Sermon November 5th Micah 4:1-4 Swords into Ploughshares Rev. Betsy Hogan
Where to even begin, on a Remembrance Sunday when it’s hard to even look at the news.
When the “never again” wars, and the sacrifices they demanded in the past, in service of dismantling imperialism and colonialism and fascism and autocracy – are necessarily featuring afresh in the analysis of the “now” wars.
The wars of “yes again” and “why again” and especially… “not again”. And enough already.
Not that it’s a new phenomenon, for wars in a present to be at their heart rooted in whatever ‘closure’ was achieved in wars of the past – certainly it was the case in the various Balkan wars in the 1990s, and arguably if less directly so in Afghanistan and in various other post-colonial civil wars in Latin America and parts of Africa –
But that makes it no less desperate, on a Remembrance Sunday, to at once recall the sacrifices demanded and willingly offered by SO MANY people in service of dismantling imperialism and colonialism and fascism and autocracy – those who returned and those who didn’t –
And then to see in that past the very real seeds of the present. It’s not a matter of denigration, not at all. It’s just a statement of reality. Even when it seems as though we’ve really gotten it right – and I’d venture with quite a lot of moral clarity that with the second World War we very much got it right –
But even when it seems as though we’ve really gotten it right, it’s like war itself lays down seeds of future war. Empires crumble, colonialism weakens and shifts… and borders are redrawn and the seeds of new wars planted. Fascism is defeated, guilt and shame but also anger overwhelm, borders are redrawn and the seeds of new wars planted.
To the point that horrific terrorism can get justified as ‘freedom fighting’, and calls for a ceasefire can get politicized as somehow not upholding, as inherent in a ‘right’ to exist, a ‘right’ to retaliation. Which on strictly biblical grounds I don’t remember that actually BEING a right beyond the strict equivalence and parity of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth –
But there it is. The seeds of new wars planted by the horrors and by the attempted solutions of past wars themselves. Putting paid to the notion of ‘a war to end all wars’, and to all our trust in ‘never again’.
So where to even begin? Maybe with the biblical prophets Isaiah and especially Micah. Through whom -- a good seven or eight hundred years before Jesus was born – God said to God’s people, “ENOUGH”. And called out to every nation and every people from every corner of the earth with a vision of “ENOUGH”, when they’d beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, so that the cycle of violence and war could finally end.
So the tools of violence and war would become instead in that day the tools of planting and harvesting, sowing and reaping, feeding and flourishing, and peace.
And so, in that day, the prophets continued, nation would no more lift up sword against nation, and neither would they learn war any more; but they wouldl all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one would make them afraid.
Enough. One of the best things about the Hebrew Scriptures, the Older Testament, always, is how realistic it is, how realistic GOD is, about what people are like.
About how imperfect we are, about what we’re prone to getting up to, about what people are really like in the actual world. Even the so-called “heroes” in the Older Testament are regularly unheroic… and absolutely familiar to us in their periodic pettiness and their bad takes and their acting out. They’re utterly human.
And in the whole Older Testament, we see how deeply God knows that. There’s this epic egregious fallacy about the God in the Older Testament being super violent, and then suddenly all gentle and peaceful in the Newer Testament –
And that could hardly be less true in a whole bunch of different ways, but chief among them is the fact that the overwhelmingly major thing that God IS in the Older Testament, over and over and over again, through every up and down and sideways situation that arises from beginning to end – is forgiving.
Because God knows completely what people are like, how imperfect we are, what we’re prone to getting up to – and loves us anyway.
The whole Older Testament is one long sacred anthem of God loves us anyway. But because God IS so totally realistic about us, God also knows that sometimes, every now and again, we seriously need an intervention. We need to hear “enough”. We need to be shown what will END whatever destructive cycle we’re in. Because we are seriously unlikely to find it ourselves.
And hundreds of years before Jesus was even born, we were shown. Through the prophets. Enough. You want the cycle of war to end? Beat your swords into ploughshares. Beat your spears into pruning hooks. Turn your weapons of war into the tools that grow peace. And full stop.
