Praying with open eyes

Praying With Open Eyes

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Isaiah 11:1-10

1   A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2   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.
3   His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4   but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5   Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6   The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7   The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8   The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9   They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

 

 

Isaiah knows how to paint a picture, doesn’t he? This is a passage for all those who think hope is lost, who fear enmity and strife will not end, who worry promises are broken.

 

The wolf and the lamb are moving in together. The leopard and the kid are sharing a cot.

The cow and the bear are going out for a bite to eat. It’s a fantastic scene, and I imagine you might have a few Christmas cards around the house with these strange animal bedfellows.

Perhaps, it would speak more to our time if the scriptures said, “The Republican shall live with the Democrat. The Sunni shall lie down with the Shia. The Jew, the Christian, and the Muslim together, and a little child shall lead them.” I haven’t seen any Christmas card photos like that this year. But, it still bears repeating, “red, and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.”

 

No more hurting. No more destruction. The Holy Mountain will be different.

 

“On that day, the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.”

 

All people will see it; not just a couple of candles in the sanctuary, but the light of the Lord blazing forth calling creation to the mountain – to see the promise. Even when all else feels lost, the prophet whispers hope and peace.

 

What a wonderful thought on this second Sunday of Advent.

Gospel Matthew 3:1-12

1In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

We have two very different styles in today’s passages.

Isaiah whispers, and John the Baptist shouts. Isaiah hints, and John the Baptist hollers. Isaiah is providing hope, and John is calling people to action. It’s all to bring people back to the Lord.

I’ve thought a lot about the powerful image of a shoot coming out of the stump – it’s a powerful image imaging a rose blooming in mid-December. It’s beauty spring forth from destruction and hope arising amidst devastation. Before I went to New Jersey for seminary, I worked in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee for six months. If you have never been, imagine Branson with smaller shows and bigger hills. I wonder how they hear this passage today in Sevier County, Tennessee. These are pleasant words to the comfortable, but it is something else entirely to those whose lives feel like ash on the breeze.

I don’t remember the first time I prayed, but at some point, I soaked in the basic truth that unless my hands were folded, my head was bowed, and my eyes were shut tighter than a Tupperware lid, it didn’t work. There’s a right way to pray.

Prayer was for dinner, bedtime, and tests for which I didn’t study enough, but mostly it was a private affair. It was between me and God. It was quiet time away from the noise of the world.

When our eyes are closed, we shut out the world, and focus on God. At some point, we have to open our eyes, but that doesn’t mean we ever stop praying. There’s nothing wrong with quiet time. We need it. However, when our eyes are closed, we just might miss seeing what God is doing in the world.

There are so many stumps in life – places where we feel cut off.

  • A call from a doctor with a message she would prefer giving you in person.
  • The marriage which cannot be saved or the child that won’t call back.
  • Cities bombed and people homeless.
  • You have stumps. We all have stumps. It might just be trying to look the part while crumbling from the inside. It can be that simple.

Isaiah says a shoot shall rise from a stump. Can you see it? Open your eyes!

John says, repent. The original word here is “Metanoia”, and we don’t have a good translation in English. Turn around. Adjust your perspective. Get new glasses. It is about contrition, but it’s more about change. It’s about bearing good fruit.

Advent is waiting, but it is also watching. But, what exactly are we looking for?

  • John the Baptist said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Prepare yourselves.
  • Jesus announced, “The Kingdom of Heaven is here.” Follow me.
  • Moreover, Jesus proclaimed, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within (among) you.” Be a light for others on dark nights.

 

 

 

This is our hope on grey days and dark nights. Heed John’s words, “You’re going the wrong way,” and believe the good news about a shoot rising from a stump.

Trees don’t grow back overnight, but draw comfort in the unexpected flowers blooming in mid-December.

May we have eyes to see.

May we have the courage to let our Kingdom light shine.

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