In the reading from the prophet Isaiah this morning, we hear these words which echo across the centuries, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 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 anymore.” Isaiah was speaking about the time when the Messiah would finally arrive and what that would mean for the faithful followers of Yaweh. Last Thursday, we observed Veterans Day in our nation. For those who have served, it has meaning far beyond what those of us who have not served, may imagine. Those who carry the scars of war, whether invisible or visible, live with the reality of their service each day as do their families. Let us pray, O God of mercy and wisdom, we ask for your blessing this day upon us as we gather to be inspired by the words of your prophets, both from the past and in our own time. Help us to envision a day when the world will no longer learn war anymore. Amen.
The prophet Isaiah is a favorite of mine, along with some of the other important prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. What scholars consider First Isaiah contains the words and prophecies of Isaiah, an important 8th-century BCE prophet of Judah, written either by himself or his contemporary followers in Jerusalem. Isaiah was a prophet, priest, and statesman, who lived during the last years of the northern kingdom and during the reigns of four kings of Judah: Uzziah (Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. He was also a contemporary of the other prophets of social justice, including Amos, Hosea, and Micah. Influenced by their prophetic outcries against social injustice, Isaiah contributed thinking that reflected his prophetic mission. To kings, political and economic leaders, and to the people of the land, he issued a message that reminded the people of his day of the teachings dating back nearly five centuries earlier to the period of the judges who had spoken about the holiness of Yahweh, the coming of the Messiah of Yahweh, the judgment of Yahweh, and the necessity of placing one’s own and the nation’s trust in Yahweh rather than in the might of ephemeral movements and nations. From about 742 BCE, when he first experienced his call to become a prophet, to about 687, Isaiah influenced the course of Judah’s history (the southern Israelite kingdom) by his oracles of destruction, judgment, and hope as well as his messages containing both threats and promises. (www. Britanica)
In the passage we heard today, Isaiah is speaking of the coming of the Messiah, what he calls in the ‘latter’ days, when God’s reign of righteousness will be fulfilled and war and conflict will be no more. We often read this passage during the Advent Season as we await the coming of the child Jesus, the prince of Peace. It is an important message for that season and for all seasons, because the toll of war is real in far too many lives throughout the world and in our own nation.
Many of you have likely heard of Travis Mills, a retired US Army Staff Sergeant, whose memoir Tough as they Come about his own journey became a bestseller. In the wake of the serious injuries he sustained in Afghanistan, he found the strength and courage to bring hope and purpose to his fellow veterans, despite having lost a portion of both arms and legs.
It was back on April 10, 2012, while a member of the 82nd Airborne that he was critically injured on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan by an IED (improvised explosive device) while on patrol. He is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who survived his injuries.
As information on the website for his foundation says, “Thanks to his amazing strength, courage, and incredible will to live, in addition to the heroic actions of the men in his unit, the prayers of thousands, and all the healthcare providers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, near Washington D.C., Travis remains on the road to recovery. Every day is a battle, but Travis continues to astound friends and family alike with his progress and with his amazing spirit.”
In September 2013, Travis and his wife Kelsey founded the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit organization, formed to benefit and assist post 9/11 veterans who have been injured in active duty or as a result of their military service. The veteran and their families receive an all-inclusive, all-expenses paid, barrier-free vacation to Maine where they participate in adaptive activities, bond with other veteran families, and enjoy much-needed rest and relaxation in Maine’s great outdoors.
During his long recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Travis became a real mentor and leader to other recalibrated warriors who were also being treated there, earning him the nickname: “Mayor of Building 62.” While working hard during his time of recovery, Travis and his family travelled to Crested Butte, Colorado where he participated in adaptive sports. The trip had a powerful impact on Travis and his family, and they began to imagine offering a program in Maine that would bring recalibrated warriors to their new home state so that these warriors could also continue their recovery and rehabilitation with the support of a community of other fellow veterans.
The Travis Mills Foundation helps to provide what they call recalibrated veterans and their families a variety of programs that help those recovering to overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation. The family chose Maine for many reasons, including the abundance of lakes, wildlife, and fresh air which they believed could provide the much-needed peace and tranquility for veteran families that attend the retreat.
The family has close ties to the state of Maine as Kelsey is originally from Maine. Since Maine has the third highest per capita veteran population in the United States, they felt that Maine was the right fit for the retreat. The retreat center, located near the Belgrade Lakes region, is open to all post 9/11 veterans who have been injured in active duty or as a result of their service to the nation. The veterans and their families are invited to participate in a whole variety of activities which are both adaptive and traditional, including everything from cooking to martial arts, swimming, horseback riding, golfing and much more. (travismillsfoundation.org) Most importantly, the retreat provides a place where they share their own story and connect with others in their common struggles and hopes. Ultimately, it helps bring healing and gives them a reason for living, when so many of their fellow veterans are struggling with incredible obstacles, pain and other barriers.
All of the wars in which the US has been involved over the last century and more have taken place far from our shores. Unless we have family and friends who have been impacted, it is difficult to really understand what that experience is like. We may hear stories; we may read testimonies, but the reality of being in combat or returning seriously injured in mind, body, or spirit, is unknown to most of us.
And, sadly, the suffering is shared by the families as well, including children and spouses, mothers and fathers, and many in the extended circle. Today, we pray for all who have served and we pray for the places of war and conflict in our world at this time in history.
While Isaiah was speaking a long, long time ago, his message is vitally important to us still. When will the day come when the swords will be turned into ploughshares and we will learn war no more?