Season of Blessings: Peace & Quiet

December 4, 2016
by Rev. Melanie Homan

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(Season of Blessings Sermon Series)

“Season of Blessings: Peace and Quiet”

December 4, 2016

Rev. Melanie Homan

Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The 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. 3His 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; 4but 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. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The 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. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They 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.

Jerry Flora called me up a few weeks ago and asked me if I had been to the Martin Luther exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I said, “No.  It sounds great, but I don’t have time.”  He told me I needed to make the time, and he was taking me.  We went this past week, and as I have shared with some of you already – if you haven’t seen this exhibit – GO.

It is not a traveling exhibit. It is the only time that these particular pieces of art and church history will all be together in one collection.  When this show is done, the pieces will all go back to the places they each came from.   Granted, we aren’t Lutheran, but this exhibit crosses a broad spectrum of church history that is also our history and it’s pretty amazing to experience that history – visually.

Of all of the pieces in the exhibit, there is only one that I took a picture of. Because I just had to show it to all of you.

With the onset of the reformation, there was a new emphasis in worship on the sermon. “By preaching the Word of God as found in the Bible, the sermon became the means of receiving grace and God’s divine forgiveness.”  But there was a problem.  Preachers were bestowing lots and lots of grace on the people by preaching sermons that were LOOOOOOONNNNGGGGG.  Way too long.  So they started using these hourglasses to force the preachers to limit the length of their sermons.  These hourglasses were mounted on the pulpit so the pastor could time his sermons.

The pastor would turn over the first hourglass to begin his 15 minute introduction.

When the sand ran out, he would turn the next one over to provide his statement of facts for 15 minutes. After that, 15 minutes for application of those facts into daily life.  And the last hourglass was for a 15 minute conclusion.  Let that sink in for a moment.  The 60 minute sermon was the SHORTENED sermon.  Can you imagine what it was like before they started nailing hourglasses to the pulpit?!?  We have our own modern version of the hourglasses right here in our sanctuary.  You can’t see it from where you are sitting, but there is a clock hanging from this pillar, so I can keep track of how long things are going.  I couldn’t be a pastor if a 60 minute sermon were still the expectation.  I figure if I can’t say something important in 10 minutes, then I need to try harder. Short and to the point.  That’s my mantra.

Not only was it worth the time to go see this exhibit, I was reminded of how important a little peace and quiet is. What a blessing it is.  I used to go to art museums all the time.  Now the only museum we go to on a regular basis is the children’s museum – which is wonderful but it is LOUD.  And MESSY.  And perfect for kids.  It’s been years since I went to the MIA.  I used to live two blocks from there, and would spend time there every week.  And what I love about it is the peace and quiet.  This huge, immense space, the beauty of art, and sometimes the only sound you hear is the sound of shoes clicking on the floors.

Peace and quiet. The last time I went to the MIA was a few years ago with the kids and Dylan set off some sort of alarm by tripping and falling over one of the roped-off displays. I’m pretty sure it was as traumatic for us as it was for the docents.  NEVER A DULL MOMENT.

I forgot how much I missed the inner peace and quiet that can come with looking at a painting or a work of art, and considering the beauty of it. As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  As I read our scripture reading for this morning from Isaiah, it reminded me of the painting by Edward Hicks.  Hicks is known for his painting of “The Peaceable Kingdom,” which is based on this scripture passage.  Except he didn’t just paint one picture of The Peaceable Kingdom.  He painted some version of this scripture passage 62 times.

martinlutherexhibit2

Hicks was a Quaker pastor. Peace and quiet are important for Quakers.  Peace and nonviolence are cornerstones of a tradition which worships in silence, until that moment when the Spirit moves within someone, and God speaks through them.

When Quakers gather, they sit together in silence, in “expectant waiting.”

Expectant waiting for ways that the Christ in you meets the Christ in me.

The image of the peaceable kingdom, of the wolf and lamb living together, the leopard lying down with the kid, the calf and the lion and fatling together, the lion and ox eating straw together…They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.

This image took hold of Hicks and wouldn’t let him go. Of all the things he could have painted, this was the image he kept coming back to over and over.  He painted this image from Isaiah, of all the animals living together in peace.  Because he deeply desired for things to be the way that Isaiah described, in his own time.  Which is why the other things going on in his paintings are so interesting.

In the far left corner, is a depiction of William Penn, another Quaker, establishing a peace treaty with the Native Americans who were already living in the area the Quakers were settling. Hicks envisioned the peaceable kingdom happening in his own time.  He wanted the lion and ox eating straw together in his own time.  He wanted the Quakers and the Native peoples to live peaceably together.

He kept going back to this painting over and over again, because what started out as something that filled him with much hope, turned into something else. These communities were not living peaceably together.  Treaties were not honored, tribes were harmed, and as Hicks painted his images of the peaceable kingdom, the cracks in the trees and the divisions between the animals and the humans became more stark.  The paintings became more tense, the expressions on the animals reflecting the tension and conflict the people were experiencing at the time.

And then, the conflicts that Hick experienced went beyond conflicts between the Quakers and the Native Americans, but within the Quakers. A deep division of belief had grown between Quakers who lived in urban areas and Quakers who lived in rural areas.  And in his later paintings, the animals no longer look so peaceable towards each other.  The early images move from hopefulness to tension, and then from tension to despair.  The conflict was too much – and he ended up leaving his ministry as a Quaker pastor, to focus entirely on his painting.  But even then, he kept painting the peaceable kingdom.  The vision of what might be – it would not let go of him.

By the end of his 62 paintings, perhaps Hicks accepted that the peaceable kingdom was not something that was going to happen in his lifetime. But that didn’t mean it was never going to come.  In the end, he settles for anticipation of what will grow out of a nearly dead stump. And with anticipation comes hope.  He anticipates that ultimately, God will usher in a time when on his holy mountain, the people will not hurt or destroy anymore, when the whole earth will be full of the knowledge of God.

Hope comes to us, but it comes from something that looks like death and devastation. It comes from a stump.  It comes from the stump of a tree that looks to be good for nothing.  Out of death, comes new life – out of a stump, a shoot shall come out – a teeny, tiny sign of life that will grow into something that is new and full of peace.

I resonate with the tension Hicks felt as he painted these images, as he experienced the conflict that was brewing all around him – both within his community of faith and how they were relating to other groups around them.  Those first images of William Penn living peaceably with the indigenous people by honoring a treaty – take one look at Standing Rock today and it becomes apparent how far we have NOT come. The tensions continue.

Advent is a time of expectant waiting. Advent is a time of anticipation.  And that’s what we do.  We don’t despair that things are so far from the vision Isaiah gives us.

We anticipate and expect that we will get there. It is God’s desire for the earth.  It will come.  Hicks believed that the “Christ in you” and the “Christ in me” could break down the physical barriers that keep us from living and working together in peace.

If you were to paint or draw a picture of the peaceable kingdom, what would it look like? The Christ in you and the Christ in me – if we believe that God is present in each of us, then we can reach across great divides to work and live together in peace.  May the kingdom of God be at hand, even though it is not yet fully present among us.  In peace and in quiet, may we see Christ in one another.  Amen.