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The word of the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel: In 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. And the people of Israel said: Fantastic. Fabulous, Isaiah; that’s just great. We love this whole mountaintop thing. We are all about the mountaintop. We remember the stories of Moses going up the mountain and bringing down the Ten Commandments, we remember hearing about how the top of the mountain would make his face shine like the sun. We remember how it was on the mountaintop that Elijah defeated the prophets of Ba’al and proved God’s sovereignty and power. We know mountaintops, we know that they are places for temples and shrines, for high place worship, for prayer made powerful by proximity. And we know that mountaintops are made for great, glorious cities, like Jerusalem, built on the heights of Mount Zion, the seat of God’s glory and a light to the world.
So this mountain of the Lord’s house, Isaiah, we’re all for it. It will be the highest of the mountains, good, good…all the nations will come here to gaze upon its heights, excellent. So what’s it for? What are we going to build up there? Another house? A set of booths? An observation deck? A bigger temple? A new city – shinier, more efficient, with a clearer layout and a better infrastructure? Tell us what the plan is for this mountaintop, Isaiah. And count us in, because we’re all for it.
But when Isaiah speaks again, what he says to the people is rather unexpected. For he does not speak of great cities or shrines, he does not speak of fires that come down from heaven and consume the sacrifices offered to the Most High God, he does not speak of lightning and thunder and faces that shine like the sun. Instead, he tells them the somewhat shocking news that on this mountain, in this time and in this place, God is actually planning on building a school. This mountain will house not a temple, but a teacher; not a cloister, but a classroom. People will climb this mountain for school; people will come to the mountain to receive God’s instruction, to learn the word of the Lord. You may know mountaintops, you people of Israel, Isaiah says, but God knows you, and God knows that what you most need right now, in this time and in this place, is to go back to school; what you need is to be taught.
Now it’s hard to know how the people of Israel responded to this invitation. But I’m guessing that they were more interested in worship than homework. I’m guessing that they liked the lightning more than the lectures. I’m guessing this, of course, because they didn’t pay particular attention to Isaiah’s prophecies, and things ended up going rather badly for them – you know, their armies conquered, their city destroyed and their temple burned, and their entire community sent part and not very many parcels off into exile in a foreign land.
But if they had paid attention to Isaiah’s prophecy, if they had been awake enough to hear what he was really saying, they would have realized that this school idea wasn’t so bad after all. Because it was a really easy curriculum. There was only one subject, actually. All they had to study, all they had to learn, was peace. That’s it. One thing. Peace. They were going to learn to beat their swords into farm equipment, bend the tips of their spears in on themselves, and that was it. No more combat, no more war, class dismissed, and school’s out for the Sabbath.
And yet…Isaiah’s people just couldn’t quite do it. They couldn’t get behind the idea of once again becoming students. Maybe they really liked their swords, or maybe they were distracted by the cities and temples they had already planned out in their imaginations. Maybe they thought they already had too many plows and pruning hooks; maybe they were actually pretty good at studying war. So the plans for Isaiah’s Mountaintop Academy were left to languish, and God’s chosen people fell into a future of pain and powerful loss.
But God wasn’t far from finished with these lesson plans. They would come back again, take shape in the form of that great rabbi, our savior Jesus Christ, who sent his followers into the world two by two to heal and to proclaim the kingdom of God…and to teach. And they were to teach only one thing; they were sent to teach peace. But now, not only was there only one course, one topic, now these followers were teaching alongside the world’s leading expert on peace, by the person who wrote the book on peace, by the creator and defender of peace, by Christ himself. And the peace of Christ spread out and about into the world, spawning new students and new teachers, new classrooms in new languages with new faces and in new places.
God is not finished with these lesson plans yet. In fact, it’s because of these lesson plans that we all are here today. St. Andrew’s, you have been called to be a school for peace. Not just a peaceful school, as lovely as that is, not just a peace-filled place, but a church that teaches and practices and celebrates and pushes peace. And not peace as simply the absence of war or violence or abuse, but peace as a present, active, living force – peace as power, as an agent that builds up beauty and community and breaks down dividing walls of hostility, misunderstanding, assumption, and negligence. Today we celebrate the fact – and remind ourselves of the fact – that you and your new rector are called to proclaim peace to those who are far off and those who are near, to speak peace to all who come into this house and to all who have yet to come into this house, to say peace be with you and to mean it, because you know that the kingdom of God has come near you.
I’m sure you all know that Marissa as a great teacher of this peace, and also a faithful and dedicated student of Christ the teacher. And she has been called here because you are already a school for peace. You teach peace through your beautiful weekly worship, where you come together around this altar and proclaim that the Christ who is our peace is risen from the dead and is present in this bread and in this wine. You teach peace through your ministries of healing and reconciliation. You teach peace through your food pantry and the Meriden Soup Kitchen. You teach peace through your fellowship and love for one another and this city. You teach peace through your service to and with the youngest Christians among you. You teach peace through your commitment to serving along with your fellow churches in the diocese to be a sign of unity, of Christ’s presence in the world. And you teach peace through your refusal to be complacent about injustice, persecution, and bigotry in your mission to “continue Christ’s ministry of openly welcoming, nurturing and serving all people.”
You are a school for peace, St. Andrew’s. And there is a great deal more teaching to be done. You know the places in this city, in this church, and in your own hearts that need the powerful instruction that goes forth from God’s mouth. You know that there will always be a need for seventy people sent into the world to say, “Peace be upon you” and to proclaim the teaching of God – and then seventy more, and then seventy more. You know that there are still plenty of dividing walls, still plenty of swords and spears and people who are gonna study war for evermore. But take heart. You are the best teachers in the world. You are ordained, each of you, by the King of Peace. You are certified as teachers of peace by your baptisms. Your teaching is strengthened by the love of each other, by the love of God, made tangible in this bread and this wine. Peace to this house. Peace to this church, to all of you laborers of the harvest. Peace to this holy school. May God bless you as you continue to teach peace to the world.