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Mortar Shells and Coffee Makers

March 22nd, 2007


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 plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:3-4)

 coffee maker
Azemeraw Zeleke may not be a miracle-worker, but what he does for a living is about as close as most people ever get to performing miracles. The 54-year-old inventor and repairman keeps his village of Mekele, in Ethiopia, supplied with machines that he builds largely from salvaged parts. No doubt he has resurrected many machines given up for dead, but the almost-miracles he performs are the coffee machines he builds – sophisticated machines able to brew the dozen or so different coffees enjoyed in this part of Ethiopia. Azemaeraw builds them with salvaged parts, like many of his other machines. It’s the source of the parts for the coffee machines that makes them unique. Special, you might even say. Miraculous.

They’re made from empty mortar shells.

“The farmers bring me mortar shells from the old battlefield,” Azemeraw says, referring to the front where Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea fought a war from 1998-2000. The shells are perfect for the tubes that make up the coffee machines, and the bronze from which they’re made doesn’t rust. It takes Azemeraw, his son, and five other workers about a week to turn out a machine, which they can sell for the equivalent of between $1,000 and $1300.

“We take these objects of war and turn them into objects of pleasure,” says Azemeraw’s son Mehany. “Maybe, this is a message for the world.” Before the war, Azemeraw and his family once lived in the Eritrean capital of Asmara – where he repaired coffee machines for Eritreans. The cultures are very similar, and Mehany has a difficult time understanding the reasons for the war, and the hostilities that continue to this day. “Before, we lived hand-in-glove together,” he says. “We are the same people. We worked together, we ate together. One day, we will again live in peace.”

Maybe Azemeraw’s coffee machines are a foretaste of that future peace.

It occurs to me that God’s people ought to be about the same business. It seems to me that we who follow Jesus, who took the world’s hate and conflict and somehow crafted peace from it, ought to be able to do what he did in our own lives and communities. Don’t we have the power, with the Holy Spirit living in us and among us, to create peace? “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus taught, “for they will be called sons of God.” Sons of God, because creating peace is God’s work, and those who do it demonstrate that they share his DNA.

Sometimes, I think, we have too limited a view of what God’s purpose in sending Jesus to the world really was. “It was to forgive sin,” we say, and of course it was. But it was more than that. He came “proclaiming the good news of God,” as Mark puts it – “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15) Jesus came to tell about and demonstrate the rule of God, unrecognized by many, but no less real. He came to invite people to begin to live as citizens of that realm, to recognize God as king in place of the people and things who would rule over them. Isaiah had a glimpse of that kingdom, of peace existing because nations listen to the word of God instead of their own leaders’ agendas. Swords and spears made into farming implements, war made obsolete, conflict between people at an end.

It is into that kingdom that Jesus invited human beings. Not just to enjoy forgiveness, but to live as a part of that kingdom, order our lives by its agenda and priorities. Of course, the old order of things hasn’t ended quite yet. We live in the overlap of ages, and that’s where our mission lies. We follow in Jesus’ path, inviting others to take part in the kingom of God, and demonstrating with our lives what that looks like. And a part of that kingdom, one of its defining characteristics, in fact, is peace.

And so we’re called not just to be evangelists or apologists or prophets, but also peacemakers. A part of residing in this world as a citizen of God’s kingdom is a rejection of humanity’s dependence upon force and power to assert our will and ensure that our individual agendas carry the day. The evidence of that hostility is all around us. But following Jesus means that we will do what he did: take the fallout and the shrapnel of human aggression and hatred, and craft from it tokens of peace.

That sounds like a big project, but it’s really a series of very small ones. I can’t end the war in Iraq, but I can demonstrate a love for others that goes beyond the country of my citizenship. I can’t end long hostilities between tribes, nations, or ethnic groups, but I can forgive those who have hurt me and ask for forgiveness from those whom I’ve hurt. I can’t erase the wounds that human aggression has inflicted on history, but for the future I can teach my son to love peace, and I can show him from the way I treat him and his mother that I love it, too. I can “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” in my church, valuing peace over getting my way or defending a point. I can help to create peace among my neighbors and my co-workers, or at least model it for them.

“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness,” wrote James. I think he was reminding his readers that being a peacemaker has a cumulative effect. It’s a bit like planting seeds: harvest follows sowing, but not immediately. As we plant the seeds of peace in our lives and communities and churches and workplaces, good things are happening. We can’t necessarily see them immediately, but one day the harvest will come. Because we’ve planted, where there was once hate and fear and distrust there will be righteousness.

So let’s begin considering the ways that in our own lives we can follow Azemeraw Zeleke’s example of creating tokens of peace out of the debris of hatred that clutters our world. Let’s pray about the ways in which God is calling us to remind our world that in Jesus Christ, “we are the same people…One day, we will again live in peace.”

THAT is a message for the world.

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