Swords into Ploughshares
November 20, 2022

Swords into Ploughshares

Passage: Isaiah 2:1-4

This image of swords being turned into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks… it’s a beautiful vision, isn’t it? It does, however, require that we pause to remember what exactly those implements are in the first place!

If I said, “draw a ploughshare,” our comparative images may get a bit iffy. So in case you haven’t engaged in any pre-industrial agriculture lately, it’s that “pointy part of the plough that does the digging,” and it has the strength to pierce the earth when dragged. Beating a sword into the shape needed for agriculture couldn’t possibly happen in a short period of time, but would require effort—vision, time, and repetition.

This passage is poetry, and its essence is, in a word, hope. Hope for a world no longer filled with bloodshed, hope for people learning to be co-productive rather than co-destructive, to coexist with each other, not because everyone agrees or becomes one homogenous, unified, mass… but because people from many nations begin to seek God first. In this vision of what could be, God is the judge, and the Holy One arbitrates.

It’s really interesting that this isn’t a vision for the world in which problems disappear and everyone suddenly agrees. This is a hope for a future in which people come together and decide that there is another way of life in which violence is not the go-to solution. The nations will still squabble, but God will be a just judge and will arbitrate.

Here’s the kicker: What seems initially like simply a poetic vision without a plan actually has a plan within it:

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 

The word for “instruction” in this verse actually means “torah,” as in the guidance and law that God has already given to the people! Those first five books of the Old Testament—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers… the laws God gave to Moses for the people to live by… the details of how to live in right relationship with God, with each other, and with the earth… That gift has already been given to the world!

So there’s a plan embedded within this poetic vision. And the plan itself requires time and repetition. For this vision to come about, the people have to spend time learning and internalizing and actually living by what God’s already gifted to them, to us. And, as we know all too well, living in God’s way for our lives doesn’t happen in an instant. “Faith is a way of life, not an answer.” It’s about repeating those ways of being in the world over and over again, the alchemical magic of turning attempt into habit. We mess it up, with reflection and intention we learn from those mess ups, we veer back to the path with God’s help and the welcome and guidance of community, and repeat.

Vision, time, and repetition.

So the vision is there, spoken aloud for centuries… but is this our vision? Could this be our vision? It’s certainly not a description of where we’re living today. In a world so filled with violence, we could write this off as Pollyannaish, warm fuzzy poetry that simply put cannot ever exist.  Or, we could hold our clenched fists a little more loosely, and wonder about why congregations have continued to pray these words for centuries, seeking the truth at the holy center of visions like these. We could seek the utility of this vision of peace for the whole world, no exceptions.

Ploughshares and pruning hooks—this passage isn’t just about the destruction of tools, but of a recreation into a different kind of tools. There are so many agricultural images throughout scripture: Israel is like a field; Jesus invites us to bear good fruit; There’s a harvest that gets brought forth in the kingdom of God; There are fruits of the Spirit that we hear about from Paul. In all of these agricultural metaphors, something is coming into being. Something is worked for, tended daily, weeded, harvested, brought to bear. Nothing that comes from the earth happens overnight, it seems, but takes time and regular tending. These images invite participation, and an active kind, an embodied hope that requires seeing the vision for what could grow in us and around us, and then doing something with that vision.

In Proverbs 29:18, we hear the ancient wisdom: “without a vision, people perish.”

This morning’s poetic passage is “not a failed promise; it’s something we continue to confront.”[1] Texts like this provide a counter-narrative to what we see all around us in the world, essentially saying, “this is how the world seems to operate, and that’s not the way it should have to be. Don’t accept domination as a goal.” Texts like this remind us that there actually is another way. Texts like this remind us that “we need to keep going up to the highest mountain to spend time with God when we want to grab our sword and run out the door.”[2] Remember, this text doesn’t assume that nations will agree even in this holy vision—but rather that we become open to arbitration that doesn’t involve bloodshed. We know there’s going to be conflict in the world. Even Jesus warned his followers that households would become divided. It’s not about whether conflict will come, but rather about what we do with conflict as it emerges.

Poet Warsan Shire writes: “later that night / i held an atlas in my lap / ran my fingers across the whole world / and whispered / where does it hurt? / it answered / everywhere / everywhere / everywhere.”

We have to learn peace. And that isn’t simple, and as our scripture today reminds us in words that echo throughout the centuries, peace requires vision, time, and repetition.

