We don’t really want to attend an exclusive soup dinner. . . Do we?
In our first reading this week, Isaiah has prophesied that the day is coming when wolves, lambs, lions, calves, leopards and baby goats will lie down with each other.
I think it was Woody Allen who said, If a Lion ever lies down with a lamb, the lamb probably won’t get much sleep.
On this Second Sunday of Advent, we are being asked to consider several strange contrasts and incongruent images in both testaments of Scripture.
In addition to Isaiah’s host of animals, that we are not likely to find coexisting comfortably, St. Matthew gives us our usual heaping helping of John the Baptist down at the river. John the Baptist and Jesus… not all that unlike a lion and a lamb.
As I scan the Gospels, John’s essential sermon seems to me to be antithetical to Jesus’ essential message. John’s is so much about who’s in and who’s out, who’s going to burn and who isn’t. Who’s going to arrive and who’s going to be left behind. It seems to me that having John introduce Jesus is kind of like having Pat Robertson introduce Bishop John Spong at a symposium on the Bible at a major university.
I have, over the years, been persuaded by the scholarship that speculates that Jesus was initially attracted to the John the Baptist Movement. But something happened between John and Jesus. At some point, not clearly illustrated in the Gospels, Jesus realized that John’s message was not resonating with his own, especially around purity and judgment.
John, you see, heralded the message that God will intervene into the world one day, and will execute divine wrath on the enemies of the people. God would not be unlike a lion devouring the lamb, like an asp waiting to strike.
Jesus, on the other hand, saw the image that Isaiah so beautifully painted in our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures this morning:
The Kingdom is all around you. It’s even within you! You don’t need to wait for God to intervene because God is here waiting for us!
There were those in Jesus’ day as there are in our own day, who just couldn’t believe that God could love them that much.
A wolf will never lie down with a lamb. It’s impossible!
Well, no one ever thought that they would hear a First Century Rabbi tell a story that included the good works of a Samaritan either. Good and Samaritan were not supposed to even be used in the same sentence. But it happened.
Leopards and baby goats will never live side by side. It’s impossible!
Well, no one ever thought that they would meet their God in a homeless child born of peasant parents, but even amid human misery, the great hymn writer tells us, the dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more. It’s unstoppable if we but wake up and look for it.
A child play with an asp? Impossible!
Well, no one ever thought that they would hear a crucified Jew forgive his Roman executioners while nailed to the hard wood of the cross, but it happened.
It turns out that forgiveness is always possible for us, and when it comes to God, there is, in fact, no alternative to forgiveness!
Now if I were reading this instead of writing it, I would be thinking, yes all those possibilities are wonderful, but it’s still a dangerous planet. Lions still stalk. Wolves, big and small, devour the weak. Millions and millions of children remain at risk. There are still snakes lurking in their holes. That is true, but I still believe that we can make a difference.
I think what we need to do in order to shape our world into Isaiah’s vision is to take Jesus’ advice and stop waiting for it to happen.
We need to stop waiting for somebody else to come up with a solution. Advent is a time set aside to wait in expectation for the Christ to come to us and anoint us as co-creators of the Kingdom with the words, The Kingdom is within you. Remember the lyrics to the famous hymn, Let there be peace on earth and let it be begin with me? My dear friends in Christ, World Peace is going to begin, in part, with how we act or don’t today. It’s going to begin with us letting God silence that little voice inside us that says They’re not really like us.
Some of you may remember when the United Church of Christ had the courage to run an add some years ago that showed two bouncer-like guys keeping out certain people from a church, while they let others in. It was meant to be a commentary on exclusion in the church. Two television networks refused to run the ads. An executive of one of the networks said, I don’t know of any church that would turn someone away. Do I have news for that executive!
A church’s doors can be unlocked and flung wide open. The lights and the heat can all be turned on, and yet from sermon to coffee hour that same church can still be just as exclusive as if two bouncers were guarding the front door!
People are not so much looking for a friendly church as they are looking for friends. People don’t just want to hear about a God who loves them, they want you to love them. That means that we have to purposely step out of our little group of longtime friends and intentionally seek out the other. You know, the person standing alone at Coffee Hour looking just a bit nervous.
I’m reminded of a very provocative book whose title sums it up: When Bad Christians Happen to Good People.
The kind of community that Isaiah envisions, and Jesus Christ endorses, begins with us making conscious decisions to lash out with inclusive love, to speak up when we see barriers being erected even if they are erected in the name of God!
A well-known pastor tells a true story of the time he received an invitation to give a series of lectures at the University of Winnipeg.
The night before his Saturday lecture, it snowed excessively. The next morning when he woke up and looked outside, the snow was up to the top of the window.
The telephone rang and the host said, Listen, this town is shut down. Nothing is moving. We’ve cancelled the lecture, the airport is closed. In fact, I can’t even come to take you to breakfast. But if you can go out of your building and turn right, you’ll find a bus station in the middle of the block. There’s a little café in there, and it might be open.
So, he put on his jacket and cap, and he trudged out into the snow and slipped into that little café. It was packed wall-to-wall with every stranded traveler in western Canada it seemed. There wasn’t really any place to sit, but someone scooted over and let him sit down in the booth with him.
A large man with a greasy apron came over to him and snapped, What do ya want?
May I see a menu, please? the preacher asked.
The large man grumbled, What do ya want with a menu? We have soup.
He replied, Good, I’ll have soup. I always eat soup for breakfast.
The large man brought the soup out, and it was strange looking, a sort of mousey grey color, but it was hot, so he took the spoon and tasted it. It was awful, so awful that he put his spoon down, and he put his hands around his little soup stove to warm himself and to rail against the world, What a horrible fix to be in.
Just then the door opened, somebody yelled, Shut the door! And she did. A woman came in, she had on a coat and nothing on her head. Somebody scooted over, and she sat down, and the big man with the greasy apron came over to her.
What do ya want?
She said, Can’t I just stay long enough to get warm?
He said, ORDER OR LEAVE!
She got up. . . and the other people at her table also got up. The preacher got up. In fact, everybody in the place stood up and headed toward the door.
And the big man in the greasy apron said, Okay, okay, she can stay.
And she sat down, and he brought her a bowl of that soup. The preacher asked the people who had let him sit with them, Who is she?
And the man sitting next to him said, I never saw her before in my life, but if she ain’t welcome, ain’t nobody welcome.
After that, all you could hear was the eating of that soup.
And the preacher said to himself, If they can eat it, I can eat it.
He picked up the spoon, slid it into the bowl and started eating the
The soup actually began tasting pretty good to him. He ate the whole bowl. He did not know what was in it; he had never tasted anything like it. At least, he didn’t think so at first. But as he started out the door, he remembered what it tasted like. It tasted like bread and wine… just a little bit like bread and wine.
What happened in that little café, he wished could happen in his church. Don’t we all?
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