Scripture Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10, The Peaceful Kingdom
A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse; a branch will sprout from his roots. The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of planning and strength, a spirit of knowledge and awe of the Lord. He will delight in the awe of the Lord. He won’t judge by appearances, nor decide by hearsay. He will judge the needy with righteousness, and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land. He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth; by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked. Righteousness will be the belt around his hips, and faithfulness the belt around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion will feed together, and a little child will lead them. The cow and the bear will graze. Their young will lie down together, and a lion will eat straw like an ox. A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole; toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den. They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain. The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as the water covers the sea. On that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a signal to the peoples. The nations will seek him out, and his dwelling will be glorious.
Friends, these are Holy Words. Thanks be to God.
Please pray with me. “Now, O God, take my lips and speak through them;
Take our minds and think through them;
Take our hearts and set them on fire with your love. Amen.”
It is interesting what comes to mind when we think of our country’s different states. A few years ago, only a few hours into a youth mission trip, one of our youth saw the “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign and yelled from the back of the bus, “Where are the Amish!?”
I grew up in the area between Allentown and Philadelphia, but I spent seven years of my life in Amish Country. I went to college and then seminary in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In other words, I am quite accustomed to being stuck behind an Amish buggy, and I’ve eaten more than my fair share of Amish baked goods.
I imagine people think of the Amish because they are fascinating. They stick out because of the way they live in community, intentionally separated from the modern conveniences of the world. On the one hand we think they’re crazy, on the other, we respect them immensely because we know we couldn’t do it.
But did you know, there is another religious group, not talked about as much as the Amish, but with even deeper Pennsylvania roots than the Amish? The Quaker’s. Often people confuse the Amish and the Quaker’s, but they are quite different in almost every way. Even among the one area where they agree – pacifism – they differ. The Amish live out their pacifism by not getting involved, living separately. The Quaker’s live out their pacifism in the world. It has been said that “The Amish drive buggies while the Quaker’s drive people buggy,” which probably sums it up the best.
William Penn, the man who had been given the land he eventually called Pennsylvania, or “Penn’s Wood’s,” was a devout Quaker. And it was out of William Penn’s Quaker faith that he envisioned Pennsylvania as the “Holy Experiment,” a land established for Quakers and religious minorities who had experienced persecution. Interestingly, this is why so many of the Amish settled in Pennsylvania, because William Penn and the Quaker’s invited them, promising they could practice their faith freely. And unlike most settlers to the New World, William Penn and the Quaker’s were respectful to Native American’s.
Now, when you walked into this Sanctuary this morning, you should have received a printout of a painting. Could you take a moment to locate that piece of paper? Take a moment to look at it carefully. What do you see?
The painting, of course, depicts the passage from Isaiah that I read a few moments ago, the poem of the Peaceable Kingdom. “The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion will feed together, and a little child will lead them. The cow and the bear will graze. Their young will lie down together, and a lion will eat straw like an ox. A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole; toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den. They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain. The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as the water covers the sea.”
This is Isaiah’s vision is for a world living together in peace. It was painted in 1834 by a man named Edward Hicks, a Quaker.
He painted more than 100 versions of the passage of the Peaceable Kingdom, his favorite image to paint, and he gave them away as gifts to people, freely sharing a message of inspiration for what is possible in their lives and in the world. The version I printed for you is probably the most popular depiction Hicks painted. If you look closely, you can see William Penn and a few of his fellow settlers signing a treaty with the members of Lenni-Lenape tribe. In the foreground Isaiah’s vision is a reality, in the background Isaiah’s vision gets accurate and real, addressing the socio-political realities of the time. Pacifism lived out in the world.
Isaiah’s vision and Hicks’ painting make us feel good about all that’s possible in life, don’t they? But I can hear you Debbie Downer’s and Negative Nancy’s saying, “Come on, man, Isaiah’s vision, Edward Hicks’ painting, they’re not realistic. Animals just don’t get along like that. We know what would happen if we put a wolf with a lamb or a calf with a lion, we’ve watched Animal Planet. Isaiah doesn’t mention the ocean, but we’ve binge watched shark week, and we know what happens there, too.”
