The end of the summer term...Time for primary school children to take a bag with them to school specially so they can bring home the trophies of the year. Those who are parents will probably remember the trauma of being confronted by a child who is proudly displaying an artefact they've made at school...and realising that you have literally NO idea what it is...Those who are too young to have experienced this from a parental viewpoint may remember the frustration of those
“It's lovely – what is it?” questions...
so....I know I'm taking a risk by asking you tell me what you think this is.
OK – It's a nail. Not one that has ever been used to hold things together – because it was only made last week...and yes, I AM the one who made it & I'm quite proud of it, actually...so there!
But it's also a story
A story that began amid the violence of war, as the Krupps factory in Essen turned out guns and ammunition which was used in anger by the Axis forces against the allies...but was also the target of repeated allied air raids.
A place that, like Coventry, represents the human capacity both to hurt and to be hurt by others...but also, like Coventry, a place that decided not to be defined by the negatives of the past...
I know a tiny bit about Essen now, because last weekend I met the youth group from the Kreuzkirche there.
As CCN partners they had come to Coventry to show us their particular take on the Bible passage we've just heard, for they've embarked on a project they call “metalworking for peace”.
I'd like to believe that the metal they use is recycled from a harsher use – like the trees of life that artists in Mozambique build from decommissioned guns – but actually, that doesn't really matter.
What matters is that these young people have determined that their community shall be known not for its skill in making weapons of war but for its commitment to justice and peace.
And what's more they invite others to join in with the work.
My great grandfather was a blacksmith in Gravesend, Kent at the start of the 20th century...something I only remembered mid way through the process of wielding a hammer as instructed, as the hot metal emerged from the furnace to be shaped into something that could, if I can team up with 2 other people, one day be part of a cross of nails.
I suspect he would not be very proud of his descendent – because I was pretty useless, really.
First I didn't use enough force, then I applied force in the wrong place – though thankfully not to my fingers, nor anyone else's either...
Even with lots of help the process was surprisingly hard work.
Very very noisy
There was no possibility of any stealth transformation taking place.... no secret reshaping...
It was all too easy to get things wrong – specially as the process went on, and we began to shape the metal rod so that it could be snapped off at the right length to match the medieval nails which were our inspiration.
More than once, my embryonic nail had to be returned to the heat of the forge, so that it could be bent back into something close to the right shape again.
Transformation doesn't just happen, even when you have a whole team of people focussed on it.
But finally it was time to fix the shape by plunging it into cold water...with a terrifying hiss....and the metal that had been red hot only moments before was dropped into my waiting palm...
and there it was.
My own illustration of the process that sees swords turned into ploughshares.
But of course, weapons cannot of themselves hurt anyone...
It is people who do that, and in a week of mounting violence in Israel Palestine, in Iraq, and while we wait to hear what really happened to bring down flight MH17 over Ukraine, the dreadful inclination of humanity to wound and destroy seems particularly oppressive.
Wherever we turn, there is fresh evidence that we've learned the lessons of cruelty, hatred and fear that have shaped the course of human history for too many generations.
All those sins for which we ask forgiveness whenever we pray the Litany of Reconciliation...because we STILL carry on allowing them scope in our lives and our world.
As one of the Collects truly says “We have no power of ourselves to help ourselves”
But that's where another work of transformation comes in...a work of transformation that brings hope from despair...a work to which Isaiah looked as he wrote of God's future breaking in to our present.
Because – his words are for us...
They point to something that may not be fully realised in our time...but something which we are part of.
So...here is our invitation.
Let US go up to the mountain of the Lord...so that God may teach US his ways.
Let us allow him to reshape our lives, to turn those habits of fear and hatred into ways of being that are founded on love, grace and gratitude...
It won't be easy...or instantaneous
It wont, I'm afraid, always be comfortable...
"Who may abide the day of his coming...for he is like a refiner's fire"
I don't imagine that, had that metal rod had any feelings, it would have enjoyed the process of being forged...heat, hammer blows, more heat...
Sometimes, that kind of pressure can seem to be our dominant experience of God's power at work in our lives...because, you see, we're not being called to be simply nice kind people...nor even people with a wonderful story of hope to share.
We are being radically reshaped – and that may involve experiences that feel very much like loss.
The route to holiness is demanding, challenging, costly...and at times it may feel as if we're not getting anywhere.
My nail, for all the work I lavished on it, looks dull, crude, incomplete - and nothing like the shiney cross of nails I aspire to...
and I'm a work in progress too, with all the rough edges and unfinished business that implies.
But I'm en route to something better...I AM "in progress" and I'm aiming to be someone quite different one day.
That is the path that we're all invited to walk on, for we are being changed, little by little, so that we can be nothing less than the Body of Christ...signs of His Kingdom, where humanity shall study war no more.