Sermon from International Day of Peace Sunday

The congregation where I serve as pastor recently celebrated the International Day of Peace (Sept. 21st) in our Sunday worship the day before. A few asked that I share this sermon and the incredible story of the crosses made from bullet casings.

Isaiah 2:1-5
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 In days to come the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3 Many peoples shall come and say, "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." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

I would like to invite you on a journey this morning.

We will begin on the mountain of the Lord, trek to the western coast of Africa and find ourselves back home. You won’t need your passport, but imagination is a must.

Imagination is what the prophet Isaiah demands of the people in his prophetic and poetic words of peace we heard this morning. They have to use their imaginations to envision a world where “nation does not lift up sword against nation, nor do they learn war anymore.”

Most of us have trouble reading the Old Testament because of how much violence is contained in the pages of Israel’s history. It would be impossible to remove these details from these ancient stories as war was almost a daily part of ancient Israelite life, primarily because of that nation’s size and location.

Here was a nation no larger than the state of Vermont located in the strategic Syria- Palestinian corridor—and all the surrounding nations coveted it. Egypt in the south and various Mesopotamian empires in the north-northeast saw that territory as a buffer zone to protect themselves from encroaching armies bent on conquest and pillage. The Old Testament scholar Norman Gottwald observes the Israelites’ preoccupation with war “imparts a vigor to the biblical records but also often casts about them an aura of somber realism and a sense of the fragility of human life.”

It is difficult for Americans to fathom what it must have been like for citizens of this tiny country to live with the prospect of large, invading armies camped out on their doorstep on a regular, unrelenting basis. Consider that Bethel, an important city to ancient Israel, was destroyed four times in the two-hundred year period from the time of the Judges to the establishment of the Davidic monarchy. For comparison, consider the city of Philadelphia being destroyed four times since the Declaration of Independence. America’s “dean of biblical archaeology,” W. F. Albright, noted over half a century ago that under these conditions “one can hardly be surprised…[that] Israel became martially minded.”

The impact of the words we heard this morning from the prophet Isaiah would have taken an incredible amount of imagination from the original audience to picture this painting of perfect peace, that place where instruments of death are turned into implements for life, for harvesting the fields, and where nations don’t even have to study war anymore.

And, the vision of Isaiah doesn’t just fill one corner of the globe. Isaiah describes a day when many people will come to the house of God, when many nations will come to live in the ways of justice and peace.

So we leave our journey with the people in Judah and Jerusalem, perched and God’s holy mountain and make our way to another place.

I need everyone to close their eyes for this part of our journey and open your hands. I will be walking around the sanctuary and placing something in each of your hands. Hold on to the item and please keep your eyes closed…


With your eyes still closed. Tell me what you feel in your hands.

Can anyone tell what the shape of the item is?

A cross. The symbol of our faith that means hope and new life in Jesus Christ.

Now open your eyes and look at what these crosses are made from.

Bullet casings.

From swords to plowshares.

From instruments of death to the hope of new life.

Walking down the holy mountain of the Lord we move forward in time and across the world to Liberia, a country on the west coast of Africa that is about the size of Virginia but roughly the population of Connecticut.

Through most of the 1980’s and 1990’s this country suffered the devastating effects of civil war that left more than a quarter million people dead, thousands homeless and the landscape littered with bullet casings and other reminders of the hopelessness violence caused.

Then a small group of 50 people gathered these bullet casings and took simple tools: a hammer, chisel, pliers, hacksaw, and file to make these crosses.

In 2003 the Presbyterian Church (USA) through the Peacemaking Program, partnered with the group of Liberians making these crosses to market them in the United States. The project provides income to help children attend school; homeless families find dwellings, and sick people receive medical attention.

The bullet casing that is in your hand at this moment touched the hand of another whose intention was to kill another human being.

The cross that is in your hand at this moment touched the hand of another whose plan was to transform that death to hope.

Now it is in your hands.

In your hands.

The words from Isaiah this morning call us to open our imaginations, our eyes, our hands, and our hearts to the dream of peace in this world.

Peace in the Middle East. Peace in African countries like Liberia. Peace here in our own communities.

Peace can happen.

It is in our hands to make that happen.

Yet we feel disconnected from the dream of God’s peace portrayed throughout scripture and the news we see everyday day on TV, read about on-line, or perhaps experience for ourselves.

It reminded me a TV commercial that I’ve seen at Christmas time which I am afraid portrays all too accurately how quickly we push away the possibility of peace.

The ad flashed on the screen a dreamy vision of a sparkling new bicycle; and a child's voice off camera is heard, "Oh, I hope I get a bicycle for Christmas. I hope to get a bicycle for Christmas-and peace on earth, of course-but I hope I get a bicycle for Christmas." Captured in the commercial, of course, is every child's legitimate yearning for a bicycle. Surely we all remember. Only remember also, though the voice from the screen is a child's voice, the commercial was created by and for adults..."and peace on earth of course...but I really hope...."

Even here in our safe community, where we don’t worry about bombs falling near us or gunshots spraying in our neighborhood, we cannot imagine what a world would be like if swords were beaten into plowshares, where bullets were crafted into crosses, where our hands could join together with communities all over this globe and participate in God’s dream for peace in the world. Our attention is too quickly grasped by the new bicycle, or car, or electronic gadget of some sort and peace slips through our finger tips as just another lofty dream of political party or social service organization that we won’t have any part of.

Politics and clubs aren’t going to teach us about God’s dream of peace for the world, God is. Through prayer, worship, Bible study and spiritual disciplines we can equip ourselves and our community to share the gospel message of peace to the world.

We can learn how to become peacemakers in our own families and communities to confront all forms of violence not just the kinds you can see, but the violence we perpetuate through our attitudes, words, and assumptions.

Liberia and the Middle East may seem very far away, but we can support peace efforts across the globe by learning more the lives of people, the struggles they face, and how we might be able to respond through partnerships with presbytery, the denomination, other faith groups, or service agencies.

Tomorrow is the day recognized by the United Nations as the International Day of Peace. And you can join millions across the world by pausing at noon for one minute to say a prayer for peace.

From swords to plowshares.

From instruments of death to the hope of new life.

From prayer to new life.
God’s vision for peace is in our hands.


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