Vision of PeacePosted: December 8, 2013
VISION OF PEACE
THE FAMILY CHINA WAS GOING TO GET BROKEN
Isaiah could foresee the undoing of his people. The rich were getting richer, the poor were getting poorer, and the fabric of the nation was beginning to fray. People don’t pull together to defend a nation, where most of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small elite, and the bulk of the population is impoverished.
Israel also lived in a tough neighborhood in between huge empires that wanted to make a date to duke it out with each other on Israel’s soil — Egypt and Assyria, then Egypt and Babylon, then the Greeks and the Persians. When two giants decide to fight it out in your house, some of the family china is going to be broken. Isaiah could see that eventually the Jews would get creamed.
OLIVE TREE SYMBOL OF FAITH AND PEACE
Isaiah, however, did not give into despair. For the prophet also had a vision of peace, and the eventual restoration of the people of Israel. His vision centered on the olive tree, a symbol of faith and peace. Olives have been cultivated in the Mediterranean basin for thousands of years. Olives can be eaten as food. The oil from the olive is valuable for cooking, lighting, medicinal, and religious uses. The wood from the olive tree is hard, beautifully grained, and it is used for furniture and decorative functions.
Olive trees have been a symbol of life and faithfulness. Some olive trees have been known to live well over a thousand years. A few olive trees have attained ages in excess of two-thousand years.
EXTENDING THE OLIVE BRANCH
Olive trees were so valuable God gave a command in Deuteronomy 20:19 that even in time of war the army was forbidden from cutting down olive trees. One reason for protecting olive trees is they require many years to mature before they bear much fruit. A person who planted an olive tree did so intending for her descendants to harvest the fruit. A branch from an olive tree was considered throughout the ancient Mediterranean world to be a symbol of peace. Even today we speak of extending the olive branch.
OLIVE SHOOTS — NETZER
The vision of Isaiah begins with an olive tree that has been cut down a stump of a tree. But not all hope is lost. For olives are very difficult to kill. If they are cut down shoots will come out of the stump and form a new tree. Even if the tree is cut level with the ground, so long as the root system of the tree is intact a shoot will come up from the roots and form a new tree. Thus the ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane probably grew up from the root systems of the trees that were there, when Jesus prayed in the Garden. This shoot that comes up from the root system is called a “netzer.”
JESUS THE NETZOREAN
So why is any of this important? Because when Isaiah wrote: “a branch shall grow out of his roots,” Isaiah was envisioning a netzer. And it just happens that the Roman Catholic Holy Land scholar Bargil Pixner claims that the family of Jews who returned from Babylon in about 100 BCE and settled in Nazareth of Galilee called themselves the netzer, the branch that grows from the root of Jesse. They believed that the Messiah was to come from their clan. And so they were called netzoreans – the ones who grow out of the roots of David. Pixner believes that the name for the Village of Nazareth was derived from the name of the Clan of Netzer. Thus he believes that Jesus was originally known as Jesus the Netzorean or the one who comes out of the root of Jesse. “In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”
NON-VIOLENCE OF JESUS AND THE EARLY CHURCH
So did Isaiah actually foresee the coming of Jesus, or was the whole netzer thing merely a coincidence? We don’t know, however, the church very early on identified our passage from Isaiah with Jesus. What is sad is that too often the church has lost the vision of peace. The early church embraced the non-violent love of Jesus, enduring persecution and forgiving their tormenters, following the example of Jesus who from the cross forgave the people who crucified him.
SLIDE 9: VISION OF PEACE IS INCLUSIVE
Jesus had a vision of peace, when he advised those who would follow him to turn the other cheek. His vision of peace extended to forgiving enemies, and sharing worldly possessions with others, so that everyone might have enough. His vision of peace was inclusive, he reached across the separations of tribe and clan the taboos of ritual cleanliness to eat with tax collectors and sinners. No matter who you were or where you were on life’s journey you were welcome to eat with Jesus. In a world of strict social stratification especially played out at the dinner table, Jesus’ feedings of the multitude were a new vision of a community of peace.
POWER AND CONTROL OVER PEOPLE
Too often the church has sold out Jesus’ vision of the beloved community of peace in its bid for power and control over people. Rather than welcoming all people to the Sharing Table the church after Constantine said you are only welcome if you are willing to affirm the prescribed creedal statement, or conform to prescribed social and sexual behavior, and if you will not submit to the power of the church’s hierarchy we will use the power of the state to imprison you, torture you, if necessary kill you. For most of the history of the church, peace has meant the silencing of women, the silencing of minorities, the silencing of all dissent.
UNITED CHURCH – INCLUSIVE- SHARING- TOLERANT
The United Church of Christ and United Church in particular represents a renewed attempt to embrace the way of Jesus. We are inclusive. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here. We reach out to share with each other and with people in need outside of our community of faith. By practicing radical tolerance we seek to embrace Jesus’ vision of peace.
PRAYING FOR PEACE – NOT ENOUGH
Often we pray for peace. And that reminds me of story about praying for peace. In Jerusalem, a CNN correspondent heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. So she went to check it out. She went to the Wailing Wall and there he was! She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, she approached him for an interview. “I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN. Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall to pray?”
“For 46 years.”
“Forty-six years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”
“I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the hatred to stop and I pray for all our children to grow up in safety and friendship.”
“How do you feel after doing this for 46 years?”
“Like I’m talking to a stupid wall.”
ACTIVE PEACE MAKING
Praying for peace is a beginning, but not nearly enough. If we are to become the community of the vision of peace, we must become active peace makers. And peacemaking in the way of Jesus begins with embracing powerlessness and vulnerability. All recovery programs begin with the admission that we are powerless in relationship to our addictions. Only by submitting our lives to a higher power can we begin to make our lives manageable again. And sometimes the way of peace is taking simple steps like noble laureate Mangari Maathai, who started a peaceful revolution in Kenya by persuading other women to plant trees.
SLIDE 14: NELSON MANDELA
Or consider the now late Nelson Mandela who led a peaceful revolution forgiving the white oppressors and creating a society, where all people could be free. Just so, we cannot create a culture of peace by exercising power over others. We can invite others to join us in the beloved community of peace, but we cannot force anyone to accept the way of love.
COOPERATE RATHER THAN COMPETE
When Eugene Peterson wrote his paraphrase of the Bible, entitled, The Message, he translated the peacemaker scripture in the Beatitudes, Matthew chapter 5 verse 9 this way, “You’re blessed when you teach people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” Lifting the vision of cooperation rather than competition is a radical change for our culture and our economic system. So much latent violence is programmed into the structure of our economy – laying people off, undercutting the competition, stealing intellectual property, driving down wages – all latent forms of violence. Embracing the way of peace can mean becoming counter-cultural. Like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King we are called upon to love those who will hate us. Loving those who would even seek to harm us opens the way for transformation.
Jesus did not say the way of the love is easy. He did not say that sharing with others is practical or will make you rich. He did not say the ruling class will be ready to cooperate rather than compete, he simply held out the vision of shalom. Shalom means hello and goodbye, and shalom is a vision of all things coming together in healing and peace – shalom. We are called to be the people of shalom and in that day, “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”