Friday 29 November 2013

Advent 1, Beat your swords into ploughshares, Isaiah 2v1-5, Peacemakers

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

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. 
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. 
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. 
O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah gives an amazing prophecy that has been the foundation for peacemakers for generations. Was this a one off prophecy? Well no because it is repeated in Micah and Hosea and in the Beatitudes. The call is simply for us to be peacemakers wherever we find ourselves. It is however no easy task to be a peacemaker and there are difficult, complex, situations we may not be able to tackle because they are too destructive for us. “Be wise as serpents”. Also many have argued against this as a mandate for Christians, undermining its seriousness for those of us who want to create a new way of being. It is a however a mandate I think we should take seriously.

This peacemaking calls for arbitration between peoples and nations, mediators called to resolve disputes; a role for diplomacy that is highly valued. But it is also a call to what the theologian Walter Brueggermann calls "The Prophetic Imagination". A new differently imagined future.

In our own lives this is a real challenge, to be peacemakers, in our relationships, our cities, our nations, our world. It is the absence of peace we often feel and fear that drives us to stockpile weapons and threaten others. We are not peaceful in our environmental destruction and greed. Isaiah’s words call us to a new way of being that pulls at our deepest heart strings, resonates with deep yearnings for a better way of being. But this is real peacemaking not just lying down and being walked over, but working out peace in a context of justice for individuals and communities. You cannot have peace without justice and perpetrators really hearing the stories of their victims, something Desmond Tutu was trying to do in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.

These words come to us at the beginning of Advent when we are waiting, waiting for the Christ to come again into our lives to strengthen and inspire us to go beyond the norm, to dream unbelievable dreams of peace and live them out in the cut and thrust of real life's dramas and conflicts. We are being told to turn away from whatever constructs of destruction we have around us and even are part of, and build constructs of peace within the context of justice and righteousness, that great Old Testament pairing, however difficult. It is mind boggling in its scope but it is the best and highest way for us as Christians and will lead to peace in our innermost beings if we can in any way measure up to the call.

I have met some amazing peacemakers; the Quakers with their legacy and their study centre at Woodbrooke in Birmingham; The Forgiveness Project; The Mennonites with their commitment to mediation; two Presbyterian ministers in Northern Ireland who at great personal cost took to meeting regularly with Gerry Adams and Martin MacInnis and formed the foundation for the Good Friday agreement; reconciliation work in Bradford between Muslims and Christians involving a joint pilgrimage to Jerusalem; a Catholic priest who facilitated international mediation between nations.

Isaiah’s words are carved into the wall across from the United Nations building as the UN debates on Syria and Afghanistan rage, a high calling to non violence that strikes at the heart of our calling as Christians both as individuals and as a global community. The vision is weapons of war turned into agricultural tools, turned into food producing tools, a promise for “the days to come.” But these visions should shape our today, our future. They call us to change, to be more peaceful, to channel our energies to providing food, not war and destruction, to turn our attention on the agrarian environment.

I believe we are challenged to make peacemaking a priority in our everyday lives and in a context of social injustice where a minority of the wealthy make decisions for the majority who are increasingly poorer. How do our lives articulate this vision and contribute to this divine dream? What price will we pay for peace in our lives, in Syria, in Afghanistan? What small steps can we make for this peace? For the sake of our children and grandchildren we need to learn to be peacemakers and to build an inheritance of  a different earth.



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