John Lennon imagined a world without religion or nations, but one with peace.
Imagine there's no countries, It isn't hard to do.
Nothing to Kill or die for, and no Religion too.
Imagine all the people living life in peace . . .
Imagine all the people living life in peace . . .
Then in the chorus he sings:
You may say I'm, a dreamer But I'm not the only One.
I Hope someday you'll join us and the world will be as one.
Imagine for a moment a world at peace. What might that be like? What will it take? Will it take the end of nations and religions as we know them today?
It’s unfortunate that John Lennon is on the mark. Nationalism and religion have often contributed to the hatred and the violence that make a mess of our world. And just to be clear, it’s not just Islam that’s at fault. Every religion, including ours, contributes to this problem.
When we think of peace, we tend to think globally. But it’s not just a global issue, it’s also very local and very personal. Wherever conflict and anger and hatred are present, peace is threatened. If you listen to talk radio or watch the cable news networks, you’ll see on display a growing lack of civility tainting our public conversations and the political process. Unfortunately that same lack of civility is present in our churches and in our homes. We seem to be people set on edge. So, it’s no wonder that violence is on the rise. We simply find it difficult to get along.
The church exists within this world and is affected by it. Perhaps that’s why growing numbers of young people are fleeing "organized religion." Doug Coupland wrote a book entitled, Life after God. In that book he writes that people under thirty-five look forward to a life that is "charmed but without politics or religion." It’s a "life after God," a "life of earthly salvation on the edge of heaven." He goes on to write:
Perhaps this is the finest thing to which we may aspire, the life of peace, the blurring between
dream life and real life-- and yet I find myself speaking these words with a sense of doubt.
From there he goes on to say that there’s a trade off in achieving this golden life. The price is the "inability to fully believe in love; instead we gained an irony that scorched everything it touched. And I wonder if this irony is the price we paid for the loss of God."1
1. A GOD OF ALL NATIONS
Isaiah speaks to our sense of disillusionment and offers us a word of hope by giving us a vision of peace. He insists that God and nationalism don’t go together. Instead of claiming God for ourselves and our nation, Isaiah declares that God is the God of all nations.
As we come to pray this morning, we come not to worship a God that’s bound by national borders or politics, but instead we worship a God who promises to bring peace to all peoples. It’s tempting to wrap God up in red, white, and blue and to see ourselves as God’s chosen people, but if we do that, we’ve misunderstood the gospel.
Instead of proclaiming the god-of-the-nation and invoking God in the name of national security or national pride, Isaiah looks out and sees the nations coming to God. They’re coming because they seek peace. Although Isaiah makes Mount Zion the focal point of God's work, he doesn’t do this for nationalist reasons. Zion simply symbolizes God's desire to bring creation together in peace. This vision says nothing about Judah's nationalist aspirations, because it has nothing to do with them. In Isaiah's vision the focus is on God's reign over all nations, not just the Jewish people.
2. GOD'S INSTRUCTIONS AND JUDGMENTS
As the people in Isaiah's vision stream toward the Mountain of the Lord, they come seeking instruction and judgment from the Lord. Isaiah calls out:
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." (Isa. 2:3).
Isaiah catches the sense of the people – things aren’t working and we need a new vision for the future. Perhaps we can go to God and find that vision. Although the Torah speaks to the issues and needs of Israel, it also speaks more broadly to our human need for peace, order, and reconciliation. Torah, Isaiah says to us, is the way to peace.
Knowledge of the ways of God will set us free from our bondage to petty myths that divide and separate us. These are the stereotypes that keep us from talking to each other. Isaiah envisions us coming to God because we know that God will decide fairly and justly.
Peace has never been easy to achieve. If it was, we’d already be at peace. The fall of the Soviet Union didn’t bring peace, it just changed the focus of our attention. Rather than focusing on a "nuclear deterrence" we’re now more concerned about terrorism. And terrorism is rooted in extremism, and there are plenty of extremists out there, representing just about every ideology and religion. And what extremists do best is wreck the process of making peace, often by way of bombings and assassinations.
3. THE PROMISED AGE OF PEACE
Isaiah understands the situation well, and so he envisions a time when the tools of war will be turned to the service of all humanity. The sword will become the plow and spears pruning hooks. What was once used to kill will now be used to sustain life.
Martin Luther King, Jr. offered a similar vision in his 1963 speech in Washington DC. On that day he proclaimed:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed -- we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.
He dreamed that his four little children would "one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." He envisioned a day when freedom would ring from every part of the nation, and he called on us all -- black, white, Jews, Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics -- to speed up that day by joining hands and singing the words of the old spiritual "Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty, we are free at last." Dr. King didn’t live to see this dream fulfilled. In fact, we still dream this dream so many years later. But the good news is that the dream continues to speak to our hearts.
As we enter the Advent season, let us carry with us the vision of peace. John the Baptist came into Judea preparing the way for the Messiah. The message of the messiah is one of peace, and no message resonates more during the Christmas season than the one the Angels brought to the shepherds: "On earth Peace among those whom God favors" (Lk 2:14). Let us commit ourselves to the cause of this peace by singing "Down by the Riverside." (p. 673). And as we sing, may we choose to "study war no more" and turn the tools of destruction into the tools of life.
1 Doug Coupland, Life after God, (New York: Pocket Books, 1994), 273. Note that Coupland wrote this in 1994, so those under 35 then are those under 48. If you round that up, it's people under 50.
The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
December 2, 2007