Scripture Lesson: Isaiah 2:1-5 Sermon: Swords into Plowshares Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
Swords into plowshares. This phrase implies a process of transformation. It is about the changing of something into something else.
A sword is a weapon. It has a long, sharp blade that is intended to be used for slashing and stabbing people. It is to be used to kill. It also can be used as a defensive weapon, to deflect a blow from another sword, but mainly it is a weapon created to be used to kill people. We can think about the image of a sword the way we think about a gun today.
Now, a plowshare. A plowshare was a long, sharp metal tool used to prepare the dirt for the planting of seeds. It made furrows in the ground and the seeds were planted in the little trenches where they would grow into plants used for food. A plowshare is something that was used for farming, for raising crops. Food is necessary to live, so plowshares were used to give life not take it like a sword.
Both a sword and a plowshare involve a long metal blade though they are shaped slightly differently. So retooling a metal sword into a metal plowshare was not a huge transformation. What is really different about a sword and a plowshare is the use. One is used to end life. One is used to promote life. One is used to kill. One is used to grow. The biggest difference between a sword and a plowshare is in their use not their shape. So bending and reforming a piece of metal from a sword into a plowshare is not that much of a change. The bigger part of the change from swords into plowshares is the change of intention, of desire. The big challenge is changing from wanting to kill people to wanting to promote life for people; from wanting to end life to wanting to make life better.
The idea of changing swords into plowshares involves changing from an orientation of violence to an orientation of peace. As in no more guns. No more missiles. No more bombs. This is drastic in a context like ours that affirms violence as an acceptable tool to be used. The transformation from swords into plowshares means the resources used for violent means are transitioned to uses that promote life – like food, education, healthcare, the arts, and sustainable energy. All the money and raw materials and labor that go into making guns and weapons would be used for making equipment for schools, solar panels, musical instruments, farming equipment, and cooking pots; homes for all and healthcare for all; great schools for all kids. Converting our swords into plowshares would drastically change our society. And it would be great for everyone!
But how do we make that kind of change? In the beautiful verses we heard this morning, we were told about how the people, all the people, from everywhere, make their way up to the top of a mountain where they learn the ways of God. They are taught about what God wants. And then they come down the mountain, back to their everyday lives, and beat their swords into plowshares. The people are changed on the inside and this makes them want to make changes in their lives on the outside. Their hearts are changed and they are transformed from being concerned about weapons and violence and war to being focussed on peace and growing food and supporting life for everyone. The change starts on the inside.
Well, we cannot go up a mountain and expect to be taught about the ways of peace. But we have Jesus to show us God’s ways and to lead us in the way of peace. Jesus is referred to as the Prince of Peace. Jesus embodied peace completely. He never used violence. Jesus had many enemies who wanted to do him harm. But he didn’t have a sword or other weapon. He never lashed out at anyone by hitting them. Jesus showed love to people. He gave them food. He healed them. He gave them forgiveness. All of this even to his enemies. Jesus helped people to love themselves and feel accepted so that they could show love and acceptance to others. Jesus showed people how to share and to take care of each other and to get along creating community. He teaches the way of God and the way of peace. He teaches us how to transition from the way of insecurity, violence, hatred, and war to the way of peace, mutual respect, and understanding. Jesus shows us how to turn swords into plowshares from the inside out.
This Advent season at Lakewood we are talking about coming home for the holidays. What is home? Home is supposed to be place where we are loved and accepted. Where we know we will be taken care of. Where we help take care of others. Home is a place to learn and grow. There are loving people who nurture us and help us to develop. Home is safe. Home is a place where there is both food and forgiveness.
Sadly there are times when the places we live and the people we live with do not function in this way. There are families where people are not taken care of. Where they don’t learn to forgive. And where there isn’t unconditional love and acceptance. This is very sad. Sometimes there is even violence among people that live together. I won’t even call it a home because violence should never happen in a home. But sometimes people are attacked and hurt in the place where they live.
Whatever our living circumstances, the church is to be a place where we learn the ways of God and the ways of peace from Jesus. Church is where our hearts are changed on the inside so that we can learn to be more peaceful on the outside. Church is a place where we are transformed, where we are changed, where we learn to live in a new way, a way of peace.
We move away from thinking about hurting others, lashing out, and using violence to thinking about how to take care of ourselves and how to make life better for others. We learn to work on making the world a better place for everyone.
This can be a very big change. But the church is here as a home, to help us along the way. To help us learn to love ourselves. To forgive ourselves and others. To help us learn to express our hate and anger in ways that do not harm others. The church is a place to try to understand those we disagree with. It is a place to cultivate compassion for those who may hate us. To learn to work through conflicts without using weapons or violence. To get along and help each other instead of taking advantage of each other or abusing others, physically or financially. The church provides a context to honestly examine our prejudices and biases and learn to give them up. It is a place to look at our feelings and behaviors with honesty so that we can engage in the process of transformation. The church is here to help transform us so that we give our time, energy, work, and money to promoting life for all people, including ourselves, nature, and the planet.
Swords into plowshares. It is a really big change. It can be a slow process. And it happens one heart, one life, at a time until society becomes something new focussed on promoting life!
This Advent season we prepare to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus who teaches us the ways of God and leads us in the ways of peace. May we follow Jesus and be transformed so that we create the peace we dream for every baby. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.