Reflection – Nikki Strandskov
Does anyone else remember the Doubleday Dollar Book Club? In the days before Internet booksellers, it was a way for people who lived far from bookstores to get a constant supply of reading material – in my mother’s case, mainly historical novels. But when you joined, you got four books for your dollar, and two of the ones my parents chose were Bennett Cerf’s Encyclopedia of Modern American Humor and a volume of The Best-Loved Poems of the American People. I dipped into both of these frequently as a child, and parts of the poems stuck with me to this day, so when I looked at today’s Scripture reading, I immediately thought: “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold, And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold” – the first lines of Byron’s poem, The Destruction of Sennacherib, which is based on the passages from Isaiah 36 and 37 that we have just heard, and the rest of the chapter, telling of the threat to Jerusalem by Assyria and its miraculous deliverance.
Well, I’ve got a bone to pick with the Narrative Lectionary people. In the first place, I don’t like readings that pull out verses and put bits and pieces together, and this one is worse than most, since it ends by going back 35 chapters. And secondly – although this part is left out of the lectionary, you can read it for yourselves – the miraculous deliverance didn’t come close to happening. As both Assyrian artifacts and history and the book of II Kings attest, the readon Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, didn’t destroy Jerusalem and scatter its people was that King Hezekiah capitulated and agreed to pay tribute to Assyria. (Sennacherib did, in fact, die by the sword a few years later, and it was wielded by his own son.) So for my money, the reading from Chapter 2 would have sufficed, and been a lot easier to pronounce!
And really, it’s plenty to reflect on, all on its own. It’s about 2700 years since those hopeful words were written, and it seems that every time we take two steps forward toward Isaiah’s goal, we take at least one step back. Like many of you, I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War. I spent a few years in Germany as a child and teenager because my father was stationed there against the threat of Soviet invasion, and I myself served in what was then West Berlin. Yet during that time, a couple of years after Khrushchev’s famous “We will bury you” speech, the Soviet Union gave to the United Nations the sculpture on your bulletin covers, illustrating the prophecy of Isaiah. What rejoicing there was at the fall of the Berlin Wall and later, the dissolution of the Soviet Union – and look where we are now. I fear we are closer to war with Russia than we were during the Cold War.
I don’t know why this is, in terms of underlying causes, but it has made me think more about peace, what it really means, and how we might achieve it. One of the things I like about living in Luck is its sense of peacefulness. Yet outside my little bubble of church and family, there are hungry people, angry people, drug and alcohol problems, and domestic violence. Not so long ago a man was murdered a few blocks away – and the killer was also a victim of the inadequacy of our social and medical services. I think all this breaking of the peace stems from one or another kind of injustice – inequality between rich and poor, inadequate treatment for mental illness and substance abuse, deeply imbedded racism and misogyny in our systems and our culture. Until these are rectified there can be no real peace even in our little community, still less in our cities and the other countries of the world.
Pope Paul VI, fifty years ago, said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. One way we can all show that love in our lives is to work for justice in whatever form we can. Then perhaps Christ’s reign will come on earth, and swords will be beaten into plowshares, munitions factories will make tractors, old military bases can house the homeless, and we shall study war no more.