REMEMBERANCE SUNDAY ~ “The Transformation of Peace”
Isaiah 2: 2-5 & Ephesians 6: 10-17 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood ~ November 10, 2019
Here we are again…on Remembrance Sunday. Poppies are worn on our hearts…Flander’s Fields is recited…the Pipes are blown…silence is observed…and we find ourselves gathering, yet again, in the shadow war. We ponder: are we further ahead in the pursuit of peace? Are we falling behind? Is our world concerned about the pursuit of peace? 72 years ago, members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the ‘doomsday clock’. It was designed to be a gauge representing the likelihood of a human-made global catastrophe. The clock represents the hypothetical global catastrophe that will occur at the hands of developments in life science, technology and climate change. And over its 72 years the clock has been changed 23 times. In hopeful ways ~ being set backwards (away from the midnight hour). And in troubling ways ~ being set forward (towards the midnight hour). At its worst, it has been as close as two minutes to midnight, in both 1953 and 2018, and as far away as 17 minutes to midnight on 1991. And for the past two years, the clock has been sitting, once again, at 2 minutes to midnight, due to the twin threats of nuclear weapons and climate change. And here we are again on Remembrance Sunday with poppies on our hearts, Flander’s Fields being recited, pipes being blown and moments of silence being observed. Is our world concerned with the pursuit of peace?
On a day like today, we might feel disillusioned and really wonder: ‘what can I DO that will contribute towards peace?’ The hopeful news is that there are many things that we can do…and it begins with each of us. “Peace Begins with Me” is a book authored by Ted Kuntz, a Lower Mainland psychotherapist. For Kuntz, he was dealing with terminal diagnosis of his five month old son and needed to find the strength to offer peace to his family, to his son, and to his soul. In the book, he argues that our world does a poor job in teaching us to find peace in the challenging moments of life. We are not taught to seek peace, to hold peace, to find peace in the troubling moments of life. We are not taught to promote peace in the world. In the words of a wise therapist, he asks the reader: “do my thoughts and actions feed the negative wolf or the positive wolf”. Generally, he argues, we are quite good at making war inside and feeding the negative wolf. The stories we tell ourselves, the negativity, the anger, the sadness, and the shame. We are very good at waging war inside ourselves. What we need to get better at is the challenging work of creating peace inside ourselves. We must become increasingly proficient at setting an intention of seeking peace. He argues that the greatest power between a stimulus and a response is found in the power of choice– the power to choose. One of these conditions is within our control – the distress we feel; whereas the other distinction is outside of our control – the stresses we feel. We must release ourselves from the things outside our control and focus on that which is in our control. Arguing that all things are created twice – first in one’s mind and then in physical form, he puts forth that we must take responsibility and focus on the things that make for peace. If we begin to further create peace inside ourselves, we can further allow that peace to emanate amidst our communities and further into the world.
I think this transformation is what the Isaiah text is focusing on when he is prophesying about the transformation of swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. The setting of this text is approximately 8 centuries prior to the time of Jesus Christ and the majority of people were farmers. For them, the use of iron for plows and pruning hooks, instead of swords and shields, was a very hopeful message. In fact, the iron age was in full bloom, having begun about 400 years prior and the Hebrew people had been enjoying the benefits iron plows brought to farming. They now had an excess of food from the countryside, Jerusalem was increasingly prosperous, and they had even built Solomon’s great Temple.
Theologian Walter Brueggemann notes that, at the time, iron was literally a double-edged sword because it also made warfare more destructive and more costly. Once the iron age came, you could no longer send an army of farmers out with their homemade weapons, you needed a serious industrial production of iron weapons, which meant having iron mines and forges and taxes for a military-industrial complex. And Israel had established itself in the arms trade: selling chariots, weapons, and horses to all sides. Solomon did not get his wealth to build the Temple out of nowhere. So…Isaiah’s prophecies are not just poetic language hoping for peace in the face of Assyrian threats, it was a prophetic voice speaking to the majority of people who were farmers, versus the wealthy minority who profit from the machines of war. What Isaiah was calling for was a transformation of the usage of iron – transforming the use of iron from a spear or a sword into that of a plough or a pruning hook; transforming that which makes for killing others into that which makes for the feeding of them. He wanted to transform away from that which causes war towards that which makes for peace.
While I’m not too much of an American history buff, I did stumble across a speech this week from Dwight Eisenhower. Many will recall that Eisenhower began as an American Army General and later became the 34th President of the United States. This particular speech occurred 8 years after the conclusion of the second World War and was entitled “A Chance for Peace”. In modern day language, almost 3 millennia after Isiah, he prophetically spoke: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed”. In his speech, he notes that our world is not spending just its money. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, and the hopes of its children. He argues that the cost of one modern heavy bomber is a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants that serve a town of 60,000. It is two fully equipped hospitals. It is 50 miles of highway. We must transform our spears and swords into ploughs and pruning hooks. We must feed, clothe and care, rather than dominate, conquer and kill. He was calling for transformation.
Eisenhower’s words need to be heard in the leaders of today because the time is close at hand. We must work for peace. In Plato’s “Republic”, he viewed the right ruler to be what he coined a “Philosopher King”; a ruler who possesses both a love of wisdom, intelligence, reliability and a willingness to live the simple life. In his uptopian city of Kallipolis, he viewed the birth of such a city to come about when these type of philosophers become kings or those called kings genuinely and adequately philosophize.
And whether they are kings ruling over a land or people like you and I who have a rightful place in the creation of peace, I think that the Ephesians text tailors nicely into this conversation. Paul repeatedly uses the baptismal image throughout his letters and here he uses it in a clear metaphor. Amidst Roman battle attire worn by massive soldiers, Paul calls the Christ follower to ‘put on Christ’: around one’s waist ~ to wear the belt of truth, upon one’s chest ~ to place the breastplate of righteousness, upon one’s feet ~ to wear shoes that make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Putting on Christ is a powerful metaphor for how we are challenged to live as Christ followers, not only on Sunday morning but through the rest of the week! It amazes me to see road rage on our roads…and even sometimes in our church parking lots. And it embarrasses us all because we know that we have all ‘been there’ in those moments of frustration, anger, and feeling that indignant entitled feeling of ‘being right’. How can we transform our ways towards ones that make for peace?
Yet, sometimes…sometimes we ‘put on Christ’. Sometimes we find ways to transform our behavior and bring peace rather than a sword to the moment. It gets back to what Ted Kuntz says in his book “Peace Begins with Me” where we have a choice in how we respond to every situation. And we have a choice to bring peace or a sword to the situation. ‘Putting on Christ’ is a powerful image for those of us who follow the way of Christ. And there are parallel images that people of other faith tradition would use in their spiritual understanding of that which makes for peace. This is where one’s prayer life becomes deeply significant because it allows us to deeply immerse our souls in God. It allows us to be further strengthened to bring the peace of Christ along with us in our lives and in our relationships. We are further strengthened to bring peace rather than a sword to those situations that threaten and overwhelm us. It is the reason we practice our faith ~ attending worship, Bible study, growing in faith. This is reason many practice with the Centering Prayer group on Monday nights and the Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga groups on Tuesday nights. It is that chance to deepen our spirits and become even further centred in Christ, to stay mindful in the moment, and further immerse oneself in the presence of peace. If we don’t spend time with the Prince of Peace, how do we think we will bring peace to our relationships, bring peace to our conflicts, bring peace to our lives. To be peace, we must know the Prince of Peace.
Jesus has come to the world that we might ‘put him on’ and live the faith. May we have lives further transformed that allows for God’s peace to continue to grow.