Beating People up in Asda, and Swords into Ploughshares

Isaiah 2.1-5

This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
In the last days the mountain of the LORD’S temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more. Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.”

They’ve got a new excuse on the trains. London Midland was using it just tonight. “Poor rail conditions”. That’s what they said. “Poor rail conditions”. What, you may ask, does that mean? I asked London Midlands. They took a while to  comment. I thought it might be the same as the “slippy” rails that have brought other parts of the Midlands to a complete standstill. Burton Dasset phoned me, all of a dither, the other day to tell me that East Midlands had “poor rail conditions” when he went into London for a mass sad-in the other day.  East Midlands wouldn’t tell him what they meant, either.

The funny thing is, normally at this time of year they blame “leaves on the line” and we all laugh at them. But this year there’s been no mention of “leaves on the line”. Just “slippy rails” and “poor rail conditions”. What were these exciting new slippy rail conditions? In the end, London Midlands admitted it – it was leaves, all along! Nothing new! Just leaves. New, shiny name though.

As one desperate commuter asked, how can “slippy rails” break the Midlands? Are these people children? Are they goldfish? Every year, every Fall – I prefer the older, now mostly American word, so much nicer than the Latinate “Autumn” – down come the leaves, onto the tracks, forming a mushy sludge, and in this century when we can watch people in Australia eating cockroaches live on TV, you’d think we can do something about it. Yet every year we fail, and the Midlands break and all the commuters get home for tea late.

I’ve been reading about the plans for the High Speed Rail Service, HS2, which have been delivered to councils on the route to read. They’ve got 58 days to read and respond to the plans.  Which is just as well, as it’s quite thick. 28,000 pages thick. Although, to be fair, the technical documents haven’t been issued yet. They’re going to be 33,000 pages thick. The complete set stands 9 feet tall, and weighs getting on for a ton.  To build HS2, they’re going to move 92m tons of earth. 125 miles of cutting, 107 miles of embankment, 40 miles of viaduct and 50 miles of tunnels will be built. 1,180 buildings to be demolished, 9 rivers to be diverted. I thought at first this was just to get the planning document assembled, but it turns out that in fact this is for the railway itself. All to move people from London to Birmingham, 10 minutes faster. And it will take just one windy November day to blow the whole setup back to 1854.

Meanwhile, in ASDA, a marketing stunt copied off the Americans goes wrong. An attempt to kick-start Christmas with a “Black Friday” sale ends up in  riots across the country.

In an Asda store in west Belfast there were claims that heavily pregnant woman had been pushed and shoved and pensioners had been knocked to the ground. A spokesman from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service had confirmed that they were called to the store to attend to a woman with a suspected broken arm.

“It was just a free-for-all. It was frightening,” said one woman who witnessed the scenes at the Westwood Centre. “People were getting trailed to the ground. People were arguing with people. Two of my friends were injured.”

The woman claimed her friend was kicked in the stomach by a shopper trying to take a TV from her. “The other one, who is disabled, was actually kicked to the ground and trampled on and now has a broken arm and is waiting to hear if she is going to need surgery next week,” she said.

Similar reports have emerged from stores in Liverpool and Bristol, with eyewitnesses reporting in the latter store that a man had to be restrained by security guards after becoming annoyed that he could only buy a single TV.  (The Independent)

I say, “went wrong”. I bet somewhere at Asda Towers, somebody in Marketing was figuring that this much publicity was great news for next year’s “Black Friday”. Imagine the publicity shots, last payday in November next year – people lining up outside Asda in the small hours, tooled up with baseball bats and cycling helmets – it’ll be quite the party atmosphere.

What’s wrong with us? What causes normal people – probably quite sensible the rest of the year – to go and kick a disabled person to the ground to get a good sale bargain? We can map the human genome, we can watch a comet crash into the sun. But we can’t control ourselves when there’s a telly going cheap, and we can’t even stop leaves stopping trains. The greater we think we are – the better we are at falling. And even good, middle-of-the-road Anglicans or Lib Dems, who basically think everybody’s got the potential to be nice and Charles Manson was just a misunderstood hippy who needed attention – even they have to stop every now and then and realise that what Francis Spufford calls the HPtFtU is alive, and well, and living in all of us. That we act on a gigantic scale but behave like incompetent children. And not nice children. Those nasty children from that council estate you warn your children to stay well away from. Because if you keep your children away from those children, then they might grow up to be respectable people – local politicians, or Methodist Ministers, or in charge of major banks or…. tell you what, let’s not pursue that line too far, eh? Send them down the estate to play with those kids. It’ll be safer in the long run.

And in the middle of that, in 8th Century BC Judah, as the Kings are running the shop as tyrants – and the country swings from good to bad, from Baal to Jehovah, as the nations around them gather for the next pop, with the Assyrians breathing fire and the Babylonians waiting in the wings, just over the North/Eastern horizon, Isaiah stands up and says – One Day.

  • One Day, the Lord’s Temple will be raised up above everything else.
  • One Day, everyone will see the light.
  • One Day, people will stream to worship God
  • One Day, they’ll all climb up on God’s mountain, to worship him there.
  • One Day, there won’t be fights in Asda over cheap tellies
  • One Day, there won’t be any more leaves on the line.
  • One Day, bureaucrats won’t produce 60,000 pages of documentation about a train line nobody in their right minds would want to build if their folly and pride wasn’t higher than the pile of railway specs.
  • One Day, people won’t need to go to Birmingham.
  • One Day, people won’t even make cheap cracks about Birmingham, like I just did.
  • One Day, things will be good, and human’s won’t mess the place up, and we will have ploughshares not swords – and we’ll have stopped David Cameron beating the ploughshares into rails, for his silly railway scheme.
  • One Day, all things will be well.

One Day.

Today probably isn’t One Day.

But it’s a day.

We can work towards that One Day. We can beat our own swords – the small, personal stabs we give to other people, the anger and the petty hatreds – into tiny ploughshares that break up the stony ground of poor relationships and allow seed to grow. We can look up to the Lord. We can raise him up in our hearts. We can set out to climb that mountain of the Lord – knowing that it will be One Day before we get to the top.

Or, at the very least, we can avoid punching people in Asda. Surely that’s not much to ask?

It’s not One Day. But it is, at least, a day.

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5 thoughts on “Beating People up in Asda, and Swords into Ploughshares

  1. The best Advent sermon I’ve ever heard – if I were preaching I’d ask to ‘borrow’ it, but there isn’t a sermon ‘slot’ in our Service of Light tomorrow! Very thought provoking. Thank you. Maranatha – even so, Lord, come.

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