It’s true. Nature is pretty cruel at times. And so is life for us, humans. Sickness and disease, navigating broken relationships and marriages, fighting depression. Some people have to work two jobs to put food on the table; others find themselves living on the streets. Religious, racial and sexual minorities experience discrimination, across our nation and even in our schools.
Terrorist groups such as ISIS are ravaging and killing in the name of religion. The situation in Syria is the worst humanitarian disaster in decades and neither our president nor president-elect talk about it. Let’s get real, Isaiah’s vision, depicted in Edward Hick’s painting, seems like nothing more than a pipe dream.
Do you know what’s interesting, though? When Isaiah shared his vision, he wasn’t living in a time of shared peace, either. He was residing in a time of great turmoil. The people of Israel were cowering in fear of the Assyrians, who were no less cruel to them as Egyptians had been. The Israelites were bracing for war. It was in this fearful time, not a hopeful time. It was when peace was hard to see, that Isaiah shared his vision. Like an Edward Hick’s painting, Isaiah tells the poem of the peaceable kingdom with Israel’s sociopolitical realities in the background. Isaiah is sending a message, it is not the time to give up, it is time to imagine a different way. God is calling us not to march to the beat of the status quo, Isaiah implies, but to the beat of a different drummer, the drummer of peace. God’s peace.
Advent is the season of intense preparation. We take care to shop for loved ones and friends, we place candles in our windows and put up a tree. I made the mistake of telling my son Asher before I was ready that we will soon be putting the train under the tree and yesterday he was walking around the house saying, “Train, train, train.” We prepare our homes and our lives for Christmas. And as Christians, we prepare our hearts and our minds for the coming of the Christ Child. We do this because we believe that Isaiah’s vision was lived out in that manger stall all those years ago, with those peaceful animals and angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.” And we believe Isaiah’s vision was lived out when that child grew up and began gathering people, proclaiming the poor God’s blessed ones and peacemakers God’s children, teaching his followers not to offer an eye for an eye, violence for violence, but love and compassion. And believe Isaiah’s vision was lived out when Jesus hanged on the cross, a lamb next to two wolves, and forgives the lions that had done him violence. In the Christ Child, Isaiah’s vision, the peaceable kingdom, touched the earth.
This past week, Pastor George shared with me an article he was forwarded by a mutual colleague, not simply about peace, but peace that passes all understanding around one of the most divisive issues there is, abortion. Six unlikely women came together, three leaders within the pro-life movement, and three leaders within the pro-choice movement.
The story begins tragically, when a deranged man walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts, and opened fire with a rifle in December 1994. He seriously wounded three people and killed the receptionist as she spoke on the phone. He then ran to his car and drove two miles down Beacon Street to Preterm Health Services, where he began shooting again, injuring two and killing the receptionist there.
This event shocked the nation. Pro-choice advocates were grief stricken, angry and terrified. Pro-life proponents were appalled as well as concerned that their cause would be connected with this horrifying act. Governor Bill Weld and Cardinal Bernard Law, among others, called for talks between pro-choice and pro-life leaders, and six women, three pro-choice and three pro-life, responded.
They met privately for nearly 5 ½ years in an experience that astonished them. Six years after the shootings, they chose to publicly disclose their meetings for the first time.
The purpose of the talks was not to reach consensus or compromise, but merely to communicate openly with the other side, away from the polarizing spotlight of media coverage, to build relationships of mutual respect and understanding, to help deescalate the rhetoric of the abortion controversy, and to reduce the risk of future shootings.
The first meeting took place in Watertown and that first discussion was grueling. They could not agree on what to call each other, and for various reasons they continued throughout their meetings to struggle with using each side’s preferred designations of pro-life and pro-choice.
Through the years, they struggled with how to refer to what grows and develops in a pregnant woman’s womb. The prochoice women found “unborn baby” unacceptable, and the pro-life women would not agree to “fetus.” For the sake of proceeding, they assented, uneasily, to the term “human fetus.” Those opening exchanges brought them to the heart of their differences. Nerves frayed. The chasm between them seemed huge.
