Sunday, December 15, 2013

Beloved CommUNITY

Isaiah 2: 2-5
December 15, 2013
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Isaiah 2:2-5
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

When I turned in the sermon title, some weeks ago, I called it “Beloved CommUNITY.” I’d have done better to call it “Impossible Dream.” It doesn’t seem possible, does it, that this vision of the prophet could come to pass? It is a vision of God’s Shalom. The word “shalom” gets translated as “peace,” but when we were choosing scripture, and when we chose the words for the banners, we wanted other words, other words than “hope, peace, joy and love” that are used most years for the four Sundays of Advent. We wanted words that would make us stop, slow down and think. We wanted artwork on the banners that would do the same.

This text from Isaiah is easily brushed off as an impossible vision of peace –
swords into plowshares? spears into pruning hooks? Like that’ll happen!

No, this is not a text for us now, here, in 2013 in Sterling, Illinois.
This is a text for some far off future, a vision of peace that cannot happen any time soon.
After all, look at this sequence of events:
1. “The mountain of the Lord’s house”—that is, Zion—will be elevated and exalted (v. 2ab).
2. There will be a pilgrimage of all peoples to the holy mountain (vv. 2c-3a). That’s ALL peoples – all the nations, everyone in the world.
3. As they are marching to Zion they are singing glad songs, prayers that the God of Jacob may teach them God’s ways (v. 3b).
4. They are coming in order to learn God’s law “torah” – the covenant and commandment.
5. The one they worship will “judge between the nations,” literally, God will BRING JUSTICE among all people.[1]

It’s a nice thought, isn’t it, that someday there will be peace and justice throughout the earth? It’s more comfortable that way, to keep all this at arm’s length, an impossible dream for the future. Oh, sure, we would love to have this happen now, but it just isn’t realistic. It is too challenging for us to envision this happening right here and right now.

After all, it would require that people – all people – come together as one people, and that they be prepared to give up conflict and disagreement. It would demand that each one of us be peacemakers, for there is no other way to find unity unless that unity begins within our own souls. Realistically, it can’t happen, this unity of the beloved community.

But it can.
It can happen, because Jesus came, the prince of peace.
It can happen, because God’s covenant and commandment came in human form, in a baby born to lead us in the way of peace. It can be born within us, and among us.

It begins when we take our own swords and spears and place them into the foundry of God’s mercy and love. Unity begins when we lay down our weapons – even if those weapons are words, or political positions, or opinions, even if – especially if – those weapons are the “facts” we use to bludgeon others. Unity begins when we promise that we will study war no more, that we will be drop-outs from the school of conflict. Unity begins when we enroll in God’s classes, when we begin studying for citizenship in that beloved community, the one made whole, brought together, in Christ Jesus. Instructed in him, we will study – focus – dwell – on God’s torah, on God’s covenant and commandment.

And what is God’s law? Jesus said it. The greatest commandment is this:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

So, people of God, as we come streaming up the mountain, to come into God’s presence, as we go marching into Christmas, to gather around the manger in the candlelight, we look to that reality of God’s presence. Then Jesus comes among us as the Word incarnate, to teach us God’s law and covenant. What is the law that we are to learn? The great commandment, which brings God’s shalom.

Because shalom is not just the absence of war.
Shalom is unity, wholeness, the justice of love that only God can give.
Shalom begins within us, and spreads out from us.
There is no better time than this season to be reconciled to God, and to be reconciled to one another. There is no better time than this season to seek the unity that comes from inner peace. The vision of shalom is of wholeness, of unity, of being made one in Christ, who is coming to be born anew.
May his peace and unity be born in us again and again and again.  


[1] Adapted from Gene M. Tucker, New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on Isaiah

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