Turning swords into plowshares

Sermon given on Sunday, June 3, 2018 and loosely connected to the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window.

Leaving college and my farm life, I moved to Lexington, MO, and stepped into a new community that seemed so far away from my roots.  One facet of that new community was its historical connection to the Civil War and that of the military academy.  Through the years, I also learned that during World War II a prison camp for Germans had once been located in the area.

Now these historical pieces never really made me uncomfortable and I did teach at the academy for nine years, but I honestly never considered any connection between those pieces to my theology of loving one another.

In my mind, these facts were just glimpses into the history of the area, and working at the military academy was a teaching job about which I was passionate.  Teaching in that environment hinged on establishing relationships with students who were not living with their families.

But there is another connection between the images of war and theology that has become a focal point for me this week.  I literally was surprised to discover image #32 in the stained glass window and equally surprised at the mental picture that immediately jumped into my mind.

In Lexington, one of my church family always wore a lapel pin that fascinated me.  She had a miniature sword that was turned into a plowshare.  I was so intrigued that I asked her about it, and she explained the significance.  She was a respected science teacher in our community who always emitted a special sense of peace.

Nowhere else in my memory have I come across that image nor had anyone really develop a discussion around that concept.  As I studied the list of images in the stained glass window, I discovered that #32 was of a young person holding a sword that had been hammered into a plowshare just like the image of Pat’s lapel pin.

The paperwork for the puzzle provides this explanation:

 

Two times in the Old Testament we catch a glimpse of a restored paradise, where enmity and warfare have ceased and an abiding peace has come to stay.  In this vision, instruments once used for destroying one another will no longer be necessary, and instead will be converted into peaceful, useful, and productive tools for the sake of creation.  This image corresponds to, and signals the end of what began with the killing of Abel by his brother Cain in the first section of the window.

 

The two Old Testament references are Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3:

 

Isaiah 2:4–The Lord will mediate between nations
and will settle international disputes.
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.

 

Micah 4:3–The Lord will mediate between peoples
and will settle disputes between strong nations far away.
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.

 

Resuming the reflection:

 

Why would the image of a sword turned into a plowshare be included with the images of The Church?  The scripture connection is from the Old Testament, before The Church became established.  Historically, the ancient cultures fought wars to gain more land.  Battles were horrific, hand-to-hand conflict.  The outcome ended with death, dismemberment, and slavery.  The weapons included swords, spears, clubs, maces that were hand held and brought the warriors face to face—angry and fearful.

God never intended for humans to treat each other like this.  He designed a world that was to meet all the needs without conflict.  His human creation was to care for the world and all its creatures.  His human creation was to live in peace and in relationship with each other and with him. War was not part of his creation.

The Church is the tool that Jesus’ disciples created to establish relationships with one another and to care for this world through the one simple rule:  Love one another.  The Church continues to work establishing relationships that heal, protect, provide for all God created.  Swords destroy.  Plowshares cultivate.

Consider the context of the two verses from Isaiah and Micah.  The Jewish people populating the region along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea had split into two separate countries Israel and Judah.  The geographical area continues to be riddled with battling cultures. This warring attitude is far from what God teaches through his son Jesus Christ.  The swords today are so much more destructive and The Church struggles to develop peace.

One of the key words in these verses is “mediate” or “judge” as used in other translations.  God is the only one who can mediate or judge between peoples, as the scripture state.  The prophets wanted the faithful to understand that only God has that final power, humans do not.  The Church cannot judge, either, instead it is to spread the word that we are to care/love one another as we want to be loved.

Two different prophets, who were basically contemporaries, wrote these verses.  Interestingly, Micah’s role as prophet is identified as 742-687 BC while Isaiah’s prophecy began in 740 BC.  The two prophets even lived in nearly the same area as Isaiah was in Jerusalem while Micah was from Gath about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

Surely the two prophets’ messages were heard by many of the same people.  But as we all know, we can hear the same message from two different people or in two different settings and not recognize that the messages are the same. Through the millions of years and the hundreds of translations the message from these two prophets are still as important as they were in the 8th& 7thcenturies before Christ’s lifetime.

