Isaiah 36:1-3, 13-20; 37:1-7; & 2:1-4
The passages we heard today may feel confusing and a little disjointed. Especially because the Lectionary compilers take pieces from chapters 36 and 37, and then go back to the prophecy at the start of chapter 2.
It IS confusing!
So – that’s OK then!
Now, having established that we have just heard something confusing; let’s pare it back. What did we hear? We heard a lot of names, titles, and aggressive language. And we also heard terms and behaviours which may seem strange to us – unfamiliar – illogical even.
The gist of the story is that the King – Hezekiah is being beset by the king of Assyria, who sends his army commander to taunt to people; to send in rumourmongers, to tease them with promises of wild riches and rewards, if they just abandon their king, and (more importantly) their God.
Hezekiah responds by putting on sack cloth and ashes; and sends a message to Isaiah the prophet – to ask that he let God know that he does not agree with the blasphemous words of the Assyrians; that he hopes God will punish them; and that God will listen to the prayers of those left behind.
Hezekiah, refers to God as the God of Isaiah, not his own God...
His response is totally appropriate – to put on the sack cloth is demonstrating his respect and faith – even though his language implies he doesn’t feel any ownership or connection to God.
God’s response is simple: do not be afraid! And how many times have we heard that phrase?
Do not fear; God is near
Do not fear; God has this
Do not fear: God is with you
Do. Not. Fear.
Isaiah’s prophecy began with the wondrous call to worship: come! Let us go to the house of the Lord! To his holy mountain!
God has this: God will judge
God will bring peace
Weapons will be no more
War will be no more
We are reminded of that, after hearing about the troubles Hezekiah faces – maybe Isaiah also reminded him?
Maybe, to be reminded of such good news, of such hope is no bad thing at all?
What then does this vision of a world with no war say to us right now in this season of remembrance? What can we do with the vision?
Back in the 1970s when I was in secondary school, I had a folder on which I had written, “What if we have a war and no one wants to play?”
Along with many other phrases on a similar theme, “Make love not War”...
In my teenaged naivety I think I really believed that all it would take is for the other side (whoever they were) to refuse to fight and that would be the end of it.
Then of course, reality hit. I reached my 20s; Argentina decided to challenge ownership of a set of remote islands and for the first time in my life I was truly aware of warfare in my generation. It was short-lived, but the cost was high in lives lost or changed forever. Not just for our folks, but for the other side too. I can clearly remember the repulsion I felt at news headlines which glorified the killing of the “bad guys”. This was no longer fiction – this was real.
And I discovered I was a pacifist!
I also discovered a feeling of helplessness, and a dread of what, at that time, I felt to be a continuation of the glorification of war in November at Remembrance time.
Fast forward to 1991, January, I stand at 11pm, my newborn son in my arms, watching bombs flying over Iraq. I’m not sure which is harder to grasp – the fact that we were involved in war in the Gulf, or that I was actually watching it on TV.
My heart sank; and I prayed to God... without words.
For I no longer knew what to pray for.
Just that it was truly terrible. These were real bombs, real people.
Fast forward again... 2006. I am a parish minister in Moray; nearby there is the RAF base; many of the servicemen and women, and their families live in my parish. One September morn I get a call. One of their aircraft is not coming back; all the crew is lost. Two of the men live in the parish.
One of their crew is in my congregation. He had been unwell so was grounded. In one fell swoop he lost his best friends and colleagues, and suddenly it was real.
He needed me, he needed to talk.
To process his feelings.
I needed to put aside my own feelings and simply be.
I still feel that war is not the answer. That we must strive for a peaceful solution when we see injustice – for where is the justice in getting your own way through violent means?
But my attitude to the season of Remembrance has changed. The phrase “Lest we Forget” has more meaning now. If we forget the true cost, the real price of aggression, then we do a disservice to all those who fought, not really knowing why they were fighting, but simply doing their duty.
War is fought in two places- around the table, and on the field.
It is the table gatherers who make the decisions; but it is the field workers who pay the price.
War has two sides, history is written by the victors, but the vanquished have their place too. If we forget this, we forget all of those conscripts, pulled in to fight for their side, each of whom pay the price together – there is no distinction, each is a soul loved by God.
Wilfred Owen spoke of the futility of war, the pity of it.
The pity comes now, if we forget the real price – men and women, loved by God, who pay the cost; if we forget that, then those lives are wasted.
We must remember.
And work for the day when all swords are turned into ploughs and pruning hooks. When the fields we work in are vineyards and orchards, “come, let us go to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of God!”
|Tree of Life in Mozambique|
a sculpture created using weapons of war to be a symbol for peace