When it comes to peacemaking, it may feel as though our agency is limited, our power is limited, and our choices are limited. Yes. This is all very true. We are working within limitations, whether we are engaged in peacemaking on a global scale or inside our homes at our kitchen tables. But the key to learning peace is remembering “that we cannot give what we do not have.” Instead of pushing this vision for peace away, held safely at arms-length or tossed aside as too hopeful to ever become possible, we can ask ourselves questions that are accessible to us, that are possible for us, and this all begins within us.

So today I’m going to offer up a few places of pondering for us to wonder about together, to see if something here might be the start of turning our swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks right where we are today. Listen for what speaks to you and jot it down. Take what is useful for where you are, and let the rest fall away:

  • Where in your life are you longing for more peace? Start in that place of deep longing. Let your longing speak to you about where to begin.
  • What feels unsettled, what feels tense? Pinpoint that, and then pray about what kind of relief is needed. Pray for the first step in the direction of a little more settling, or a little more relief in that tension.
  • Where in your life can work for peace in your family or in your closest relationships? Sometimes this means seeking justice where it is lacking. Sometimes it’s braving having a hard conversation, learning to speak your truth in love and risking intimate vulnerability. Sometimes it means creating boundaries, or even getting out of that relationship. Peace is a practice, not an absence of tension. As Dr. King famously put it, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

We can all bring peace into all of our households by supporting domestic violence shelters especially at the holidays, for as cultural stresses and grief triggers rise this time of year, so often does violence within homes. Almost half of people trying to leave physically abusive situations stay longer than they would have left because most domestic violence shelters don’t allow pets, and people know that if they flee, the violence will likely shift to their beloved dog or cat. The PurpleLeash project is trying to change that, funding renovations at shelters across the country to make shelters pet friendly so that this barrier disappears. Domestic violence affects approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men in their lifetime, not including all the children and other family members witnessing and affected by physical violence, and emotional and psychological violence often goes unreported.

Isaiah’s vision of swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks is not just about nations. Maybe this is the year that we enroll in anger management classes, or reach out to a therapist. Maybe this is the year that we admit to someone outside the home that we need help. Maybe this is the day that we will reach out for help escaping to safety. Together we can bring peace into our households. You are not alone. Reach out.

Together, we can bring peace into our pantries, filling each other’s cabinets and tables when the bounty on ours is filled to overflowing. We can share our thanksgiving with sponsoring Thanksgiving baskets for our neighbors, we can show up at food drives, we can advocate for just and equitable wages.  There are so many ways to practice peace, and it requires vision, time, and repetition. What is God calling you to choose today? For as we hear from Jesus himself in the sermon on the mount, “blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And as we pray each and every Sunday, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

So, to bring a little more of the kingdom of heaven to the earth today, my prayer for peace is that we would each recommit to working on our own wholeness as a start. Marianne Williamson writes, “We cannot give what we do not have. We cannot bring peace to the world if we ourselves are not peaceful. We cannot bring love to the world if we are not loving. Our true gift to ourselves and others lies not in what we have but in who we are.”

So when the possibilities for peacemaking feel expansive and weighty, perhaps even overwhelming in scope and in scale, focus on the center of you-- the place where you can show up with a greater degree of peace in the world no matter what. We can each work toward our own wholeness in some way today so that we can show up with a greater degree of peace in daily life.

In recent weeks, Immanuelites and friends have been learning about the enneagram, an ancient way of better understanding ourselves, each other, and the expansive and creative God that we worship and serve. There are nine personality types according to the enneagram, and we are taught that each personality type has deeply internalized a “wounding message.” By the grace of God, for each of our wounding messages, there is also a healing message that contains a holy opportunity for us to grow.

…So to close this time of pondering peacemaking, I’m going to speak the "healing messages" for each number and invite you to simply notice which healing message is the one that your heart needs today. When you hear a message that speaks to your aches deep inside, pause there and imagine what it might mean for you to hear that healing message coming from the God who made you.

You are good. You are wanted. You are loved for yourself.

You are seen for who you are.  Your needs are not a problem.

You are safe. You will be taken care of.

You will not be betrayed. Your presence matters.

Beloved of God, taking our brokenness to God, seeking healing and wholeness together, when we figure out the healing message that we each need to internalize and grow into receiving, may we “practice, practice, practice.” As Rev. Jade Kaiser puts it, “neither a new way or a new world will come to us all at once. Not quickly. Not without failures. Not without patience and determination, but through holy repetition—radical rituals of hope and curiosity, of learning and unlearning, mending and repairing, inventing alternative habits of power, that construct life anew. Divinity takes on flesh. Salvation is drawing near.”

Embrace the vision. Give it the time. Repeat.

In the name of the God who is love, Amen.

[1] Martha Whitney

[2] Drayanne Erickson