How can we experience peace in a world that’s so desperately short on it? It’s a question both as ancient as our first parents’ fall into sin and as modern as ongoing war in places like parts of the Middle East.
Some people assumed that we’d finally figure out how to have peace during the twentieth century. Great optimism about humanity and its future filled people little more than one hundred years ago. Even some Christians thought that people were getting better and better.
The 20th century turned out to be, however, the bloodiest in history. It basically began with the near annihilation of the Armenians. It included at least one “war to end all wars.” The twentieth century perhaps bottomed out with the mass murder of as many as six million of Jewish people.
Peace was also in short supply among the ancient Israelites of whom our text speaks. Isaiah 1 shows that their nation and capital, Jerusalem, are in deep trouble. The Israelites are morally bankrupt, religiously rebellious and guilty. Their capital is full of “murderers.” Israel’s leaders are wantonly corrupt.
The land of Israel lies in tattered ruins. Foreigners plunder her fields so that the land of “milk and honey” is covered with little but rocks and scrub brush. Israel’s cities are shabby wastelands that foreign powers have thoroughly looted. God calls the Israelites, “survivors,” just a shell of their former glorious selves. Large armies have shrunk Israel to nothing more than a fortress under attack whose citizens have a siege mentality.
In this depressing context God speaks a potentially even more depressing word of judgment through the prophet Isaiah. The Lord condemns the countless Israelite acts of religion as a burden of which God is tired. God even threatens to close God’s eyes and shut God’s ears to Israel’s prayers. God also warns that resistance to repentance and obedience will result in Israel’s final annihilation.
Many of the countries in which people read this posting enjoy relative peace. However, we too long for a word of hope, a word of peace. Isaiah 2’s preachers and teachers will want to mine the media and their own experiences for examples of places where this hope for peace, as well as well as threats to peace exist.
Of course, Christian don’t have to look overseas to find examples of violence. The streets of our communities are filled with large and small acts of both random and systematic violence. Gangs in some of our schools embattle our children.
However, we don’t even have to look beyond the walls of our homes to find violence that makes us long for peace. Our families know little more peace than Adam and Eve’s did. How many of our hearers don’t, in some ways, for instance, dread the upcoming holidays for the tension they’ll produce? Tensions the results of the recent American presidential election only exacerbate.
We even sometimes freely let conflict plague us. You and I let hostility scar our congregations and denominations, friends and families, homes and hearts. People sometimes even cultivate or contribute some of the tension that haunts our relationships. As a result, the disappointments, doubts and despair that mar our world all too frequently entangle even Christians.
At the heart of our text for this morning, however, God insists that God refuses to desert us. God hasn’t abandoned even sinful people who freely choose to make swords and spears. God hasn’t abandoned people who still aim our nuclear missiles at each other. God hasn’t even abandoned people who let vines grow tangled and ground lie fallow because we prefer making swords to plowshares and spears to pruning hooks. God won’t even abandon us to our own limited understanding of reality and vision for the future.
After all, God gives us a vision of a world that’s radically different than the one we’ve chosen to produce.
We still “train for war,” in the words of verse 4. So some of our finest young adults must spend the holidays in distant places to risk their lives in defense of our countries. We must also employ some of our best minds to defend our country’s soil.
Jesus Christ defeated Satan, his allies, the principalities and powers at the cross and his empty tomb. So you and I no longer have to run and hide from God like Adam and Eve did. After all, in Christ, God has graciously given us peace with himself. God has made us God’s sons and daughters who even begin to taste peace with our Christian brothers and sisters.
Now Christ intends that his church be a place where, like a lonely candle, the light of peace shines in the darkness that surrounds us. So you and I start to experience peace right now when we receive God’s greeting of peace and then pass that peace to each other. We also work to reconcile ourselves to each other so that you and I can come with joy and peace to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. In church we proclaim and hear the message of alternatives to the way of tension and violence.
