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November 28, 2004 (Advent I)

Intern Pastor Katy Grindberg

Isaiah 2.1-5; Matthew 24.36-44

Brothers and Sisters, grace and peace to you from God our loving creator and from Jesus Christ our savior. Amen.

Pastor David spoke about last week in his sermon about the reign of Christ and how it will be very different from an earthly king's reign. Very different from how we might envision a kingdom.

This week we have another vision of the kingdom of God, from the prophet Isaiah. It is a vision centered in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was and is the center of Jewish religious life. It was the location of the temple, and where Jews today hope to rebuild the temple. Isaiah sees a high mountain, higher than all others in the vicinity. That may be a reference to Yahweh being higher than all other gods. But I like the vision of a large mountain that all people can see and center themselves with. Isaiah tells us that all nations shall go to this mountain. The NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) translates the word as "stream." You can imagine a river of people from the known world, flowing to this mountain of God.

What happens on this mountain? First and foremost, teaching happens on the mountain of God. Isaiah says, "that God may teach us God's ways and that we may walk in God's paths. For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." So, people from every nation will flow to this mountain and be taught the way of God. They will learn how to follow God's plan for their lives and walk the paths that God lays out for them.

Mediation also happens on this mountain. We are told by Isaiah that God will "judge between the nations and arbitrate for many peoples." This means an end to war because humans won't need to resort to war to settle their differences. God will provide a peaceful resolution to conflicts.

This passage from Isaiah give us one of the most often quoted verses from Isaiah: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war." This is a universal and long-time axiom for the wish for peace. Many agencies and groups that work for peaceful resolution of conflicts use this verse as a vision for a future. It has also been the inspiration for much art, probably the most famous of which is at the United Nations in New York City. It is a statue of a man, beating a sword into a plowshare and it has been there since 1959, a gift from the Soviet Union. "Swords to Plowshares" is a much longed-for vision of a time when wars will cease. There will be no need for war because God will act as the arbitrator of human conflicts and Shalom will reign supreme.

Shalom is a Hebrew word most commonly translated as "peace." It has a fuller meaning that just the absence of war. Being in Hawaii, perhaps we are better able to grasp this idea, as in many ways "shalom" and "aloha" are synonymous. Two biblical dictionaries offered a list of meanings for shalom beyond the absence of war or discord: wholeness, health, safety, prosperity, harmony. Shalom is the fullest vision of God's wish for our lives. A vision of what the kingdom of God will be.

This vision Isaiah provides is not a vision of humans doing nothing, resting in the presence of God. It is a vision that includes humans working with God. Isaiah talks about the teachings flowing out from the mountain of God, presumably taken away from the mountain by human beings. Also Isaiah's vision is not just of an end to war, but a time when the instruments of war become instruments of farming. So, people have work to do, callings and vocations to fulfill. This isn't a vision of a kingdom of God in some heavenly realm, but an earthly kingdom, where God is the ultimate ruler and God's peace reigns supreme, and we truly experience the fullness of the meaning of Shalom.

No one knows exactly what the kingdom of God will look like. We have biblical visions and hopes, but no one really knows, except for God. It is also true that no one knows exactly when the kingdom of God will be ushered in. For thousands years the people of God have been waiting for the kingdom of God, and we are still waiting.

In almost every age, there have been movements or people that were certain that the end of the age was upon them. There were these people in Isaiah's time, through history to Jesus' time. They were in Paul's time, right up to our time. The gospel this morning, however, tells us that NO ONE knows when the end of the age will be. Jesus didn't know, the disciples didn't know, and I would venture to say that Tim LaHaye doesn't know. The gospel vision is one of people going about their daily lives and suddenly, the kingdom of God has arrived!

The Gospel for this morning reminds me of a favorite bumper sticker: "Jesus is coming, Look Busy!" It is a common way of thinking--that we need to give the appearance of business to be on God's "good side" at the end of the age.

I wonder, however, what are we busy about? Especially at this frenzied time of year, what are you busy doing? Perhaps it is Christmas shopping, planning travel, planning meals, or finding places for friends or loved ones to stay when they visit Hawaii.

In the midst of the frenzy of everyday life, remember that Jesus has been here already. He showed us how to love each other, how to be neighbors to each other and how to take care of one another. "When you do it to the least of these, you do it to me," Jesus said. When you feed the hungry, visit the lonely, care for the poor and the prisoner, you do it to me.

Jesus has been here already--and Jesus continues to be here, and he continues to act through the gathered community, though the word, and through the sacraments of bread and wine and the water of baptism.

May I propose an alternative bumper sticker: Jesus is here, be busy about Jesus' business.

May the Lord of peace himself, Jesus Christ, give you peace at all times in all ways. Amen.

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