Sunday, November 28, 2010

Isaiah 2:1-5

MasterPiece Church
28 November 2010

Well, It's been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone -- but in the rest of the world things have been pretty stressful. For the world is anything be a Lake Woebegone experience.

There has been a major flair-up in the conflict between North and South Korea. And as some of you know our #2 son, Kent, is in Pyongyang, NK where he has been teaching English at the new Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

While it is not a Christian college, this is a school that has been started by Christians -- mostly from South Korea and the US to try to serve the people of NK.

As you know there is great poverty in NK because of the totalitarian and isolated nature of the NK government.

One of the major foci of the school is to teach agriculture -- so that the North Koreans might be able to better feed themselves. The visionaries behind this school are trying to show North Koreans that the can beat swords into plowshares -- farm equipment.

This phrase swords into plowshares is from our text in Isaiah 2:4.
The Lord will mediate between nations
and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
(A plowshare is the spike or blade that cuts the soil on traditional farm equipment.)
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
nor train for war anymore.

It was about 700 years before the arrival of Jesus that the prophet Isaiah started having visions.

Like Korea the nation of Israel had gone through a split -- the North was called Israel and the south, where Jerusalem was, was call Judah. And they were constantly provoking each other and making political alliances with pagan countries in order to posture against each other.

At that time Assyria was a major player -- they would eventually swallow North Israel. Israel had actually made a political alliance with Syria to counter Assyria. But then Syria had turned on Israel and Israel attempted an alliance with Assyria to get rid of the Syrians. It was a bloody mess -- literally.

Meanwhile in the south, the Babylonians were rattling their sabers. There was a lot of political tension, intrigue -- and messiness. It wasn’t really clear who was for who.

It is in the midst of this chaos that the prophet Isaiah has a vision -- a dream -- a word to encourage Judah to trust God and hope in his future. Toward that end the vision paints a picture of things to come. These are promises for war-weary and exhausted people.

Take heart, there is a new world in the works and it will include the whole world.

This is the prophet's point and God's promise.

Well, what exactly did that mean -- practically speaking -- and what does it mean today?

Does it mean that God’s people should become pacifists and that we should melt all our guns and turn them into tractors?

You know, that was the predominant understanding of the church for the first three centuries. If you were a soldier and you became a follower of Christ it was expected that you would resign from the army.

When Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers” in the sermon on the mount, that was understood to mean that Jesus was inaugurating the new era -- the era when the vision of Isaiah was coming to fruition -- an era of peace.

And, even though at times we’ve been distracted from it, there is a real sense in our thinking as Christians, that we do belong to a world which is coming. Our values and our mindset is rooted in that future world.

But, you might protest, we’re still living in this world. Practically speaking, is it realistic to hammer all our swords into plowshares? Are we being responsible and loving toward our neighbors when we do that?

Christians have struggled with this tension -- even in the early church, which was predominantly pacifist in its approach. The apostle Paul gives some wiggle room and suggests that there is a legitimate role for weaponry and force.

Romans 13:1-4:
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.

Martin Luther framed the discussion in terms of two kingdoms -- that we are citizens of both the kingdom of the secular world and citizens of the kingdom of heaven. And each had roles to play.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer the German Lutheran theologian of the early 20th century tried to be a pacifist but finally concluded that the only way to act in love was to sign-on in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He died trying. Did he do the right thing?

There is this tension between the world which Isaiah says is coming and which Jesus says is starting to take shape with his own coming -- and the warring world in which we live.

Recognizing this tension I want us to look more closely at our text in Isaiah 2 -- because the prophet himself lived in such an in-between time and he was trying to encourage people who were caught in the crossfire of what is and what is to come.

And perhaps as we look at this we can start to figure out the practical implications for ourselves -- for we live with this everyday. The police helicopter flies overhead almost nghtly. The neighbors shoot at each other.

Ten days ago I heard five gunshots about 9:30 p.m. -- and eventually went outside to talk with the police who had converged in the neighborhood. Someone had shot from the street into a neighboring house. No one was hurt -- that time. But the violence is close -- we experience it and read about it in the news everyday.

This is our world -- not unlike the world into which the prophet was speaking -- affluent but violent -- pagan in practice but with godly roots that had been abandoned. So, what does the prophet Isaiah have to say to us -- or more specifically, what does God have to say to us through him?

I want to make three brief observations this morning -- three things which cut to the heart of Isaiah's vision in 2:1-5.

1. The new world is bigger and better than imagined.

God’s people in the ancient world were small-minded and insular in their thinking.

For them, the goal was independence, local stability, and perhaps if God so blesses -- the restoration of the kingdom to the glory it had been under king David.

But the prophet is painting a grander more global picture than they imagined.

Vs. 2 -- In the last days, (BTW, in scripture the “last days” is the broad period of time that began with the arrival of the messiah -- as we understand it, the first coming of Jesus -- and which will culminate on the day of judgment -- his second coming. Biblically speaking, we live in the last days.)

In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s house
will be the highest of all—
the most important place on earth.
It will be raised above the other hills,
and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.
3 People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
and we will walk in his paths.”
For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;
his word will go out from Jerusalem.

When Jesus -- the messiah was born -- who were the featured guests -- emperors? generals? chieftains? the honorable mayor of Bethlehem?

No, they were shepherds -- the social misfits and magi -- foreign scholars. All outsiders -- all relatively powerless in the context of the story.

But they suggest that the focus of the gospel will be beyond business as usual.

In Genesis 12 God told Abram that he would be a blessing to the nations -- but that promise was pretty much ignored over the years. The Hebrew people became inwardly focused.

