Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw a vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
He saw that in the last days, the mountain of God’s House – the temple – would be The Mountain. It would tower over all the other mountains, glorious and strong. From all the nations, people would pour toward it. So many people would be coming to experience the presence of God in this place that together, they’d look like a flowing river.
That, Friends, is what the temple was supposed to be all along.
You remember that after the flood, God promised to find a way to bring the broken creation and all its inhabitants back into wholeness and love. And you remember that promise that Abraham received, the one where he would be blessed and his family would be blessed… but not just for themselves.
They were blessed to be a blessing, blessed in order to bring blessing to the world.
All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
Isaiah has a vision of this happening, of the mountain of God’s House becoming the focal point of humanity: a place where all the people can come and worship.
The highest of the mountains, exalted above the hills… You remember the mountain, of course.
Which mountain, you ask? The mountain.
Abraham had a son named Isaac, and Isaac had a son named Jacob, and Jacob’s children were trapped in slavery in Egypt. God freed them, heard their cries for deliverance and brought them out of bondage and into the wilderness so that they could… travel to the mountain, to Mt Sinai, and worship and covenant with their redeeming God.
They’re going to the mountain where Moses met God, the mountain where God lives.
Give Isaiah some poetic license, here, because that’s what he wants you to be picturing: the great Exodus story, the people of God pouring toward the presence of God.
And here’s an odd detail from that Exodus story: it wasn’t just the Israelites who left. With them was a band of riff-raff, in one translation, or a mixed multitude in another. These were folks who saw the plagues and heard Moses and Aaron speaking and decided that this was the real deal and they wanted in.
They weren’t children of Jacob in any biological sense, but they wanted to go to the mountain and see this God for themselves. There’s no indication that I’m aware of that they went on to become second-class citizens, in Israel.
Why not? Because all peoples of the earth are being blessed.
That’s what the mountain is about. It’s a place where you go to meet the God who loves you and find out what love requires of -and enables within- you.
God gave Moses and the people the law, at the mountain. At the mountain is where they built the tabernacle, the tent-temple where God chose to live with the people as they wandered in the wilderness.
And later on, next year, on the mount is where Jesus will give his own spin on the same law, in a passage we call the Sermon on the Mount. It’s where we find the Beatitudes, with statements like blessed are the meek and blessed are those who mourn and blessed are the peacemakers.
That’s the hope that Isaiah is imagining, in this passage: a point of connection between heaven and earth, between God and God’s people, one that’s so beautiful and clear that it draws new people in.
Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
And here’s a good moment to point out that it’s many peoples, not just one. Many. Hard word, sometimes, for an introvert like me.
But we don’t do this on our own. We need a tribe. If we’re wandering in the wilderness, then we need co-wanderers. If we’re crossing over Jordan then we need our friends stepping forward so that we all can work up our courage, together.
And if we’re coming to the mountain, then we need that tribe more than ever.
We need a tribe of people to remind us that it’s okay to take the sharp tips of our spears and beat them down, and around, into pruning hooks. Because where we’re going, in the kingdom that God is calling us to help build, we’re not going to need those spears.
We need a tribe of people to remind us that we’re here to let go of living against, and grab hold of living with and for.
It’s hard work. It’s scary work. It’s scarier than it might seem at first because what we find, when we go to lay down our weapons, is that it’s sometimes easier to drop a physical sword than it is to stop yourself from becoming a sword.
Because we can weaponize ourselves, right?
We can put on the armor of hardened hearts, because this situation just calls for a little tough-mindedness. We can pick up our sharpest weapons, which for many of us is the little muscle behind our teeth, and we can shred people and put their work down and put their lives down.
And then we win, right?
But we don’t. No one wins. You can feel real big for a moment, whether it’s on the playground or in a conference room or on the field or in the backyard.
But it isn’t the kind of victory that lasts.
In the school of Christ, we learn about a different kind of victory. One that offers mercy, one that practices generosity, one that picks up a cross rather than picking up some nails and a hammer.
God will teach us God’s ways,
So that we may walk in God’s paths.
In the school of Christ, we learn about a man who comes as a teacher, as a healer, as a savior, and as a king. Instead of coming with a sword, this king comes with a plow, one designed to break up our unplowed ground.
Designed to take the fallow fields in our hearts and make them fruitful again.
