Sunday December 8, 2019

2nd Sunday in Advent - 2019a

Old Testament - Isaiah 11:1-10

New Testament - Romans 15:4-13


Where Dreams Come True

INTRODUCTION: My father-in-law, as some of you know, has a home in the mountains outside of McMinnville.


In a heavily forested spot on top of the mountain off of Highway 8, we often find ourselves taking down trees. A few years ago we decided to take down a maple tree that was close to the house, and also, we felt, blocking the view from the back porch.


The fact that we almost managed to take out one whole side of the house in the process is a story for another day. Let’s just say it involves a bunch of ropes, the hitch on our old van, and a lot of praying!


Well, finally managing to bring the maple tree down while also keeping it from crashing into the house, we chopped it up leaving just a stump. Of course, for the last few years, the stump has been busy producing shoots of new growth in an effort to reclaim its glory days.

Yep, every spring, the stump sends shoots reaching out into the air in what, for now, is an annual quest to once again grow. Of course, also every year, usually when mulching leaves and doing other fall chores, I will cut all the new growth back down to the stump.


It is my yearly dance with the stump, so to speak. It sends out shoots in hopes of starting life all over again, only to have me come by with my snips to rudely derail its efforts. 


But now here is the thing, believe it or not, whenever cropping down the shoots, I often find my mind drifting off to Isaiah’s famous passage for today.


One of my favorite portions of Scripture, the opening 10 verses in chapter 11 of Isaiah are some of the most inspired and hope filled in all the Bible. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its 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 the knowledge of the Lord.”


Written during a dismal time when the people of Judah were longing for a righteous king from the line of David to appear and establish God’s promised kingdom, Isaiah’s words are known as a messianic oracle. A ruler is coming, Isaiah declared, a messiah is coming who will finally bring God’s peace.


Rather than use his position of authority for his own benefit (a nasty and pernicious habit of a long line of kings and rulers down through the ages, right?), Isaiah’s messianic ruler will be one for the masses. All people, especially the down-and-out and those just trying to scratch out an existence, will be of concern to Isaiah’s promised new king.


Or as Isaiah likes to put it, “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 he shall decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”  


No wonder Isaiah can then go on to depict that wonderful scene known as the peaceable kingdom. That kingdom where assorted animals, prey and predator alike, are all huddled together in some sort of vegetarian-based co-op.


There are wolves plopped down next to lambs using each other for pillows, leopards nuzzled up to young goats licking their fur as they clean them, and lions lazily flipping their tails while cows chomp away on grass just yards away. And best of all, there is that little child still in diapers giggling and leading the way.


“They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain,” concludes Isaiah, “for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Well, it is a grand and cosmic vision, right?


Why it is so grand and cosmic, no wonder early Christians just naturally started assuming Jesus was that promised ruler from the line of David that Isaiah had in mind all those years ago. They thought about his life, who he was and what did, and it was easy for them to connect Isaiah’s words with Jesus.


Jesus, as far as our early ancestors were concerned, was the promised shoot rising from the stump of Jesse. 


Of course, here is the thing about visions and dreams and the future - especially as they relate to God. They can be so grand and majestic we can forget that sometimes the best way to realize them is to just start living into them.

Does the future belong to God? Of course. For even in the future God is sovereign and we can trust that what God promises to do God will indeed do. But for some strange and unfathomable reason, God chooses to go about the business of recreating the world in a way that just seems flat-out odd.


God, after all, could simply snap his fingers, I suppose, and be done with his rebuilding project in the blink of an eye. That promised peaceable kingdom it seems to me could simply be brought into existence with a commanding nod of the head from God.


But for some peculiar reason, that is not God’s preferred way to go about his great reclamation project. Instead, God’s preferred method for bringing his peaceable kingdom to fruition seems to be through, of all things, us. Yep. Believe it or not, it is through bumbling and stumbling humans like us that God apparently likes to work.


