Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

 “Safe at Home”

Sunday, July 29, 2007

 

 

Micah 4: 1-7

 

Dean Snyder

Rev. Dean Snyder

 

The part of the scripture lesson about beating swords into plowshares is a quote, actually. Quotation marks had not been invented yet, so you couldn’t tell just from reading the text, but the prophet Micah is quoting the prophet Isaiah who had spoken these words first:

 

“…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)

 

It is a vision of peace that emerged during a time of war and violence – Israel was being threatened by the Babylonian empire – when Isaiah was a prophet in Israel.  

 

A century or so later, during the time of Micah, Israel is again being threatened by another imperial power, the Assyrians, who had just conquered Samaria, Israel’s neighbor.

 

In the midst of a time of threat and violence, Micah quotes Isaiah’s century-old vision of peace when people would beat their swords into plowshares.

 

And then, after quoting Isaiah, Micah adds to the vision. He adds a personal element. He quotes Isaiah saying, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn more any more…”

 

Then he adds words that are pure Micah: “But they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” (Micah 4:4)

 

It is my theory that Isaiah was an N and Micah was an S. Isaiah was intuitive. He perceived and thought in beautiful big-picture images and concepts – swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

 

Micah thought in concrete, specific, terms. Real people, real families will be able to sit in their backyards under their own vines and fig trees without having to be afraid.

 

For Micah it isn’t just that nations shall know peace, but that concrete people like you and me, individuals and families, will have peace and not be afraid.

 

I love Micah. We know so little about him. He is considered to be one of the “minor prophets.” He lived roughly 700 years before Christ. We know he came from a small town in the lowland area of Judea, and we know from his writing that he had a passion for social justice. He could be a fierce and cutting critic of injustice and inequality and unfairness within society. He could also speak concretely about the possibility and promise of justice within society and peace throughout the world.

 

It was Micah, who wrote the beautiful words: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) – another example of his S sensing preference, I think. Everyone else has big conceptual theories about how to please God. His is concrete and specific – do justice, lover mercy, walk humbly.

 

I love Micah for his fierce commitment to social justice and the concreteness of his vision, and his confidence, in the midst of all the injustice within society and the violence among the nations, that God was still at work to bring peace.

 

And what I love best is that he took Israel’s global vision of peace and made it concrete and personal and intimate. Not just peace among the nations, but peace in our neighborhoods, peace in our homes.

 

We are thinking about the concept of home this summer, and looking at Scriptures that talk, in one way or another, about home.

 

One reason for this is that the Washington Interfaith Network – WIN – of which we are a member congregation, is working with Mayor Fenty to create 14,000 affordable housing units in Washington over the next four years, including 2,500 units of supportive housing for chronically homeless people. Our WIN team here at Foundry is helping us take the lead in helping Washington develop supportive housing for the most chronic and vulnerable homeless people of our city.


I need to say that I am encouraged and energized by the real possibility that the people I pass on my way to church on Sunday mornings sleeping on our sidewalks and in our parks could have a home. I am encouraged and energized by the possibility that people who have been living in shelter beds for years – year after year – there is a real possibility that they could have stable lives with supportive services.

 

Here’s what I think Micah contributes to our understanding of home.  There is a profound relationship between the condition of our world and the safety and security of our homes. It will be hard for our homes to be places where we don’t need to be afraid unless there is peace and justice in the world.

 

There is something I’d like to say about this, and part of it has to do with politics. Micah knew this but we sometimes forget it. All politics has as its end goal the safety and security and well-being of the home.

 

This is the point Micah is making when he adds to Isaiah’s vision of world peace the concrete picture of people sitting under vine and fig tree “and no one shall make them afraid.”

 

Sometimes one end of the political spectrum in America is portrayed as the group that cares about the home and family values.  No matter what our political affiliation, the end of all politics is the safety and welfare of the home and the household and the family, no matter what shape your household or family may take.

 

The difference, I’d want to suggest, is whether you believe that a home can be a safe and healthy place in the midst of a violent and unjust world. The difference is whether you believe that in a society with great and growing gulfs of inequality between rich and poor, and growing gulfs of inequality between the educational opportunities available to different groups of people, and growing gulfs of inequality in the health care available to different groups of people, the difference is whether you believe it is possible to have an unjust society and a violent world and then have homes where everyone can sit beneath their vine and fig tree “and no one shall make them afraid.”

 

All politics is about safe and secure and healthy homes.  The politics of Micah says that it takes a just and peaceful world to have truly safe and healthy households.

 

There is within our world, especially in out time, I think, an understanding of the home as a refuge, a sanctuary, or what used to be called sometimes a cocoon.

 

There is a sort of image that the world out there can be a violent, harsh, dog-eat-dog, competitive, mean, nitty-gritty place, but that we can then come home to a place of refuge and peace and harmony and security and comfort.

 

It is a dangerous fantasy, I’m afraid.

 

When I was a staff person for the United Methodist Conference here doing congregational development, I used to get called in to help congregations that were in trouble.

 

Many of the churches I visited, when I asked them what their understanding of church was, they would say something like churches should be refuges and sanctuaries from a troubled world where we can come and find peace and feel safe…a place where we can get away from the world’s troubles and problems. Life is hard out there and we want this to be a place of peace.

 

Those congregations were often in trouble for a good reason. They wanted peace without having to do the work of peace-making.  They wanted their churches to be places of escape.

 

Foundry Church got itself in trouble 20 years ago or so, and I have been trying to understand it.  Here is part of what I think happened. Back then there came to be so much of a focus on this being a place where people could feel loved and cared for, safe and accepted, that we worked hard to create a feeling of security and safety and caring, but we did not do the hard work of making sure we were a safe and caring place which requires accountability and limit-setting and boundaries.

 

I think not a dissimilar sort of thing happened in the Catholic Church. There was such a desire for a world in which sexuality was simple and safe and unambiguous that the Catholic Church stopped doing the hard work of helping people understand their sexuality and how to manage it, beginning with some of their own priests. 

 

The idea that our churches – or our homes – can be isolated islands of peace in a violent world is a dangerous fantasy, I’m afraid, which in its extreme manifestation leads to armed camps and compounds.

 

So Micah reminds us that the purpose of our work for peace and justice in the world is so our homes can be safe and that the safety of our homes is dependent upon our commitment to the safety of our world.  

 

The conservatives who talk about family values are not wrong. It is all about safe and healthy households. Micah is right to be concrete and specific. It is all about people.

 

The mistake is to suppose that we can live in a world of inequality and poverty, a world of growing gulfs between groups of people, without there being consequences for our families and homes.

 

We all need places of refuge. We all need places we can retreat to. Our homes are this sometimes. But they are never escapes. They are never fortresses. They are places to find renewal for the work of helping to build a world of peace and justice and learning and enlightenment and hope.  

 

Everyone ought to have a place where they can sit under their vine and fig tree and “no one shall make them afraid.” And whenever we give ourselves to help build a world where no one needs to be afraid, our homes can become safer and healthier and more peaceful.

 

 

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