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Tread the Road

Date:12/8/19

Series: Advent

Category: 2019 Sermons

Passage: Isaiah 11:1-10

Speaker: Nicole Trotter

Tread the Road
Isaiah 11:1-10
Matthew 3:1-12

 Augustine once said;

It’s one thing to see the land of peace from a wooded ridge…and another to tread the road that leads to it...

That’s our two scripture readings this morning. One is a vision of peace from the ridge, the other is asking us to tread the road. To tread the road, as an idiom, means to choose a particular kind of lifestyle that one commits to. 

It’s one thing to see the land of peace from a wooded ridge…..and another to tread the road that leads to it……. 

Isaiah’s vision from the ridge was written at a time of great anguish. If you go back to chapter 10 just before this morning’s scripture, the prophet Isaiah says that God is going to cut down all the trees; that's why there's "a stump" when this passage begins.

But it doesn’t end there….

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
     and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

If you’ve ever hiked on Mt Tam, you can find stump after seemingly dead trees with new life branching out of them.

Into this setting (of turmoil and political unrest and oppression for Israel), just when things appear hopeless and the future looks bleak, the prophet utters a most amazing promise, that God will send a king, from the great and glorious line of Jesse, who will rule with wisdom, with justice toward all and with mercy toward the most vulnerable in society. The little ones, the defenseless ones, the innocent ones will be protected and cared for.[1] 

But this isn’t just a vision of Isaiah’s. It’s a promise given to us by God, every bit as relevant today as it was then.

Isaiah urges the people to remember who they are as the people of God, reminding them that their power, their life, comes from goodness, not from greed. [2] 

Goodness, not greed. 
For Isaiah goodness takes on

the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
Righteousness…
faithfulness….

Out of that goodness comes this peaceful kingdom-

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    t
he leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    
and a little child shall lead them. 

If Isaiah’s vision sounds unattainable it’s because we’ve gotten so used to the norm of bad news, discourse, anger and gree we’ve become numb to it. We accept it, turn a blind’s eye to it, shrug our shoulders, tell ourselves it’s always been this way, perhaps become cynical, bitter, apathetic or would prefer to ignore it all in exchange for the third season of the Crown.

Which brings us to our second reading, and the second part of our Augustine quote. If Isiah is the vision of peace from the wooded ridge then John the Baptist is the one who shows us how to tread the road less traveled. 

John is calling out for people to walk the walk and talk the talk- not later, when Christ shows up,  but now, in preparation for the fulfillment of the promise to come. 

‘Prepare the way for the Lord, (cries John)
    make straight paths for him.

Make straight paths….

In other words, get your life in order. Come to the river, set in the wilderness that is our life and this world, to wash away all things that are getting in the way from our ability to tread the road of peace- 

God brings new life from the stump of a tree. Something dies and something is reborn. John is offering more than hope. He’s preparing the way, and asking us to commit our lives to Christ by doing the same. John is wonderfully described as a wild man, eating bugs and living in the wilderness, yelling at anyone who passes by to repent! 

Repentance is one of this words thats been hijacked by the more evangelical churches, reserved for preachers who preach warnings, just like John. And many of us don’t like the word because of the images of fist pounding preachers issuing warning.

But repentance, is what happens in the river, when the old life is washed away, meaning our old ways, or the the things in our life that prevents us form living into the promise and vision of God’s peaceful kingdom……

The more we can take responsibility for the ways in which we create dissonance through our attitudes, prejudice and a blind eye, the more we can be led to the river which washes away the old ways and allows us to begin again with new sight.

If you want to stop dismissing Isiah’s vision of peace as just unrealistic poetry, than start with your own life, that’s where peace begins.

Starting over, beginning again, happens at Advent as we prepare him room, it happens at Lent as we journey towards the cross, and it can happen day by ay as we vow to see more clearly, follow more nearly, with new sight; which is to live by seeing the world way Christ sees the world, and making the choices that have us treading the road of peace, not just envisioning it from afar, as though someone else will come in to make it happen.

Joseph Campbell once said,

The world is perfect. It's a mess. It has always been a mess.
We are not going to change it.

