December 4, 2016 Sermon
Isaiah 11:1-10/ Matthew 3:1-12
God’s Reign of Peace
Let me start by telling you about my cat Melody. She was rescued from the street when she was already an adult. She was brought to me as a foster cat from the cat rescue organization in which I was involved in Montreal. The few among you who are lucky enough to have met her might have noticed how scared she is of everything and everyone. Once I tried to catsit for another foster mom; the new cat scared my Melody so badly that she screamed and hid under the bed, refusing to come out all evening, even after I put the other cat in the bathroom. I can imagine what it must have been like for her to live on the streets; I’m sure she survived thus far by hiding from other cats. If she had to deal with other animals on the street, she might not have survived.
Unfortunately for weak animals like my Melody, the animal world is about survival of the fittest. If you watch a documentary on wild animals on Discovery channel, you can see the horrifying scenes where antelopes are eaten by lions. We might feel sorry for the antelopes, but unfortunately that’s the law of nature. If they are not eaten, they will eventually starve to death because there won’t be enough plants to eat. That is why it is striking to read about Isaiah’s vision for the future reign of God.
The Isaiah text we read today is an Old Testament vision of God’s reign. This vision is a vision of peace and justice. Look at the imagery of different animals and little children, where the strong and dangerous animals do not harm the weak ones. This is a metaphor for what our human society will look like in God’s reign/ kingdom; those with strength and power do not harm and oppress the weak members of the society. Israel after the exile dreamt of the day God would deliver them from the many foreign oppressors and restore them as the blessed people of God. The leader who would lead them to this reign of God has to come from King David’s family line because they remember King David as the ideal king. According to Isaiah’s vision we read today, this leader descended from David will be blessed with the Spirit of the Lord; the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of the knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He will judge the poor with righteousness. Actually, righteousness will be the belt around his waist and faithfulness the belt around his loins. Righteousness will be the principle by which he rules his people; he will not oppress the poor and the marginalized. This society will be like different animals, carnivores and herbivores living together in harmony without violence. This vision of God’s reign is a peaceful kingdom, and since true peace is not possible without justice for everyone, the leaders have to favor the weak members of the community, and the powerful do not abuse their power and oppress others. The knowledge of God leads to doing God’s will of peace and justice.
Matthew’s text we read today is a New Testament vision of God’s kingdom. John the Baptist starts his ministry by urging people to repent because the kingdom of heaven is near, and to be baptized as a sign of repentance. Later on, when Jesus starts his ministry, he will preach the same message. Therefore, we can say that God’s kingdom starts with repentance. But repenting is not enough; according to verse 8, repentance has to lead to bearing fruits. Repentance is about turning around from our old ways and coming back to God’s way. But repentance is not repentance if our life doesn’t experience transformation. If we transform as a result of our repentance, the change should be manifested outwardly through our words and actions. That transformed life is the fruit we bear.
We need to pay attention to this message about bearing fruit worthy of repentance. This is not just a message aimed at the Pharisees and Sadducees. Think of today’s Christians. We are taught that if we believe in Jesus Christ we will be saved; and that if we repent, we will be forgiven. Like some of the Jewish leaders during Jesus’ time who thought they were all set in the path of salvation because they belong to God’s chosen people, a lot of Christians today have a similar attitude. Since we believe in Jesus Christ, we will go to heaven no matter how we live. This attitude is not compatible with the gospel teachings, of course. To the Jewish leaders who thought they were God’s chosen people, John the Baptist says, “Hey, don’t be too sure about your destiny in the days to come just because you are Abraham’s descendants (meaning God’s chosen people); if you don’t bear fruit worthy of repentance, you are no better than the Gentiles that you consider inferior”. We Christians also need to hear this message. We don’t belong in God’s kingdom just because we believe in Jesus. We need to follow Jesus and live a life worthy of his teachings.
The Bible is full of teachings about God’s requirement for us to work for justice and peace. Today’s psalm is one of them. This psalm is a prayer for the king to rule with righteousness and justice; deliver the poor and the needy, and crush the oppressors. Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament teach that peace and justice is God’s will for us.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent and today’s theme is peace; and remember that true peace is not possible without justice. Advent is like the New Year’s Day and we are given a new chance to start over. As we start this Christian New Year with a new hope and resolution, let us remember God’s will for us to work for peace and justice, to bring God’s reign of peace to our world. As during the biblical times, we still have the powerful who abuse their power and oppress the weak. We still have those who are hungry, sick, and marginalized. We have them in both our local and global communities. During this season of waiting and new beginning, let us think of them. We are called to carry out God’s will of peace and justice. Let us donate to our local food bank for their Christmas hamper. Let us take a look at the United Church’s Gift with Vision catalogue, and donate to different projects with prayers. Let us help the refugees. Let us boycott big corporations that exploit earth’s resources and its people, such as the multinational chocolate company I am boycotting. Let us make a statement by rejecting organizations that spread hate, such as a certain homophobic Christian charity organization that comes out during Christmas season to collect donation. We are Christians. We follow Jesus. So let us speak against injustice and evil, and strive to serve the needy. Let us work to bring God’s kingdom of peace and justice to our world.
Rev. Sunny Kim