From the Archbishop
Prince of peace - Gift of God
Prince of peace - Gift of God
The Most Revd Kay Goldsworthy AO, Archbishop
In Advent our bible readings herald a time of waiting and watching. We began with a reading from Isaiah chapter 2. Parts of it are well known to Christians who have been reading their bible for a while, but it’s also known more widely by people outside the church, especially those who have sought words of comfort and hope of peace in times of terrible conflict.
In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
- Isaiah 2:1-4
These words of scripture written so very long ago speak of a future hope and promise of God’s presence, God’s dwelling. A promise of a new world which we continue to look for when the fullness of God’s reign of peace will be revealed. At the same time, we Christians hear these words speaking of the promise of God’s loving as we know it already, given by our heavenly Father, in the gift to the world of his son Jesus, in whom ‘all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’ (Colossians 1:19-20).
You may already know the story of this promise lived in the ministry and dogged persistence of Bishop Dinis Sengulane, a long-time bishop of Lebombo, in the southern area of Mozambique. Bishop Dinis was consecrated in 1975, and for many of the early years of his ministry led the church in that part of Mozambique through the reality of a country during a civil war which lasted for 15 years. He and the people of the Diocese had to work out how to be God’s church in a climate of suspicion and violence.
Working in collaboration alongside other church leaders they tried to bring those in conflict together. One undertaking was an effort called PPP - Preparing People for Peace – which meant going to every province of the country and asking people, ‘What do you think might jeopardize peace in the future?’ In answer to this question one woman said, ‘Guns,’ going on to tell those who were listening, ‘We have so many guns in our hands. Both sides have been very generous in dishing out guns, so when peace comes are those guns going to be just left alone?’ Bishop Dinis is reported as replying to her, ‘Oh dear. My theological training hasn’t really equipped me to talk about guns, let me talk to the Boss. Can I come back to you tomorrow?’ That night, as he prayed, he read these words from Isaiah chapter 2 and they came to life, ‘They will turn their swords into ploughshares.’
Bishop Dinis’ prayer turned to action and through Preparing People for Peace, church leaders asked people to bring their guns out and hand them over. Then those guns were broken up and exchanged for an instrument of production, a farming tool or something similar. The very weapons which had been used to kill and destroy were used, not to kill or maim or destroy, but rather, were transformed for another purpose, the purpose of aiding in farming, growing food, assisting with animals, making tools to build for community needs or an artwork giving expression to the creativity of people.
I have been challenged by that Isaiah passage to think about the amount of work that would have gone into making a sword or a spear in the time described in Isaiah. The hot, sweaty and hard work of firing, forging, beating, shaping, not once but many times to hone a sharp edge, a well-balanced spear point, or sword edge, in order to make a weapon that was well balanced and easy to us in a time of war, designed to cleave through flesh and bone.
There has also been the challenge of thinking about what it would take to turn a sword into a ploughshare, which while still a blade, is differently configured. Imagine the work that would need to go into changing the purpose of something made for destruction and violence into something designed for the purpose of sustaining life, breaking open the ground for seeds to be planted, doing the hard work of tilling soil, ploughing, planting, harvesting. Hard work, sweaty, gritty work, but with such a different purpose.
As a result of the ministry overseen by Bishop Dinis Sengulane the programme known as Turning Swords into Ploughshares has collected more than a million different items of war equipment turning them into works of art, tools for work and jewellery, and encouraged people in other parts of the world to take up similar projects of peace building.
Meanwhile, in Advent 2022, as the war in Ukraine continues to bring suffering and threat, and as conflicts in so many other places bring despair, we continue to pray to the Lord of all for peace for an end to conflict. As we look to Christmas and the birth of the Prince of Peace, we can all pray that we will be people of peace and take our place, lifting our voices only and ever to announce the hope of God’s promised peace through our words and actions.
We pray that we won’t be people of aggression in our personal relationships, and that we won’t stand by silent while people suffer violence at the hands of others. We pray that we will speak of the hope of peace when we see violence in our communities, or in the actions of those in places of leadership, or in the world.
In the face of all the violence that swirls around near and far, God’s promise of peace is alive within us, so we can speak this hope with confidence and grace.
Even as we see the dark clouds of war and conflict around the world, we know the promise of God’s love and peace, for now and for the future. I hope that this Advent and Christmas you will know the strong hope that comes from receiving God’s love. That real, bone deep, mysterious and wonderful hope that in the gift of God’s own beloved son, Jesus, as human and little as any of us has ever been, is the sure and certain hope for all people, in every circumstance.
May that hope wrapped up in that saving love be transforming for us all this Christmas.