It's a Jungle Out There
A Homily based on Isaiah 11:1-10
by Rev. Thomas N. Hall
Isaiah's Peaceable Kingdom is one of the world's most beautiful visions
ever recorded. It has captured the imagination of writers and artists alike who have given
us Isaiah's vision back to us in audio, visual, and cinematic forms--to remind us what a
world might look like in a land where no one hurts or destroys. So join me for just a few
moments on this second Sunday in Advent to tour Isaiah's Magical Peaceable Kingdom.
We notice the sign over the archway as we drive into the prophet's game preserve.
Now entering Isaiah's Wild Game Kingdom. Can't help but notice that a thick,
black line has been painted through the word, wild. That's the genius of
the place, The Great Groundskeeper says. It's not a jungle out there anymore.
Nothing goes on in this park that hurts or destroys. Nothing.
So we begin our tour through this formerly wild-now-mild animal kingdom and try to
imagine for ourselves a place where nothing hurts or destroys. Quick! Over there in the
savannah to the south the grass quivers. A leopard stretches out. But what is that woman
doing? She gets out of the Land rover and walks right up to the leopard which seems to be
feeding on a kid goat. That woman will be ripped to shreds if she goes any closer! But
standing within inches of the animal she just snaps away with her Polaroid. Back with us,
she hands us her shots and they are beautiful--but very strange! Why, that leopard isn't
chewing on a goat, instead it's got the goat curled up with her own kittens. Sure easy to
pick it out. Spot. Spot. Spot. Wool. Spot. Spot.
Further down the road we see a real fat cat--a huge lion. Certainly looks big
enough, fat enough, and toothy enough to make a meal out of tourists. And there's a calf
not more than twenty feet from its jaws. Good-bye, calf. But wait, the calf playfully
gambols toward the lion and nudges around the lion's soft belly with its nose--thinks it's
her mother and that means a warm meal!
By the time the afternoon heats up the other tourists have seen enough of the
Peaceable Kingdom to let their children run loose around the animals. But a shriek from a
tourist shatters our peace. It's her one and a half year old, and it's crawling on a King
Cobra's den. More treacherous than even a lion or leopard--the King Cobra is feared by all
other animals. When it lurches and sinks its two-inch fangs into human flesh, it sends a
deadly venom that can bring on a cardiac arrest within three minutes. And here that child
is sitting right over its den. So it's all come to thisan innocent child dies from a
snakebite. But the snake just rolls onto its back and seems to want a belly scratch. So
the two of them enjoy a lazy afternoon. The snake charming the child and the child
chattering and cooing.
What we've just imagined is the kind of magical, mystical Kingdom that Isaiah
describes in our first lesson. To enter God's Peaceable Kingdom is to enter a world where
no one hurts or destroys. A land where every square foot is a safe area, a
place of hope and peace.
Isn't that the kind of world that we want, really? To live in a harmonious,
peaceful world where lions eat straw and bears and cows become friends? A place and time
when violence and harm is not just outlawed, but completely banished from our communities
and neighborhoods? Where you could drive into Reading and never see hate and racist
graffiti spray-canned across store walls? A place where steel bars on windows, alarm
systems, and guns would not be necessary , because no one ever broke into someone else's
house? Where men and women would not have to sell their bodies for the next meal ? Where
the only trafficking we knew occurred at busy intersections with cars instead of the
trafficking that happens at night in crack houses. What would it be like to live in a land
where the Club referred to the Lions and Rotary and not to a device designed to keep
thieves out of your car?
But we don't live in that kind of a fairy-tale world. Isaiah's vision is not our
reality! We lock our doors. We lock our cars. We avoid tall buildings. We avoid the night.
Ours is a wild game kingdom--it's a real jungle out there; a world in which we've had to
send over 20,000 of our men and women to another part of the world, armed to the teeth
with weapons just to reinstate the fragile peace that America once enjoyed. We have 60,000
other NATO peace-keepers in Bosnia. And our troops have been met by tens of thousands of
people demonstrating against ustelling us to get out of their lands. We've seen the
pictures of people burning effigies of President Bush, pictures of torching the American
flag. Then stomping on it. Peace? Hope? Ours is a jungle, a dangerous place where
harm and hurt lurk.
