I realize that normal people do not keep an old tree stump in a cabinet, just waiting for the right moment to use it. Lucky for my friend, Greg, I guess I’m not a normal person. So when he asked today on Facebook if anyone had a stump he could borrow for the worship service Sunday at his church, (yes, you read that correctly) I practically waved at the computer and said, “I do! I do!”
The funny thing is that around 6:30 this morning I had thought of that very stump, picturing it in the cabinet, as I listened to a British lady read Isaiah 11:1-9. See, I’m rotten at praying on my own- I fall asleep or my mind drifts- so I use an app on my phone that’s called Pray As You Go, which has made such a difference for me. But back to the stump. The scripture begins (this time from The Message)…
“A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump, from his roots a budding Branch.”
The passage continues with prophesy about the Messiah, who will “render decisions on the earth’s poor with justice”- and will one day bring about a kingdom in which the wolf will romp with the lamb, a nursing baby will crawl over rattlesnake dens and a toddler will stick his hand down the hole of a serpent -and nobody will get hurt or sue anyone.
Crazy. Peace like that? Sounds too good to be true.
I went on with my day. I put the stump in a bag (10,000 year old stumps shed, in case you’re wondering) and set it by my office door and worked on my To Do list, but all the while my brain kept thinking about stumps. My stump, Jesse’s stump, and Jesus, the green shoot, the little twig-let that sprouts from that dead hunk of wood.
I’ve been feeling a little dead, myself, lately.
I won’t go on and on about it because maybe you don’t feel this way, but the election for me was a punch in the gut and it still is. I see how the new administration is already affecting the mood of the country and people’s behavior. Children I love have told me stories about kids in their classes who feel perfectly free to say what they think, no matter how hurtful and horrible it is. They yell to each other “Now you’ll have to go back where you came from,” which is terrifying when it’s aimed at you, whether you’re an immigrant kid or an adopted kid or a kid who looks different. And it’s not just with children. When we stopped on the road at a McDonalds over Thanksgiving, I saw adults bully other adults.
I see these things and I feel hope shriveling up.
What will happen next? What do we do about it?
If I can be still enough to listen, the Shoot that comes from the stump of Jesse has words for me. Follow me, it says. Sprout. Right there in the dead wood! Slurp up nourishment where you are. Bring life to what looks dead. Work towards the kingdom that’s coming.
Bring life from dead things? How do we do that?
Talk to people. Listen. Give their shriveled hope and yours CPR!
It doesn’t take much, reaching out to those I find around me, at the grocery store or the post office. Looking for their humanity and sharing mine. Trying the best I can to be like the Shoot, giving out mercy, showing tenderness, fully aware that half the time I’ll bungle it or realize that I was so busy being irritated about a parking place or the milk I forgot to buy that I forgot to be Shoot-like, but that’s okay. I’ll give up and try again. Luckily God doesn’t expect perfection. Effort is good.
You know, when Greg returns my stump, I think I’ll take back the family tradition of setting it out for Christmas. What, you don’t put a stump on display at your house? You think that’s weird? Let me tell you how it works. Ever since my agricultural engineer daddy pulled that ancient stump out of a peat bog in eastern North Carolina, we set it on a table and placed our nativity set in the hollow of it, as if Mary and Joseph had wandered into a cave and decided to stop for the night. (I’ve read that the stable was more like a cave anyway, so there!) It kind of makes sense, the stump of Jesse sheltering the child who would change the world.
He’s changing it now. May we have the courage and the willingness to join in.
The wolf will romp with the lamb,
the leopard sleep with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,
and a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear will graze the same pasture,
their calves and cubs grow up together,
and the lion eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,
a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.