What good, however, is a promise that remains largely unkept? What good is it to talk about peace in a world where nations still beat their iron into swords and their steel into spears? What good is it to talk about peace in church when tensions sometimes scar our fellowship? What good is talk about peace when so many of our communities and neighborhoods are pockmarked by tension and violence?
It’s good because texts like this one remind us of the alternatives to the course of war and violence that we’ve chosen and choose. It’s good because while we remain stubbornly unimaginative in our pursuit of peace, God’s promises stretch our imaginations.
God doesn’t lift up God’s sword of judgment or the spear of punishment toward those who hear and believe God’s promise of peace. Instead, God challenges and equips you and me to pursue peace even now. It reminds me of an installment of the cartoon Pontius Puddle about which I read once read. In it two “religious” frogs sit on a riverbank talking to each other.
The first says to his friend, “I’ve often wanted to ask God why he doesn’t do something to stop people from dying of hunger and the affects of war.” So his friend asks, “Why don’t you?” The first frog replies, “Because I’m scared God will ask me the same question.”
It’s time, says Paul, for us to wake up from our sinful slumber. It’s time for you and me, in the words of Romans 13:12, to “put aside the deeds of darkness.” It’s time for God’s people to put aside our attitudes and actions that make for hatred instead of love and war instead of peace. After all, Christians don’t know when Christ’s return will usher in the complete peace for which we long.
So how do we work for peace in the meantime? Psalm 122 challenges God’s people to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” In anticipation of the peaceful day of which our text speaks, Christians pray for the peace of the city over which Jesus once wept. We pray that all the people of Jerusalem will know the wholeness and healing that comes from a faithful realization of God’s presence among them.
Many people cynically assume that no one can solve the problems of the Middle East. In the light of God’s promises of peace, however, we don’t give up. Instead, we continue to pray for just and equitable solutions to the tensions between Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis.
We also, however, pray for peace in regions and countries where it seems like an endangered specie. You and I pray for peace in places like our schools and our streets. Christians pray for peace in our families, workplaces and church. For we know that someday God will usher in a complete reign of peace in the new heaven and earth.
However, in preparation for that day we also live peaceable lives. In the language of Romans 13, we shed the soiled “clothing” of spiritual darkness. You and I don’t act in ways that are consistent with spiritual darkness. We behave, in Paul’s words, “decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.” Christians don’t even think about how to behave sinfully. Instead we exercise self-control over our alcohol, sexuality and social relationships.
In preparation for the peace that his return will usher in, you and I clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ right now. With the protective power of the Holy Spirit, we arm ourselves against the potentially harmful attacks of Satan.
You and I also act with love, compassion and peace today. We love our enemies right now. Christians are compassionate with our neighbors and co-workers today. You and I are peaceful toward our family members and friends immediately.
After all, we approach the beginning of a new year in a world that is not just broken and hostile. We live in a world that also belongs to God who keeps God’s promises, no matter what.
In his intriguing book, Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David, Lawrence Write describes what led to what we sometimes call the “1973 Yom Kippur War.” “The illusion that led to Israel’s greatest military setback, and was the source of [Kosher] Satan’s disgrace, was the Bar-Lev line. It was one of the greatest defensive fortifications in military history…
In 1973 Satan, then minister of defense, took an American diplomat, Nicholas Veliotes, on a tour of the fortifications…
As usual, the Egyptian soldiers were playing soccer, fishing and swimming in the [Suez] canal. Veliotes asked what would happen if Egyptian forces attacked without warning.
‘The Egyptian Army today is like a ship covered with rust while anchored in harbor and unable to move!’ Satan said dismissively. He was detecting the consensus of the Israeli defense establishment. Peace no longer seemed necessary or even desirable [italics added].
Peace no longer seemed necessary or even desirable is a banner we might hang over the 21st century.
Sign Up for Our Newsletter!
Insights on preaching and sermon ideas, straight to your inbox. Delivered Weekly!
Sermon Commentary for Sunday, November 27, 2016
Isaiah 2:1-5 Commentary