A plow is just as disruptive as a sword, you know. It’s just that swords hack at humans, whereas plows wreck the days of worms and killdeer and little mice and whatnot. But they’re doing the same work, drawing dividing lines, parting one piece from the next.
And you see how a spear is a tool of violence, but if you were a tree you might make a similar argument against pruning hooks. I mean, how would you like it if someone looked at you and said: well that bit’s rotten, it’ll have to go? I suspect you wouldn’t like that much at all.
But of course that does need to be said to us, over and over, by people we trust enough to hear hard things from. That relationship is over, that way of talking about yourself isn’t working, that’s a habit from who you used to be, that bit’s rotten and it has to go.
We all have to be pruned, right? I read a woman writing once about moving to the city and being part of an urban community garden.
She wrote about the sneaky grace of going into the garden at night to prune the suckers off strangers’ tomato plants, because they seemed to think that bigger was better. But she was wiser, she knew tomatoes and knew that pruning off the little branches that will amount to nothing makes for better fruit in the end.
Tell that to the tomato that feeling the pinch, though! How would you like it if someone pulled your toes off, claiming that it would make your hair grow better? Bet you wouldn’t like that much at all.
I’m all in favor of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t want us to fall victim to some kind of agrarian romantic fantasy, Plows and pruning hooks aren’t necessarily pleasant experiences.
Have you ever seen a blacksmith at work? I haven’t, often, but it’s amazing to me every time to watch iron go soft. In my workaday world, that just doesn’t happen. Iron isn’t malleable any more than cotton candy is waterproof.
But put it in the fire, and it begins to glow, and before long it can be reshaped into something new, a bell or a blade or an axle for a cart.
Or a hammerhead and some nails, if that’s your preference.
You put the iron in the fire, and it starts to glow, and then the fun begins. The blacksmith beats it, and twists it, and beats it some more, and finds that it isn’t malleable enough so puts it back in the fire again.
Over, and over, until it becomes something useful. There’s a metaphor for the spiritual journey!
When Isaiah saw the people learning the way of God, and responding by beating their swords into plowshares, he would have been envisioning a forge. He’s talking about a tribe of blacksmiths, turning instruments of death and destruction into tools of peace.
The Persian poet Hafiz wrote this, “I have come into this world to see this: the sword drop from men’s hands even at the height of their arc of rage because we have finally realized there is just one flesh we can wound.”
Just one flesh- all of us, made in the same image. What does it take to make us see?
In the Christian tradition, that what does it take is summed up in Jesus, wounded for our transgressions. God become human, living perfectly, deserving nothing but reverence and getting a hammer and some nails instead.
That’s what it takes to make us see. That’s what it takes, to make us stick our swords and our spears back into the forge and start creating something new.
Here’s my favorite thing about this passage: swords and spears are tools of death. Maybe it’s honorable to use them, sometimes. I think that the Gospel calls us in a different direction, but people of good faith disagree with me about that.
But this is indisputable: swords and spears are tools of death, and plows and pruning hooks are tools of new life. Plows and pruning hooks are the farmer’s tools.
Tools to prune trees and plow up new ground are tools for the tending of life.
God will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
That’s what living in the new creation looks like. We’re citizens of that world, and sojourners and aliens in the world systems in which people are still judging one another at swordpoint.
When we pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven: this is what that looks like. We’re praying for a world in which people take their swords – instruments of death – and lay them down in the forge of God to be reborn as plows, as instruments of new life.
We’re praying for a world in which we set aside all our strategic or clever ways of spearing one another, and move instead into the pruning businesses: not stabbing life away, but creating the conditions in which new life can flourish.
When we pray this prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught us, we pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
On Earth, as it is in Heaven.
We have a tendency, we with our swords to be beaten into plows, to say that this vision of letting our swords go is just lovely, so lovely, and we can’t wait until we get to heaven where that will be possible,
But that is not how Jesus taught us to pray. It’s not on earth there are troubles, so bring us up to heaven. It’s let your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
So on earth, may we offer our swords to the forge and beat them into plows. May we offer our spears to the forge, and beat by beat as the hammer comes down may we see those spears becoming pruning hooks.
May we offer up our usual way of doing business, and may we find it transformed by grace. Come, family of Jacob, let’s live in the light of God.