Stumptown

Posted on 11 Dec 2019, Pastor: Walt McCanless

Download here: Stumptown Advent 2 Walt McCanless

Advent 2, Year A, Dec. 8, 2019

Isaiah 11:0-10

Stumptown

 

Nestled between Charlotte and Monroe, the area now known as Matthews was

unspoiled rolling woodlands with large stands of trees. By the early 1800s, this rich and

inviting land attracted our early settlers, who were mainly farmers. In the vicinity lay the

trading trails, game-rich hunting grounds and the ancestral homes of the Waxhaw and

Catawba Indians. These farmers began clearing the land for planting around the start of

the 19th century. Cotton grew well and soon became the primary cash crop. As the land

was cleared for planting, so many tree stumps were left standing that the early

settlement was unofficially known as Stumptown.

 

So, I learned the hard way that stump removal is not included as a coverable item

in most homeowner’s policies. So, you have a choice – to pay to have it removed, or

leave it there. We’ve seen neighbors go both ways, the most creative one I’ve seen is a

large tree stump about 3’ in diameter and 3’ high with some gorgeous flowers and

greenery planted in a massive circular flower box on top. In the Springtime is beautiful

with the flowers in bloom and the ivy hanging down. But it is a just stump. A dead

stump at that.

 

Such was the case with the stump of Jesse. Jesse was King David’s father and

was therefore the root of the linage of the descendants of David, who would, according

to God’s covenant with David, continue to be kings over Israel so long as they continued

to be obedient to the laws God had given and to the covenant God had established.

David’s son, Solomon, ruled after him, but upon his death things started to break apart,

break in two to be more accurate. The kingdom split….. into the southern kingdom

called Judah which is were Jerusalem was, and the northern kingdom which retained

the name Israel. Each kingdom had their kings, most declaring that they were of the

true linage of David. Isaiah prophesied to the people of Judah from 742 to 701 (some

say all the way to 687 BCE). The northern kingdom, Israel, was conquered and annexed

to Assyria, and now Assyria was a constant threat to Judah. If this particular text was

written by Isaiah and is not a later addition then it seems that Isaiah might be using

what has happened to the Northern Kingdom Israel as an object lesson for the kings and

people of Judah.

 

And what had happened?

Corrupt leaders enacted oppressive statutes, turned the needy from justice,

robbed the poor of their right, took what little widows had for themselves, and made

orphans their slaves. They did not turn to the Lord. Elders and dignitaries and

prophets who taught lies left the people in confusion. Everyone was godless, doing evil

and every mouth spoke folly. “They even devoured the flesh of their own kindred,” and

whether or not this accusation made by Isaiah was to be taken literally as a denunciation

against cannibalism or as a metaphor for the leaders gorging themselves at the people’s

expense, it was not the will of the Lord.

 

And Assyria, that proud, un-godly nation, was the Lord’s chosen rod of discipline

for his people Israel. Assyria had conquered the Northern Kingdom and deported to

various lands many of its peoples. “Only a remnant would return,” said the Lord

through Isaiah. So Judah beware! This could happen to you if you continue on the

same path as your northern neighbors. But they did, and a similar calamity fell upon

them, though not until 586 BCE, and it was the Babylonians who’d conquered Assyria

who came upon the rebellious little souther nation and demolished Jerusalem, laid

waste to the land, destroyed the temple and exiled the people to Babylon, Egypt and

various other lands. And only a remnant would return.

 

But that’s getting ahead of the story.

 

Assyria was now at the doorsteps of Judah. Chapter 10 speaks of their approach,

but they would not be able to take Jerusalem, for the Lord, the Sovereign, like a mighty

Paul Bunyan would cut down the Assyrians, like so much kindling. Isaiah puts it this

way: The tallest trees will be cut down, and the lofty will be brought low. The Lord will

hack down the thickets of the forest with an ax, and Lebanon with its majestic trees will

fall.” These trees and thickets were the captains and soldiers of Assyria, the majestic

trees were its rulers. The promise to Judah is that the Lord would take care of them.

 

So why would Judah look to any other beside God for help? Why try to make

alliances with other powerful nations such as Egypt, hoping that they will come to your

aid when Assyria attacks….. which, by the way, Egypt did not. Do not trust these kings

and princes who make promises they do not intend to keep. It is the Lord who will help

you, it is the Lord who is at your right hand, it is the Lord who will hear when you call to

him, it is the Lord, the almighty, who’ll hack down the Assyrians, who will clear cut the

forest of Israel’s enemies. Trust the Lord. But they did not.