To help them listen and speak across the divide, they developed ground rules. They would seek to use terms tolerable to all participants. They would to interrupt, grandstand, or make personal attacks. They would speak for themselves. They also made a commitment that they found agonizingly painful: to shift their focus away from arguing for their cause, to prevent rancorous debates. They have come a long way, but it was not easy.
“From the beginning, I have felt an enormous tension,” one of the women says, “between honoring the agreement not to argue for our position and my profound hope – which I still feel – that these women for whom I have such great respect will change their minds about abortion.”
Despite the strains of the meetings, they met I total of 150 hours in all they grew closer to each other. At one session, they each told the group why they had devoted so much of their time, energy and talents to the abortion issue. Those accounts – all deeply personal – enlightened and moved them.
On the evening of the one-year anniversary of the shooting, about 700 people gathered to honor the memory of the receptionists who died in the shooting. All of the pro-choice participants were part of the leadership for the service. And in that solemn crowd were the three pro-life members as well. “Seeing the pro-life members of our discussion group walk in was one of the most meaningful moments of the service for me,” one of the pro-choice participants recalls.
While the six women continued to struggle over profound issues, they also kept track of personal events in one another’s lives, celebrating good times and sharing sorrows. As their mutual understanding increased, their respect and affection for one another grew.
The increased understanding affected how they spoke as leaders of their respective movements. The news media, unaware they were meeting, began noting differences in their public statements.
In an article on the first year anniversary of the shootings, one reporter wrote, “Has the past year brought the lowering of voices? The answer seems to be a qualified yes, at least among some activists.”
In the same article, one of the pro-life participants is quoted as saying she uses the name, “pro-choice because that is what they want to be called. I have a basic respect for the person, even though I dot’ agree with or respect the potion.”
One of the pro-choice participants was quoted as well saying, “We needed to listen to each other with care and respect. I’m more mindful now than I’ve ever been about speaking in love, speaking in peace, speaking in respect to anyone, ho matter how wide the differences are.”
Throughout the 5 ½ years, they wanted to explore many of the aspects of the abortion controversy. In these and all of their discussions of differences, they strained to reach those on the other side, who could not accept – or at times comprehend – their beliefs. We challenged each other to dig deeply, defining exactly what we believe, why we believe it, and what we still do not understand.
While the conversations revealed a deep divide, the differences on abortion reflect two world views that are irreconcilable – the effort was still worth it because when they looked at each together before they saw the enemy. When they look at each other now, they see dignity and goodness and embracing that apparent contradiction stretches them spiritually. They experienced something radical and life-altering that they describe in nonpolitical terms: “The mystery of life,” “holy ground.”
As Pastor George, Mark and I talked about this scripture in our weekly worship meeting I wondered aloud, “What is peace.” Mark replied, “Yes, because lions will always be lions, and lambs will always be lambs.” The story of these 6 women show how we can live in the peace of God, the peace that passes all understanding, even when we intensely disagree. In the example of these six women, as in the birth of the Christ Child, Isaiah’s vision touched the earth.
In the the Christ Child, as with the story of the six women, Isaiah’s vision touched the earth.
Where are we being called to step into the vision of that good prophet Isaiah’s, and into the painting of that upstanding Quaker Edward Hicks, with the pain of our lives and the fear of the world painted in the background? As followers of Christ’s way, God is calling us to march not to the beat of fear and violence, but to the beat of God’s hope and peace, a peace that passes all understanding. May God’s peaceable kingdom touch the earth this Advent and Christmas and always.
Quakerspeak. “Are Quakers Amish?” YouTube. YouTube, 17 July 2014. Web.
Hartshorn, Leo. “The Peaceable Kingdom: Isaiah 11:1-10.” A Different Drummer. N.p., 02 Dec. 2012. Web.
Fowler, Anne, Nicki Nichols Gamble, Frances X. Hogan, Melissa Kogut, Madeline McComish, and Barbara Thorp. “Talking with the Enemy.” Boston Globe, 28 Jan. 2001. Web.