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Homeland Insecurity

A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on December 5, 2010.

Isaiah 2:1-5

Soon after the Attack on America on September 11, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security was established. Their motto depicts their purpose, “Prepare. Plan. Stay Informed.”

One way they keep us informed of risks and dangers to our security is through the Color-coded Threat Level System. I’m sure you are familiar with the five colors used to communicate the likelihood of a terrorist attack: Green (low), Blue (guarded), Yellow (elevated), Orange (high) and Red (severe). By the way, I checked today’s level prior to coming into the service. It is yellow.

I wonder what color it would have been when Isaiah was engaged in his prophetic ministry in Jerusalem, a little over 700 years before the time of Christ. This was, after all, a period of great prosperity, but at the same time, there was no shortage of violence and bloodshed.

It seems that nations and neighbors resolved most of their disputes by fighting, which actually resolved nothing. The losers, or their descendants, lived to fight another day…and another. I suspect they only needed one color in their warning system, red. The threat of violence was always severe.

Perhaps this was why Isaiah wrote this text. It was his “I Have a Dream” speech. Like all good poets, he let his heart speak by describing a world where people would lay down their weapons of war and turn them into tools of service. Instead of learning how to fight, Isaiah longed for a day when people would learn how to resolve conflict through peaceful negotiations.

According to today’s text, this would only happen with God’s help, which He was eager to provide. Isaiah was certain God would teach all who approached Him with a humble heart and open mind how to live in peace and be peacemakers.

This must have weighed heavily upon Isaiah’s heart and his disciples because they wrote about it frequently. Peace is a dominant theme in this book and each time a new king was crowned, the writers prayed, above all else, he would be a peacemaker. They never envisioned a world that would be free of tension or conflicting interests, but rather a world in which leaders and all people would resolve their conflicts without bloodshed.

Does your heart yearn for this, too? Like Isaiah, do you long for peace between nations and neighbors?

Where would you most like to have peace in your life now? Is it at home, in your marriage, with your children, with your neighbors, at school or where you work?

What toll is the absence of peace taking on you? We all know the toll war takes on those caught in the crossfire. Survivors struggle for years to overcome poverty, hunger, disease and misery.

What are you struggling to overcome in your personal life because of escalating conflict? What is turmoil doing to your health, nerves, ability to work and your relationships?

Where do you need to go to learn to resolve conflict? Isaiah encouraged his readers to go to the temple where they could seek God’s will through the study of the Torah and prayer. In dialogue with others, they would learn how to respond to conflict and stress in healthy and productive ways. They would discover what causes it and how to keep it from spinning out of control.

Where do you need to go to manage conflict? Church? A counselor? A wise friend or mentor? What keeps you from going? Will you push those excuses aside and go this week?

What would you share with someone who approached you? I’ll tell you what I have told those who have come to me.

Peace doesn’t occur merely because someone wants it. People don’t drift into peace. Someone must take the initiative and lead the peacemaking process.

There is a difference between peace lovers and peacemakers. Who doesn’t love peace? With the exception of extremists, all people do. However, there are not many who labor to achieve it because it is hard, tiring, and at times, dangerous work.

Peacemakers must be resilient and steadfast. Peacemakers will always encounter resistance from those who do not share their hopes and dreams. Those who oppose your efforts will question your motives and hurl personal attacks at you. Only those who are committed at the highest level to peacemaking will persevere.

Peacemakers must examine their own hearts before they try to reconcile differences between others. The work of peace begins with character development. You must model what your heart desires, which means you must be a person of integrity, compassion and humility.

This was what was lacking among the leaders of Isaiah’s time and he revealed it. Even though they meticulously planned worship, it had little impact upon the way they lived and related to others.

Many of the leaders were corrupt and addicted to power, possessions, pleasures and attention. Their hearts had grown cold and they were insensitive to the needs of those who were suffering. They did not focus their attention upon addressing those needs, but satisfying their own insatiable desires, which led them to oppress the poor and powerless even more.

Isaiah boldly exposed their hypocrisy and named their sins. He called upon them to repent and change their ways, but not before he had examined his own heart and sought God’s will for his life.

“Come now, let us reason together,” Isaiah wrote. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” Isaiah 1:18. I have a feeling Isaiah was speaking from personal experience, as all peacemakers must.  

Is this where you need to begin today? Do you need to examine your heart and confess your sins? Do you need to seek forgiveness for what you are doing to create conflict, foster confusion or stifle the pursuit of peace?

Do you need to ask God for wisdom, courage and strength to be a peacemaker? Is it time for you to take the initiative and the lead?

Do you need to ask for God’s help to go talk to someone about learning how to resolve conflict? Is it time for you to get another perspective?

Is it time for you to turn swords into plowshares? I can think of no finer Christmas gift you could give someone.

While I was visiting my daughter and son-in-law Thanksgiving weekend, I witnessed a remarkable exchange between their twins, Jack and Kate. By the way, they turned three years old yesterday.

Kate did something to hurt Jack and he was upset. Of course, this is her mission in life right now, so she seemed quite pleased.

I have no idea what she did, but was overwhelmed by Jack’s response. He looked at her and said, “Kate, we need to have a conversation!” He sat in the floor with his legs crossed and waited for her to sit down in front of him, which she did.

“Kate, you hurt me,” he said. “Why did you hurt me?” he asked.

She said nothing. He repeated it and this time he added, “And you owe me an apology!”

After about thirty seconds of silence, Kate apologized and they got up and went their separate ways.

I went straight to Amy and told her what I experienced. “Dad, it doesn’t happen that way every time,” she informed me, “but they are learning to resolve their differences without always fighting.”

What a world this would be if this became contagious. Maybe Isaiah’s dream would become reality.

Do you need to have a conversation with someone this week and do your part to make it happen?