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Message from Our Pastor

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Excerpted from Pastor Hoffman’s homily on the 1st Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2019. Relevant texts are Isaiah 2:1-5 & Matthew 24:36-44. 

In today’s world, today known more for discord than harmony, I was drawn to the text from Isaiah. Especially that familiar verse 4: “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.”

Not long ago, I came across some words that extended this plowshare imagery, and discovered since the words are actually a poem, “An Appendix to the Vision of Peace.” It was written by the Jewish poet Yehuda Amichai. 

   “Don’t stop after beating the swords
   into plowshares, don’t stop! Go on beating
   and make musical instruments out of them.
   Whoever wants to make war again
   will have to turn them into plowshares first.”

In trying to find the words to the poem, I came across a picture of a man playing a saxophone made from an AK-47. Then I Googled images of weapons into instruments and there they were – everything from a flute to a trumpet to a guitar to a cymbal, even a rustic sounding piano. Most of these were made by an artist in Mexico, but even as pieces of art, they were all fully functional. 

Those images got me thinking. What other instruments of war do we need to transform? I’m not just talking about tanks or airplanes. A military or militia war, fought with guns, or spears and swords, is only one kind of war. There are so many others, from which we cannot so easily claim our lack of participation, and thereby, our innocence. 

The most obvious to me is the war of words. Anyone who was bullied, abused, teased, or the target of a cruel joke, knows the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is a lie. Not only is it a lie, but there are times when words hurt worse than broken bones.

Words are like a bullet, once fired they can’t be stopped or put back in the gun. You can’t undo the damage. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you can repair it. And, if you’re very lucky, you can heal the damage. But you can never undo it.

These days there are many words stabbing, piercing, being fired in automatic, rapid succession. Accusations, name calling, lies, tattletaling, scheming, hatred, arrogance, assumptions. Such wars of words are in the street gangs, in classrooms, in families, in businesses, in government, in congregations of all faiths. And, for some mental health patients, their own mind is a constant war of words. 

I wonder what would it look like, what would it take, to beat words of hatred into the plowshare of understanding; transform words of arrogance into the pruning hook of humility; change lies into musical instruments? 

   “Don’t stop after beating the words of hatred
   into understanding, don’t stop! 

   Don’t stop after beating the words of arrogance
   into humility, don’t stop! Go on beating
   and make musical instruments out of them.
   Whoever wants to make war again
   will have to turn them into plowshares first.”

There is also the war of social justice, with its weapons of racism, sexism, monetary inequality, food insecurity, unequal and unavailable healthcare and affordable housing. They need to be beaten into plowshares of share and share alike, pruning hooks of “do unto others” and instruments that sing “what you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.”

That melody reminds me of another war, rarely mentioned or discussed. The war of religion with weapons created in the name of God, in whatever form or language is believed appropriate.

This war uses weapons of law without grace, and these swords are many. “You must live this way, you must believe these things, only this will get you into heaven.” There are the spears of radicalism, carried by some members of every faith,African, Christians, East Asian, Indian, Jewish, Muslim.

No my brothers and sisters, we are not innocent. Many wars are being fought all around us. In some, the weapons are guns, swords and spears. But most wars are far more sinister, their weapons far more devious, and the warfare far more refined. 

Divide and conquer” is the strategy. Think of all the ways, all the places and all the issues on which you have chosen a side, a side you are certain is right. And, if you are right, then the others must be….

It is possible to win such battles, to live in harmony in spite of our diversity, but only because Christ has already won the war. Only the gospel can beat the swords of law into plowshares of grace. Only truth can beat spears of radicalism into the faith of pruning shears. Only prayer can turn the hope of grace and faith into the harmony of love. 

As we wait with each other, and the world, for Christ and his coming reign, which will bring an end to all war everywhere, let us do as Paul asks of us in Romans, “Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; and let us pray again as we did in the prayer of the day: ‘By your merciful protection, O God, save us from the threatening dangers of our sins, and enlighten our walk in the way of your salvation, now and for ever more.’” Amen

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