Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
I don’t know if it is the news media; I don’t know if it’s social media; I don’t know if it is this presidential election; I don’t know if it is reality; heck, it might just be my depressive personality – but here lately, it just seems as if the world is in crisis.
The US is involved with the longest war in our nation’s history. We are faced with a gigantic humanitarian crisis with refugees fleeing places like Syria. Many countries are trying to close their boarders and not grant people a safe space. In our own county each week we seem to hear of some violent shooting. Our own community is still grieving over the shooting we experienced just last week.
If you listen to political campaigns, this whole image of living in a world in crisis seems even more immediate. Donald Trump insists that immigrants are ruining America and bringing danger to our streets, and that a Clinton presidency would ruin this nation. If you listen to the Clinton campaign you will get the idea that all Trump supporters are racist and that a Trump presidency will ruin this nation.
And then I think about the conversations I have with so many people. And one common theme I always hear, is that everyone is busy. At first busyness just doesn’t seem like a big deal or a crisis. But in the rush of life, busyness is draining. Because people busy, we don’t sit down for together as a family. Because of busyness people make unhealthy choices with family, with food, with alcohol.
One Columnist writes, almost poetically about this busyness: This disease of being “busy” … is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave. (Omid Safi http://www.onbeing.org/blog/the-disease-of-being-busy/7023)
In the midst of all this crisis talk and busyness, it sometimes feels as there is just no hope. This morning I feel a little fatigued from all of this crisis. I feel a little fatigued from all of this busyness.
And so, I want to share with you a scripture passage that is usually read in Advent, the season that leads up to Christmas. A season that we will begin in just a few short weeks. This passage was written by this prophet named Isaiah. Prophets were people in ancient Israel who spoke for God, so Isaiah is speaking for God. One thing you have to understand about the work of Isaiah is that he is active at a time when his world was in crisis. Internally, you had severe social injustice, there was a huge gap between the poor and the wealthy and those who were poor were neglected by those in power. Additionally, people were forgetting about their devotion to God. But this crisis was not just internal.
Prior to Isaiah coming on the scene, Israel had experienced prosperity and stability. But now the Assyrian empire was gaining in strength and was threatening the very existence of Israel. Assyria was basically from regions in the middle east that form the modern nations of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. And this was a great power that was beating on the boarders of Israel, threatening to destroy. In fact in, 738, Israel was taken over by the Assyrian empire.
I mentioned that it seems as if we live in a world in crisis; this world in which Isaiah lived was a world in crisis. It was during this time of crisis that he spoke. This is what he said Isaiah ch 11:
A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;
a branch will sprout[a] from his roots.
2 The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of planning and strength,
a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
3 He will delight in fearing the Lord.
He won’t judge by appearances,
nor decide by hearsay.
4 He will judge the needy with righteousness,
and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
He will strike the violent[b] with the rod of his mouth;
by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be the belt around his hips,
and faithfulness the belt around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
the calf and the young lion will feed[c] together,
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow and the bear will graze.
Their young will lie down together,
and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
8 A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;
toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.
9 They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord,
just as the water covers the sea.
10 On that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a signal to the peoples. The nations will seek him out, and his dwelling will be glorious.
Here we see a message of hope. And it is a very interesting message. Here we see that hope can come from something that seems completely dead. We read that a branch will sprout up from the stump of Jesse. I’ve got plenty of stumps around my yard. If anyone here wants to come grind them you are more than welcome, Hope will be pleased. From all these stumps, I’ve never had a sprout come up. Now yes, there are sprouts that come up around the stump of other things, but nothing comes from the sump of my dead trees.
In this scripture passage we see a vision of an alternate reality. We see a vision of a reality in which there is equity amongst people. We see a vision where the needy are taken care of. We see a vision where wickedness is no more. Even more, we see that this vision has implications for all of creation. We see a vision where the predator no longer preys on the weaker animal. We see a vision where children are safe from evils of this world. We see a vision of hope for a better, for a just, for a holy future.
