined by true peace, by laying down of arms, but are defined instead by great feats of conquering, such violent rampages that nations don’t even lift a sword. This is not peace.

War is the name of the day, we go from one war to another, we war within our own society, and we even war within our own families, because we are unwilling to turn our weapons of pain and destruction into weapons of service. We look at an incident like UVA, like Chesapeake, like the countless mass shootings before that, and we choose to do nothing, we often think more weapons of violence is the answer. We look at neighborhoods wrought with violence from decades of systemic injustices that have made it hostile and we introduce more violence in the name of quelling the violence that is there. Through our actions of violence and destruction we have even created a government that cares more about itself and through decisions made often inflicts harm themselves.

When I think about what Isaiah is calling us towards in this passage that baby that changes our world, I cannot help but think we have become like Peter in the final hours of Christ. In the face of perceived persecution we have picked up our weapons of violence and hurt and chosen to attack.

This passage closes with a plea, it closes with Isaiah proclaiming, “Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”4 In doing so we are called to walk in the light of what God offers. In our Christian understanding of this passage that light is Jesus. Even more so we are called to lay down our arms. To lay down the hurtful language, to lay down the harming Facebook memes, to lay down racism, to lay down disenfranchisement, to lay down our guns, to lay down our weapons of violence and harm.

Let us instead pick up tools of service, let us find how to transform those weapons into tools that can serve and help the kingdom…and if they can’t in their current form maybe they need to be changed themselves, swords into plowshares, harmful words into kind ones, judgement into overwhelming acceptance and love.

Because friends the world will not change if we don’t do so ourselves. We walk in the light of the Lord knowing we have met them on the mountain top, and we come down to transform the world through the tools of peace we have been offered and created ourselves. What role are you playing in this peace? What are your weapons that need to be made into tools of service?

Let’s stop all the fight NOW!



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