So if that war laid down the seeds of the next one, there’ll be nothing to fight it with. Full stop.
But eagle ears will have noted, of course, that the prophets speak that call to ALL the nations and ALL the people in ALL the places in every corner of the earth – which is why in large measure as a human family we’ve still not paid attention.
Because it’s one thing if EVERYONE does it. But what if some of us don’t? Our fear of one another still looms too large. It broadly overshadows us with far more power than does our collective yearning for peace, and we just can’t trust each other. Because are we SURE we all want peace? And even if we are, can we really trust that’s enough when we also know how entangled we are in the emotional and cultural and economic devices that defy it? To beat our swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks?
It’s hard to have that degree of courage. It can feel impossible to have that degree of courage. So when we see that degree of courage? It matters.
The sculpture sitting on the communion table this morning was made in Mozambique, a country situated on east coast of southern Africa. It’s a sculpture made of decommissioned weapons that were used in the long civil war in Mozambique, which finally came to an end in the early 1990s.
It was a project that came out of the Christian Council of Mozambique, with which the United Church of Canada was then and still is in partnership, in which civil war guns were handed in, deactivated, and dismantled – and traded for farming implements, sewing machines, water pumps, stovetops, and other peacebuilding tools – and then turned into art.
Thousands and thousands of guns were collected from the population through this project, which was called (I’m not going to attempt the Portuguese) Transforming Arms into Tools.
And then Mozambiquan artists created from them sculptures – most notably the Tree of Life*, but also chairs* and benches and stools and tables*, and if you look it up even functioning musical instruments! And also smaller sculptures like this one. (*photos)
Which is here, because thanks to our church’s partnership with the Christian Council of Mozambique, many United Church and other clergy were able to visit Mozambique, including Rev. Margaret Sagar of our congregation. Who brought the sculpture she purchased there to share with us this morning, along with some photographs of the project that she took on her trip.
Which I hope you might have a chance prior to leaving this morning to come up and take a closer look. Because of course it’s beautiful and a delight, but it’s also a manifestation of courage. One sculpture out of probably thousands. Created out of all those weapons that were laid down to say “enough”.
It was a yearning for peace in Mozambique that chose deliberately to be greater than the fear of the ‘other’, the ‘enemy’. It was swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, weapons traded for tools, guns made into art, and in a country in which the threat of violence remained all too real.
It was a manifestation of courage by the Christian Council of Mozambique. And for any of us who also remember Project Ploughshares, which was a comparable creation by the Canadian Council of Churches, active especially in the 1980s and 1990s though it does still exist, we’ll be glad to know that the Mozambiquan Arms into Tools isn’t alone as this kind of manifestation of courage.
There’ve been weapons laid down, dismantled, and turned into art in Latin American countries, in Cambodia, in Vietnam. Weapons laid down in the most violent areas of Mexico, and melted down, and literally refashioned into shovels to be used in market gardens and small scale farming – but first, and symbolically, used to plant trees. Swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. Manifestations of courage.
It takes a ton of courage to go to war. It absolutely does. Every Remembrance Day I’m ovewhelmed by what we as a human family continue to send our children into, and what war requires of them and expects from them and demands from them. That old saying, that there are no atheists in foxholes – I am absolutely sure that’s true. And I wouldn’t denigrate that courage for a minute because I am pretty sure… that I don’t have it.
But the courage it takes for people to collectively say “enough” – to not just lay down their weapons of war but to deliberately render them into tools of peace, so when the seeds of that war threaten to turn into this war, there’s nothing to fight it with, and maybe those seeds won’t flourish anyway if the focus is planting and tending peace – that courage is also real.
It's the words of the prophets written on the bunker walls, and the tunnel walls, and the basement walls – it’s God saying “Enough. I know you don’t even know where to begin,” God says to us, “I’ve met you. So listen to me. I’ve seen you have courage. So be brave. Beat your swords into ploughshares and your spears into pruning hooks. Say ‘enough’ and no more. Because what I made you for is to sit under your own vines and under your own fig trees and for no one to make you afraid. Be brave.”
So where to even begin? That’s where to begin. God being our helper. Amen.