But Isaiah says, in the world to come things will be different -- we’re going to go global. The globe will be looking to the Lord God for leadership.

And the New Testament directive to make disciples of all nations is directly related to this Old Testament prophecy.

For God so loved the world...

Go make disciples of all nations...

By definition the church is a global multi-ethnic all-about-the-world operation. We don’t always do a good job of maintaining that focus but that’s what Jesus, fulfilling the words of the prophet, had in mind.

So here is the question --
Does your focus include those beyond
Laveen? Beyond Phoenix? Beyond Arizona? Beyond America?

How am I a part of what God is doing in the world? Chew on question this week.

2. Violence does not have the final word.

Sometimes may we wonder but Isaiah says that violence does not have the final word.

The Lord will mediate between nations
and will settle international disputes. (vs. 4 again)
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
nor train for war anymore.

Noitce that it does not say that everyone will agree and that we’ll all see things eye to eye. The world that is coming does not involve erasing individuality or cultural difference. It is not about losing yourself in the cosmic Nirvana.

Frankly, there are people who are wired in such a way that I’m not sure I’ll ever see eye to eye with them. We’re just that different.

But the Lord will mediate and will settle the disputes. That is the difference between now and then.

And that’s the reason they can turn their attention to productive activities -- like farming.

54% of the US budget is currently designated for military-related activities. Not all of that is directly related to making war -- some of it is cleaning up after wars -- caring for veterans -- compensating victims.

And I’m not in a position to judge whether it is well spent -- but I can imagine a world where those resources are directed in a different way and so can the prophet. There is a time and a world coming where instead of running from wars people will be growing food and will be well feed.

There is a time and a world coming where violence will not be the end-all purpose.

Now, we’re not talking about some kind of anarchist hippie utopia but a world which has a definite leader. The demise of violence is directly related to the fact that there is a prince of peace on the throne -- that people will be looking toward him and acknowledging his authority.

Vs 3 again -- “There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”

And this leads us to the third observation from the passage.

3. The path is clear when we walk in the light

So how do we balance this in between living? -- recognizing the reality that the world is still messed up and yet we find our identity and our approach to life in a world where radical peace reigns.

The prophet was not trying to make life harder for his people but to encourage them -- to help them live with the tension.

Frankly, I’m not sure we can totally resolve the tension -- we know that our default approach has always
got to be rooted in God’s preferred future.

So we are by definition people of peace -- when we are living up to our calling.

Yet, there are still challenges in figuring out how to apply peace in a situation where people shot at each other
and terrorists plant bombs.

The solution, as I see it, is found in verse 5. “Come, descendants of Jacob (other name for Israel), let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

That is the perfect metaphor for dealing with the tension. We live in a dark place but we can move through it
like a car in the diamond lane because the Lord is shining his light along the pathway.

We just have to keep walking -- and walking in the light we have. if you move out of the light -- if you overshoot your headlights -- you’re going to run into unseen trouble.

The light itself is the relationship with the Lord that shines the brightest in Jesus -- In John 8:12 Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. (There is that global perspective again) Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

When we are walking with him -- behind him -- going where he is going -- moving in the light he shines in front of us -- the right thing to do in any given situation becomes clear. But it doesn’t happen when we’re standing still -- because Christ is walking with need to be walking.

The light of the world has broken the darkness of the world.

Some people get all worked up over the second coming of Christ -- the whole Matthew 24 scenario is scary to them but frankly, fear and stress is not necessary.

If we’re walking in the light then we’re not worried. Likewise with the trouble in the world. Yes, it is stressful that countries are on the verge of making new wars -- and that we can’t end the current ones -- and that a son of ours is sitting in a dangerous spot because of the power-driven ambitions of some evil people. But we don’t worry over it. He’s there helping to beat swords into plowshares.

While we may not always agree as to the best way to do that task it is always our calling to live in light and the certainty of the coming future.

The masterpiece isn’t just a work of art to be admired -- it is also a hammer -- beating on the swords -- reshaping -- re-purposing -- preparing the world for the reign of God -- the peace of Christ.

So, it is always our calling to make peace -- in some way shape or form to be hammering swords into plowshares. It might be through teaching overlooked islanders so they can communicate with the rest of the world. It might be through tutoring at risk students to keep them from getting swallowed by the culture of violence which seems to be vacuuming them in. It might be through identifying and standing up to the institutions of slavery. There are now more slaves in the world than any other time in human history. It might be through going to an unreached group of people to explain to them that Jesus is the light and peace that they need to make their lives -- their families complete.

And that’s what we’re called to do It is what you are called to do. And wherever that is in the world, no matter how dangerous, -- it is the best place to be.

The theme for the Advent season -- these weeks before Christmas is Preparing for the coming of Christ by walking in his light. Indeed that is the only way to be prepared.

Shall we pray together that the Word of God might change us and hammer us into plowshares. Let’s be in silence -- listen to what God’s spirit might be saying to you this morning.

Gracious God, Prince of Peace -- we do pray for your peace in the world and in our lives. Calm our hearts so that we can calm the world around us. Grant us skills needed to make the weapons of peace. Help us to walk in the light of Christ the Lord. And especially for those who have never walked in his light but are now wanting to move that direction. Show them the first steps. Help them to step forward -- to leave the old ways behind to follow you. Amen.

Let’s state together a summary of our faith:
We believe and trust in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. We believe and trust in Jesus Christ, his son, our Savior and the light of the world. We believe and trust in the Holy Spirit, who empowers us and sends us out lead the world into peace. We believe and trust in the Three in One.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you -- wherever in the world he may send you; may he guide you through the wilderness; protect you through the storm; may he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you; may he bring you home rejoicing, once again through our doors.

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