Isaiah 2:1-5 – Hope explored

There are often claims made about religion as being responsible for wars, it is one of the arguments that is often used by those who are opposed to religion and the idea of God.  However, I heard just recently during an interview on ABC radio, and I confess a can’t remember whether it was Radio National or 774, who the interview was with or the date, so no legitimate reference can be provided, and, therefore, please excuse the lack of detail and exact memory.  There it was stated that a very small percentage of wars throughout history could be attributed to religion.

I found myself giving a small cheer for true facts being revealed; which explains why it was so important for me to accurately cite this information.  I recall thinking being surprised at how small the figure actually was and also affirmed in my own arguments that many wars and conflicts attributed to religion had little to do with religion at all.  The connection with religion was simply that those on the opposing sides were from different religions, or even denominations.  For example, the ‘troubles’ in Ireland are not religiously motivated, they are nationalistically motivated; the Irish nationals want the British occupiers out of Northern Ireland.  It just so happens that the Irish nationals are Catholic Christian and the British occupiers are protestant Christian.  The same can be said for the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, often portrayed as a war between Judaism and Islam is, in fact a conflict between nationalistic occupation, Israeli’s who are predominately Jewish and Palestinians who are predominately Islamic.  It is often not mentioned that there are Israeli Muslims and Christian Palestinians as well.

I would even argue that the bloody battles and so-called martyrdoms of the reformation of the Church in Europe could be seen, in their root, as wars concerned more with power and authority than religion itself.  In essence, Protestantism is the rejection of the power and authority of the claims of infallibility of the Pope.  I, for one, give thanks for the present Pope Francis who has doing more for the work of reconciliation between the denominations than any before him.

Why do I mention the motivation for wars throughout history and in our present age?  It seems to me that when we think about the real issue behind war and conflict it enables us to do something.  It provides us with a God inspired hope, a religious hope, if you like, to so something about the problem.  One thing ninety-six percent of the world have in common is the idea of a divine.  Seems a good, common place to start to provide hope for a resolution of war and conflict.

The reading from Isaiah expresses the view that the intention of God for Jewish and, therefore, Judeo-Christian faith is to bring people together in peace.  Isaiah, as a prophet, was speaking to the situation of the people of Israel, continuing to be attacked by invading forces.  In his writing he is clearly expressing his religious understanding of why they were being attacked, a result of their unfaithfulness to God.

I want to point out here that biblical prophecy is not about telling the future, as we hear the word being used in our day.  Biblical prophecy is concerned with talking about what the prophet thinks God is saying about a particular situation.  This kind of prophetic voice is discerning God’s action, and often judgement, in the here and now.

The message of Isaiah is a prophecy that, despite what is going on, God’s plan is for a world that is without violent conflict and war; a world where the weapons of war are converted to make tools to be used for producing food.  Speaking prophetically, Isaiah is reminding the people of Israel of this intention of God and to hope for it.  Isaiah is calling the people of Israel to be a people of hope.

I think there are three kinds of hope expressed in our modern culture.

The first hope is the kind that amounts to little more than a wish – hoping for something we really have no power over.  It is the kind of hope where we hope it will rain, so we do not have to water our lawn, gardens or trees, we can fill our tanks again, hoping for the end of a drought.  The kind of hope for it not to rain on the planned wedding day, or the family Christmas barbeque by the beach.  Although we might be able to implement some contingency plans just in case it turns out differently to what we hope, we have no power over whether it does or doesn’t rain.

The second hope I sometimes witness is that kind of hope we have where we can do something to contribute to what we hope for becoming a reality, but do nothing.  This is the kind of hope where we hope we will live a long and healthy life, but we continue to eat ourselves to obesity and pickle our livers in too much alcohol.  The kind of hope for a church that has more people in it, but we do nothing to connect our faith with those who are out in the world.

The third hope we have is the opposite to the last, where we have a hope for something and we take action toward that hope being fulfilled.  It is the hope for a particular career path, and we choose the subjects we need to study and dedicate ourselves to the study we need to do.  It is the hope that the church will grow in strength and acknowledge that what has been done previously is no longer working and that changes need to be made to present the unchanging gospel message in a different way.

In baptising infants, it is our hope that they will grow in the knowledge and love of God by the guidance and prompting of the Holy Spirit.  But this growth in God does not just happen without any contribution or participation on our part.  In order for our hope for that growth in knowledge and love of God to be fulfilled, and those baptised ongoing participation in the life of a community of faith, we need to act toward that hope becoming a reality.  So the congregation promises to support the parents, supported by godparents, to bear witness as disciples of Jesus and give an example to the hope they have for their children to become.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews defines faith as ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’[1]  Hope and the act of believing are intricately linked.  We can’t yet see what we hope for, but we believe it is meant to be our reality and we work toward that hope being fulfilled.

Whether it is an end to war and conflict, or more generally a hope that the world, our nation, our community, our church, our home, our family, could be a better place, if we believe it can be, then we will be inspired to work toward that for which we hope.  The religion in which we baptise is based on a faith that in and through Jesus, we are encouraged to be a people of hope; a hope for a better world Jesus revealed to us, in what he called the kingdom of God.

[1] Hebrews 11:1

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