Lions and Lambs and Roots, Oh My!

Sermon Series: His Name Shall Be Called...

Lions and Lambs and Roots, Oh My!

December 14, 2006 - December 17, 2006

Isaiah 11:1, 6-10; John 15:1-5

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Harry Heintz

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“And the lion will eat straw like the ox.”  A vegetarian lion?  How can this be?  A lion would eat the ox.  I once heard a lion roar.  It was in Nkuru National Park in Kenya.  Most lions have been taken from Nkuru to other Kenyan parks because a lion attacked and killed a national park worker who was walking from one building to another very close to it and many buses filled with school children visit Nkuru.  I was still asleep in bed in the early morning.  There was a sound from outside my room that I didn’t recognize.  An hour later at breakfast the waiters were talking about a lion’s roar.  I asked when they heard it.  It was when I heard it.  There was an excitement all morning as safari guides tried to find that lion for us.  If you’re in a car, even without a top, you’re safe.  The wildlife don’t like the smell of cars.  But you’re never really safe if a lion is around, not if you live in a body of flesh.  “And the lion will eat straw like the ox.”  When lions aren’t stalking warm flesh, they’re sleeping.  You don’t see lions grazing on straw.  How can this be?

 

Isaiah’s images are so thrilling.  These make for great Christmas cards.  I like the image of a great lion with a little lamb cuddling alongside it.  I like Christmas cards that remind us that a little child will lead us.  Our Messiah came to us a wee baby.  The wolf, the lamb, the leopard, the goat, the calf, the lion, and infants and young children living and playing together in perfect harmony.  How can this be?  Ancient peoples looked for that day and that place.  Utopia.  Eden.  Shangri-la.  Heaven.  Some have called this the peaceable kingdom.  We look for that day.  Picture all the natural enemies you can.  Now picture them as friends.  Picture them at peace.  Go ahead, dream great dreams.  The Bible gives us permission.  This God-breathed book is a library of visions, hopes, and dreams.  It begins in a garden of perfection and it ends in a garden-like city of perfection.

 

If God paints such pictures, then we have permission to do so.  Come, dream with me.  I dream of the day when differing skin colors will only mean glorious beauty and variety.  I cringe when in the name of my Lord Jesus people promote racial superiority and ethnic distrust.  I dream of the day when the Israelis and the Palestinians will recognize that they are cousins and can share the land without fences, barriers, or quotas.  I cringe when hateful words and actions dominate that land we call Holy.  I dream of the day when no child will suffer from hunger or die from disease.  I cringe when I realize that most global hunger and epidemic disease could be solved today with just distribution of resources.  I dream of the day when war will be no more.  I cringe when governments believe that might makes right.  I have many dreams and visions.  Will you dream with me?  If you don’t know where to start, try these from Isaiah:

  • “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.  In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:9-10.)

·        “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:6-7.)

  • “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.  They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.  Come, house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.”  (Isaiah 2:4-5.)

Dream with me of the knowledge of the Lord covering the earth.  Dream with me of the peace of Christ extending everywhere.  Dream with me of every child receiving gifts at Christmastime. 

 

Sandwiching this glorious vision of the peace of our Lord’s kingdom is a far stranger image.  If the image of the lion and lamb and all those critters was vivid, the image this image is anything but vivid.  It is of a stump—what’s left of once was a healthy tree.  The tree from which Messiah would come, the line of David, had fallen on hard times.  It had been 600 years since David’s line ruled with royal authority.  The glory was gone.  The great house of David was a pitiful stump.  It was in such bad shape that the prophet skipped the name of David and instead used his father, Jesse, who was never king of anything.  Jesse lived in Bethlehem, a very ordinary and politically insignificant town, whose only fame would come centuries later.  Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth, a mixed marriage.  Ruth was from Moab, a little nation on the other side of the Dead Sea that Israel never much liked.  “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples.”  (Isaiah 11:10a.)  This is incredible.  How can this be? How can the Savior emerge from such unlikely circumstances, from such humble folk?  Who could have staged this and had anyone believe it, except Almighty God?

 

He will stand as a banner for the peoples.  I like banners and flags.  I have some at home that I display at times of the year.  Banners draw our eyes to them.  They can rally a nation.  They can lift our eyes.  They can give us pride in accomplishment.  They can mobilize people into action.  They can lead a parade.  They can speak a thousand words without voice.  “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.”  (Isaiah 11:10.)  In that day Jesus will bring God’s greatest dreams into our reality.  The peoples of the earth will rally around him and find rest in his presence.

 

Jesus, the root of Jesse, reminds us where the dream power is and how we touch it.  It’s another tree image.  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me, as I also remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:1-5.)   The life of the tree is not in the branches, but in the vine connected to the underground root system.  Our dream power, our vision potential, is not in our own imaginations—that’s mere daydreaming—but in living relationship with the Lord, the greatest dreamer of all.

 

Have you noticed how God used dreams and angels in the birth of Jesus?  Everyone God used in that story was shaken and frightened.  No one could possibly have felt it more than young Mary.  So what did she do?  She spoke up.  “How can this be?” she asked the angel.  He answered, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”  (Luke 1:37, NRSV.)  The Bible translation we are now using gives his answer a different feel: “For no word from God will ever fail.”  (TNIV.)  Whatever messy situation we’re in, we need to hear this word: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Our place is not to generate what we can’t possibly do, but with Mary to ask God, “How can this be?”, and then receive and believe his word.  “For no word from God will ever fail.” 

 

Our hope is pinned on a dead tree shaped into a cross.  Dag Hammarskjold, the late Secretary General of the United Nations, wrote in his journal on Christmas Eve 1960, “The manger is situated on Golgotha (the hill of the cross), and the cross has already been raised in Bethlehem.”  Our hope is pinned on a cross, a dead tree.  Our hope is found in a stump, in a root, in a vine, on a cross fashioned of dead branches.  Our Hope is in the one who was lifted on a cross and raised the banner that is drawing all peoples to rally around him.  “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. . . . In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.”  (Isaiah 11:1, 10.)  Our hope is in Jesus, right from the stump and root of Jesse.

To contact Harry Heintz about this sermon, please email or write to: Brunswick Presbyterian Church, 42 White Church Lane, Troy, NY 12180