Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 4, 2016

2016.12.04 “Peace, Elusive Peace” – Isaiah 11: 1 – 10

Central United Methodist Church
Peace, Elusive Peace
Pastor David L. Haley
Isaiah 11: 1 – 10
The 4th Sunday of Extended Advent
December 4th, 2016

peaceablekingdom

Hicks, Edward, 1780-1849 “Peaceable Kingdom”

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

Question: In a season supposed to be about peace, why is it so hard to actually experience peace at this time of year? Why is peace so elusive?

I wonder if your experience is like mine: never do I feel more conflicted between the multiple layers of my life than this time of year.

For example, the conflict between my “inside” life and our “outside” life. With an upcoming Charge Conference and Christ- mas services (during which time my family will be visiting), I feel an urgent need to stay home and prepare. On the other hand – as we know – during this time of year there are lots of “outside” activities to attend – concerts and parties and holiday events for all members of the family – such that as I attend to this “outside” life, I get more and more panicked. Your list of responsibilities and activities will be different than mine, but do you find yourself wondering how we will ever get everything done that needs to get done over the next three weeks?

Not to mention, of course, no small concern over the future of our country, the future of the United Methodist Church, and the future of Central United Methodist Church. Other than that, no worries! As the prophet Jeremiah once said, “’Peace, peace,’ they say, ‘when there is no peace.’” (Jeremiah 6:14)

Which is why – in this season we call Advent – one of the things I love most about coming to church is that we hear some of the most wonderful Scriptures in the Bible, about what God is doing in the world, including the promise of peace. In a world that is anything but peaceful, in a society disintegrating day-by-day, how wonderful to hear these ancient but eternal promises, like the promises we hear today from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

Not much is known about this ancient Hebrew prophet, who wrote in the 8th century before Christ. According to Isaiah 6, it’s likely he was a priest who worked in the temple, for it was there he was called to God’s service. Yet – whatever his job – so inspiring were his writings, that we are still reading Isaiah with awe 2,700 years later. Though written 700 years before Jesus, Isaiah’s description of God’s Anointed One were so essential to the Christian understanding of Jesus, that Isaiah is sometimes called the Fifth Gospel.

In his own time, Isaiah meddled in kingdoms; in short, he preached politics. Not partisan politics, but public morality and social justice. Isaiah said the way we live — not only as individuals, but as nations — can please God, sorrow God, or make God angry. When he said this, Isaiah was not addressing abortion or same sex marriage, the hot buttons of today, but the way we treat the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized, issues that today go begging. Conversely, when we live together in justice and righteousness, not only is God pleased, but everyone and everything and all creation is affected, such that – in metaphorical language – swords are beaten into plowshares, the wolf and the lamb shall lie down together, and deserts shall blossom and rejoice, the blind shall see and the deaf shall hear and the lame shall walk.

What could have inspired Isaiah to make such fantastic pronouncements? Consider this: previously, in chapter 10, Isaiah had predicted that because of Israel’s idolatry and injustice, judgment was coming, in the form of the Assyrian army. And the Assyrians did come, conquering and devastating the nation.

Imagine Isaiah walking the battlefield, where the soldiers of his nation were overwhelmed, where his countrymen and friends, were killed or captured. There are no buildings left standing. There are no trees left standing, only stumps. As Isaiah walks, there are tears in his eyes. He thinks about God’s promises and the tragic reality he sees before him. And then His eyes fall on a stump, where – 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.
By the actions of this Anointed One, even nature would 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. . . .

Closer to our own time, 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. I ask myself, “Why 100 times?” Was he trying to get it right? Was he trying to convince himself it could happen? Did he think that if he only painted it enough, it would become reality?

Most of us would agree, in reality, Woody Allen may have been closer to the truth when he said of Isaiah’s vision: “The lamb and the wolf shall lie down together, but the lamb won’t get any sleep.”

But I think Isaiah and Edward Hicks, got it right: when a person decides to live in peace, to be peace – no matter how difficult it is – it spreads in its influence like ripples in a lake. When enough people do it, it affects communities, societies, the world order, the environment, even Planet Earth, on which we live.

In this season of Advent, when we read these inspiring texts, of course we Christians think of Jesus. We believe he was the One Isaiah promised and longed for, the One who – though born of poor parents in poverty – was the Prince of Peace, who demonstrated peace in the way he lived, whose gift to us is peace.

So if Isaiah’s idyllic scene is too much for us, consider this. In the next few weeks, most of us will retrieve from storage and reassemble a nativity scene. It may even be a family treasure, passed down over generations. As we assemble and place this manger scene in our homes, we also hold 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 that story we know and love, about a poor young woman and her husband, traveling a long distance; a story about a man and a woman – immigrants and refugees – having to stay overnight in a stable, with their baby born there. The sheep and cows and lambs are all there — and around the edges of the scene — at least in our imagination – are also 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.” Another way of relating? We could use that right now.

I wish all of you could have been at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve service this year, to have heard Eileen Hogan Heineman. As I said when I introduced her, when someone’s mission arises out of their life, you know they are someone you should listen to. Eileen, who is the anti-racism program manager at the Evanston/North Shore YWCA, grew up in the Mt. Greenwood area, on the south side of Chicago, a neighborhood still in the news for its racial tension. What Eileen said to all of us there that evening – including the Mayor and the Village Trustees and Police Chief – was this: How we view the world, including our politics and religion, flow out of our stories. Right now, too many people are locked into their own stories, not willing to listen to or consider how other people’s stories have shaped their view of the world differently. What Eileen said we all need to do, which she said she has had to learn to do – is to take the time to listen to other people’s stories. “What is your story?” “How is it that you have come to view the world or this issue in this way?” When we do this, we relate to each other differently, and we live in peace.

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

Next Wednesday, in one of our essential “outside” holiday activities, Michele and I are going to hear the men’s vocal ensemble Chanticleer, at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. We are going primarily because we love their music; but my desire to include Chanticleer as part of my holiday tradition actually began years ago, when I first heard the Rev. John Buchanan, the former pastor of Fourth Presbyterian, tell this story:

“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]

Whether through such traditions as this, whether through the wonderful Scriptures of Advent, or whether through the hearing of other people’s stories, may God’s peace be upon us. May we pass it to others, and to all God’s creation.  Amen.

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