Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
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Isaiah 2:1-5 The Future House of God
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
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 ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
Judgement Pronounced on Arrogance
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!
This reading about swords and ploughshares is usually an Advent reading. This reading about God judging the nations is often read alongside one of more apocalyptic readings in Matthew 24 about the necessity of watchfulness: “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Usually, if I am following someone else’s list of “good things to preach on,” this one is there, but it’s used to tell us something about the preparation for the coming Christ Child. We are months passed Advent, at the end of the season of Epiphany... though it does feel a little too close to the end of the world sometimes.
This is the Sunday when many pastors will be preaching about the transfiguration, that moment when Jesus’ friends finally saw and understood who he was on the inside for the first time. And, here I am, because I miscounted in my new commentary, looking at a text from the prophet Isaiah where the nations of the world, all of them, will be judged according to how justly they have been living. I picked this text weeks ago not realizing, then, that I’d be preaching God’s vision for a peaceful world right after one major country in the world decided to attack another and start an unprovoked war. Epiphany in general and Transfiguration in particular are about the Messiah manifesting... being made clear... being incarnate in this world. If Jesus understood the prophecies of Isaiah to be describing his own mission, which the Gospel of Luke does, how might this portion of Isaiah help us see the Messiah manifest in this world more clearly?
Prophets talk about corruption a lot. This is, in part I think, because they are rarely just talking to one person about their misdeeds and salvation. They are usually talking to whole communities and nations. Sin and salvation are communal. The actions of powerful people affect people with less power than them. In her commentary on this text, Leonora Tubbs Tisdale described the corruption that the nations would be judged for: greed, self-interest, and corruption among religious and political leaders. Isaiah says that, while God’s message is for all nations, Judah and Jerusalem had particular responsibilities emphasized in their religious covenant. Dr. Tisdale puts it this way: “Instead of seeking the welfare of the orphan, the widow, and the oppressed, as the Torah had commanded, the people of God are seeking to cushion their own bank accounts and pension funds, and to insure their own health benefits.” While they may still gather for rituals that look like what they have been commanded to do, the rituals become meaningless if they aren’t the foundation for just action in the world.
In Isaiah chapter 1, the prophet says that that God does not mince words:
Your new moons and your appointed festivals
My soul hates;
They have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers
I will not listen;
Your hands are full of blood (vs 14-15)
Don’t tell me that you are faithful when, outside of the temple, your actions destroy lives. That’s the opening of Isaiah. The news of late, both out of states that are targeting and tormenting transgender children and out of one country’s justification for an unprovoked war, include people who call themselves Christian, claim to be fighting for Christ, all the while driving their neighbors to death. Their hands are full of blood.
Prophets aren’t only interested in judgement though. They know that God can bring about restoration. Jesus believed he was a part of that restoration. Isaiah described the restoration in today’s reading. Notice that it isn’t only a vision of Jerusalem and Judah getting their act together. It is a vision of them joining with the whole earth for a communal restoration from God. According to Dr. Wil Gafney, God, and God’s will, will be revealed to all the people through the instruction they receive up on God’s mountain. Out of Zion will go God’s instruction and connected to that instruction is God’s discerning judgement. Whereas the political and religious leaders had fallen away from just action, God is justice. God can be trusted to treat people with the justice that was at the root of their religious commandments. With God’s justice, war will no longer be necessary.
The people will still need tools, but they won’t be for battle. They’ll be for farming. Swords into ploughshares; spears into pruning hooks. Remember, orphans, widows, the oppressed... these are the kinds of people who suffer the most in war, both literal and cultural. The ones who benefit from war... they are rarely harmed by the wars they incite. The prophet Isaiah says that God’s power will blunt these corrupt rulers’ power, so that they can no longer do harm. A nation that has learned at God’s mountain and is walking in God’s wisdom is a nation where war is no longer necessary. For those of us who follow Christ, the incarnation of Justice and Love, we will see Christ most clearly not in acts that are called religious but result in death, but, instead, where people gather across differences to seek Wisdom and Love.
In Casey Thornburgh Sigmon’s commentary on this text, I read about an artist named Pedro Reyes who lived in Calicún, Mexico. After seeing so many gun deaths in his city, he began a project where people could trade in their guns for a coupon that allowed them to by home appliances. He got 1527 guns. He melted them down and turned them into shovels. They planned to use them to plant 1527 trees. That seems much more like the reign of God than threatening to take kids away from parents in Texas or invading a country to try to rebuild a nation to its imperial glory. I pray that this week, you can find a way to walk to God’s mountain, and when you return, live out the justice God’s shares from it.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, "First Sunday of Advent," Preaching God's Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year A Featuring 22 New Holy Days for Justice, eds Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm, Ronald J. Allen, And Dale P. Andrews (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013)
Casey Thornburgh Sigmon: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-of-advent/commentary-on-isaiah-21-5-3
Wil Gafney, "Epiphany 8," in A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2021)
About the artist who turned guns into shovels: https://www.pocho.com/chilango-artist-melts-1527-guns-makes-shovels-to-plant-trees/?fbclid=IwAR0HOASU423v6Aj39ao38XrLipvtRoV-FtKY8LsD5V33rCPMEz3ZkAhWN4E
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.