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“And Still Life Emerges”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:7-12
Matthew 3:1-12

 

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.

 

Romans 15:7-12

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;

and again he says,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;

and again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;

and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

 

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”


 

 

I am struck by this image of a branch growing out of the roots of a tree – the stump of the tree of Jesse, scripture says.

I’ll read you this excerpt from the book, “The Hidden Life of Trees,” by Peter Wohlleben.

12'8'19 And Still Life Emerges Insert 112'8'19 And Still Life Emerges Insert 2

It is amazing that a tree felled four to five hundred years earlier would still be alive…at the roots.  As a scientist with understanding of trees, it is even more amazing, because you know that the green color in these roots was only possible by chlorophyll, which this stump could not possibly create, having no leaves.

It became clear to this Arborist that this stump was being fed by neighboring trees…all these many four to five hundred years.

What a mystery!

Understanding how trees are connected by a web of fungi underneath the ground we walk on, is an emerging area of scientific research.  We had no idea before that trees were interconnected.  We had no idea that when we planted a tree in our yards, that we were asking it to survive on its own, without a community, without a support network developed over hundreds and thousands of years in a forest.

 

 

And so we return to this scripture, where we hear of a shoot coming out of the stump of the tree of Jesse, a branch growing from the roots of this stump…

Jesse was the father of David, King David, “a man after God’s own heart,” scripture tells us.  And David’s throne was promised to be forever.  But how could that be?

Over time, Israel falls to the Neo Assyrian empire.  Judah alone remains, the smaller, less densely populated remnant of the Jewish people.  But then there is Babylon, and despite Jeremiah’s warnings, the people are carried away into captivity.  And the temple and the land are laid waste, baron and devoid of life.

 

So far, God’s promise that there will never cease to be a descendant of David on the throne, seems to be a false prophecy.  There is no one on the throne of David.

 

But God calls Zechariah to return to the land and rebuilt the temple.  And after that, the first resettlements of Jews occur to the holy land.

And then there is King Herod, who makes the temple mount bigger and better, and who rebuilds the temple, more glorious and magnificent that it had ever been before.

 

So, Israel seems to have hope again.  But their hope is starting to be placed in the might of architecture.  And their light is dim, with injustice and corruption rampant.

 

How can they be a light to the nations, if they themselves are barely shining? 

 

And this is the Jewish nation into which Jesus is born.

 

Born of a woman who became pregnant by the Spirit of God, out of wed-lock.  Born to a family from the po-dunk town of Nazareth.  Born obscurely, in the shed for animals.  Laid to rest in a feed trough….

This Christ came out of nowhere.  Though a descendant of David, his lineage took turns through the most unholy of places, like the Moabite Naomi and Ruth.  He was, by all worldly means, a nobody of nobodies.

…And yet, no star has shone so brightly, before or since, to mark the birth of this holy child.  And yet, there were those who recognized him and rejoiced greatly in his coming, like Anna and Simeon.   And yet, the wise men of the day traveled from far off places to come and pay him homage.

What mystery!

Indeed, a branch grew from the roots of the stump of Jesse.

 

Though light and hope and justice were dim, GOD was still at work, working all things for good, coming to this world as a little child, that ALL might finally know God’s love.

All along, this promise that David’s throne would have no end – it wasn’t for the sake of Israel alone, it was always for the sake of the whole world.

And despite the many times Israel stumbled and fell…  Despite the times they were defeated and exiled…  Despite the rise and fall of their kings and prophets…  Despite the good and the evil of their religious elite…  God showed up.

 

Even when they had been cut down.  Even when their trunk had rotted away.  Even when all that remained were the roots, even then life emerged.  Even then, hope sprang up.  Even then, God still came, and lived among us.

What joy!  That even when we have made a thorough mess of all God’s good gifts to us, Christ can still redeem.  Christ can still save.  God still makes whole, what has been broken.

 

And so let us come, in our brokenness and incompleteness.

Let us come, with our failures and imperfection.

Let us come, even after death has stolen from us all that was beautiful and good.

 

For our God is not finished with us yet.

And our God can make life spring up, out of death.

Halleluia!!

“From Death to Life, Destruction to Construction”

Psalm 122

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

 

Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!


 

While in Jerusalem this past spring, I was amazed at just how many different people actually do flock to that city.  People of so many different faiths come to seek God. It was truly a melting pot, like none I’ve ever witnessed before.   For all the hyper-militant, negative images of Israel we hear in the news, I found it to be one of the most tolerant places I have ever been.

The streets are narrow.  The traffic is immense.  Many of the residents and visitors are devotedly faithful and diligent in following various religious laws and observances.  Jerusalem and all of Israel has a challenge like few other nations have.  The faith of many of its residents prohibits them from eating various foods, dressing in various clothing, associating with various people, working on various days, and even touching folks of the opposite gender.  How does one make room in such a crowded and diverse city for this faithful difference?

