Stumped (Isaiah 11:1-10)
2010-12-01 by Kim Justice
Today, as I’ve been sitting with Isaiah, I’ve really been grabbed by the images in the chapter 11 passage.
As I was working away this morning, my husband called and mentioned that he and the property guy from the church had cut down my sweet little fig tree, which I know wasn’t producing anything, but it still made me quite sad. The tree, I suppose, was useless, but I guess year after year I hope that the little bit of life in it will be enough to bring something out of it. When I came home this afternoon, sure enough there was a stump. And of course, that made me think of Isaiah’s words about new life coming from a stump. Everything Judah thought it had going for it had been cut down and laid to waste. The royal family tree that everyone was so excited about wasn’t going to do anything spectacular ever again.
Yet, God was not done with the stump. What seemed to be dead in fact became God’s sign of life.
As I work with folks who are certainly not in the prime of their life anymore and who are looking toward their last earthly years, I’m wondering what this image of a stump says to them. Have their been “stumps” in their lives that have turned out to be life-filled? As I work with a congregation whose numbers indicate that we are a dying church, what does the possibility of new life from that which seems to be dying offer to us?
So the stump will be an important image for me as I flesh out this sermon. But there are so many rich images in this passage that it seems like it’s going to be hard figuring out where to take them without bombarding the congregation. Besides that, many of these beautiful images have become rather threadbare with so much use. Of course, it’s beautifully poetic to think of the beast lying down with the gentle having tea, but that’s not an image that will provoke much of anything besides the audience thinking they’ve stumbled into a fairy tale. But what would it look like to push the image a little bit? What groups can we barely imagine ever being on speaking terms, much less living peaceably together? In our church-- it’s the “Red Door” folks and the “Anti Red Door” folks, who have been at odds over the color of the church doors since long before I became pastor. What hope of reconciliation does Isaiah’s vision offer to these groups who can’t seem to see eye to eye? What hope is there in this passage for those who have been the vulnerable ones? And is the good news only for them...or is it also good news for those that have been the powerful? These are some of the questions I’m wrestling with.
And what challenge does Isaiah have for us this week? What, if anything, is our role in this new uptopia in which all created things dwell together peaceably. Do we have any responsibility for or in it?
2010-12-01 by Stephen Schuette
Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
It isn’t going to come about easily, just as birth doesn’t come about easily. But God is still working to bring it about.
Behind each of the texts are factions that are disruptive to wholeness. In Isaiah it’s not just wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, lion and fatling. It’s a nation torn over what to do in a politically tenuous situation. In Romans it’s Hebrew Christians and Gentile Christians suspicious of each other. In Matthew it’s the Pharisees and Sadducees in an odd alliance concerned about John’s new movement.
These texts seem oddly contemporary given our current political climate. And if you’re looking for the realistic connection, well, frankly, I don’t believe there is any.
For these are not texts meant to bolster our patience or confidence in things as they are. Each in their way ask us to step outside of the current situation and act out of a larger reality/calling. So God invites us to be a part of an unfolding creative process that, although it is delayed and obstructed, is nevertheless underway.
So I’m struck by the “creation” images, certainly of a peaceable kingdom, but also of a community that is united in glorifying God in one voice, and a movement that affirms God’s ability to raise up children of Abraham instantly from stones. That creation was accomplished ex nihilo is indicative of the way God’s New Creation also comes. So our planning involves a deep trust in what God is doing.
Not that the new doesn't require a clearing out of the old,...and a clearing out of the "old" within us that perhaps is all-too accommodated to the old creation. We may need to recover hope before anything else will come of it.
Lions, and Lambs, and Advent...Oh My!
2010-11-30 by Kim Justice
Hi there, folks. I’m Kim Justice of Fayetteville, North Carolina. I’m a solo pastor of a very small, very rural congregation. My congregation is mostly retirement age, so I’m always looking at these texts through the lens of what older folks most need to hear at this stage of their life. Because many of them have been farmers, I’m learning to choose illustrations that are nature-based rather than academically based. The congregation is active in our community, but seems to have a fairly local-minded worldview. That’s a little bit about me and the lenses through which I am looking at texts.
So...how ‘bout those texts this week?
