Look What Grew Out of The Stump
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Isaiah 11: 1 – 10. Focus on how some of God’s prophecies have come true and why some have not. Check out Kelly Crandell, Bill Ucker and the choir’s – Christmas Medley.
There are so many things to see in this text that we hardly know where to begin. A shoot growing from the stump of Jesse, the gifts of the spirit, the peaceable kingdom where predators and their prey live side by side. Though Woody Allen’s line comes to mind. “The wolf shall lie with the lamb. But the lamb won’t get much sleep. “
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse.” Really Lord?, because the stump is dead. God said so in the chapter before this: “The tallest trees will be cut down and the lofty will be brought low.” The trees, the people everything will be as a forest that has been clear cut – leaving nothing but stumps behind.
And yet, one chapter later this word of hope comes from the same prophet: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse . . .” How can this be? I watched as the tree guys cut down trees in my front yard years ago and did not see anything growing out of those stumps for years until a season or two had passed and all of sudden a tiny seedling pushed itself out into the daylight from a crack that it had created in the stump. A tender shoot no bigger than my finger had broken through the stump. Unfortunately for that tiny shoot I had the stump taken out, but you get the point. Life was coming out of death.
There was man on my street when I first moved to Flemington that I got to know really well. He lived with his Mom who was always old it seemed. It was the house he was born in and she was in her 90’s and after his 70th birthday she died. And I remember the change in his demeanor. He would walk with his head bowed, his shoulders drooping lower it seemed each day. His whole body seemed to be in mourning – cut off from everyone and everything.
I would say hello whenever I saw him and he’d wave his hand but not say anything back. Until one day when I was coming out to pick up my newspaper and before I could say hello he tipped his hat, “Good morning, Reverend. Going for the paper I see.” He walked over to me, eager to talk. I had no idea what brought about this sudden change. But perhaps for him, it wasn’t sudden at all, but painfully slow. Like a seedling pushing through a stump toward the sunlight. There must have been a reason, yet it appeared to me, a miracle.
This passage from Isaiah has always been one of my favorites. It illustrates many of the deepest hopes I hold, the ones where our world will be filled not with pain and destruction but with righteousness and justice, that day when a little child shall lead us up to that holy mountain because we are ready, finally, to turn in our damaging ways for the way of the Lord.
During Advent, we declare our bold hopes for the world to the world. Go tell it on the mountain, we sing, over the hills and everywhere!” “Let earth receive her King! And these first two verses leave us no reason to hold back on our enthusiasm. We proclaim that Isaiah’s words have been manifest through the Christ child, the branch growing forth from the tree of Jesse.
And those of us who follow this Christ child affirm that yes, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding and the power of the Lord rested upon his shoulders. We affirm that he has judged the poor with righteousness. But then we get to the sixth verse, the parts about the lion and the lambs and the child friendly snakes. And there is a chasm the size of Texas between the beginning verses and this one.
What do we do with this lingering prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled? What kind of time-space gap is lingering in that break from stanza’s one through five and stanza six? Why is the stump of Jesse taking so long to fill the whole world with the knowledge of God?
As I watch our children during the children’s message I get this this powerful feeling washing over me; it is like a flood of hope and sadness at the same time, all of our children so certain that the world ought to be the way that Isaiah describes it in the first five verses and the realization I get from the remaining verses that the world isn’t that way. Because the chasm between what has been prophesized and what is remains so huge to this day.
Here’s the hard thing about this text: the little child has come to us — two thousand years ago and counting — and we have not yet made it to God’s holy mountain. The cows are still grazing in the fields waiting to be processed into cheap beef for our hamburgers. The lamb is still getting shorn to make clothes that will last less than a few seasons. Children don’t come anywhere near a snake’s lair because they don’t play anywhere outside much anymore.
Not to mention righteousness? Justice? We are so drunk on the process of hurting and destroying one another that we can no longer see past the ends of our military-might-political-fight-I-am-always-right noses. Death tolls rise, wars rage on, hunger and sickness strike day after day…and we have lost sight of the mountain altogether.
If the little child has come, and shall lead us, did we simply not follow? Did we miss our chance? Did we get lost along the parade route and never realize the party broke up? Tis the season to dream big dreams and hope big hopes. But the question remains: Why is the earth not yet filled with the knowledge of the Lord?
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse… fragile yet tenacious and stubborn. I’ve seen it grow out of an old tree stump myself. I’ve seen it in the face of an old man who seemed lost to having hope ever again. So the real question is: What if we believed in this fragile sign of God’s beginning even in the midst of our endings? Perhaps we would attend to the seedling rather than having it removed with the old dead stump. Maybe just maybe God is still trying to break through the deadness within our hearts and just maybe God is inviting us to move beyond counting the rings of the past that define what was so we can see what can be.
We may only see the old stump but God will keep nudging us just as God does each Spring with the awareness – Look upon that old dead stump. Do you see the green shoot that has started to grow? What are you going to do to help it reach maturity? Amen