By Rob Thomas
Isaiah 11: 1-10.
Romans 15: 4-13.
Matthew 3: 1-12.
The more I read today’s passage from Isaiah that we heard a few minutes ago the more I could relate it to the way we should be leading our lives today and if we all lived that way, what a wonderful world we would be living in. I think it’s a wonderful world now but it would be even better if everyone lived their lives demonstrating the characteristics of the king that Isaiah describes.
You will remember that the passage began with him saying; (Isaiah 11; 1), “The royal line of David is like a tree that has been cut down; but as new branches sprout from a stump, so a new king will rise from among David’s descendants.”
Obviously, he is predicting the coming of our King, our Lord Jesus Christ, and he goes on to describe a number of attributes that that new king will have; (Is.11: 2a)“wisdom, knowledge and skill to rule his people, he will know the Lord’s will and honour him and find pleasure in obeying Him; he will not judge by appearance or hearsay: he will judge the poor fairly and defend the rights of the helpless.”
As we all know, Jesus certainly has all those attributes, and more, and if we truly are followers of Christ; true Christians in the fullest sense of the phrase, we too will strive to achieve - and maintain - those attributes. We may struggle at times with our interpretation of “wisdom,” or even accepting the fact that we do have many elements of wisdom, I know I often struggle with that concept, but there is no doubt in my mind that we all certainly do exercise many degrees of wisdom if we faithfully adopt, and practice, all the other facets such as at least attempting to assess what God’s will is for us, honouring Him and therefore gaining pleasure from obeying Him. Also, while we as individuals do not have all the knowledge and wisdom we may like to have our wisdom is increased immensely if we are prepared to work together, talk together, live together and share our knowledge and understanding with each other. That collective understanding and knowledge provides a collective wisdom which we can all share and enjoy. You know the old saying; “Two heads are better than one!”
Last week at St.Mary’s the Vicar talked about the Isaiah passage ascribed for that day, (Isaiah 2: 1-5) where Isaiah tells how the Lord; “will settle disputes among great nations, They will hammer their swords into ploughs and their spears into pruning knives. Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again. Now, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light which the Lord gives us.”
Wouldn’t it be so good if that was the way the world was today. No wars! No need for the so-called “war-games” which is the euphemistic term for military exercises held close to perceived enemy nations. The flexing of military muscle. Total peace may seem an impossible dream but it is possible. We may not see total world peace in our time but we can keep praying and working toward that end, each in our own small way because it’s by example that we can make changes. It’s by example that we taught our children. As children, we learned by example, and so it is for all of us. We can learn from other’s examples, just as others can - and will - learn from the examples we set. We need to live in love, peace and harmony with our neighbours before we can expect the rest of the world to do the same. What did Isaiah say? (Is; 2:5) “Let us walk in the light which the Lord gives us.” What a wonderful phrase. What a wonderful way to live our lives. Walking daily in the light of Christ the King.
I know it may sound “Utopian” to talk about a perfect world where there is no strife, no war, no poverty, no greed, no disease and only peace, love and harmony but if we always think that it’s all too hard and unrealistic then that’s exactly what we will have, a world full of strife, war, poverty, greed and disease.
We generate a lot of our own situations, and by that I mean that if we continually focus on the negative aspects of what is happening around us or around the world we will also continue to think negatively which, in turn, is reflected in our attitudes and behaviour, whereas when we focus our thoughts positively and act positively we get a much different, and more positive, outcome, - and don’t we feel so much better?
As an example; how often have you come to church, either here or any other church, and have had some negative or not so happy thoughts in your mind but after praying, sharing in the worship of the service, singing the songs and hymns with some enthusiasm and just letting Christ come into your being, you leave the service with a lighter heart and thinking what a lovely service it was. Positive thinking, and positive praying, gets positive results. Of course, another positive means of dealing with any of our burdens is to share them, not only with each other but with God. You know the saying: “Let go and let God,” and we are all familiar with Christ’s invitation which we hear every time we use the liturgy we’re using today: “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give your rest.”
Referring back to Isaiah, he suggests that under the rule of the new king;
(Is.11: 6)“ wolves and sheep will live together in peace.
Leopards will lie down with young goats.
Calves and lion cubs will feed together and little children will take care of them.
Cows and bears will eat together and their calves and cubs will lie down in peace.
Lions will eat straw as cattle do.
even a baby will not be harmed if it plays near a poisonous snake.”
Again, that sounds “Utopian” and on the face of it is referring to the so-called animal kingdom, but we humans are also a major player in the animal chain and to me the analogy is obvious, Briefly; if we truly live by the rules of the “New King,” Jesus Christ, we, the wolves and the sheep, will live together in peace.
So many of Isaiah’s prophecies have eventuated so why should we doubt that what he says in this passage will not come about - maybe not in our time here on earth, but we can at least try to be a positive influence in shaping the mould of the future world by walking in “the light that the Lord gives us.”
I pray that we all may truly know the Lord’s will and honour him and find pleasure in obeying him.
May we not judge by appearance or hearsay but judge the poor fairly and defend the rights of the helpless.
Are we the good examples we should be?
By Paul Tucker
Isaiah 11:1-10 Jesse’s descendant having the full measure of the spirit and the coming era of peace.
Romans 15: 4-13 Past writings to help us and give endurance filled with joy and peace
Matt 3:1-12 John – Repent and be baptised – one comes who will baptise with HS & fire
This past week has been one of farewells, not just for us as a parish in saying farewell to May but for the nation in saying farewell to 29 miners killed in the Pike River mine.
On reflection as far as the parish is concerned this whole year has been one of farewells with so many gaps as a significant number of our older parishioners have passed on.
