Thanks for coming tonight to hear me preach. It is fun to experience many of the churches have in our synod, to get together on a Wednesday night.
It’s not often I get to preach a sermon on the Old Testament, and twice in a week is a record, so I thought I’d give it a try. My first sermon in a church was on a book of the OT, the book of Samuel, almost 30 years ago. I simply don’t do it very often. Why? In most churches I’ve preached at, church-goers are used to a pastor preaching from the gospel, or at least from the New Testament. Sometimes when I preach from the Old Testament people leave the sanctuary feeling cheated; they didn’t get a sermon about Jesus. One person years ago said to me, “I didn’t know pastors were allowed to preach from on the Old Testament!” Well they can and I will- again tonight.
To avoid the Old Testament is to ignore the first 2000 years of our salvation history, and to ignore the first ¾ of our Bible. We must learn about the Old Testament. How do we know what Jesus meant when he said, “I came to fulfill the law,” if we don’t know what the law is? If Jesus was raised on our Old Testament, why shouldn’t we hear preaching about it, at least every once in a while?
The Word of God in the Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi, was the story of God’s great and many gifts to the Hebrew People. The story itself is one of the greatest gifts from God we have. Isaiah is one part of that story, and the prophet Isaiah was one of God’s gifts to the people of Israel, and to us. Isaiah is a prophet who understands the people of God, with all their weaknesses, but he also understands the certainty of a distant future when all will be well.
Isaiah 2 is one of those prophecies of what will happen when God’s reign over all the earth begins (no, not all end-times prophecies are in Revelation).
Isaiah speaks of justice and peace. Isaiah speaks of the whole earth streaming to God to learn God’s will and God’s law- how we were created to live.
What would that look like?
Imagine a world where everyone always thinks before acting and speaking, a world where it’s not what I want, but what God wants.
Imagine a world where people are judged, as Martin Luther King says, not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their characters. Imagine a world where we think about North Korea, Russia and Iran, with the same sense of calm as we when we think about Canada, Scandinavia, or a tropical island? Imagine a time when someone with the name Mohammed is treated with the same respect as someone named Mark, Joshua or David! That may not be possible in 21st century Minnesota, but Isaiah says there will be a time when this is the way things are. In God’s time, when God is ruling here on earth and sin and sighing and war will be no more.
The theme of today’s sermon is “Arm and Hammer.” The reason “arm and hammer” relates to today’s Scripture is a joke: it takes a strong arm and a hammer to melt down swords and spears and shape them into plows and pruning hooks like I read in Isaiah 2:4. Arm and Hammer is also a trademark of baking soda. Now the name Arm and Hammer would seem to claim that baking soda is a strong cleaning agent. And so it is. Generations of Americans 75-100 years ago would use baking soda for toothpaste, to clean and whiten their teeth.
And actually, strength and peace really do go hand in hand and so does cleanliness- to be a peaceful person you have to be clean in your heart, and have to resist the impulse to make arguments and act out your feelings of aggression.
To really feel peace in your heart, you have to work hard do get rid of all those war-like urges in your soul. It takes even more strength to resist war than it does to go to war.
The kind of person who can make peace is the kind of person who can walk away from fights. You can spit in the face of a person like that, and he won’t curse or spit or fight back. Because a person like that knows that violence usually ups the ante and even more violence results.
How do we become people of peace, people of strength like that? We learn one step at a time. Just as one doesn’t build up an arm strong overnight, so we must all work to be people of peace.
When you see commentators on TV fighting about something, don’t take sides and think to yourself that one person is right and the other is an idiot. Think about them like God would. God created them to be God’s children, to live in peace and harmony, and yet they yell at each other and disrespect each other. When did you last hear one of those debaters turn to the other and say: you’re right! Fighting like that makes it much more difficult to work together to solve the problem they’re fighting about.
How else do we become people of peace? Here’s another way. When you are discussing, or debating, or fighting with someone yourself, think about how you react. When you fight with your spouse, your son or daughter or your parent do you listen? Or do you wait impatiently trying to figure out how and when to jump in, and prove them wrong? When you hear someone with a different opinion speak, are you convinced they’re wrong? Or can you learn to think, “Wow, maybe they know more than I do; I’d better think more about what I believe?”
Here’s a third way to be a peaceful person: we sometimes talk about a person or a country plotting war, but how many people plot peace? We hear about school shootings and cop shooting and domestic violence all the time. We may even need to spend time preparing plans for horrible events. But how many of us spend time learning how to plot peace? To plot peace takes every bit as much effort as to plot for war. How can we raise our children so they are naturally peace loving and peace-making? How can we train our bodies and voices not to react when we’re provoked?
Honestly, it takes a lot of time and training to look at life from a peaceful standpoint. It takes even more work to train for peace than it does to train for war.
To train for war is what we do naturally. To train for peace we have to truly grow beyond war. And we can’t do that by ourselves. That’s why we need a savior to help us. To beat our swords into plows we must first change our hearts. May God teach us the ways of peace this Lenten season so that our children, and grandchildren and our great grandchildren can live in a world where hate and wars and weapons of destruction are no more. Jesus Christ can do that for us, if each day we trust more and more in him. Amen.