And so God’s vision for the future is always more than just something for us to pine, long, and hope for while twiddling our thumbs. It is also something for us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live into as well. One of my favorite professors used to say that followers of Jesus Christ should actually see themselves as an advance guard of God’s coming new world.


In a broken and troubled world, we are to live, in other words, as emissaries - diplomats and delegates - of God’s new and coming world. “Look!” we are to proclaim in misty-eyed wonder to the world. “Look at God’s amazing new world! Come, come all and join us in it!”


Obviously, though, we don’t always live into God’s vision well, right?


We are, after all, still humans. So even now we can make a grand mess of things. What’s that old bit about theology? The only theological concept that is scientifically provable, goes the line, is human sin. For proof, one simply needs to look around. And yet, it is to us, cantankerous and recalcitrant souls we are, that the vision of God’s peaceable kingdom has been entrusted.  


There is a story about a traveller walking down the road one day when a man riding a horse flew by. The man on horseback had blood on his hands and an evil glint in his eyes.


A few moments later a crowd of other men on horses came upon the traveller. “Have you seen a man on horseback with hands covered in blood?” they asked the traveller.

“Yes,” replied the traveler, “He dashed by me just a few moments ago. Who is he?”

“He is an evil-doer,” said the leader of the men on horses.

“And so you are after him to bring him to justice?”

“No,” said the same man, “we are after him in order to show him the way.”


Well, a model for daily living as followers of Jesus Christ, right? Despite our own lackluster efforts, blunders, and gaffes, as emissaries of God’s new and unfolding world, we’re to try and show people the way. For some visions and dreams just have to be lived into bit-by-bit. 


In the movie Field of Dreams from the late 80s, an Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella keeps hearing a voice while tending to his corn crop.


“If you build it, he will come” whispers the voice to Ray while standing amongst his corn stalks. What’s more, the voice is one day finally accompanied by a vision, which many of you might recall is of a baseball field.


Yep, right there in the middle of his corn crop one afternoon Ray Kinsella sees an image of a baseball field complete with stands, lights, bases, and even chalk lines and suddenly the meaning of the voice he has been hearing becomes clear. Without really understanding why, Ray realizes he’s being told to build a baseball field.


And so, amazingly, that’s just what Ray Kinsella decides to do. In an act of total lunacy, he decides to start living into the vision he has seen - a vision, a dream, of a baseball field.  And so Ray, to the befuddlement of his neighbors, uproots a good bit of his crop and sets about making a baseball diamond all because a voice complete with a vision says to him, “If you build it, he will come.”


And eventually, after various twists and turns in the story, Ray completes the baseball field in the middle of his corn crop. But the field, of course, ends up being far more than just a place to play a game, right? It also becomes this magical place of healing and renewal.

For Ray, the baseball field becomes a place where he can encounter his deceased Father and overcome the deep estrangement that had haunted them both when he was alive. At one point, Ray asks his Dad, “Is there a heaven?” “Oh yeah,” replies his Father, “It’s where dreams come true.”     


And so as the movie comes to a close, Ray can be seen playing catch with his deceased Father – something the two of them used to do all the time before their relationship had become too fractured and torn.


And while they play catch, in the background, a stream of cars can be seen making their way to Ray Kinsella’s baseball field full of other people also, presumably, in need of their own particular kinds of healing and renewal as well.


And it’s all made possible because of Ray’s willingness to just start living into a dream.


CONCLUSION:  Well, there is a place where dreams come true, right?


Sometimes, like in the Book of Revelation, we know the place as a city, the new Jerusalem, tumbling out of the sky.


But we also know the place where dreams come true as a holy mountain - a mountain where the people of the world flow to its summit for a grand and lavish feast of rich food and well-aged wines, as in Chapter 25 of Isaiah.


And then sometimes we know it as that peaceable kingdom. That kingdom where prey and predators live together in tranquility and rest.


In the end, they’re all the same place, right? The place where dreams come true. And that place is out’s out there just waiting. Waiting for us to live into it.


O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are God’s judgments and how inscrutable God’s ways! For from God and through God and to God are all things. To God be glory forever. Amen.