Unlike America where we segregate by neighborhoods and suburbs, churches and schools, in Israel there is truly no space to be had between groups.  They also have various quarters of the city for predominantly Christian, predominantly Armenian, predominantly Muslim and Arabic, and predominantly Orthodox, but these exist shoulder to shoulder.  It is impossible to navigate Jerusalem without rubbing shoulders with all these people – many of whom have very widely differing and fiercely held views and ways of living.

Tolerance is not merely an ideal held.  Tolerance is a routine exercised with every passing day.  At certain times you give up your rights to do something, so others can do it in the way they see fit.  And then they give up their rights at other times for you.  There is an ever-present social and ethnic agility in living in the holy city of Jerusalem.

 

We got to speak with a former general who worked on the wall that divides Israel and Palestine.  All my strongly held, uninformed beliefs melted away, as I listened to how this soul sought to navigate what it meant to secure a country so diverse and so despised in the middle east.

Especially fascinating to me was his story of how they designed technology to sniff out explosives.  Their airport is always on high security, as they are viewed by most of their geographic neighbors as intruders and infidels profaning their holy area.  There is a word for this concept, but it escapes me at present.  Since Israel is on so many people’s black list, they have had develop new technologies and to exercise more vigilance to prevent war and their own genocide.

They needed a way to detect non-metal explosives.  But the best way is using dogs, and dogs are widely seen as unclean and offensive in Arabic culture.  If they have dogs walking the airport or manning the check-in locations, they will cause great offense.  And so they developed technology where they funnel travelers through a maze area and vacuum the air from that maze into a room where the dogs are.  And this works!  They are able to flag non-metal explosives moving through the airport – without creating offense.

 

How many of you would go through that added trouble to trying not to cause offense?

How many of us have developed new systems and technologies, all to minimize offense to a minority group?

Isn’t it more often true that we expect that group to suck it up and understand?

Isn’t it more often true that we expect them to bend to the majority’s or the powerfuls’ preferences?

I don’t think we would have designed such technology in America.  Here I’d been judging Israel for so many years as being intolerant, and it was in Israel that I was seeing tolerance lived out more tangibly than I’d ever seen it before.

 

Now I speak of my own awakening and bits of transformation in Israel, while understanding that there is far more at play there than I could ever see or perceive.  No one side of these entrenched battles is wholly correct.  But I found God putting my ignorance and judgement in check.  And it is a good feeling when our facades and false narratives begin to fall away in the light of truth.

 

I bring up my experience in Israel because in the passage from Isaiah today, we read of a time when all shall flock to Israel.  It will be lifted up truly as a city on a hill, and God will make all things right in light of the truth.  No longer will nation be lifted up against nation.  No longer will swords and guns, bombs and missiles, drones and flaming tires be raised against one another.  But rather, all our weapons of mass destruction will be repurposed into generative, life-sustaining, food-growing tools.

 

What hope.  In a land that has not known peace, there will be peace.

Can you imagine?

 

This passage from the Old Testament speaks of a time when Israel will fulfill its purpose and the Kingdom of God will reign in hearts and minds, families and communities, tribes and nations.  It is a wonderful vision, and what amazed me was how much of this has already begun.

People already stream to the holy land.  People come from far and wide to meet with God and be transformed in Israel and the Old City.  And the vast majority of these people of differing faiths and backgrounds, values and ways of life, somehow have learned a way to live in remarkable harmony, for all their diversity, rubbing of shoulders, and bumping into one another.

This prophecy has already begun coming true in Israel and in pockets all around the globe.

And yet, more than ever, we still cry out to God asking, “How long, O Lord!?!”  We still witness injustice and suffering.  We will watch as nation rises up against nation.

 

And so Isaiah’s words are also for us.

 

There will come a time when nation will no longer rise up against nation.  God will live among us and be our judge.  Swords and missiles, bombs and drones will be destructed to create tools for growing the food that sustains us all.

Can you imagine??

On a hill just outside the Old City of Jerusalem is a monument with the verse Isaiah 2:4 inscribed in Hebrew.  It reads,

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

And just below are old iron weapons of warfare that are being misshapen and made into wheels and plows for tilling the earth.

This is the photo featured above.

 

 

I want to leave you with a song.  It is by an American Jew raised in NY.  Though strictly raised, he rebelled against his upbringing and faith at a young age.  But his journey away also led him back, and his faith matured and became his own.  He sings a song with a vision much like Isaiah’s.

I invite you to look it up and listen, reading the words here.  Let us join together in praying for this day to comewhere we shall no longer make war anymore.

