At the back end of last month King Charles appeared on The Repair Shop. His appearance had been filmed to mark the BBC’s 100th anniversary and, I guess, filming had taken place before the Queen’s death in September. The King’s cameo saw him welcome Jay, Steve, Will and Kirsten to Dumfries House in Scotland to view the articles to be repaired before a return visit to The Barn to see how the team had got on. I do realise that you have to be a certain age to know what I’m talking about but, for those who don’t know the programme The Repair Shop shows us incredibly talented craftsmen and women ‘fixing stuff’ – and if you are at all good with your hands then a career in restoration may well be the thing for you.
Before the King handed over his priceless (but broken) antiques to the team to fix, he showed Jay Blades around the grounds of the House.…for there, King Charles has created a centre that trains people in traditional crafts: woodworking, thatching, building conservation and the like. You can do an apprenticeship at Dumfries House apparently. But it was one of the crafts that stuck in mind and gives us a connection into our bible reading this morning: smithing…or ‘black smithing’. Years ago, many years ago, most communities had a blacksmith who would shoe horses and make tools. Two things are essential to the art: a forge (a fire needed to melt the metal) …and an anvil. And the smith that the king met, when asked to describe what his job entails said what? ‘We get stuff hot…and then we hit it!’
My guess is that there is more to being a smith than getting stuff hot and then hitting it. But the thing is – being a smith is hard work. It takes effort. Bending, shaping metal is hard work.
‘They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks’ said the reading. Peace making takes work. It requires determination and commitment.
The prophet Isaiah dreamt of a time when there would be peace. Peace, not just for himself and his country but for everyone and for every country. As we come to this Remembrance Sunday where in the world do your thoughts take you? The BBC is seeking to capture the stories of that generation who fought in the 2nd World War before the 80th anniversary of that war’s end comes round. But there will be people here who have served in the Forces in later wars and conflicts or who remember others who have done so: in Aden, or Korea, during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, in the Falklands or the Gulf Wars, peace keeping in the former Yugoslavia and in Afghanistan. The ‘total wars’ (engulfing whole populations) that we now see on our televisions in Ukraine or hear about in the Horn of Africa are, thankfully, at one remove from us but conflicts abroad involving our soldiers have impacted us: they have left parents grieving children, children mourning parents and any number of young men and women living with lifechanging injuries.
In Isaiah’s time warfare would invariably be followed by famine (as crops were destroyed and seeds left unplanted) – so, when nations lifted up their swords against there neighbours there would be few winners. We see that today as we witness and experience the global effects that the Russia/Ukraine conflict has wrought. So what is needed for peace? What is needed for people to be able to pursue peace – to do the hard work of setting aside their weapons? In our bible reading it is clear that there can be no peace without justice: ‘no justice, no peace’ – (a modern call) but with ancient roots for the two always hang together in the scriptures. Isaiah looked to a time when ‘He (God) would judge between the nations and arbitrate for many peoples.’ Till that time we need people of integrity to make judgements that will uphold our highest ideals: the right to life, the freedom of individuals and nations, the defence of the weak. Whilst there is a strong and honourable tradition within the Christian faith of pacifism, a Christian commitment to ‘the defence of the weak against the violence of the strong’ sometimes asks the highest sacrifice to be paid by those who wear uniform, those who support them (families and communities) and the countries they represent. It is that sacrifice that we honour today here in church and at the war memorial in the grounds of the Bowes Museum.
But, as we honour those who have fought for justice and peace on our behalf how can we commit ourselves to peace making, what does this day require of us? Isaiah’s answer requires us to learn. Words to do with learning appear three times in this clutch of verses. ‘Come, let us go up to the house of the Lord…that he may teach us His ways and walk in his paths.’ ‘Out of Zion shall go forth ‘instruction’. ‘Neither shall they learn war anymore’. Isaiah’s dream envisages individuals and nations recognising a need to learn a new way. As a person of faith, the prophet imagines that only God can offer this ‘new way’ of being – and, looking at the prevalence of warfare down the years, maybe that is true. Maybe there is something within the human condition that tends towards distrust of the stranger, that struggles to control anger, jealousy, greed or a lust for power? Jesus seemed to recognise this when he said that it was ‘out of the heart that evil intentions come.’ If we are to find peace then we must start with a good look at ourselves and change our ways.
We can learn…but no one learns anything unless they want to do so. Good habits are as easy to learn as bad ones but the human condition sometimes seems to have given the bad ones a head start. The whole world, at the moment, lacks peace, is ill at ease and seems ‘broken’. The way to peace starts in the transformation of our hearts, it spreads through our families and communities, only then can it can change the culture of a nation and reach out into the world. So what can you do?
‘Think globally, act locally.’ We cannot be peacemakers unless we are at peace within ourselves and in our closest relationships….and people of faith would add at peace with God. Within our families we need to learn how to attend to one another, ensuring through our love that the next generation grows in an environment of honesty and trust. Perhaps one of the greatest contributions we can make to world peace is to nurture, within our country, families and relationships that are healthy and respectful. Most mums and dads have the power do this – those that do not need support and help – we all benefit.
What else might we do? We might learn to speak and act carefully…to ‘take a breath’ before sounding off because someone has triggered that ‘fight or flight’ reflex in our brains that makes us lash out unthinkingly. To listen attentively and carefully to one another. It sounds naive: but it is hard to do. It can also be learned. What we say. How we say it. Who we say it to…these things rupture families, destroy communities and divide nations: you know it as well as I. Our national discourse at the moment is desperately poor. As we enter a period of huge strain nationally where are the people who can bridge divides, find solutions, overcome divisions? How we speak within our homes…on social media… in our politics matters. We don’t need algorithms to divide us – we need to learn how to come together again because we’ve almost lost the ability to speak to one another.
But at heart we must want to change. Later in this service we come to a part headed ‘Responding in hope and commitment’. Hope means looking forward, believing that something is possible. Isaiah had hope. Those whom we honour this morning, who put their lives on the line for others, believed that there was a future worth fighting for. Commitment means work. It means being ‘all in’, no holding back. Is that us? Really? What will you do today in this community to make the world a better place… or (turning that round) what will you stop doing that might make the world a better place?
Beating swords into ploughshares may be hard work but apprenticeships are free.
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