Praying for Peace

Isaiah 11:1-10
2nd Sunday of Advent
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Lord of light, draw us into the Light of your truth. Share with us your vision of peace that we may by your Spirit’s power, be transformed.

(Singing) I’m praying for a peace-ful world, NOT like the world I used to know. Where the palm trees glisten and children listen to hear… oceans of love flow. I’m praying for a peace-ful world with every sermon that I write. May God’s grace lead us into Light. And may Christ make all our darkness bright.

I’m praying for peace because this world is full of hostility – at school there’s bullying and disrespect. In the workplace, there’s backstabbing and verbal abuse. On the highways, there’s road rage and distraction. In politics, polarization takes the place of dialogue. In the church, there’s division instead of unity. On the web, people say whatever they want, all bars are down. Remember the teenager who killed herself because of a Facebook dispute. This is not a peace-filled world. We gobble one another up. It is a dog-eat-dog world.

Oh, we may have greater awareness of the diversity of people around the globe. We are more understanding of different religions, different lifestyles, and differing sexual orientations. In some parts of the world , we are more attuned to gender equality. But we still live in a world racked by the exertion of power in place of love, by the need to control rather than to share. We live in a world which increasingly lacks civility. People are angry and out of control.

The recession has not helped attitudes. Joblessness in our country is at a seven month high. 15.1 million people are unemployed. And house prices are in a fresh decline. The total number of houses in foreclosure is over 2 million with another 2 million more than 90 days delinquent. But our country’s problems are small compared to others. How would you like to be a Congolese woman near the border, near the UN, but still not safe from the attack of multiple male warriors?

Violence in Afghanistan is at an all-time high, four times higher than in 2007, says the Pentagon in a report last month. In Haiti health officials now estimate that 650,000 people could become infected with Cholera over the next six months. Tensions are mounting in South and North Korea, not to mention the Ivory Coast. In countries where millions of people have no food, health care, or education, an obscene amount of money is spend on the purchase of armaments. Might does not make right. Why do we keep fighting? Why is this such a dog-eat-dog world.

Isaiah lived in a world, where little people were being chewed up too. The Assyrians had taken captive most of the northern kingdom and turned the southern kingdom into a vassal state. The family tree of King was withering. It was like an dying tree, which needed pruning. Whack, whack. That’s what the last verses of chapter 9 say. The tallest trees will be cut down. The majestic forest will be taken down, clear-cut. And here’s the surprise, Isaiah sees it as God’s doing, not circumstantial. Isaiah sees this pruning as good. Perhaps with his help, we can see the pruning of our own nation as good. Maybe we can see the decline of our personal wealth and power, our growing humility as good too. Because God can do great things with a stump. Hear the good news about being whacked back.

Isaiah 11:1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 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. 3 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; 4 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. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6 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. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. 9 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. 10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

This is the kind of vision which can keep us going. It is a ridiculously dreamy vision. An old stump producing new growth. It can happen.

My friend Kim lost her husband to cancer when the boys were young teens. A couple of years before George died, a huge pecan tree in their back yard fell. When the tree experts came, Kim wanted them to grind up the stump, but George liked the old stump, so they left it. After George died, a circle of beautiful mimosas sprung up around the old stump. I preached at that church this past Father’s Day and the now twenty year old Doug was there to give out chocolate kisses to all the dads in the congregation as a “thanks” to all the fathers he had there, who showed him God’s love. God can do great wonders, even in the horrors of untimely death. God can bring new life from the old stump in your life. Whether it is a dead marriage or a dead business, even if you have a dead faith, God can bring new life into that stump too.

Isaiah speaks of a new leader from the line of David. We Christians know this leader, this Messiah to be Jesus, who was fuller than full of the Spirit of the Lord. He was the Lord, God Almighty in human flesh, born of Mary and of the Spirit. He had a spirit of wisdom and understanding, spirit of counsel and might, spirit of knowledge and deep respect for the awesome power of God. He delighted in serving, respecting, and obeying God. We don’t like to talk about fearing God, but maybe some of our civility is lost when we lose that deep, deep respect for our highest authority. Jesus was marked by deep respect for God, by right living, by caring for the humble, weak, poor and needy, being faithful and ready to rid this world of evil. Though he turned tables in the temple, he did rarely engaged in power struggles. Rather he used his power to teach, to heal the sick, to care for all. And he changed the world by being God with us – living with us and for us, dying with us and for us, being raised with us and for us. And Jesus taught us he is vine and we are the branches. All we have to do is stay connected to the vine and we will thrive.

And because of Christ’s presence with us, this vision of peace is even more real now than it was for Isaiah when he wrote about that shoot from stump of Jesse.