While reflecting about this a scripture came to mind from Psalm 90:1-2 – Lord you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. – Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. – The first verse of 91 is similar – He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
Three aspects seemed to be significant, Firstly the primacy and exclusivity of the Lord as the central focus to our whole life and indeed the whole of human existence and creation itself, - in like manner Jesus referred to himself as the vine and the need for us to be connected to and drawing sustenance from the vine; - Secondly the Lord is the provider for all our need, the provision of shelter, sustenance and well being, our dwelling place,- as Paul also in Acts 17 told the Athenians that in Him we live and move and have our being; - Thirdly our relationship with the Lord and His provision flows from generation to generation, - Ps 145:4 one generation shall praise your works to another; Acts 13:36 David after he had served his own generation fell on sleep, which of course means that each generation makes room for the one following.
There is a sense in which we become part of God’s redemptive journey, - part of a progression which calls for us to always look and move forward and as Heb 12:2 says we should look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith,- Paul also encourages us to follow his example as he said (Phill 3:13,14) he always reached forward pressing towards the prize in Christ. The sense of moving and being on the way fits well with the experience of those who encountered Jesus who often engaged with people as he was travelling on the way, - passing through town – on the Emmaus road – walking in response to someone’s cry for help, - and while on the move interacting with people, blessing them, healing them and speaking to them on the road, on the way as he progressed towards the climax of his ministry – the cross.
Another theme that impressed itself on me was the mercy of God. Scripture repeatedly speaks of the God’s tender mercies, - don’t you love that! Can’t you see the heart of a parent that has concern and care for their child, their baby. - We are told of the greatness of God’s mercy that is great above the heavens - and of the multitude of God’s mercy, - the earth being full of His mercy. It seems to me that while we feel that May and others die too soon and too young, and they did, there is very often seems to be an expression of God’s mercy that makes their passing bearable.
I was finally drawn to the scripture also in the Psalms -136 - Give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His love and mercy endures forever. – Give thanks to the God of gods. His love and mercy endures forever. And it proceeds Give thanks, give thanks, give thanks for all His great and wonderful acts for He is good and His love and mercy endures forever.
The words of an old hymn that conveys something of God’s wonder gives expression to this, it goes:- ‘Lord of all being, throned afar; - Thy glory flames from sun and star; - Centre and soul of every sphere; - Yet to each loving heart how near.’
We are never exempt from grief or suffering just as Jesus knew grief and immense suffering, but in spite of our feelings I trust we will be encouraged to take our sorrow – our grief – our uncertainties – our fears – our wavering faith to Jesus who said we are to cast all our cares on him and allow Him to shoulder our burden of care and grief, because He cares for us, He really does care for us.
The sense of journeying on and the need to live and walk in harmony with God also comes through in our readings.
Isaiah, having earlier spoken about the judgment of God that would come upon Israel and the unfaithful descendants of David goes on in our reading to talk of the future when out of the little that was left of David’s line, the stump of Jesse, there would sprout a Branch that would see the full measure of God’s Spirit given expression, wisdom understanding – knowledge – acknowledgement of God - judgement and so much more and that as a consequence there would flow great blessing and wonderful peace – the nations to rally to Him and his place being one of glorious rest.
This of course speaks of Jesus and the vision takes in the full expression of both his priestly and kingly roles. While we know and understand that through Jesus God has provided for our salvation and has given us access to the kingdom and the gift of eternal life so that we can enter into and participate and know new life, - but what we read of looks forward to the complete fulfilment of the kingdom when all enemies are brought into submission and God’s will shall, - without exception, be done in earth as in heaven.
God has a purpose and in the words of the hymn He is working it out year by year.
The gospel reading speaks of God’s call to all of us. Our relationship with God can only be on God’s term not on ours, earlier in Isaiah the prophet speaks of a voice from behind says this is the way you should go, walk this way. And so for all of us today as in Jesus day the message of John to repent is still relevant. Stop going your own way, doing your own things, formulating your own plans. Turn around and start walking and living as God requires. John also starkly told the people of his day that there are penalties attached if they failed to do so, and so it is for us.
Paul in the epistle emphasises the need for endurance, persistence, encouragement and an abiding hope in God all of which he says we receive from the scriptures. I was glancing through a book by Prof Dallas Willard a leading theologian, who said that we should adopt the practise of memorising scripture in order that we may know God and have a better understanding of His will and purposes. At one time we did this in Sunday school and elsewhere but it seems to have fallen by the wayside.
You see we are called to be disciples of Jesus which means that our lives should be modelled on His life just as the first disciples replicated Jesus life and ministry to their generation, and in spite of their failures and limitations Jesus loved them and entrusted them with the continuation of his ministry, as he prayed to his Father expressing his love for them and asking the Father to keep and protect them as well as all that would follow after, even ourselves. The scripture says that deep call to deep, and so love responds to love, we love him because he first loved us. In this day the responsibility falls to us to follow Jesus as we are called to be disciples just as the early disciples were. Jesus questions to the first disciples is the same for us, - ‘lovest thou them more than me’; - ‘will you not watch and pray with me one little hour’, take up your cross and follow me.
Paul also said that Jesus in service to God and his fellow Israelites fulfilled the promises made so long before to Abraham and the other patriarchs, and in doing so Jesus set an example of acceptance of both the Jews and of others and so became a blessing to all nations and peoples bringing glory to God.
In keeping with our reflection of life’s journey Paul takes us full circle and refers back to the Root of Jesse of Isaiah who will rule over the nations and cause them to hope in Him and offers the benediction and prayer, ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I pray that each one of us may experience that same hope and joy and peace today and always. Amen.