But what does that mean for us? Just look at our to-do lists; the busyness of each new day. I know somedays even my busyness has busyness. Just read the news and see the rumblings war and terror that permeate all corners of the globe. Read the news and listen to voices, and see that economic inequality is on the rise. It’s harder for ordinary people get along, to just even get by in life.
Then there are those internal things that we all know, like depression. And even if you don’t personally know depression, depression is well acquainted with someone you know. And steals their joy; it steals their life.
In the cold, in the dark, in the loneliness, in the stress, in the anxiety, where can there even be hope?
But yet, our scripture passage claims that death is not final, that a sprig, that new life will emerge from what was dead.
When I think about this image I think about how a few of summers ago Hope and I spend a lot of money trying to fix up our front yard. We went to the nursery and bought several bushes, some hostas, flowers, and other pretty things to give our house “curb appeal.” One hosta in particular was supposed to be great. So I bought it and planted it and waited for it to grow. But it didn’t grow. By the end of the season fell over, death overcame this plant that had so much promise.
So I figured next year, I’d have to buy another one. But then spring came, and the first plant to shoot from the ground was that dead hosta. No way, I thought. I’m telling you it was dead. At first I knew it was some weed, but then it grew. And sure enough—the hosta grew and it had new life. Now, with this summer’s drought this comeback may come to an end as all plants just dying. Everyone’s lawn seems be to a nice crispy shade of brown.
This miraculous comeback of my hosta, is nowhere near what we are talking about in this scripture. After all, we can assume that my hosta really wasn’t dead—it looked dead, but I guess it wasn’t. In our scripture passage, we are talked about from the ashes, from death, from hopeless, coming new life and hope.
According to Isaiah, the transformation from fear and hopelessness to a world of peace and newness begins with a stump. Out something that appears finished, lifeless, and left behind, comes the sign of new life.
If nothing else, our scripture passage allows us to imagine a world that is different from ours. If nothing, else Isaiah allows us to imagine a world of peace, and love, and harmony, and justice. We may not live in it yet, but we can imagine a time when no one stresses over whether she will be able to feed her children tomorrow. We can imagine a time when no minimum wage worker worries whether he will have to miss his daughter’s graduation or their next meal. We can imagine a world where refugees don’t need to welcomed by anybody because everywhere is at peace and everywhere is welcoming. We can imagine.
This newness that comes from crisis, death, despair is the messiah. When the apostle Paul later reads and interprets Isaiah, he sees this passage pointing to Jesus. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he gives us his thoughts on this passage from Isaiah. When Paul reads list passage for Christians, for the church, he is reading that Jesus is the one who come from the stump of Jesse, it is Jesus who is the ultimate Hope. It is Jesus who offers this new way of living to all of creation. It is in Jesus that the God of hope fills us with hope for a new future.
Paul is writing to tell us that we need to have in mind a perspective that looks beyond present circumstance to God’s ultimate hope for the world. To use theological terms, this is to have an eschatological perspective on life. In order to be who we are called to be now (in the present) we need to live with a constant realization a constant hope of God’s promised and assured future of newness.
It is the job of the church. If you consider Jesus to be Lord, it is your job to live with a hope of God’s promised future. This new future is not something we can create. Humans have trying to create God future. Though we can’t create it, God invites us, the church, to be a part of it. God is beckoning the church to a new future, one that is made possible by God. For us that means that we need to live with hope for renewal. That means that when we think something dead or lost or over or fruitless, we have hope that out of the dust, out of a lifeless stump comes new life and new possibilities.
Now, I want us to do something that people of faith can do and have done for generations. I want us to pause and pray. Our world may be appear to be in crisis, our world might actually be in crisis, but in God shows us that we can have hope. Right now I want us to pray for that hope. I want us to pray for our world, for our community, for all the busyness in people’s lives. Let us pray for this promised, better future.
Lead in a time of guided prayer.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.
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