December 1, 2013 Isaiah 2: 1-5
Isaiah 2: 1-5 from “The Message”
The Message Isaiah got regarding Judah and Jerusalem:
Thereʼs a day coming
when the mountain of Godʼs House
Will be The Mountain --
solid, towering over all mountains.
All nations will river toward it,
people from all over set out for it.
Theyʼll say, “Come,
letʼs climb GODʼS Mountain,
go to the House of the God of Jacob.
Heʼll show us the way he works
so we can live the way weʼre made.”
Zionʼs the source of the revelation.
Godʼs Message comes from Jerusalem.
Heʼll settle things fairly between nations.
Heʼll make things right between many peoples.
Theyʼll turn their swords into shovels,
their spears into hoes.
No more will nation fight nation;
they wonʼt play war anymore.
Come, family of Jacob,
letʼs live in the light of God.
Oh, if only the inhabitants of this planet could learn to live in the light of
God! What a wonderful world this would be! What a beautiful vision Isaiah
had, writing amidst the threat of war and exile, 500 years before Jesus
walked on that Holy Mountain - ultimately to his death.
Isaiahʼs career spanned 44 years. Thatʼs a long time for a prophet - a lot of
years to both enlighten and annoy the royal court in the southern kingdom
of Judah. I imagine he did both. Jerusalem was its capital. How many of
you have been to Jerusalem? Itʼs built on several hills. I wouldnʼt call them
mountains by our standards, but the most prominent to Biblical writers was
called Mt. Zion, the location of the temple Solomon built to house the Ark of
the Covenant - referred to here as the mountain of Godʼs house - the
House of the God of Jacob.
Jerusalem - the name means “foundation of peace” - the irony of that
cannot be escaped. The city has been invaded, captured, governed and
sometimes destroyed by 20 different nations over the centuries - 20! Could
Boston survive that?
Luke describes Jesus in chapter 19:41-44, after his triumphal entrance into
Jerusalem, standing on the Mount of Olives, overlooking what is now the
old city, surrounded by its walls. “As he came near and saw the city, he
wept over it, saying, ʻIf you, even you had only recognized on this day the
things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up
ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side.”
Scholars believe the writer of Luke had seen the ruins of Jerusalem and the
temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE when he wrote this. Jesusʼ
vision had come to pass.
Today Jerusalem is a city divided - in so, so many ways - inhabited by the
followers of all three Abrahamic traditions, who fight over control of the
land. A 34 foot cement wall and multiple check points divide parts of the
city, East Jerusalem where Jewish settlements encroach on the land
occupied by the Palestinians, and West Jerusalem, occupied by the Jewish
community. The Christians, most of them Palestinians, are caught in the
middle of this never-ending conflict.
The Old City is divided into the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian
sectors. Even the Church of the Holy Seplechur, the most sacred spot in
Christiandom, is divided and controlled by various factions of Christianity,
each one closely guarding their piece of the turf - sometimes fighting over
what belongs to who.
Two and a half milleniums later and we are a long way from Isaiahʼs
amazing vision of all peoples, regardless of our faith traditions,
nationalities, or anything else for that matter, coming together to climb that
holy mountain, to learn Godʼs ways of peace. In his commentary, Walter
Brueggemann, a UCC scholar, reminds us that “God wills for the world ... a
center of justice and righteousness that will get our minds off our petty
agendas and our penchant to protect our little investments.” And protect
them we do - sometimes at all costs, be they the turf wars in our inner cities
or those in the middle east. Sadly the peaceful Arab Spring has erupted
into something far more sinister and violent.
What makes for peace? - justice, safety, widespread prosperity? - or
injustice, danger and disparity of wealth? Jesus was born into the latter.
The Jews were a conquered, occupied people. Galilee, where he was born,
was a hotbed of insurgency, and many paid the price with their lives.
Any of you who attended the last Saving Jesus session heard John
Dominic Crossan speak of the four successive elements of Roman imperial
theology: piety, war, victory and peace. Rome believed that peace was only
attained through war and victory. Does peace come through violence?
Sometimes, you might say. WWII is often held up as an example, but so
often it just leads to more violence.
And if we lived in a just, safe world where people had the necessities of life,
and respected each other regardless of our differences, would violence and
war be plastered all over our nightly newscasts? I suppose that depends on
the level of peopleʼs greed and our need to always accumulate more.
Jesus was of a different mind set than the Romans. He preached a way of
peace through forgiveness and reconciliation. He left God to judge between
the nations. He took the words of Isaiah to heart, looking at a time in the
“they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
and he challenged us to do likewise, so that day that Isaiah envisioned: a
day when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they
learn war any more” would come to pass. Those words are engraved on
the foundation walls of the UN headquarters in New York, as a reminder of
the organizationsʼ mission of peace. Those words seem to be falling on
deaf ears in our world today.
A few verses before these final words, Eugene Petersonʼs paraphrase in
the Message tells us that God will show us the way of God “so that we can
live the way weʼre made.” Did God make us for war or peace? What an
intriguing question. I would have to go along with Isaiah and say “for
peace,” but then, why is there so much war in our lives? in our homes? our
communities? our nations? Thereʼs food for a longer discussion.
In the last verse of this passage, Isaiah invites us to come and live in the
light of God. Advent is a time of waiting, but that doesnʼt mean sitting on the
couch chanting OOOMMM. Itʼs a time to pause long enough from our
frantic holiday shopping and parties to take a serious look at our families,
our church, our communities and world, to see what needs to be healed
and made whole. Some of us did that in our healing circles the other week.
Itʼs a time of imagining what is possible and partnering with God in the
Advent of this new reality. How do we repair this beautiful, but broken and
hurting world that God loves? where is God calling us to speak a word of
hope? - to create a safe space of peace?
My first trip to Israel and Palestine was with a group of a dozen clergy and
lay people led by Peter Makari, the director of Global Ministries for the UCC
in Europe and the Middle East. One of our delegation, named Gretchen,
was a member of one of our large UCC churches in Chicago. After 9/11 she
spent six months searching for what God wanted her to do in response to
this devastating tragedy.
The answer finally came. She went to a Jewish friend of hers and asked
her to partner with her to start Hands of Peace. Beginning that summer,
and every summer since, they have brought 20 teens, 10 Israelis and 10
Palestinians to the US to spend two weeks with a group of teenagers from
here: Muslim, Christian and Jewish.
They spend their mornings talking in a circle, sharing their lives, their hopes
and their fears, erasing the boundaries that have been erected by their
governments, their religions, and their cultures - climbing that Holy
Mountain into Godʼs presence to see Godʼs face in each other. Then they
spend the rest of the day playing together.
They return home where they meet once a month for at least a year, in
most cases longer, to share what itʼs like to be back home, and how their
experience with Hands of Peace has changed their lives. We met with
about 40 of them that trip and believe me, that experience changed their
One young woman announced that day she was going to prison instead of
doing her service in the military. It was mandatory at the time once you
graduated from high school. Another young man in army fatigues was
stationed on the red line outside of Gaza. He had been told if anyone
crossed the line, shoot them. We asked him if anyone had and he said yes,
but instead of shooting them, he told them to go back. They climbed that
Holy Mountain and they had listened.
Isaiah dreamed big. So did Jesus. Advent is a time of waiting, but itʼs also a
time of dreaming big - about what is possible. What is our role as
individuals, as a church, as a community, to usher in Isaiahʼs dream? What
are we hoping and praying for this Advent season? How will we make it a