The Church has continued to share the same message:

  • The Lord will mediates between peoples—not humans
  • Hammer swords into plowshares—get rid of weapons, turn to tools for feeding the people
  • Do not fight between nations—end war, do not even train for war

 

The Church preserved this message as it canonized the writings from the prophets into the Bible. The Church has turned the words of scripture into actions encouraging each of the faithful to do exactly what the prophets asked.  The Church has worked to develop the very peace-loving, nurturing practices that God asked Adam and Eve to do when he created this world:

Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.  They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.  . . . Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth and govern it. . . .”  [Genesis 1:26, 27]

 

Certainly God’s original plan was changed, and is noted in the stained glass window by the battle of the brothers Cain and Abel. Ever since creation, the battle between good and evil continues.

How, then, do we keep up our personal responsibility as Christians?  We are The Church regardless of denomination, congregation or community, what matters is whether you do all that you can do to carry out the message God has sent to us in so many different ways.  What matters is that you work peacefully to love one another just like you want to be loved.

The image of turning swords into plowshares is a concrete message to each of us.  The scripture introduced the mental picture, but the window shows us a visual picture.

Isaiah’s prophecy, written hundreds of years before Christ, includes the prediction that God was sending a messiah to teach the methods needed to shift from warring cultures to loving cultures.  And the work continues, must continue.

Creating the United Nations may be one global effort to turn swords into plowshares, too.  There is an interesting irony of how the prophets’ words have been artistically translated.  On the bulletin’s cover is the statue of a blacksmith beating a sword into a plowshare. That statue is at the United Nations headquarters in New York City; but the irony cannot be ignored.

The artist Evgeny Vuchitech was Soviet and the statue was a gift from the USSR (Russia) presented on December 4, 1959. The explanation provided by Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s website under the article “Art in the Christian Tradition” explains the bronze statue:

The sculpture, depicting the figure of a man holding a hammer aloft in one hand and a sword in the other, which he is making into a ploughshare, is meant to symbolize man’s desire to put an end to war, and to convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of mankind.

 

The irony of the statue does not end, either.  While searching for more information on the artist, one learns that a step-granddaughter is an Israel politician Ksenia Svetlova.

Add to this the timeframe that the statue was donated to the UN.  The Secretary General of the UN was Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden.  He was known for his work to develop peace, to mediate between warring peoples.  His notable quotes reflect the message behind the prophets’ words and the artists’ statue:

Our work for peace must begin within the private world of each of us. To build for man a world without fear, we must be without fear. To build a world of justice, we must be just.

 

The Church is global.  The Church is tasked to make every effort it can to return this world to God’s original plan:  a peaceful world where all is provided to meet our needs and we are the stewards of this world.  Hammarskjold also said,

We’ve got to learn hard things in our lifetime, but it’s love that gives you the strength. It’s being nice to people and having a lot of fun and laughing harder than anything, hopefully every single day of your life.

 

You are The Church, right here in this community working with this Church family.  Yes, it can be difficult, but life in God’s eyes is one that is peaceful, love-filled. You are not to judge, you are to love. Through love, unconditional love, you can do all that you can to create a peaceful world—at least in your corner of the world.

Closing prayer:

Dear God of all people,

As we listen to the words of ancient prophets,

Open our hearts to their peaceful message.

As we stop for these moments to think about The Church

Open our minds to all the possibilities God offers.

As we work together to serve all in our communities,

Open our doors to make plowshares, not swords.

 

Move us forward to share the messages of the prophets

To demonstrates Jesus’ love-filled actions.

Move us forward through these times of transition

To keep Jesus’ work alive in our community.

Move us forward to discover new, exciting ways

To hammer out swords of differences into plowshares.

 

Thank you for the guiding words of scripture.

Thank you for the unexpected messages of peace.

Thank you for the unconditional love you provide.

 

We can do all that we can through the your gifts.

We can do all that we can because Jesus teaches us.

We can do all that we can through the Holy Spirit.

Amen, Lord, amen.

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