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The Mountain of Peace Isaiah 2:1-5; James 3:13 – 18

Christ of the Andes
High in the Andes mountains is an enormous statue of Christ known as El Cristo de los Andes (The Christ of the Andes). It sits right on the border dividing Argentina from Chile, and was built to commemorate the resolution of boundary questions that had more than once threatened peaceful relationships between the nations. As long as the statue stands the nations have pledged there will be peace between Argentina and Chile. And so "Christ of the Andes" stands 14,000 feet above sea level, with one hand holding a cross and the other hand held up as though providing a blessing.
Ironically, shortly after the statue was erected as a symbol of mutual peace, controversy and bitterness broke out, as the statue of Christ faced Argentina, and so had its back turned towards Chile. The tension was defused by a Chilean journalist who humorously concluded it was only right that the statue face this way, for "the people of Argentina need more watching over than the Chileans."

Pre-eminent Mountain
In the prophecy of Isaiah to his people in exile he uses the image of the mountain of the Lord. It is a pre-eminent mountain and he paints a picture of all nations making pilgrimage to it seeking wisdom, godliness, justice, and international arbitration. Through it the world finds a basis for peace and prosperity summed up in the powerful image of swords being beaten into ploughshares. It is an apt focus of our thoughts on this Remembrance Sunday.

A scholar of the OT has conjectured that this image of the mountain of the Lord may have a Canaanite conception lurking in the background. The pagans of that time thought there was a mountain abode of the weather god. This myth is transferred to Zion where mysterious contact is made between the heavenly and earthly palaces of God. In other words, Isaiah’s poetic imagery derives from a powerful mythology. So Isaiah seeks to inspire his exiled and suppressed people with a positive vision. Their God is not just a god of weather, but is the Lord of the universe. Although they may be far from Jerusalem, the mountain that gives them hope is Zion where the same God as their ancestor Jacob lives. One day the world will seek peace from Zion’s God.

How do we interpret this prophecy? It would seem to us that an appeal to Zionism only provokes further conflict, as we know only too well from the troubled Middle East where the State of Israel in the modern era is a never-ending problem. We cannot interpret this prophecy literally.

One option is a metaphorical interpretation. Zion symbolises or is a metaphor for that justice, peace and prosperity for which all nations strive. It is not located in a particular place or God but is that ultimate peace for which we all hope. Perhaps the UN, though imperfect, is a practical example of that search for the ideal.

Another option is to interpret it in an eschatological way. Zion stands for heaven. We must believe in and strive for an ideal or ultimate state of affairs where wisdom, peace and prosperity are achieved for all people and creation, but that will only be achieved with the end of the world as we know it and the recreation of the universe. Such peace can never be earthly or this-worldly, it can only be in the world to come.

The Wisdom from Above
A third interpretation may be found in the letter of James. Here he describes the 7 fruits of heavenly wisdom. This is wisdom “from above”, from a high place, as a mountain is a high place. True wisdom is evidenced by how a person lives. James draws a contrast between heavenly and earthly wisdom. The outward effects of heavenly or genuine wisdom are seen in the “harvest of righteousness sown in peace for those who make peace” as he puts it.
James, in contrast to other NT writers does not mention the Holy Spirit. For him true wisdom from above is equivalent to the Spirit of God. They are interchangeable terms. Hence a NT interpretation of Isaiah’s mountain of peace is that true wisdom or the Spirit is that high place whence come justice, peace and prosperity for all people and creation.

Religion the cause of wars
There is a further problem, though. Many make the easy assumption that religion is in fact the cause of war in the first place. Therefore the only thing is to abandon religion. This view is derived from a negative view of religious faith. Actually, faith can be a force for good as well as ill. I concede that current wars in the world do seem to involve religious faith and beliefs. When we look into it there seem to be two types of struggle which have some basis in religion. The first may be termed a universal struggle. The claims of Islam or Christianity to be only valid faith for the world envision that if all turn to the one religion there will be peace. The second may be termed a local struggle. The claims for instance of Sri Lankan Buddhist nationalism or of Sikhs looking for Kalistan – a homeland for the Sikh nation, are that peace can only be secured when a certain people have a nation exclusively to themselves.

Religion is taken seriously by the vast majority of people on this planet. We cannot reject it out of hand. But neither can we accept that one, single religion will be that mountain to which all nations shall stream. Thus all religions must give up any exclusivist claims. What is accurate in Isaiah’s prophecy is that universal justice and disarmament is only realistic when there is agreement on the source of authority – a universal recognition of God and subjection to his judgement. But that cannot be the particular version of God belonging to any one religion.

So, not the rejection of God, but a striving to draw together, to build trust, respect difference, seek greater freedom and to be resolved to deal with injustice. There are many different ways of doing this, but we must start with our own “house of the Lord” – that we seek those fruits of wisdom described by James, those truly spiritual fruits of wisdom which are at the same time truly practical, earthly, about seeking right in this world. The true mountain of peace can only be built out of the very earth we stand on, with our own hands and hearts.

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith