Isaiah 11:1-10 December 8, 2019
Listening for the Word and Responding to the Word
In the Hebrew Bible, prophets perform two roles – they interpret the current circumstances and they provide a vision for the future. We find in the book of Isaiah two contrasting worlds – the world as it is and world as it will be or can be. In the preceeding chapters, Isaiah graphically paints a picture of what he has seen – of despair and destruction, of violence and trampling on the poor, of unfaithfulness and bribery – Israel as it is in wake of the Babylonian conquest and exile 2600 years ago. The political, social and economic situation of the people of Israel is in total disarray.
(Kate Huey): Into this setting, just when things appear hopeless and the future looks bleak, the prophet utters a most amazing promise, that God will send a king, from the great and glorious line of Jesse and of David, who will rule with wisdom, with justice toward all and with mercy toward the most vulnerable in society. Isaiah paints a picture of the world when the little ones, the defenseless ones, the innocent ones are protected and cared for.
Isaiah urges the people to remember who they are as the people of God, reminding them that their power, their life, comes from goodness, not from greed.
As you listen to word this morning, what do you see?
Isaiah 11:1-10 – 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.
HERE ENDS THE READING — THANKS BE GOD.
*Hymn 108: “Isaiah the Prophet has Written of Old” NCH
This Isaiah text is full of amazing images.
What did you see as Silvia read? Did you see a peaceful world?
There are so many things to see, that I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps most familiar and favored is seeing the “peaceable kingdom’ – “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;” Woody Allen once gave his own interpretation of this vision: “The wolf shall lie down with the lamb. But the lamb won’t get much sleep!”
When I see this text, one of the things that I see is that STUMP. The stump of Jesse. A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Sort of like the stump sitting here in front of the communion table. The stump is dead. You know, God had said it would be so. Just before the chapter from Isaiah that Silvia read, God declares punishment on the people: “the tallest trees will be cut down and the lofty will be brought low.” The trees, the people — both will be clean cut off.
And yet and yet, our God is a God of surprising reversals, a God of promise and of hope. In the next breath, another word comes from the very same prophet: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse . . .”
How can we see this word of promise? Because we have to be able to see the promise to live into the promise. Do you have seemingly lifeless stumps sitting right in the middle of your life? Stumps that you trip over every single day?
Stumps that sit as reminders of life’s failures? Losses? Unmet expectations?
Do you have stumps that are sitting right in the middle of your life?
What would it mean to you if God were drawing new life from that stump?
A hopeful shoot? Can you see it? Can you see the promise?
As often happens to me when researching a sermon, I got fascinated by a single image in this text – in this case, the image of stumps and new shoots. Through research, I learned about “coppicing”. From an article in Smithsonian magazine: “Even if you’ve never been to a Christmas tree farm, you can probably call up a mental picture: a field of shapely evergreens growing in orderly, well-spaced rows. That image wouldn’t be far off for most of the 15,000 or so Christmas tree farms in the U.S., but it’s not at all what you’d see at Pieropan Christmas Tree Farm (in Ashfield, Mass). Customers who walk the maze of paths through Pieropan’s hillside balsam grove won’t see a single row of trees. In fact, it might take a good 10 minutes of hiking before they spy a tree with the classic skirted triangle shape—and when they do, they’ll realize that it’s a few feet off the ground, growing off a stump. Pieorpan Farm’s trees are grown using a land management technique called stump culture, or coppicing—cutting down trees to allow new shoots to form from the stump. Most conventional Christmas tree farms require intensive land management with fertilizers and insecticides, and after a tree is cut down, its stump must be dug out and a new tree replanted. By contrast, Pieropan’s owner, Emmet Van Driesche, doesn’t fertilize, spray or irrigate his trees, most of which were planted decades ago. A single stump can support an older tree and a younger tree at the same time, thereby increasing production. Different plant and tree species commingle with the evergreens, and insects and other animals are more than welcome. “It’s a very rich ecosystem—that’s a big part of its value,” Van Driesche says.”
Coppicing is in fact a sustainable form of agriculture that has been used for thousands of years. And I love the final description by the author visiting this Christmas Tree Farm . . . . “you will experience the magic of wandering through a grove of tangled evergreens to find the tree that calls out to you, sprouting from a stump like a Phoenix reborn.”
How much more so our lives? Our lives do not unfold in neat orderly rows of well managed moments, of well spaced occurances. Rather, our lives are a tangle of pathways and encounters, a maze of experiences and relationships, an ecosystem of new and old growth mingling together. So too, out of the stumps in our lives can come forth stubborn shoots of unexpected joy, new branches of imperfect beauty, drawing from the deep roots of our life experiences – both the successes and the failures – and the deep roots of our faith in God’s promises.
I love this image of the new shoots from old stumps!
However, too often, we decide too soon where things can’t grow. “Surely not there!” we say the stump is too dead! Surely that is what the people of Israel thought in the years of exile after the Babylonian conquest. The stump is too dead, God has abandoned us. Who could imagine anything growing as they sat on the stump of utter despair? I’ve sat there myself, perhaps you have, too. You may be there now — at that place where hope is cut off, where loss and despair have deadened your heart.
But that isn’t the whole story . . . . but . . .into that Despair, Isaiah the prophet paints the word of hope, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse…”
Preacher Barbara Lunblad writes: “God’s Advent word comes to sit with us. A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse… fragile yet tenacious and stubborn. It would grow like a plant out of dry ground. It would push back the stone from the rock-hard tomb.”
God’s promise will grow in the hearts of men and women cut down by sorrow until one morning they can look up again. God’s promise will grow in the hearts of people told over and over again that they are nothing, that their stumps will produce no life. Yet, the plant will grow. It will break through rocks, it will come forth from the stumps, a new shoot from the imperfections of our very human lives, calling out like a phoenix reborn.
Lunblad again: “What if we believe this fragile sign is God’s beginning? Perhaps then we will tend the seedling in our hearts, the place where faith longs to break through the hardness of our disbelief. Do not wait for the tree to be full grown. God comes to us in this Advent time and invites us to move beyond counting the rings of the past. We may still want to sit on the stump for a while, and God will sit with us. But God will also keep nudging us: “Look! Look — there on the stump. Do you see that green shoot growing?”
Do you see the word of hope? Do you see the world at peace? Do you see God’s promise in your life? In our lives? How can we see this word of promise? We have to be able to see the promise to live into the promise.
Do you see the light in the darkness? The new shoot from the old stump?
May it be so,
Come let us walk in the light of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Barbara LundbladJoe R. Engle Professor Emeritus of Preaching
Union Theological SeminaryNew York, NY
-UCC Sermon Seeds
Article on Coppicing: from the .smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/coppice-farming-grows-christmas-trees-keep-giving
Anthem: “How Lovely Are the Messengers”