Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 9, 2007

2007.12.09 “The Peaceable Kingdom”

CENTRAL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

“The Peaceable Kingdom”

December 9th, 2007

 The 2nd Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 11: 1 – 10

Pastor David L. Haley

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.”

– Isaiah 11: 1 – 10, The New Revised Standard Version

     Did you hear what St. Paul said, a short while ago, in today’s reading from his Letter to the Romans? “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.”

      Anybody here today in need of a little hope?

      There are days when the headlines makes me almost ill, so tragic are they.  Like this week when they said such things as:

Gunman kills 9 at Omaha Mall

Suicide bomber kills 22 north of Baghdad

Local Soldier Killed in Iraq

      I go through cycles. I quit TV news, I can’t stand the way they do it, in their 30 second sound bites.  And why do they always pick the least knowledgeable people on the scene to comment, rather than people who actually know something?  It was bad enough to work disasters, fires and crashes, I didn’t need to go home and watch them (handled poorly) on TV.

      And then, 9/11 happened.  I wouldn’t even have known about it, if my mother hadn’t called me and told me to turn on the TV.  (I’ll tell you that whole story another day.)

      After that day, and since, I became an internet news junkie, scanning about 8 newspapers a day, looking for signs of hope.

      I rarely find any.  Newspapers are not the place to look for hope. I confess lately I’ve been considering abandoning the news again, and go back to reading the Bible in Greek and Hebrew, because, in our sacred Scriptures, not in the newspapers, that’s where we find hope. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

      The season of Advent, particularly, provides us with a wealth of Scriptures to give us hope, some of our very favorites.

Consider this morning’s.  There’s Paul, writing to us about the encouragement of the Scriptures, and even more importantly, invoking “the God of hope:”

In the Gospel, we welcome back that dour old prophet, John the Baptizer, appearing in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance and preparing the way of the Lord. At first, he doesn’t sound too hopeful, but then, as he says, he’s only preparing the way for the One who is coming, and we know who that is.

But my favorite Scripture today is that of Isaiah the prophet:

“The wolf shall live with the lamb,

the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them. . . .

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD

as the waters cover the sea.”

Isaiah is a Hebrew prophet who preached in the 8th century before Christ.  So influential were Isaiah’s writings to the early Christian understanding of Christ, that Isaiah is sometimes called the Fifth Gospel (though written 700 years before.)

Isaiah has gotten me into trouble for years. Because every time I preach Isaiah, people (who don’t know Isaiah) think I’m preaching politics. 

Isaiah preached politics. Not partisan politics, but social justice. He said that the way we live — not only as individuals, but as a nation — and specifically the way we treat the poor, and the oppressed, and the marginalized, makes God angry.  Conversely, when we live in justice and righteousness, not only is God pleased, but the world is beneficially affected.

Previously, in chapter 10, Isaiah has had the gall to say that because of Israel’s (actually Judah’s) idolatry and injustice, judgment was coming upon them, in the form of the Assyrian army.  Not a very patriotic message.

And so they came, conquering and devastating the nation.

       You can imagine Isaiah walking that battlefield, where the soldiers of his nation were overwhelmed, where his countrymen, his friends, were killed or captured. There are no buildings left standing. There are not even any trees left standing, only ugly stumps.  As Isaiah walks, there are tears in his eyes. He is thinking about God’s promises and the tragic reality he sees before him.  And then His eyes fall on a stump — incredibly, a green shoot springs forth.  

      Isaiah hurries home and writes, 700 years before the Birth:

             A shoot shall come from the stump of Jesse,

             and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

             The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,

             the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

             the spirit of counsel and might,

             the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

             His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

             He shall not judge by what his eyes see,

             or decide by what his ears hear;

             but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,

             and decide with justice for the meek . . .

             Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,

             and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

      And from his work all creation will be transformed:

“The wolf shall live with the lamb,

the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them. . . .

      This vision of peace and tranquility so captivated the nineteenth-century American Quaker artist Edward Hicks (1780-1849) that he painted the scene — The Peaceable Kingdom — over 100 times.  It is a vision of God’s creation restored: the unlikely scenario of a wolf resting beside a lamb, a leopard lying down with a kid, a calf and a lion together, an infant plays over the den of a poisonous snake.