Jesse was the father of David, the great king and the grandfather of Solomon, the wise king. After Solomon, the kingdom of Israel and Judah split and then slowly declined. There was no hope for the kingdom of Jesse’s lineage, according to normal expectation. The kings were corrupt. They abused justice, did not care for the poor, and ignored the commands of the God who had called them to leadership. Isaiah has the courage in the midst of widespread despair to announce that God can do a new thing. Do you believe God can do a new thing in your life? Maybe you feel like your life is dry and brittle, ready to break into a hundred pieces. Maybe you wonder why you’ve been pruned back and are having to start all over again – in work, in relationships.

When this new branch grows, here’s what Isaiah tells us will happen: animals who have always been enemies, unable to do anything but devour and mistrust one another will lie down together. Wolves in the same bed as lambs. Leopards and young goats warming one another. Calves and lions communing without harm. Cows and bears at table, together. Lions' diets changed for good. Little children leading them all. Nursing infants cooing harmlessly at cobras. Toddlers joyfully handling snakes. What a wonderful peaceable kingdom!

“Life without strife. Togetherness where togetherness used to be ridiculous. Hospitality without hostility. Radically altered behavior. Shared things and shared spaces. No more hunter and hunted, predator and prey. The oddest, but in the end, the most beautiful changes in power structures imaginable. No violence. No danger. No threat. No harm. ” ( R. Deibert)

Because we believe in a God who comes to live among us, to share in the agony and ecstasy of this earthly life, we have peace. Because we believe that God created the world good, and that God will make the world good again, we can withstand the storms of life – the evil forces that turn neighbor against neighbor and nation against nation. Because we trust in Jesus Christ, we can still wait for new growth to come out of dead stumps. We can keep the faith and share peace with all the world.

As our 22 year old Emily said years ago when she was just a little girl, imagining a such a peace-filled world,

“Mommies won't fight daddies.

And birdies will want to be held.

And kitties won't scratch doggies.

And girls and boys won't go to sleep hungry.

And hospitals will be empty, and we won’t need any more Band-Aids.”

Let’s pray for that world and begin to live in it, even when it is not fully here. Live into the vision of peace. When a child or a spouse or a parent or a close friend sorely disappoints you, find a way to communicate, to forgive, and to live in peace because the anger will destroy you.

We may see a world full of rage and incivility, but we know that it is possible to have a world full of kindness and love. And so we host a Funday Sunday, hoping to do a kindness for this community, especially for young families, chewed up by this world competition and stress. We will provide a moment of peace and joy.

We may see a world full of war, but we know it is possible to have a world of peace and goodwill toward all. And so we pray for peace and work for mutual understanding among people of different faith groups and cultures. We speak out against violence and injustice, believing that Christ calls us to be peacemakers in a world filled with mistrust and fear. And we teach peacemaking to our community at Peace in the Park and every week here at Peace in the way we live and nurture relationships.

We may see a world full of poverty and hunger, but we know it is possible for all people to have enough, and so we collect food for the Food Bank and send money, food, and volunteers on a regular basis to help with Beth-El Farmworker Mission. We celebrate the recent triumphs of the Coalition of Immokalee farmworkers in getting agreements from tomato growers to ensure fairer wages and better relationships between growers and pickers. We celebrate with Bread for the World the recent legislation which will guarantee healthier meals at reduced prices for poor school children.

Isaiah’s poetry invites not scientific calculations of reality, but visionary prayers and courageous lives, as we hang onto the promises and possibilities of God.

Do you think Martin Luther King could have imagined in 1960 that one day little white girls could indeed walk hand in hand with little black boys and people would smile? Yes, because he saw that by the power of God’s Spirit the world could be transformed. Do you think the people of Northern Ireland, living in the hostility of Catholic and Protestant divide in 1970 believed in the possibility of an end to the violence? John Hume and David Trimble by faith took courageous steps in the direction of peace. Do you think that Nelson Mandela and FW deKlerk, imagined a united South Africa in 1980? They, along with Desmond Tutu and others, worked hard to keep the possibility of reconciliation alive.

If people like this can work against all odds in such difficult circumstances to keep the vision for peace, we cannot give up on peace. When we feel like growling, we need to purr and wait. When we feel like biting someone’s head off, we need to stop and think about whether that might cause some indigestion. When we want to bark at someone, we might remember that cute bumper sticker which reminds us to bark less and wag more. When venomous language starts to spew from our lips, we should find a warm place in the sun to curl up and settle ourselves down. When we want to devour someone smaller or less significant than us, we should stop and remember that we are called to take care of the weak. Let’s pray for peace and live in peace with each other.

O come, please come Emmanuel. Free all who wait in the dark of night. Come fill all people with your light. O come, God with us, bind, all families/nations, one heart, one mind. Make envy, conflict, quarrels cease. Fill the whole world with heavenly peace.