And back at home, our Congress is log-jammed with our Administration over how to
balance the budget. That means, we're in another kind of wild kingdom where two groups are
deciding who gets breaks and who doesn't; at stake are our elderly citizens, our poor
families, and many of us without adequate medical care.
In our own backyard--the Conference our church is connected with we're facing our
own wild kingdom. The money is just not coming in. So we've lopped off over a million
dollars from the annual budget. That means the United Methodist Church is facing
downsizing, job losses, and the closing down of many agencies that really want to make a
difference in their world. Mostly through education and assisting in immediate
emergencies. And what about us? Our families? Where's the Peaceable Kingdom when our
families are divided? When our churches are divided? When our lives are torn by others.
When we offer our hand in love only to pull it back bruised and bleeding? Where's the
civility? Where's the gentleness in our Kingdoms?
If all we have is a cute little vision of lions and tigers and bears romping
gleefully through peaceful valleys, the Scriptures have nothing to say to us. Might as
well write fairy-tale across Isaiah's vision. And we might be tempted to do
Except for what precedes the vision. Did you happen to notice what he says first.
What's before Isaiah's Peaceable Kingdom? Just this. A promise of Good News. Long before
any leopards and goats become friends, before a one and half year old is welcomed by the
King Cobra to play together are these words:
A shoot shall come out from the stump 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.
Right in the middle of flying arrows and the devastating catapult machine of the
Assyrians comes a promise. At that time when nation rises against nation, when chaos has
broken through and life just can't get any worse comes this promise. The Peaceable Kingdom
is preceded by a Peaceable Leader. No name is given. But the job description tells 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 decide with equity for the meek of the earth.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
In this community, we have discovered who that Peaceable Leader is. The angel
tells us in Matthew's gospelAnd his name shall be called Jesus, for he shall
save his people from their sins. In Jesus Christ, to whom Isaiah points, the
Peaceable Kingdom has already begun. The God who will, in the future make all things new,
who will truly bring us to a place where no one will hurt or destroy, has already given us
the Son. And to have Christ is to have the Peaceable Kingdom in seed form.
Jesus said, I'm going to give you my peace. No, it's not the peace that
you're familiar with; that's fragile stuff. No, I am going to give you my peace.
And so we're discovering at EUMC that when Jesus is allowed to be the Gamekeeper
in the Peaceable Kingdom that's already begun, life changes. I have never seen anyone
commit one act of lust or violence in a life controlled by Jesus Christ. I've never heard
of anyone breaking into someone else's auto or house in whose life Jesus Christ was
ruling. And I've never seen anyone living in God's Peaceable Kingdom selling drugs, guns,
or bodies for a quick buck. Doesn't happen. Because in God's Peaceable Kingdom nothing
harms or hurts in all of God's holy mountain.
This past week members from our congregation gathered to review their past year
and envision their future. We heard the usual reports from our Lay Leader, PPR and Finance
Chairs, reports from the pastor and others. We went over line-items in the budget. But
something else happened at that meeting. Perhaps even unnoticed by some. But I witnessed
evidence of the Peaceable Kingdom breaking out of lives during the meeting. I saw new
vision for our futurestarting on a new adventure to actually support missionaries
from our own church. We are planting God's Peaceable Kingdom in new places, helping some
folks begin street-front ministry for people still living in the jungle on the street.
Another team decided that it's time to explore where we're headed over the next five
years, so they've recommended that we start envisioning what kind of congregation we want
to have and how in the world we'll make everyone fitbecause they believe that as we
grow in vision, God's Peaceable Kingdom will grow right here in our congregations.
So, this morning, though there's still a jungle out there, the Taliban still exist
as do the terrorists, as well as other problems that perplex and confuse, the Good News is
that we can be part of the solutionnow. But it begins by inviting the Peaceful
Leader, Jesus Christ to have greater controlling interests in our lives. For as God
expands his kingdom within us, so can we begin to enjoy and invite others to enjoy God's
Peaceable Kingdom. Amen.