      What’s funny, and often not noticed in Hick’s paintings, are that in the background he includes Quaker William Penn’s 1682 treaty with the Delaware Indians, the introduction of Quakerism, implying that the kingdom of God — through Quakerism — has come in Pennsylvania.  Those of us who’ve been to Pennsylvania — especially Philadelphia — know it hasn’t, not quite. 

Woody Allen, may have been closer to the truth — not only about Pennsylvania, but the world the rest of us live in — when he commented about Isaiah’s vision: “The lamb and the wolf shall lie down together, but the lamb won’t get any sleep.”

But I think Edward Hicks, and Isaiah before him — got it right:  when an individual decides to be peace, to live in justice and righteousness, it spreads beyond them like ripples in a lake, and when enough people do it, it affects society, the world order, the biosphere, and even the environment in which we live.

      In this season of Advent, of course we read these beautiful texts with our minds on Jesus, as the One who was promised and longed for, the One who was so full of power and yet brought peace.

      In the next few weeks, many of us will retrieve from storage and reassemble, a nativity scene.  It may be a family treasure, passed down over generations.  As we assemble and place the manger in our homes, we also place it in our hearts.

It is a vision of God’s kingdom on earth.  It happens in the unlikeliest of places: in Bethlehem, the city of King David, whose father was Jesse.  It is a story we know and love, of a poor young woman and her husband, traveling a long distance; a story about the man and woman having to stay overnight in a stable and their baby being born there.  The sheep and cows and lambs are all there — and around the edges of the scene — in our imagination at least, are the lion and the leopard and the wolf:  the whole creation, at least for one blessed moment, at peace. 

“Shalom,” says Walter Brueggemann, “is creation time, when all God’s creation eases up on hostility and destruction and finds another way of relating.”   Peace.

Another way of relating?  Do we dare hope that might even be possible?  It’s become “normal” to hear the death toll in Iraq, to run a gauntlet of perplexing security measures to board a plane, to listen carefully for the latest toxic toy, so normal that we forget who we are, as children of God promised better.

      Lovett Weems is a United Methodist theologian who was recently asked to comment on the 2007 State-of-the-United Methodist Church Report, which he did to the Council of Bishops at Lake Junaluska, N.C. Weems described us United Methodists as “evangelical liberals”: we are evangelical, believing that the communication of the Gospel is the most important task we can undertake, but we are evangelicals in a liberal tradition, believing that it is possible to combine tolerance with decisiveness, and open-mindedness with Christian conviction.” Weems goes on to say that, as evangelical liberals, just perhaps this is the hour when we United Methodists are called to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ by eliminating the evils of war, poverty, and racism from our society.

      Meanwhile, in a world in which this is not yet the case, at Advent and Christmas, the Scriptures — and Isaiah’s picture of peace — give us hope.

      As you will come to learn — starting today — one of my favorite preachers — Rev. John Buchanan — practices 12 miles south of here, at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.  Every year during Advent, one of the very best choral groups in the country — Chanticleer — presents their annual Christmas concert in Fourth Pres’s Gothic sanctuary.  This year it was a week ago Thursday, and with our new proximity, Michele and I finally got to go.   A few years ago, John Buchanan had this to say about it:

      “One evening last week, at the end of a stressful day — a day that began by reading the newspaper account of more violence in the Middle East and the loss of American Marines in Afghanistan, one of those days when whatever can go wrong does — I had been intending all day to get back to the Isaiah passage and that tender green shoot.  But I had to go to a Christmas concert. A group by the name of Chanticleer was singing here, in the sanctuary, ordinarily an absolute delight, but at that moment, simply another obligation to be fulfilled, another reason to keep me from what I needed to be doing.

             The lights went down in the sanctuary and they sang:

“Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,

from tender stem hath sprung,

of Jesse’s lineage coming,

by faithful prophets sung.

It came a floweret bright

amid the cold of winter

when half spent was the night.”

      “And for a blessed moment,” said Buchanan, “the peace of God came — the reality and power and hope of God’s peace.” [Rev. John Buchanan, The Peace of God, sermon preached at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, December 9th, 2001]

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope.   Amen.

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