Our job is to straighten out our own lives.
We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come. 

~~~~~~~~~

A few nights ago as I was falling asleep on the couch while watching tv, I call that my evening nap, I got a face time call form my daughter Charlotte who is in Spain for the semester…asking me to proof read a paper she wrote.

I was half asleep and this was the last thing I wanted to do so I whined like a toddler that I didn’t want to do it, and she said, “mother….” And I gave in,

Partly because every time I read one of her papers I learn something…And not just academically learn something, but I learn what the younger generation is grappling with and how they remain our greatest source of hope for change.

Charlotte is majoring in Ethnic and Racial Studies and Psychology ……a desire and passion of hers that was born from her exposure to the Mosaic Peace project….which I’ve spoken about before at least a few times, the group in Oakland that teaches young children to embrace difference, nurture empathy, learn skills of conflict resolution through respect and self assertiveness all with the mission of creating peace in the world one life at a time.

But Mosaic doesn’t just teach children, they also offer workshops for adults and even religious leaders. And one of the best ways we can tread that road towards peace is by  understanding our own lens; the ways in which we look at the world through our own bias and assumptions. 

What I learned this time in proofing her paper, is that there is now this term being used in academia called othering. 

We all do it. We can’t help it. Whatever your racial background, culture, economic status, we learn early in life that we are one kind, and then there are other kinds.

Remember the bathroom in Ashland I went to a few years ago, there were two bathrooms. One had a sign that said people. Next to it was a sign that said, other people.

I went in the one that said “other people.”

I’ve asked you this question before, but it’s worth repeating….

“Can you remember the first time, you were taught, either directly or indirectly, of the “other;” Some other kind of people, the implication being that you didn’t want to be like those people. For me it was around money. My grandmother was a seamstress and she would often caution us not to look cheap. Even if you didn’t have money, you should look like you did. So the first others in my life were those girls who looked cheap. 

We other through economics, race, color, religion, even geography. Sometimes we do this with compliments too, calling people of color categorically exotic looking…... We used to call this reverse racism, but as Charlotte taught me, there’s no such thing, there is only racism, and it begins subtly, by othering people.

If Christ saw an”other,” the other that society kept at bay, they became for Christ the one to celebrate and embrace. We have a responsibility to help repair what’s broken in this world by repairing our own lens, our own bias. As we enter into our second week of Advent we are required to deepen our commitment to Christ’s way of seeing; which is to celebrate and embrace the “other” as one more piece of this beautifully diverse world, and in doing so create wholeness and peace.

We may not see the full vision of peace laid out for us by Isaiah in every corner of the world. But in corners of the world, in the shadows, are glimmers of light, pointing the way and making paths, that will prepare him room, again and again.

Just before the end of World War II, a Jesuit priest, was executed on false charges connected with the plot to kill Adolf Hitler. He did participate, in the resistance movement against Hitler, and spent years in a Nazi prison, where he wrote these words which inspire us in this Advent season, seventy years later, in whatever difficult days we may find ourselves, whatever wilderness we find ourselves, either personally or as a nation;  

"Advent is the time of promise," he wrote; "it is not yet the time of fulfillment. We are still in the midst of everything…. Space is still filled with the noise of destruction and annihilation, the shouts of self-assurance and arrogance, the weeping of despair and helplessness. But round about the horizon the eternal realities stand silent in their age-old longing. There shines on them already the first mild light of the radiant fulfillment to come. From afar sound the first notes as of pipes and voices, not yet discernable as a song or melody. It is all far off still, and only just announced and foretold. But it is happening, today."

It is happening, today.[3] 

In the choices we make, in the kindness we witness, in the love we share, it is happening today. 

Isiah reminds us of the vision and the promise that God gives us out of complete acceptance and love for who we are created to be….

And Matthew through John the baptism reminds us that we are responsible for how we chose to live into that creation. 

It’s one thing to see the land of peace from a wooded ridge…..and another to tread the road that leads to it……. 

Amen. 

[1] Kate Matthews https://www.ucc.org/weekly_seeds_choose_a_better_way

[2] Kate Matthews https://www.ucc.org/weekly_seeds_choose_a_better_way

[3] https://www.ucc.org/weekly_seeds_choose_a_better_way