About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Shoots and Stumps and Baby Goats

2016-12-04 Isaiah 11:1-10 Matthew 3:1-12 Shoots and Stumps and Baby Goats

Children's Church started back today. Sarah found a curriculum with preaching guides that are shared by both the grown-up sermon preacher (that's me) and the Children's Church sermon preacher (today that's Sharon Gant). So, while you're in here, getting the grown-up sermon (from me), the kids are getting a different version of the same sermon (from Sharon). The kids' version not only has Sharon. It also comes with stick puppets, songs, puzzles, and pictures of happy animals. You, on the other hand, get an overweight, middle-aged white guy. This is why we have to limit Children's Church to grades K through 2.


The kids are focusing on the part of Isaiah we know as, "The Peaceable Kingdom." It's poetry, and it's magnificent.

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.

The lesson asks how the animals – who are by nature, different from one another – might help each other. "For instance, a lamb could give a wolf some of its wool to make a bed. A wolf could sing for the lamb." When you let your mind float on the breeze of Isaiah's poetry, you can go some fun (and holy) places.


It reminds me of a story I saw last week. You might have seen it, too.


The headline read:

Baby Goat Can Only Truly Relax When Dressed As A Duck


Polly, a 6-month-old goat in Annandale, New Jersey, is blind and experiences anxiety.


Polly came to the Goats Of Anarchy (love the name) animal sanctuary four months ago with some very serious problems, according to manager Leanne Lauricella.

Lauricella said: "When she was born, she was tiny and blind and couldn't nurse,"

"Her owners worked away from home and didn't have time to bottle-feed her."

Lauricella soon discovered that Polly had many issues, including severe anxiety and repetitive behaviors.

"Since she was unable to feed herself, she lives inside my house with a diaper and a baby onesie," she said. "We noticed that she felt comforted when she was swaddled."

Lauricella found an unorthodox treatment for Polly's anxiety issues last month while shopping at Marshalls: a duck costume.

The costume was designed for small kids of the human variety, not the goat variety, but Lauricella put it on Polly.

Immediately, something strange happened.

"She fell asleep ― like she had a blanket," Lauricella said. "It was lights out!"

Lauricella had previously tried dog undershirts that are designed to ease anxiety, but they didn't work as well as the duck costume.

She tried other costumes, including a pig and a fox, but they didn't have the same effect either.

Things may be changing, though. In the next couple of months, Polly is scheduled to meet with a neurological expert in Philadelphia to see if he can offer solutions for when she gets too big for the duck costume.

Help may have also arrived in the form of a male rescue goat named Pocket, who was born with undersized rear legs.

Lauricella says when Pocket lies on Polly's back, Polly calms down and is able to go to sleep.

"I've noticed that anytime he's lying next to her, she just gets calm. I've never seen her do that with another goat here," Lauricella [said]. "I'm hoping she won't need [her duck suit]. I hope that Pocket becomes her duck suit."



If you haven't seen pictures of Polly in her duck suit, or Polly with Pocket (Polly… Pocket… can't be a coincidence), you need to pull our your phone as soon as you leave today and Google "Goat Duck Suit". It will make you smile.


This neurologically-challenged baby goat has found her peaceable kingdom in a duck suit. Maybe we all should have one.


I have this image of Jesus, sitting in a garden with Isaiah's little child who leads them, with Polly, and Pocket, and a bunch of other beasts who have different gifts, different opinions, and different values - all getting along. Wouldn't that be a nice change?




The other part of Isaiah's vision the Children's lesson talks about is the shoot [that] shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and [the] branch [that] shall grow out of his roots.


Jesse was the father of King David. Isaiah dreamed of the day when David's kingdom would be restored and peace would rule the People of God.


The New Testament sees Jesus as Isaiah's dream come true.  Jesus is the new David, as the one foreseen by Isaiah when he says:


The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might….

Jesus is the shoot that has come forth from the stump of Jesse.


The Children's lesson asks the teacher, as she or he gets her mind around the scripture, to ask herself:

Where are the stumps in our own lives; where do we feel cut off?


And I can't help but think of the charred and broken stumps left from the fires in Gatlinburg and Sevier County.


The smoldering stumps of foundations where homes and businesses used to be.


The lives and livelihoods, the dreams and visions of a peaceable kingdom that people had a week ago that have now been burned and cut away, leaving them with anxiety, leaving them wondering, "What just happened" and "What do I do now?" Leaving them stumped.


What, for them, in this season of Advent, this season of waiting – what for them is the shoot that comes from the stump? What for them is the branch pushing up from hidden roots?


Where is their comfort? Where is their hope?


The lesson tells the teacher, and the kids, the same thing God said to Isaiah, the same words Isaiah said to the people whose hope had been reduced to ash. It looks at that one green sprig and says:


"This is how hope gets its start—it emerges as a tiny tendril in an unexpected place. …Can we imagine or believe that even now God might be nurturing the growth of something new and good from our old, dead dreams? Consider what areas of our lives most need the promise of new life, and how we might become open to such newness. Isaiah's promise is not just a future one; even now there are tiny signs of hope and life in places that look dead and discarded.


The churches in our presbytery are banding together, as East Tennesseans do, to be a sign of hope and life for the people of Sevier County. Greg Bennett preaches at Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church. And he's preaching hope. Just like Isaiah did. Just like John the Baptist did. Our churches are working with Greg and Gatlinburg on concrete things we can do right now and through the long haul which it will be. There's an insert in your bulletins about it. Right now, they need money. You can write a check today and put it in the offering plate.


You're already helping. You're already supporting the work of the presbytery through the pledges you make to and through this church. We're connected to all the other Presbyterian churches from Huntsville to Chattanooga, and to places like the Presbyterian Center at UT, and to Camp John Knox. Part of every dollar you share in your offering goes to churches and ministries in need. And there's a lot of need out there. The Presbytery doesn't have much overhead. We don't even have offices. Judd, our Exec, works out of his car. Dana, our Administrator, works out of her home. And I, as Stated Clerk, work out of Panera. Way too much Panera. The Presbytery depends on pledges from our churches the same way this church depends on pledges from you, like the pledge you're making today. And through our connections, you're already helping places in need. You're already being a comfort, whether you know it or not.




The Peaceable Kingdom isn't hard to imagine. Even little kids can do it. They're imagining it right now in the other room. They're playing with it. They're letting the idea pull them places they might not have expected.


What about you? Can you imagine that Peaceable Kingdom? Of course you can. Interesting note: The kingdom isn't peaceable when the animals retreat to their own cages, but when they come together. Just like people and Presbyterians.

Sometimes our skin, our politics, our different gifts, our different opinions, and our different values convince us that it might not really be worth trying to get along. That's why Isaiah preached hope. That's why the shoot from the stump of Jesse was born a little child to lead us. Because we forget hope. We let go of it, instead of praying for it.


In this new year, we all need to dedicate our gifts – financial and otherwise – In this new year we all need to dedicate our gifts to creating hope wherever its light has been burned out. We all need to dedicate, to steward, ourselves, our church, and our world toward a vision of peace. It can be done. It must be done. The light of Peace, and a little child, will lead us.