Prophets are a curious topic for us in the 21st Century because we live skeptical lives bombarded by way too much information, which is subject to microscopic scrutiny. However, in the Bible prophets and prophecy were commonplace especially among the four major prophets of the Bible who are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Most people have at least heard of Isaiah, a great and profound prophet who was the son of another prophet whose name was Amoz. We think of prophets as being sent to us by God to give us direction about what is right and wrong. But prophets are also an effective means of telling us how God feels about us, though we don’t always listen very well. In today’s children’s version, which I hope the kids are learning, it reads:
Isaiah the prophet woke up worrying about the land of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. The Assyrian army was heading in their direction (and) the people were frightened! They wondered what would happen when the army arrived and if they could keep their homeland. Isaiah had been telling the people how God was feeling about them and all that they were doing. Isaiah wanted to tell them about God’s hope for them and the good things God wanted for all people. The message was all about the best ideas people could have about God and God’s hope for all. Isaiah told about future days when the holy mountain of God would be the highest and the best mountain forever. All nations would see it and come ‘streaming in.’ Isaiah dreamed the people would live in peace. The countries would take their weapons and melt them and then make good tools for gardening and making things grow, (bringing peace to the land.”)
Peace. What a word, filled with hopeful connotation and history! Do you have an image in your mind of what peace looks like? Maybe peace is a tranquil lake that you sit beside. If you are a parent of young children, perhaps peace is that small moment when you finally sit in a chair quietly with a book or lie down on the bed at night to find no one needs anything! That’s a lovely feeling. Aahhh! Breathe in and breathe out peace - today’s entire service is brought to you by the power and meaning of peace. What is it? Who has it? What can we do with it? What is peace good for?
The other day I met someone who grew up in a household of 13 kids! I thought being one of 8 was a lot. Theirs was a house never at peace, unless everyone was asleep, because there was always something loud or some commotion happening. Every night at dinner, someone spilled a glass of milk all over the table. There were never enough bathrooms to accommodate everyone’s privacy so there was usually some hollering going on about that. If every child in the family brought home just one friend after school to play that meant there would be 26 kids running around! Think of the sheer amount of noise 26 kids would cause and the number of people bumping up against each other.
That’s kind of how it was for Israel which is written about in the Focus Scripture Isaiah 2:1-5. Israel was a coveted land and was regularly, if not almost always under siege from neighbors who wanted to capture it. Then, in came Isaiah who had a vision of God’s peace. From the Semitic languages, we have the Hebrew word shalom and the Arabic word salam which share the same three root letters S-L-M connoting wholeness, completeness, wellbeing, and welfare. The word for peace in these languages is more than an absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of conditions that make for life. Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted as saying “Peace is not (just) the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.” These days “Justice” is a hot button topic and some people have grown weary of hearing about it. The thing is, you cannot really have peace without justice as the prevailing theme and so, according to scripture we are prompted by the Bible to talk about it. What might be some simple ways to promote peace in our world? Today’s scripture suggests we turn our weapons into plowshares meaning, fashion them into tools, which can farm and grow food. Apparently the prophet tells us that God wants us to feed people, as a way of evening out the inequality, which eventually leads to people fighting amongst themselves for more access to food. The question is what might change if we put emphasis on feeding rather than on war? One of the things I love here at GPC is the Food Pantry. Week after week people donate to the Food Pantry and Wednesday after Wednesday from 11:00am – 1:00pm people come in and the wonderful women of the Food Pantry give them bags and bags of food. I can’t think of a better way of being church than by consistently and faithfully feeding people who are in need in our community. I know we don’t really think feeding hungry people will end the wars that continue to go on in the world. However, Isaiah suggests that maybe if we keep it up, keep our focus on serving God’s people, things will gradually lean toward peace and away from hostility and war. I didn’t make this stuff up – Isaiah did!
Sometimes the word “peace” can get overused and sound superficial especially starting in Advent when you see the word peace printed on Christmas Cards and on banners everywhere. I always used to sign off my notes and e-mails by writing “Peace,” then my name. I guess I did it too much because a Parishioner once wrote back, “Okay, okay already – peace, Carla, peace!” Perhaps it wasn’t the word peace so much as my using it too often. My intention was good but it’s hard to please everyone!
So, here we are at the beginning of Advent! We gave out Chocolate Advent Calendars to the kids and we start our annual countdown to Christmas. It’s a very exciting time of waiting for something extraordinary. What are we waiting for? I would suggest we are waiting for the birth of love, for the birth of peace in the world, given to us by God and for Christians that is no small thing. It is the exact thing we should be promoting everywhere. So, how are you, personally, being called to promote peace and promote love in this crazy world of ours?
Take a Look at the Advent candle up here. Pause and take a deep breath in and then out. While gazing at the candle, think about what and where there is need of prayers for peace at this time. (pause) Once you have decided what you want to pray for, take a moment to imagine those hurting places as something beautiful and fragile that also evokes your appreciation (such as a flower, a butterfly, or maybe an infant). Imagine this delicate object is resting in your arms and you are sending all your care, attention, and love towards it. When you are ready, imagine sending the light of this candle, sending love and light to the places and to the people for whom you are praying.
How about this idea; make a list of people with whom you disagree or have had arguments. Write a note to each of those people on your list. Tell them you are sorry for anything you did to make the argument or disagreement happen. Tell them what your relationship with them means to you. And then write a letter to God about the things you have not done that could create a more peaceful world.
Long time Civil Rights activist and member of the House of Representatives John Lewis is quoted as saying, "I would say to the young people, the young protesters, and those not so young: Accept a way of peace, believe in the way of love, believe in the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence. Never become bitter. Never become angry. And do whatever you can to speak truth to power, and be hopeful, be optimistic. The struggle is not a struggle that lasts one day or a few weeks or a few years. It is a struggle of a lifetime.”
That sounds like mighty good advice to me. Creating a world of peace is up to each and every one of us -one day, one person at a time. So may it be so. Amen.