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It starts with a stump (the price for a Peaceable Kindom)

Advent 2, Common Lectionary Year A

Isaiah 10:33-11:9

©Rev Dr Elisabeth R. Jones

Scripture and sermon audio files

Where does one even attempt to begin,
let alone land with such a rich text?
Shoots from the stump of Jesse,
a messianic ruler filled with charisms of the Spirit,
the peaceable kingdom
where lion and cow and snake and child play in the dirt together,
and where, to quote esteemed theologian, Woody Allen,
“the wolf shall lie down with the lamb…
but the lamb won’t sleep much.”

You’ve probably already figured out that this year,
I got stumped at the first verse.
“A shoot shall come from the stump of Jesse”
What stump?
Who’s Jesse?
Why did or does this matter?
We started our reading this morning before the lectionary selection
committee wanted us to, with the last verses of chapter 10.
In bold, unmistakable words, Isaiah the poet
becomes Isaiah the prophet of doom!
God punishing the empires and nations
who do not live God’s Dream,
felling them like rotten, diseased trees!
And in among those rotten trees
on the divine chopping block is
that of Israel/Judah, and its long line of
ne’er do well kings who inherited the lineage
of Jesse’s son, David.
They are felled, stumped.
Ouch! It makes us squirm, doesn’t it?
this God wreaking judgmental havoc?
It is true that the prophets of the 8th century,
Isaiah 1, Micah and Amos and Hosea,
all sang from the same choir book:
human failings provoke divine anger,
divine judgment is the pre-payment for any future
restoration of God’s peaceable kindom.
Now before we toss this notion aside,
we need to look in the mirror and realize
that we also, often work from this songsheet;
we who call down divine wrath on tax evaders,
political grifters,
emotional abusers
child molesters.

However, Isaiah’s image of doom is not
the last Biblical Word of God
on the subject of human-wrought rottenness
within God’s creation.
Those who carried on Isaiah’s poetic tradition,
including Jesus of Nazareth,
read or “see” things a little differently.
They see their task,
not as one of wrath and judgmentalism,
but as one of searing truth-telling,
naming the stump, the rottenness, the deadness,
for what it is:
the truth about brokenness,
truth about injustice,
truth about violence against nations,
and against “widows, aliens and orphans,”
truth about racism, sexism, climactic fragility.
Naming this truth,
especially as counter-testimony
to the deniers of that truth,
who are usually the few beneficiaries of the status quo,
is the price we must pay in order to perceive what comes next.

And what does come next?
Ah yes, a shoot, from the stump.
Life from the dead places.

Can it be? Is it possible?
That’s what this Advent season is for,
the chance to really ask that question.
Is it possible for God’s new life to appear
precisely in those places we assume to be dead?

Let’s try, shall we? Try to see how this peaceable kindom
might emerge, like a shoot from the dead places?

I grew up in the industrial Northwest of England.
Not far from where I lived were these slag heaps,
“The three sisters” 30 m / 150 ft high hills
composed of the waste by-product of mining coal.
Dead dirt, where nothing grew. Not a dandelion, not even ragweed.
And yet the mine owners said it was “natural” and that it would recover by itself.
It didn’t.
But twenty years after the colliery closed,
the truth was finally told by an environmental action group,
and a reclamation project was begun,
the slag cleared away, the tail ponds drained,
and after 10 years, look! This is what happened!
So when people laugh away the climate science,
or despair that COP25 in Madrid will fail,
I see differently. A different truth.
“A shoot will come from the stump of Jesse”

Or on an individual level, what might this text say to us?
Where in your life has something seemed so hopelessly dead, stumped?
A relationship that has ended with bitterness
and recrimination?
A grief that hurts so much you think
you’ll never smile or laugh again?
An illness that is robbing mind or body of the will
or capacity to thrive?
Rejection, because of race or gender or age,
chronic unemployment, the struggle with addiction…
But one day, minute like a seedling pushing toward the light,
there is a glimpse of new possibility, a smile, a laugh, a new ease with difference.
“A shoot will come from the stump of Jesse”

And all around us in communities where
we lean in to tell the truth of what is dead and broken,
and long for a different future, see what can emerge:
After generations of denial about our colonial mistreatment
of Canada’s First Nations, can you see the shoots emerging,
in the Truth and Reconciliation work of the past few years,
in the Red Dress project,
in the louder and louder demand
for clean water and adequate housing,
nutrition and education for indigenous communities.
Something new, different, and equitable will emerge.
“A shoot will come from the stump of Jesse”

Martha shared with me her take on this text:
the day following the Quebec Mosque shooting,
when it seemed that hate had once more stumped us,
a vigil just happened at the Dorval mosque,
as people of every religion and none, young and old,
gathered to tell the truth:
hatred has no place in God’s peaceable kindom.
The shoots that have emerged from that tiny act of love in the face of hate… they still grow.

Who knows what shoots may emerge
from the dead places of hurt, hate, or despair,
or callous indifference to the plight of planet or people?

What Isaiah is telling us is unconditional,
not only for this Advent time of attentive anticipation,
but for every time we wonder and wait for God’s
in-breaking.
God will.

Some new life of God will grow in these dead places,
because that is what God does,
it is who God is:
the Creator of life, and beauty from chaos,
the restorer of goodness,
the source of hope,
the crafter of justice and peace.

And the price for this peaceable kindom?
It’s already been paid.
We just have to see the truth of it,
and participate in it.

Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

December 8, 2019

[1] I happily borrowed this quote from Barbara Lundblad, (WP 2013). Her commentary significantly influences the shape of this sermon.

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