Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Wolf and the Lamb

Isaiah 11:1-10

A while back I was with a family and friends at a local restaurant.  We had gathered for lunch after a late morning cemetery committal.   Sitting at my end of the table were Ken's widow, her cousin from California, a co-worker and friend, and another long time friend of the family. 

The conversation was more upbeat than one would have thought that afternoon... although we had waited several months for the committal and so the loss was not quite so raw by then.  The cousin from California and the co-worker were especially enjoying their shared banter.  I don't remember how it was the conversation turned.  I do remember the long-time friend began speaking of their first years in DeKalb and as she shared she spoke of protesting the Vietnam war in those turbulent time.  It seemed we all became especially thoughtful as then we leaned in to listen to Ta, the co-worker and friend, tell her story.  For her childhood began in that war-torn country of Vietnam. 

Indeed, she shared with us how the war threatened their livelihood and their lives.  She was nine when she boarded her dad's small fishing boat with her family --- hoping to make their way to safety. They wound up in a refugee camp and later emigrated to the United States.

I remember.  Although I wasn't much older than she, I do remember.  And I remember how many churches across the country saw this as a mission--- to sponsor families like hers.  What joy and meaning experienced as congregations sought to them a fresh start with kitchenware and furniture and housing and jobs: to show God's love in this very tangible way.
Only that wasn't her story. Rather, her family was sponsored by a farmer in Texas who basically used them as indentured servants: as slave labor.

She spared us most of the details, but her words hung heavy between us.  Clearly, she had found her way out and is enjoying a life marked by all sorts of middle class comforts. Even so, I was struck by her evenness of tone.  There was no bitterness in her voice as she recounted her beginnings in this country.

Even so, her story came to mind this week as I read the amazing images offered by Isaiah for the way in which her experience was so very different from the scene Isaiah describes.  Indeed, it's almost impossible to picture for the things the prophet describes for they simply are not so.  Wolves and lambs do not lie down together.  Bears and cows do not eat side by side.  Lions are anything but vegetarian.  And no toddler would be allowed to venture anywhere near the hole of an asp.  The stakes are too high.  The consequence too great.  It is in the very nature of the snake to strike, the wolf to feast, the lion to enjoy a regular meal of red meat.  All must eat and like it or not, it is in the natural order of things for the menagerie Isaiah describes today to rely on one another in a predatory way for their survival.  And yet, Isaiah uses these opposites to paint a picture of a time when it will all be different.

And I think of Ta's story and I am aware that when I pay attention such stories as hers are repeated day after day, year after year.  Over and over again and a few weeks ago in the person of a woman sitting across from me, we hear about or we ourselves experience what it is to be treated as less than the human beings God created us to be.  And this, all too often, is not at the hands of a 'natural enemy,' but at the hands of those who look more like us than not.  Indeed, it would be enough of a miracle were Isaiah to describe a time and place where humans did not do such to one another, much less wolves and lions, lambs and bears and snakes.  Oh, for that day that the prophet foretells when the one will come who will "judge the poor with righteousness and the meek with equity!" 

I lived in this longing for a while in these last days and while I still do and perhaps always will, when I returned to the prophet's words once more this time I recognized the familiar in his words.  So caught up was I in the remarkable reversals he predicts at the end of this passage that I missed these the first time through.  Indeed, how many times in twenty-five years as a pastor have I repeated this prayer for "the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord and the spirit of joy in God's presence"?   How many times have I splashed the waters of baptism on God's children of all ages and spoken these words for them by name?  How many times have I rested my hands on the heads of thirteen and fourteen-year-olds as they affirmed their baptisms and earnestly prayed them again?  Indeed, how many times have these very words been spoken for me?

Oh, it is so that in this season of Advent we yearn for the coming of the One who will make all things right --- that time when animals and humans alike will only experience peace in the presence of one another.  But in the meantime?  Even as we watch and wait, it appears that the responsibility lies with us ---- not only to cry out in horror or dismay when it is otherwise, but to be those who judge with righteousness and equity for the meek and the poor even now.  To make things right when and where we can in this season today.  For that Spirit has been given to us, to you and to me, for precisely this and for this time now.  I wonder what it would look like if for only just for a few weeks this December we were to live like this were so...

  • How do you experience the prophet's vision for us here?  When and where do you yearn for this to be especially so?
  • Have you ever experienced the sort of reversals Isaiah offers?  What was that like?
  • What does it mean to you that you have been given 'the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in God's presence?"  What difference does this make for you?
  • What might it look like this December if we were all to live like this is so?

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