Usually, one of the toughest tasks for me during a preach week is decided which of the texts I’m being called to preach. Yet, this week, I’m gravitating so strongly toward the Isaiah 11 passage, that it’s not really much of a choice. I preached from Isaiah last Sunday as well, so in addition to loving the images and promises, right now the continuity is appealing to me.
I love to preach from the prophets, but I admit that these sermons are often harder for me to eek out gracefully than are sermons on other sorts of passages. One of the things that I seem to struggle with is what it means to be a modern day prophet as I think preachers are called to be. I think one of the tasks of being a preacher is to herald the promises of God in as many ways as possible, yet I also realize that if we were as upfront about calling God’s people to faithfulness as were the prophets of old, none of us would have pulpits to herald anything from. One of the things that I’m always trying to hold in my head as I preach from the prophets is the hope that my words will, more than anything else, be an invitation.
This passage in Isaiah seems to be full of lots of possibilities for world-weary folk. At first blush, though, one of the things that I’ll want to explore is what it looks like to wait in joyful expectation for God’s promises when we have been so often disappointed by what we have seen at work in the world. How is it possible to believe these promises when they don’t line up with anything we know?
Something that’s really been on my mind these last weeks is what it is to wait. I don’t wait very well, as is true for most of us. I think I’ll be trying to figure out how to help my congregation wait during this Advent season, and I’m wondering how that might figure into my sermon.
It’s a good thing it’s only Tuesday... this sermon feels like it might need a while to cook.
2010-11-27 by David von Schlichten
Scroll down to read Hwa-Young Chong's poignant theodicial sermon based on the Isaiah-text for the first Sunday in Advent. The sermon draws from the text to address a core existential issue, not with an easy answer, but with hope.
Also, my sermon is available for reading at the Sermon Feedback Cafe, which you can access by going to the Homepage and then clicking on Share It!
Looking forward to Advent, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Hope in God: Isaiah 2:1-5
2010-11-27 by Hwa-Young Chong
Hope in God
I did not know for a long time that my father was once a devoted Christian.
While I was growing up in Korea, I seldom saw him go to a church or heard him talk about faith. It was a little odd, for all his family members were strong Christians. I thought my father was perhaps the black sheep of the family. Then, when I was in college, I happened to run into his old notebook. It was filled with my father’s handwriting of love poems for God and detailed Bible study notes.
I brought the notebook to my father and asked him what had happened to his faith. I heard him talk about God for the first time in my life. He explained that he used to be an active church leader. As a high school student, he led youth trips and taught the Bible. Then when he was 19 years old, the Korean War broke out. During the war, he was injured and lost one of his eyes. He witnessed much suffering of his own, others, and the world. He shared with me how the misery of human condition and the evil of murderous cruelty affected his faith permanently. He said, “I could not understand the almighty God in the midst of the suffering world. I questioned: If God existed, how could our world be so miserable? God and the world cannot co-exist. Either God or the world must be a dream.” I guess he chose to decide that God was a dream because the world was so real to him. Very much like Ivan in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, my father just could not make sense of God in the midst of evil and violence. As my father spoke, I could almost hear the echoes of Ivan’s words of protest atheism: “I refused to accept the world God has created.”
My father still has not recovered his faith, at least the kind of faith he once had -- the praise for the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God. The lost eye does not bother him physically anymore. He is used to living with only one eye. The handicapped condition did not affect his social status. Outwardly, it seems that the injury did not do much damage to him. But the deepest wound was in the unseen—the wound left in his faith.
How does one make sense of God in the midst of evil, suffering, and violence? Before my father, before Ivan, before countless others, Prophet Isaiah probably struggled so deeply with the same question. His conclusion was succinct: God transforms swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. God does not create evil, but enables us to overcome evil.
We begin the new season of Advent this Sunday and realize that Isaiah’ vision of peace gives us hope for our world. Will this vision restore my father’s faith today? Will it answer the questions of theodicy? I am not sure. But I do know that this vision is worth remembering, memorizing, and visualizing.
In this season of waiting and preparing, I hope in God who changes our weapons of destruction into the tools for life.
Prince of Peace UMC, Elk Grove Village, IL
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL
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