(Preached at Alger First UMC on Nov. 9, 2014)
Scripture: Isaiah 2:1-5
“This is what Isaiah, Amoz’s son, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In the days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
will be the highest of the mountains.
It will be lifted above the hills;
peoples will stream to it.
Many nations will go and say,
“Come, let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain,
to the house of Jacob’s God
so that he may teach us his ways
and we may walk in God’s paths.”
Instruction will come from Zion;
the Lord’s word from Jerusalem.
God will judge between the nations,
and settle disputes of mighty nations.
Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war.
Come, house of Jacob,
let’s walk by the Lord’s light.”
As you’ve hopefully been able to tell, today is Veteran’s Sunday. And Veteran’s Day usually brings this thought to my mind. I think that I can safely say that the United States has been involved in some kind of military conflict or war my whole life. I don’t really know what it’s like to not hear about who and where and what our troops are fighting overseas. It’s just always been a reality.
And because of that constant warfare, there’s been some inundation-we’ve heard so much about war and where our troops are fighting and all of that that we don’t really talk about it anymore, it’s old news. There are still soldiers dying in the Middle East, but we don’t hear very much about that because we’re bored with that. War and military service is just not a popular thing to talk about anymore.
But with today being Veteran’s Sunday, with Veteran’s Day being this week, I think it is important for us to take some time to talk about it. Because I think there are some things we can learn here.
On October 8 in 1954, President Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation. Among other things, it said “On that day, let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores to preserve our heritage of freedom; and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
That last part about promoting an enduring peace, I want to spend some time with that, because promoting an enduring peace is really what the Gospel is all about.
And that’s really what this passage in Isaiah is all about, right? We have this huge, grand vision of the future that God is going to be bringing into this world, this huge vision of peace. This is the real peace that God wants to bring into the world. Now I think when we talk about this topic, we tend to get a little over-spiritual and other-worldly about it. I think a lot of the time, we think that this peace that God promises will be more of an inner peace. Or, we think that this is a picture of heaven. I think a lot of us have that idea of the world being unredeemable. Sure, people can be saved, but as a whole, the world is going to go on being an awful place.
I want to point out the very first verse. It says “This is what Isaiah, Amoz’s son, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” This message is concerning Judah and Jerusalem, two very real, earthly places. They have an actual geographic location and are located in a very real time and place in history. And I know that I might be focusing too much on a small part of this passage, but I think it’s important because it shows what God’s focus is for this passage. It doesn’t say “This is what Isaiah saw concerning heaven or the end of times.” It’s concerning Judah and Jerusalem. What does that tell us? That this peace that we read about, this peace involving beating our swords into plows and spears into pruning hooks is a very earthly peace. This peace is something that is going to happen on this earth. Right here. Not just in heaven, but also here on earth. This future is something that God is working to bring about on this earth, right here, right now.
But the problem is that this peace doesn’t come right away. And we want it to come right away, don’t we? We all long for this peace, and we wonder why God hasn’t brought it yet. I want to look at another phrase in this passage. In verse 4, it says they will beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools, obviously pointing to the day when our weapons of war will be used for a more peaceful occupation. Now, I know this is just a metaphor and I know you can’t take metaphors too far, but I want to dig a little deeper into this one. Think about what it would take to actually beat a sword into a plow blade. I don’t know anything about working with metal, but I do know that that’s going to take some time. It’s going to take time strip the sword down, heat up the metal, and form it into a plow blade. So I think when God showed Isaiah this vision, He was saying that for this peace to come to this earth, for this future peace to begin happening right here, right now, in this very literal place, we’re going to need to do the work of beating our swords into plow shares. We’re going to need to do the work of beating our spears into pruning hooks. That’s going to take some time, that’s going to take some work.
But the hope in this is that this peace is not going to come by the sweat of our brow. We cannot earn this peace; we cannot just bring this peace to this earth by working really hard for it. This peace has already begun leaking into this world in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In the life of Christ that we read about in the Gospels, we can see what the peace of God actually looked like. Jesus lived this life of peace but was killed by the powers of this world. Jesus, the Son of God, died a very earthly death and was buried in a very earthly tomb. And on the third day, when Jesus rose from that tomb, the peace that God wants to bring into this world came out of the tomb with him. From that empty tomb, this enduring peace began leaking into the rest of the world. And through his sacrifice, death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus invites us to join him in that peace-making. Jesus invites all of us to join him in this work of bringing this peace to the whole world. And the way he invites us to do that is by joining him in sacrifice. Jesus invites us to join him in this sacrifice, because sacrifice is the only way that this peace, this vast, all-encompassing, holistic peace is going to ever be made into a reality. Not by us working really hard, but by us surrendering our lives to Jesus, sacrificing whatever it takes to join Jesus in this work of peace making.
Well that’s great, but what do we really mean by sacrifice? What does that really look like? For that, we can look at our veterans. Anyone who has ever served in any branch of the military knows what it’s like to sacrifice huge parts of their life in order to bring about peace. They know the work that it takes to beat our swords into plow blades and our spears into pruning tools. They know what it takes. So to get an example of sacrifice, we just need to look at the people we are honoring today-our veterans.
They have left their home, their family, their loved ones. They’ve sacrificed their identity as a civilian. They have sacrificed their independence and have put themselves completely under the control of their superior officers.And of course, there are countless stories of soldiers throwing themselves into the line of fire in order to save someone else’s life. I mean, these are some pretty huge sacrifices that have been made here, right?
All of them were made so that these veterans and anyone who is still serving in the military could bring about this enduring peace. These sacrifices were made in the hope that one day, we’ll finally be able to throw away our guns. One day, we won’t have any use for rifles and missiles and battleships and tanks or fighter jets. One day there will be peace. That’s why those sacrifices were made.
And these sacrifices serve as an example for the rest of us. If we want peace to come to this world, if we want to see the day when we don’t have to worry about turning on the news and hear another story about another soldier dying in battle, if we want to see the day when mothers and fathers don’t have to worry about their sons and daughters going off to fight in the military and wondering if they’ll come back, if we want to see the day when this peace actually comes to this world, sacrifice will be required. But for us, the sacrifice might look different. It might mean sacrificing our desire for revenge when someone wrongs us. It might mean sacrificing our dislike for the other political party and our desire to rub it in their face when we one-up them. It might mean sacrificing our selfishness, our desire to just make ourselves happy and forget about the rest of the world. It could mean any number of things. But the one thing we can be sure of is that this peace is coming. This peace is not just a far off hope, or something that we will get when we die and go to heaven. This peace is something that God is bringing about on this very real, physical Earth, right here and right now. It was begun by Jesus’ sacrifice and continues through us if the love and sacrifice of Christ abides within us. We just need to open our hearts to it.