To read the Isaiah 2 text click here: Isaiah 2:1-5
Images of the Kingdom: The Plow
Last weekend we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday of our church year and this week for the 1st Sunday in the new church year we focus on the Kingdom of God over which Christ is King. Understanding the Kingdom of God often leads to as much confusion as understanding what it means that Christ is King. Last week we talked about how Jesus upsets our usual understandings of Kingship – instead of a golden crown, Jesus wears a crown of thorns; instead of a magnificent throne, Jesus is enthroned on a cross; instead of beautiful robes and possessions, Jesus is stripped of everything he has. Jesus, our King, replaces strength with perfect weakness; words of condemnation and judgment are replaced with words of forgiveness; the Kingly tactic of terror and fear is replaced with love and grace. Jesus is not a usual kind of King; Jesus is not the kind of King we (or the disciples) expect; Jesus turns the notion of kingship upside down.
We need to bear this in mind as we consider the Kingdom of God. The Gospels are quite clear that this is the focus of Jesus’ life and work - proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come into the world in Jesus. Consequently, the Kingdom has come NOW, ALREADY. The Kingdom is not some far away, unearthly heavenly destination for the future – the KINGDOM of GOD is NOW, in our midst. At the same time it has NOT YET come in its fullness. Which simply means there is work to do for those of us who are called to be Disciples of Christ. So as we enter into this Advent season we are again reminded of our calling to recognize “the Kingdom come” into our midst, and to be workers of the Kingdom allowing God to work through us to continue to bring the Kingdom into our midst in even more fullness.
For the four weeks of Advent, the prophet Isaiah will proclaim the coming of the Kingdom, but he does it in a peculiar way. Our text begins with these words:
“The word that Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.”
Yes, you read it right. Isaiah SAW the word of the Lord and was compelled to speak on the basis of what he saw. We always expect to HEAR, but Isaiah sees the word. And what exactly does he see? He sees God working to bring healing out of suffering, peace (Shalom) from violence, love and grace from hatred and terror. And let’s be clear – while Isaiah is speaking specifically to the people and rulers of his own time, he is also speaking to us. We need to read these texts as a contemporary commentary on us, on our society, and on our priorities. Let’s start with a few verses before the passage that is our reading for today. In chapter 1, the prophet speaks:
Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire…
And daughter Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a shelter in a cucumber field, like a besieged city… Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts…
They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them.
Does this sound familiar? It should – cities burned with fire (like Benghazi perhaps); helpless people abandoned in a besieged city (like in Aleppo in Syria?); political leaders and others running after gifts and bribes and power and authority, while leaving the poor and needy and children to starve. This is the word of the prophet spoken to us! Especially those of us who claim to follow Jesus and those of us who are comfortable. We have a responsibility. God is calling you to be a worker in the Kingdom.
And so, before our eyes the prophet Isaiah places an image today, so that you and I might also SEE the word of the Lord. And the image for this opening proclamation is a plow.
… and 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 anymore.
Why a plow? A plow is used for tilling the field so that crops can be planted and people can be fed. What the prophet sees in this vision of the Kingdom is the replacement of violence with peace and the eradication of hunger. But, this isn’t practical, right? It will never happen. It is a dream! No – it is a promise – it is the vision of the Kingdom of God that is proclaimed by the ancient prophets and also proclaimed by none other than our Lord Jesus. And it will come to be in time. But in the meantime, during this time of already but not yet, it is for us a promise and also, for us a calling.
The plow then is a symbol of the promise of the Kingdom come, where hunger and violence will be no more, where greed will not determine policy and where fear will not be used as a tool of manipulation; but it is also a symbol of our calling – of your calling and my calling as Christians to be Kingdom workers, doing everything we can to eliminate violence, to eradicate hunger, to turn our backs on greed and to stand up to fear.
For, in the words of St. Paul: … The night is far gone, the day is at hand, put off therefore the works of darkness and put on the whole armor of light … put on Jesus Christ… Be workers of the Kingdom, working to bring the vision of the plow, working to being Peace, Shalom and plenty to this world that God loves so much that God has established the Kingdom right here, in our midst.