 

Trust the Lord who after laying forests bare, will raise up a shoot from one of

those dead stumps; the stump of Jesse, the father of David, the greatest king united

Israel had ever known. (The Lord cuts down, the Lord raises up….)

 

Through her sin and rebellion Israel was ravaged and taken by the Assyrians, her

people exiled. Through their sin, rebellion, and distrust of their God, Judah fell,

Jerusalem was destroyed, her people exiled. But God would bring a remnant home,

though the remnant of the trees of his forest will be so few that “a child can write them.”

It would not be the glorious ingathering for which the exiled Jews longed. But there is

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

roots. This will be the fulfillment of God’s covenant with David, that one of his

descendants would rule the kingdom. When all seems lost, when there are no kings, no

dignitaries, no one to lead the people; when a stump is all there is, it is then the Lord

will act, and raise up a shoot from the stump of Jesse, a King after God’s own heart, as

was David.

 

The spirit or the Lord shall rest on this one, this shoot from the stump of Jesse,

and the gifts that spirit brings are wisdom and understanding (wisdom is the quality

that enables the king to make good judgments, understanding implies a deep

intellectual insight into events, persons, and is required to establish truthful, beneficial

policy), counsel and might (counsel has to do with the formation of strategy, might is the

power to carry that strategy out), knowledge and fear of the Lord (both words relate to

God and will occur again in these short verses. Together they describe a life of faith and

worship).

 

When all seemed lost… when a dead stump is all there is…..

 

It was the second time she’d heard the diagnosis: Cancer. This time it was worse,

farther along than before, and worse than that, she knew from before the sickness, pain,

the drainage of any energy that would leave her incapacitated. “O God,” she cried that

night, “can any good come of this? Why should I go through this? What hope is there?”

 

He couldn’t quit. He’d gotten yet another pay day loan and was at the track, he

just had to win, it was the only way out. But it was not to be, and now he’d lose the

house. It was a good time for a drink or three. Better get fortified before going home to

face the utter disappointment, disgust, and probable dismissal from his family as they

packed up and tried to find some place to live, the shelter most likely; O God, is this all

there is?

 

Without a vision the people perish, and as long as neither political party has a

vision beyond its own agenda, its own retention or gain of power, without a thought of

justice, equity, truth, and the good of the people – all the people – then what hope do we

have?

 

Do you feel a breeze? Did you get a whiff of something, well, new? I was walking

through my neighborhood the other day. We’ve had a fair number of new families move

in recently and I don’t know them all anymore, but as I rounded the corner and went

down the street behind our house I suddenly smelled the most tantalizing aroma….

someone of our new neighbors was cooking some concoction and the smell of that dish,

which must have and a good deal of garlic in it, was such that I was sorely tempted to

start knocking on doors to find out who it was and what they were cooking and would

they share the recipe with me and teach me how to cook it too. Ever since that day when

I walk the dog around the block I’m sniffing and smelling and longing for that aroma

once more.

 

Our text says, “His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” The word for delight

here actually means “smell.” This king will have a nose for God and will delight in all

those ingredients – the wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of

the Lord given by the Spirit of God. Adoration, worship, reverence, awe, and attention

to God, this is what is meant by the fear of the Lord, and this is the pleasing aroma that

attracts this king.

 

This shoot from the stump of Jesse will not judge by what his eyes see, neither by

appearances nor by the bribes that are held out in front of him. Nor will he be deceived

by the propaganda, or opinion polls, or the party politics that he may hear. Justice and

equity for all will be the character of his rule, and this will mean that the poor who

cannot afford a team of expensive attorneys will nevertheless receive right judgment,

and the meek of the earth who are not greedily after all they can get no matter who they

have to get it from or how, will be treated with equity. I quote some commentator, I

cannot remember who, but the said: “Yahweh’s commitment to justice for the poor is

paramount. No regime that fails on this point can claim to be the work of Yahweh.” No

regime then or now. And yet we continue to stamp “In God We Trust,” on our coinage

and bills; we claim in our pledge we are one nation under God. But when we host the

ladies from the SACOH and hear their stories, we realize that we are not one nation

under the same laws and legislation. There is whole different system at work for the

poor and homeless, and it doesn’t seem to be characterized by justice, hardly at all by

mercy.

