The Fate of Swords

Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists for Sabbath, March 12, 2016.

If you are driving home from Portland, the scenery is pretty unremarkable. Green trees. A few road cuts. Lots of clear cuts. You go through Olympia, then head down the hill into the Nisqually Valley and there to your right for a minute is a nice view of Mt. Rainier. Then it’s back to trees. Then the commercial sprawl north of Lewis-McCord. You pass the turn off for Highway 16, pass the exit for downtown Tacoma, then as you come into Fife, there in front of you is one of the most spectacular views of Mt. Rainier.

Everything is cleared out of the way. No trees block your view. No buildings. No close-in hills. The horizon is filled with the low undulating line of the South Cascades, then rising above them, almost floating in the sky is the immense, gleaming bulk of Mt. Rainier.

I’m surprised there are not more wrecks in that stretch of freeway. People staring at the mountain, taking pictures.

You get a view almost as good when you head south on I-5 just past the West Seattle bridge. And then there’s view from the Bainbridge Ferry. Wow!

Mt. Rainier is the great focal point of our city, our region. Our eyes naturally seek it out. At least on clear days!

I think of Mt. Rainier when I read the words of our scripture reading.

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it.
Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; 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 anymore.
O house of Jacob, come and let us walk In the light of the LORD. In the last days, the mountain of the LORD’s house will be the highest of all–the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.

I love the word “flow” in this passage. The nations will flow to the mountain of the Lord’s house. Which creates an interesting visual contradiction. The mountain is raised and the nations flow to it. Ordinarily, I think of things flowing down to a low point. But in this passage things flow upward.

Water flows down hill. Avalanches flow down slopes. Landslides flow down. What flows up?

Dreams. Dreams flow uphill. We dream of higher, better, purer, richer, brighter. We dream toward the light. We dream toward the top of the mountain. Our vision reaches up.

And God is the greatest dreamer of all.

Through the prophets in the Bible, God gives voice over and over to his dreams that Jerusalem—the city of God, the capital of the people of God, the site of the glorious temple—would give voice and substance to God’s dreams of a holy city. Through the words of the prophets, God dreamed of a society that lived out the highest ideals of truth and compassion, loyalty and honesty, generosity and integrity. God dreamed of Jerusalem as a showcase of the kingdom of heaven.

The deepest laments and sternest rebukes of the prophets were aimed not at the heathen or pagans or infidels—or whatever other word you could use to describe outsiders. The prophets lamented the failures of the citizens, the native-born residents of Zion.

But the prophets lived in hope. God would ultimately accomplish his dreams. Righteousness would triumph. Evil would disappear.

In the last days, the mountain of the LORD’s house will be the highest of all–the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.
People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”

This was God’s dream for Jerusalem. Jerusalem failed. I don’t know very many people who imagine they could go to Jerusalem to learn God’s ways. Jerusalem is a city sitting on the razor edge of hatred and violence every day. Religious and political tensions threaten to explode in every situation.

Still the vision beckons. Still God calls us higher.

What does that look like? If we are going to live out God’s dream, it’s vital for us to have a clear vision of that dream.

The more clearly we see God’s ideals, the more intensely we focus our attention on those ideals, the more they will shape our lives. That’s one of the principal values of participating in worship. In our worship services we give intense, joyous attention to the beauty of goodness. We celebrate the goodness of God. In our music, our readings, our sermons, our fellowship, we affirm our belief that light is greater than darkness, that the fundamental reality of the universe is benevolent intention. God means to do us good. And we aim to do one another good.

What happens when people finally internalize the wisdom of God?

For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem.
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.

God’s final, triumphant vision is not vengeance. It is not annihilation. It is not conflagration. God’s final vision is the transformation of warriors into farmers, of killers into healers, of bombers into builders, of thugs into therapists.

Can you see that vision? Will you spend time contemplating that vision, nourishing that vision? If you do, you are sure to find it reorienting your life.

A mile or two from my house is a new house. It’s set in the middle of twenty or thirty acres that used to be pasture. The house is impressive because of its size and style. Then there is its orientation. The house faces southeast. Which is a little weird. Southeast does not align with any feature of the immediate landscape.

In our neighborhood, the ground is quite flat. The streets run east and west. The avenues run north and south. Houses are lined up neatly along these roads. Houses on the south side of avenues face north. Houses on the west side of streets face east. So why is this house sitting at this weird angle?

On a clear day, the answer is obvious. The houses are oriented so the biggest windows frame Mt. Rainier. People situate their houses so they can admire the mountain without stepping outside. That’s the power of the glorious vision of the mountain.

That’s the kind of power Isaiah’s prophecy can have in our lives, if we give it sustained attention.

Will you deliberately restrict your consumption of hate and disdain-inspiring media? Will you turn from that kind of soul-withering media and give regular, daily attention to the vision of God, the vision of the triumph of peace and justice, with special attention to peace and justice for those who have less than you?

I don’t know about you, but on a sunny, clear day when the air is clear and Mt. Rainier is gleaming, I find it beckoning. I dream of hiking its lower slopes. I find myself tempted to aim for the summit. That’s the power of a clear vision.

The more clearly we see the mountain of the Lord’s house, the glorious wisdom and goodness of God, the more powerfully it will attract us. The more effectively it will shape our own souls, molding us into partners with God.