Sunday, December 9, 2007

Where the Wild Things Are

I rarely (ok, never) post my sermons here but I figured since you all have been on the journey with me this far, I would share with you what the Holy Spirit provided for my congregation this morning.

As we continue to experience The Word of the Lord together, let us pray. Great Parent, Loving God, Great concerned and involved Lord, open up our hearts and our minds and stir up within us your Spirit, so that we might grow in faith and serve you with our whole hearts and minds. If these words are not your Word, may they be forgotten and come to naught, but if they be thy Word, may they adhere to our hearts, forever transforming us from glory into glory, into the creatures you would have us be, thou who art our rock and our redeemer, Amen.

Isaiah 11:1-10
A shoot shall come out from the stock 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.

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.

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 axe 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.’

The Word of the Lord.... thanks be to God!

Two years ago Uncle (brother-in-law) gave (The Boy) a book entitled Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. (The Boy) loves it for the same reason (b-i-l) loved it as a little boy as well as many others.

It is just too much fun to roar your terrible roar – ROAR!
And gnash your terrible teeth - GNASH!
And roll your terrible eyes – ROLL! (How do you make an eye roll sound?)

The book begins with a little boy, Max, getting into all kinds of trouble – including chasing his dog with a fork - and finally being sent to bed without dinner.

We all have these moments whether we are Max and causing the trouble or the dog, receiving the trouble or more often than not, some ambiguous place in between. We all have these moments where our basic instinct is to roar our terrible roars and gnash our terrible teeth and roll our terrible eyes.It is human nature.

Actually, it is base animal instinct to act and react in ways that defend our territory and give us a false sense of security.

If you take from us, we roll.
If you threaten us, we gnash.
If you hurt us, we roar.


It is this kind of understanding of basic animal instinct and human nature that makes the passage that was read in Isaiah so profound. Its poetry is a profound statement that I think gets lost in the repetitiveness of hearing it at every Advent and Christmas season. It is all too easy to get caught up in the foreshadowing of a newborn king in Bethlehem… and miss the profound imagery of sworn animal kingdom enemies lying side by side in peace:
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.

The new kingdom is still where the wild things are. What makes it new is that they have made the choice to be together.


Something else that too often gets lost in repeated seasonal readings is the impact of the opening lines of Isaiah:
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

I think we all can easily imagine a tree that seems dead and then a green leaf begins to come through. We watch this miracle every spring – I sniffle through this miracle every year!

But a leaf from a branch is not a strong enough comparison. The annual nature of this experience for us takes away the power of what Isaiah is saying.


The people Isaiah is speaking to are a hopeless people. They are God’s people and they have watched God’s messianic promise dissolve either by being conquered by the Babylonians or humiliated by the Assyrians.

Their hope is a stump.


I have a little experience with dead stumps. Not a day goes by where I don’t wish that a random accident had not deformed my left hand. I live with it. I have moved on with it. I have accepted it and I have accepted that there is no hope in it being rejuvenated or brought back to life.It is a stump.

If one morning I woke up and there was a sign of life – a shoot of growth showing that there was new life after all – it would be a joy that would cause me not to jump up and down in the air, but rather one that would rock me to my very core, drop me to my knees and cause me to give thanks and rejoice in this new opportunity to be whole.

This is the profound, transforming new life of which Isaiah speaks.

Isaiah speaks of profound hope.
Profound joy.
Profound transformation.
Isaiah speaks of a new world.


The key to understanding Isaiah’s word to the people of God about the new world is to understand that yes there is hope.
Yes, there is joy.
Yes there is transformation.
And yes, the wild things are still there.


“This new world is not just a pious expression of hope that will come to fruition automatically or by osmosis. The newness is an intrusive reality that disrupts all that is old and destructive. The reception of the new public possibility requires a decision that is both daring and costly. It is daring because we will not know how to act in a genuinely just community. It is costly because we benefit from and are comfortable with old, deathly patterns of life. The Gospel reading is both invitation and warning that we must make concrete decisions to reorder our life in ways appropriate to God’s new intention.”[i]

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 axe 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.


John the Baptist – last of the Old Testament prophets – too often with him we focus on his wild side. His choice of clothing. His choice of diet. His choice of living arrangements. These are not the choices of his that we should be focusing on.


How about his choice to rebuke the religious authorities of the day?
Or his choice to make the path straight to the one who is to come after him?
Both of those were conscious choices to go against natural instinct – the wild side.

For us, the choice that we need to make towards a new life in Christ might look quite different.
Maybe the wardrobe is fine, but the guilt we have been carrying around has become a burden.
Maybe our home looks to be in order, but a closer look at our hearts would show things to be in quite the state of disarray.
Maybe we eat well enough, but the word of forgiveness someone has been waiting to hear is not something we are willing to give.

Being a Christian means consciously making the choice to tame our self-righteous, terrible roars. We are called by God to embrace a new life and not fall prey to base instincts of selfishness and old habits. As Christians we are called to begin again; to make the choice to release hurts – to release haunts – to release habits that are keeping us from experiencing the new life in Christ.

It doesn’t just happen – this was my most recent mistake. I kept waiting to feel like forgiving. It felt safer in my cocoon of self-righteous anger and self-pity and no one blamed me when I roared my terrible roar and gnashed my terrible teeth. I deserved to do that and it felt so good to be so right in my anger and lean on our most basic of instincts.

But that is now who Christ calls me to be.
That is not who Christ calls any of us to be.


God’s present salvation for us is found in making the right choices. True, there is grace. It is grace with accountability. This is why John the Baptist attacked the Pharisees and Sadducees that came to him for baptism:
‘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 axe 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.

We are to work together in Christ to create harmony which is the source of our hope. Our hope is the motivation for our joy and peace in believing.
Choosing to work together in a new life for Christ is not a one-time only decision.
In some cases it is a constant choice for hope, for joy, for peace.

Those who roll their terrible eyes… have no hope.
Those who gnash their terrible teeth… have no joy.
Those who roar their terrible roars… have no peace.

The choice… is ours.


In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[i] Brueggemann, Cousar, Gaventa & Newsome. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Based on the NRSV – Year A. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995. p. 10.

14 comments:

cheesehead said...

This is such a profound word.

You + Holy Spirit = amazing.

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Magdalene6127 said...

You are a woman of substance. And God is good to bring such a strong word out of so much pain.

(((WS)))

Crimson Rambler said...

What they said -- and I do hope that them as had ears to hear, heard you. Just beautiful.

Diane said...

wonderful.

Songbird said...

A big Amen!

revrosa said...

wow (o)

Sue said...

Amen!

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Towanda said...

The Word of the Living God!
Thanks be to God!

Lorna said...

Thanks be to God for you - that you live and preach His word :)

The Simpleton said...

And let the church say:

Amen.

cpclergymama said...

Amen!
Perhaps I should have waited longer to post mine, then I could have been the one wanting to steal. as it is I do covet! Great message.

juniper68 said...

ah, wonderful

Pink Shoes said...

amen. amen. amen.

St. Casserole said...

sitting here stunned. wonderful words to my heart.

Will you come by my pastor?