 

And the shoot from the stump of Jesse, so empowered by the Spirit, delighting in

the Lord God, and loving the people of God, all the people of God, will bring about the

great reversal…. if you see this next section as a return to Eden, which it certainly

sounds like, or, a new kingdom entirely, it is a true Paradise, where the rich shall live

with the poor, and the Republican with the Democrat; the Muslim and the Jew and the

Christian together in such harmony that a little child can lead them. African Americans

and Caucasians will sit at table and sup together, and no longer will any eat the bread of

anxious toil, but women and men, gay and straight will enjoy equitable fruits of their

labor. That sounds a lot closer to Eden than what we’ve got going on now.

 

And in a nod back to Gen. 3, Isaiah prophesies that the curse shall be reversed.

After Adam and Eve at the forbidden fruit, thumbing their noses at God, and deciding to

be their own gods well, life got tough. Labor pains in childbirth for the woman, farming

would be laborious for the man, the serpent would have to crawl on its belly. And then

this God speaks to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and

between your offspring and hers, he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

But now, in the new Paradise, that enmity is gone, there is nothing to fear an little

children play even over the viper’s den. (My sister with the Coral snake???)

 

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, which seems to mean all

the earth for, “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the

sea.

 

In Jeremiah 31 God makes covenant and says, “they will each know me from the

least to the greatest, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”

We will each know the Lord (and ‘know’ is an intimate word meaning ‘love’) through

the forgiveness of our sins.

 

This is what the shoot from the stump, the good as dead stump of Jesse, will do.

In our Bethel Bible class we study about the resulting disharmonies from our

disobedience and refusing to trust what God said about the tree of the knowledge of

good and evil. Broken are our relations with God, with one another, with ourselves and

with the land. But the promise here is that the shoot from the stump of Jesse will bring

those relations back into harmony once again. “How very good it is when folks live

together in unity,” Psalm 133 says, and that unity involves not only relations with others,

but with the God who put us together and with the earth that sustains us and even a

unity within, becoming comfortable in our own skin. And, this is brought about,

according to the psalm, by the ordination, the anointing of God. In other words, this is

the gift of God.

 

And it can be lived out in the church. Paul, in 1 Cor. 12, describes the church as a

body with the shoot of the stump of Jesse, the son of David giving the body its unity and

the Spirit endowing each member with diverse gifts, talents, callings, and more. And

then Paul goes into chapter 13, the still more excellent way of being together which is

love.

 

If the Lord can and will do all this from a good as dead stump, then will the Lord

leave abandoned the woman with her second devastating diagnoses of cancer? What

might the Lord do in her situation, or through her as she undergoes the painful,

debilitating treatment? Or through others as they come along side her and walk with

her this journey wherever it may lead?

 

And the fellow who has gambled his life away, if there ever was a dead stump, he

would be it. Can a shoot spring forth from someplace in his life? Can God’s Spirit bring

life from death? Can a new king begin to rule where his addictions have wrought such

havoc and chaos?

 

And from the stump left by our politicians of all stripes and over all the years

when they hacked down the tree of democracy, and planted instead the weeds of

partisanship, party loyalty, vilifying opponents, lying, greed for power, for money, and

for privilege; when watered then with injustice, fertilized with gross economic disparity,

and special access and influence afforded to the rich and monied corporate interests….

well is it any wonder that the weeds grew into racism, gun violence, economic and

educational inequities, and worse?

 

From this dead stump, from this dead end, can the Lord bring forth a shoot? Can

the Spirit of the Lord rest anew on one who will with wisdom and understanding,

counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord…. bring forth a new kingdom, a new

rule, a new peace? That’s quite a vision, is it not? On that day, says the prophet; but no;

not on THAT day, but on THIS day the Lord has done this. The shoot has sprung from

the stump of Jesse. The new king has come wearing a crown of thorns, and with a cross

for a throne, and he brings the knowledge of the Lord that will fill the earth as the waters

cover the sea. This is our hope. A hope that begins anew during this Advent season, for:

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean

village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David,”

who was descended from Jesse. From the stump of Jesse a shoot sprouts. The king

comes girded with saving justice and faithfulness. This is our sure and certain hope, and

one we can begin to live now. Amen.