“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.

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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.


“Trees Beside the Stream”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1


Jeremiah 17:5-10

Thus says the Lord:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the Lord.
They shall be like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see when relief comes.
They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.

The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse—
who can understand it?
I the Lord test the mind
and search the heart,
to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.


Psalm 1

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.


These two passages, the first from Jeremiah and the second from the Psalms – they are strikingly similar.  They both contrast two different ways of living.  In Jeremiah, the contrast is between those who trust in mortals, in people, and those who trust in the Lord.  Then in Psalms, a contrast is drawn between those who follow the advice of the wicked and those who delight in God’s law.

These two different takes however, seem to be describing a related phenomenon because our actions and inactions reflect what we trust.  If we trust in our own minds, we rely on our own understanding when we make decisions.  If we trust in our own determination, we muscle through life’s obstacles.  If we trust in our parents, we rely on them in times of trouble.


In other words, our actions directly correlate to our trust.


Of course there are times when we rely on those we don’t much trust, but even then, we are choosing to rely on that person or tool because we think that’ll give us the best outcome.  And in that way, we are trusting in that person or tool for the outcome we want.

And in these verses, the authors are questioning WHO and WHAT we run to, when we face life’s challenges and enjoy life’s blessings.


Many of us are intelligent and resourceful.  We have come through storms.  We have found our way when all around us was scary and unclear.  You have sought to make sound decisions.  You have saved up for a rainy day.  You’ve disciplined yourself in order to get where you want to go.  You’ve worked hard and long.  You’ve made sacrifices.  You’ve given your life blood to provide for your family and to make the world a better place.

And it is easy to think we’ve gotten there on our own.

It is easy to forget the gifts of our parents and guardians – who may have taught us how to save and work hard, who may have given us a leg up in the world, who may have shown us what it means to be loved…

It is easy to forget the gifts of our teachers, those who poured themselves out so that we might learn – who may have taught us how to balance a budget, who may have taught us how to read and write, who may have taught us how to solve complex problems…

It is easy to forget the gifts of our friends – who may have taught us how to love one another, even while we disagree; who may have taught us how to work together to accomplish a goal; who may have taught us to laugh and not to take ourselves so seriously…


We stand on the shoulders of so many.

And even for those of us who remember and give thanks for the gifts so many have given us through-out our lives, it is easy to think that these visible gifts along our pathway are all that’s really going on.  It is easy to credit those who have loved and nurtured us with our successes and accomplishments.


But WHO gave us the gifts and talents we are wired with?  Who causes the crops to grow that feed us?  Who waters the earth with rain and warms it by the sun?  Who authors the peace that gives us space to live and grow in the world.  Who is light in a darkened world?


I hope you have met many who partner with God in the world.  I hope you have met those who coax life out of the dry earth.  I hope you have met those who do the hard work of peace-making, sometimes building bridges between people, sometimes drawing boundaries of protection.   I hope you have those in your life who are like the sun – brightening your world with the warm of their love.

But we love because God loved us first.  God IS love, and we learn what love is from God.

We experience true peace, peace that passes understanding, as the Holy Spirit grows the fruit of peace in our lives, as we spend time with and learn from Christ, the Prince of Peace, who claims us as God’s own, bridging the divide of sin between us.

We light up the world when Christ lives in our hearts.  We radiate the love and light of God, when we spend time in God’s presence, delighting in the Lord and remembering God’s mighty works.


In other words, all that we have, comes from God, Maker of all, Love embodied, the Prince of Peace, Light of the World, Bread of Life! 


When we remember that God is the true source of all good things, we find a Rock for every storm, we find our Guiding Light, we find our Mighty Fortress, our Refuge, our Deliverer, our Friend.

And as these scriptures so beautifully illustrate, we become like trees planted by the stream.  We are not anxious in times of drought, for our leaves do not wither.  We have placed our trust in God.  Our trust IS GOD.  And we do not cease to bear fruit.

It is perhaps why some can go through hell on earth and still give thanks, find joy, and grow.  It is perhaps how some have accessed more strength than they ever imagined possible.  It is perhaps how some have lost everything but not lost their faith or their gratitude.  It is perhaps why we are beaten down, despised, afflicted, forsaken,…and yet new life appears, new growth, fruit in the desert…


Wherever you are in your life – be it a time of drought or of plenty – I encourage you to take stock of all who gave of themselves so that you could be and grow.  I encourage you to remember all those you have learned from, even those who’ve taught you painful lessons you might rather have skipped, and even those from whom you’ve learned what NOT to do.

May we remember that every good and perfect gift comes from God, and that insofar as we live and breathe and have ever experienced goodness and joy, we have experienced God’s goodness and love poured out over us.


Therefore, may we place our trust in God.


Trusting God does not necessarily mean ignoring our minds or emotions.  It does not mean we are to be reckless with our lives, our finances, or our resources.

But it does mean that we rely on God.  We place our bets on God.  We remember that what we see is only part of the whole picture, and that the giver of all good things is our Maker and our Friend, who loves us and gives us a future, with hope.

We do our very best.  We use all that God has given us – our minds, our hearts, our talents, our skills, our resources, our time, our energy – but in the end, we don’t place our trust in those things to save us or to provide.

We place our trust in the GIVER of all those good things.

We place our trust in the SOURCE.

We place our trust in GOD.


May we be a people who remember.

May we be a people who place our trust in GOD.