Was the 8th century BCE Assyria was the Empire of the day. They were the power. The United David kingdom was already split into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. I can’t tell you exactly what’s happening in the life of the Northern Kingdom of Israel but we talked last week of how they became a vassal State they became subservient to Assyria and what they would end up doing was trying to form an alliance with other nations against the Assyria and Assyria would not take that well ended up conquering and scattering the people of Israel.
Judah is not in the same situation as the southern Nation with Jerusalem as its capital was continuing to hold off Assyria a little at a time as they marched their Way South towards the city. No doubt the people of Judah knew and heard stories and rumors of the cities that were lost, that fell to Assyria as they marched towards them there was trouble coming from the outside.
At the same time, the powerful of Jerusalem were causing trouble from within. Even here in Jerusalem, the powerful took advantage of the weaker communities around them. The law, the Covenant, Torah, the relationship the people were called to have with God, was a call to live and to care for the Widow and the orphan and the Immigrant; to look out for the vulnerable, the marginalized, the oppressed, and the poor; to care for the land, and the animals, and the women and children. And they were not living up to or into this promise, this Covenant, this part of their relationship.
For the powerful eat the poor the vulnerable the marginalized those who don’t have a voice or officially a place they are prey.
The consequence of their actions was how they the poor and the vulnerable lived where the fruits that they grew. The consequences of their actions were the grapes grown and they were wild and sour and bitter, not fit for consuming, they did not make wine that would bring joy to the hearts of people nor human flourishing. It was a time when not all flourished. The powerful and the wealthy lived on the backs of the poor they consumed and ravaged them like prey animals as if the poor and the vulnerable were just there for their own benefit and nothing more. The wealthy were growing wealthier and the poor were struggling, where the gap between the rich and the poor grew further and further apart.
And that starts to sound familiar.
And maybe they thought they were doing the right things. Maybe they thought that God had made their nation mighty, wealthy, and powerful so that meant they ought to be mighty, wealthy, and powerful. Maybe they thought that those who were not these things, were in their positions of weakness, poverty, and vulnerability because that is what they deserved, because they didn’t work for it, because they had or their parents had done wrong.
I was listening to this podcast this week and they titled it “How the rich ate Christianity.” And the research premise was that during the 1950s the incredibly wealthy and the laissez-faire capitalists got together, and in those earliest days of our fighting communism, and in the Cold War, it was the US oil barrens, major manufacturers, and significant retail founders, in connection with marketers and some clergy who began to work hard to associate Christianity with capitalism. They invited preachers to submit their sermons they had given to a raffle for the possibility of winning the new on-the-market microwave! And I mean, I get it, it was the 50’s and love me a microwave but… at what cost?
As it turns out, it was this group that advocated for the first US motto “Freedom Under God.” And here, nearly 70 years later, we think that its meaning is meaning relatively mundane if one ignores the difficulties for inter- and non-religious implications and conversations it shuts down. But for those fighting for it, Freedom Under God was the freedom to be poor, to not receive help from the government when you are in need. It is the freedom to struggle, and fail, and go without, and Christian Capitalism because imbedded into our culture.
But, we look at Under God today and want to assume some positive intent. Maybe its roots don’t matter anymore, maybe it’s the fruits of that work, of what the church in the US became when it aligned itself with the powerful, at the cost of the poor, the vulnerable. those who have to struggle to make ends meet and those whose ends will never be met.
Maybe it’s unrighteousness masquerading as righteousness.
Something is lost in the English translation. It says they confused justice for injustice; In Hebrew: mishpat for mispat. The words are so close that if you aren’t paying attention you might mistake one for the other.
Maybe it’s nonprofits that pop up around this time of year, or in the midst of a tragic event, but, as it turns out the money isn’t going to the places that they say it is, isn’t benefiting the people or causes they care claiming. Or when celebrities “donate” so much and you could join them! but they are also getting the massive tax write-offs for a multitude of reasons, and all their money back and … and… But you, not a millionaire can join them in giving. Injustices masquerading as justice. Unrighteousness masquerading as righteousness.
There was a show a few years ago called the Good Place. It was a conversation on ethics in a 30 minute sitcom. And there are twists and turns and surprises but one of the conversations that comes up is what does it mean to be good? Can anyone be good? and they suggest that… no, not really. You can never do enough good to balance the cosmic scales. And that sounds really devastating but we know, there are consequences for our actions. Buying local has a consequence on the farmers from farther away who count on the sale for their well-being. Buying what we can afford might mean that others are being paid less.