 

One Day
Matisyahu

Sometimes I lay
Under the moon
And thank God I’m breathing
Then I pray
Don’t take me soon
‘Cause I am here for a reason

Sometimes in my tears I drown
But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds
I know some day it’ll all turn around because…

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
One day [6x]

It’s not about
Win or lose
‘Cause we all lose
When they feed on the souls of the innocent
Blood-drenched pavement
Keep on moving though the waters stay raging

In this maze you can lose your way (your way)
It might drive you crazy but don’t let it faze you, no way (no way)

Sometimes in my tears I drown (I drown)
But I never let it get me down (get me down)
So when negativity surrounds (surrounds)
I know some day it’ll all turn around because…

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
One day [6x]

One day this all will change
Treat people the same
Stop with the violence
Down with the hate

One day we’ll all be free
And proud to be
Under the same sun
Singing songs of freedom like
One day [4x]

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
One day [6x]

“The Smallest Light”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 65:17-25
John 20:1-18

 

Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

 

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.


 

This is a wild story.  It’s the kind of story that makes one wonder if the teller of the tale has gotten any sleep, whether or not they’re delirious, whether they’re high, or just how connected they are to reality.  That is why the presence of these other believers at the scene is so critical.  What Mary Magdalene experiences is astonishing.  It is inconceivable.

She goes from the worst kind of grief; …to anger and sadness that Jesus’ body appears to have been removed; …to surprise, disbelief, relief, and joy to find the Teacher speaking with her.  And this is the kind of radical joy that changes everything.  It’s the kind of surprise that reminds you you do not know everything but that there is infinitely more to life than you can perceive.  It’s the kind of wonderment that squarely reminds you that God is God and you are not.

Can you imagine?

 

How many of you have been in mourning?

How many of you are there now?

How many of you have witnessed atrocity?

How many of you have listened to stories that make your heart feel like it will burst?

Who among you has witnessed the deep darkness in human hearts, both in yours and in others’?

 

For everyone who has despaired.

For everyone who has felt fear and isolation.

For everyone who has witnessed loss of life.

For everyone who has seen fear lay waste to what was vibrant.

For everyone who has watched as the innocent suffer.

For everyone who have listened as evil and sin claim the day…

 

This resurrection is for you.

For you.

 

For there is infinitely more to life than we could ever perceive.

And the smallest light will pierce the blackest night.

 

There is more to life, and there is more to death, than we can conceive.

But if we trust the Maker of the stars

…the Author of the love that glimmers in eyes of our beloved ones

…the Creator of the Sun that energizes us by day and soothes us reflecting off the moon at night.

If we trust the Maker of earthworm who breaks down matter to make earth and till the soil

If we trust the One who made the ground that filters our water making it pure again

…the One who makes the land bring forth good food to nourish and sustain…

THIS One makes good things out of the dust.

THIS One summons life after death.

THIS One is ever remaking the world that we destroy.

THIS One is ever reaching out to hearts who have turned away.

THIS One is ever inviting hearts to repay evil with good.

This One is ever working ALL things for good.

 

This One

 

While in Israel, we got to speak with many different people, some famous, some simple and unknown.  One of these folks was an unassuming, quiet gentleman named Yuval Roth.  A Jewish man living in Israel, he lost his brother one day in ’93 when a group of extremists picked him to give him a ride, while posing as Orthodox Jews.  Yuval would never see his brother again.

And after such tragedy and loss, one can imagine a multitude of ways his story could have gone.  But at some point, he was compelled to help his Palestinian neighbor reach medical treatment in Israel.  And this started a movement.  He continued assisting Palestinians in crossing the borders to access life-saving medical treatment.  And others began joining him such that now it consists of thousands of Israeli volunteers who, just last year, provided over 10,000 rides to over 20,000 Palestinian patients, most of them children.

He received a text from one of the Palestinian men he helped.  It read, “You saved me two times.  The first time from cancer.  The second time from extreme hate.”

 

 

Our God is the author of new beginnings, over and over and over again.

Jesus Christ modeled for us a forgiveness beyond anything we’d ever witnessed.

And our God, in Jesus Christ, has shown us just how far God’s love extends.

It is inconceivable, uncontainable….

 

Our God is not just out for the good and the righteous.  Our God came for the lost and those in deepest darkness.

 

So when you are tempted to believe there is no hope

-that evil has destroyed all you love

-that injustice has stolen your future and your joy

-that these dry, dry bones can no longer live…

REMEMBER, that the smallest light pierces the deepest darkness.

Jesus rose from the dead and is alive in you and in me.

God is still working miracles – making goodness from evil, calling life out of death.

And you, dear ones, are shining in the light and love of the Lord.

 

 

Shine on!

Remain steadfast in hope.

Believe.

For this is the GOD we serve!!