In the 90’s there was the marketing to recycle. It was taught in my classrooms and in commercials. And it was marketed to us by the petroleum industry who makes our plastics, recycling plastics isn’t efficient, so our plastics are often not recycled, even when we send them in. It looks like justice, and yet, it is not.
We are doing the best that we can and in some ways, we are still contributing to the violence and violation and to the cries of the oppressed.
And in our reading there is little life left, there is no good fruit, there is no flourishing of humanity
And sometimes that’s what it seems like in our world, that the fruit that is being produced isn’t bringing life, hope, abundance, joy.
When we live for just a moment in some of devastation that we see around us is not happenstance. It is not God’s punishment. It is the reaping of our plantings, as humans, living in this time and space.
And yet, that isn’t the end of the story. From what seemed like a death comes new life. What seems like the end comes a sequel. What seems like it was cut down will grow again.
There is hope. there is life, there is flourishing.
And yet, shoot grows from a stump that has been devastated. .
The second part of our reading, from Isaiah 11, describes a world as it could be as it might be as it still will be in the future. And we understand that shoot coming from the root of Jesse as the Christ we wait for at Advent we celebrate at Christmas and we wait for who is still yet to come again. It is an incredibly optimistic utopic vision of the future and which predator and prey live in harmony.
**Read rest of chapter 11
And we can live in the hope and the assurance that The God Who was and is and is to come is going to bring that World about, and we and we can live in the hope of the celebration for when that day comes. But it starts to feel a long way off when we look at the worlds of Injustice and pain and violence. I hope might start to dwindle waiting seems too long.
But the root of Jesse is also about you and me and our communities and how we are going to enter into the world, how we are going to be a leader who makes a difference how are we going to come into the world not judging by what we see or hear but by the promises on the Covenant by the Torah and the law by the image of the world that God has presented and given and promised. Because our eyes are going to tell us that it’s hopeless, that there isn’t life yet in these bones, that the tree has been cut down and is over, that the predators will always prey on the weak. But the covenant of God, the promises, the inbreaking of Christ and the resurrection reveal that there is a deeper truth, one that is life, and flourishing, and abundance, and justice. One in which the powerful lay aside their power to be on equal footing with the vulnerable, the outcast, the weak, the poor. That is the deep truth beyond what our eyes can see.
Are we going to be those who speaks truth but operate out of honor and sacredness for God who seeks Justice for the poor and real ways and not approximate ways and not in ways that are just disguised as Justice and righteousness but are really something other?
And as we begin our season of Advent and our season of waiting and our season of Hope, we can live and the promise that we will live for Joy when the world becomes as it is intended to be because Jesus came back and said it right without us having to do anything.
But until then
Until then we are invited into the struggle for the belovedness, or the inbreaking of the kingdom, for the struggle toward Justice, toward flourishing for all, towards the future kingdom of God.
Until then we are the Sprout of the stump of Jesse. We are the new life that is springing forth from what might seem hopeless, and dead, and lifeless.
We cannot be overwhelmed by the stumpiness, the destruction, the seeming endlessness of the ending of life. It isn’t over, whatever is happening in the world, in our lives, in our church, in our communities, it isn’t over. Attributed to several famous and less famous people, and John Lennon is some version of: “everything works out in the end. If it didn’t, it’s because it hasn’t come to an end yet.” We have a vision of the end, of Christ coming in words and true justice, bringing the marginalized to the seat of honor, the vulnerable into safety, the poor into enough; and bringing to equity all, so that those with more than enough, more power, more wealth, more strength will be set on beside those without. Where the wolf and lamb, calf and lion, chow and bear, child and snake will live and dine together. It is not the end. But until them we have to find the life in each one of us, you have to find the life in you, breathed into you by God, you have to find the good that you can bring forth into the world, to hasten the coming of Messiah the kingdom of God with our words with our actions with our participation and justice. We our actions are the visible manifestation of the kingdom of god. We need to be able to see God we should be able to see God we need to live in a way that we can see God in our communities, in each other.
So this advent season, may we abide in the hope of the promises yet to come, and may we live into being the promise.