Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church

TEEZing Out the RootsImage
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Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The 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. His 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; but 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. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 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 cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They 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.”—11:1-9

I strongly believe that this is one of those passages that should not be demystified. We should not read it as symbolic. We should not read it as allegorical. We should not get caught up in trying to decode the timing of it according to linear chronology. We should not scientifically analyze the possibilities of the ecosystems presented. We should not try to overlay the story of our Messiah on top of it and force the landscapes therein to perfectly match each other.

Instead, we should accept it as a piece of beautiful truth. We should accept it as possibility. We should accept it as that which was at the beginning, that which we can have now, and that which is to come—cyclical time and cyclical truth. We should accept that there are multiple meanings within this truth and multiple manifestations of its power. We should accept that our minds cannot fully comprehend the realities that exist within God’s vision.

We must decide what we believe about who is represented and the characteristics which define that entity. We must realize that those characteristics should be what we strive for in our own existence. We must seek the spirit of the LORD, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD. We must not judge by what we see or decide by what we hear. We must favor the poor with righteousness and choose equity for the meek. We must use the strength of our words to speak truth to power. We must seek to destroy evil. We must wear righteousness and faithfulness as belts that hold the rest of us together. We must seek to create a global ecosystem of just peace.

Many of us who are Christians see the coming of Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophetic image. If you are such a person, please take the time to reflect upon what this implies about Jesus and his mission. Reflect upon whether or not all has been fulfilled. If you decide all has not, then reflect upon how Jesus’ mission continues with a trajectory towards fulfillment. Reflect upon how we may be part of that trajectory. If are not such a person, please take the time to reflect upon the hope which this passage exudes. Reflect upon how you can be an agent for making that hope manifest. 

Posted December 14, 2015


in Advent


Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’ And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’ As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.”—Luke 3:7-18

The iconic image we have of John preparing the way for Jesus is that of him preaching repentance and baptizing people with water. He understood that in order for the people to be ready for the Messiah they had to do so work within themselves and within their communities. He was preparing the way by preparing the people. What we do not commonly focus on is the nature of John’s teachings on sin and repentance—the problems he saw in the community and the solutions he offered.

Drinking. Smoking. Doing drugs. Having sex before marriage. Having sex with someone of the same sex. Having sex for money. Watching sex. Thinking about sex. Masturbating.

These are the ‘sins’ that persistently dominate the pop Christian world, from the U.S. to Zambia and beyond. I was bombarded with implicit and explicit teachings focused on these activities in pretty much every Christian group, event, and publication I encountered from a very young age. I am sure that many others, like me, have been trained to think that preparing oneself for the coming of the Messiah boils down to abstaining from these individual activities. Those who fail to do so should be riddled with guilt, judged, and admonished by Christians who supposedly do not do these things.

Yet, the master of repentance made no mention of any of these activities. John understood the truth of the Kin-dom. John knew that sin is that which causes harm to others and denies others the fullness of life. As such, John focuses singularly on economics and power relationships. If you have more than enough while others do not have enough, you need to repent. If you practice corruption and extortion, you need to repent. If you use violence or the threat of violence from a position of power, you need to repent. In short, if you have power within a system of structural sin, you need to repent. How different this depiction of sin is from that upon which so many of us were raised!

John does not stop with simply naming what the actual sins are. He makes it clear that repentance requires action to stop the sin, to make reparation for the sin, and to enter life anew as part of the Kin-dom. If you have two coats, you must give one to somebody who needs it. If you have an excess of food, you must share it with those who do not have enough. If you have been practicing corruption and extortion, you must begin collecting at a maximum only that which is fairly ascribed to you. If you are using your position of power to enact violence and coercion, you must stop. The assumption is that if you are making money off the backs of others, you will automatically have resources in excess of others and thus will be somebody who needs to give away your coat and food. So, you must stop the activity that creates power imbalances and causes harm to others, you must make reparations, and then finally you can enter the Kin-dom anew.

“I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” When we truly repent, we are ready to be new creations. Let us never forget, though, what it actually means to repent. Imagine how this world will change when we truly follow the teachings of John in preparation for the Messiah! 

Posted December 13, 2015


Posted by Tyler W. Orem with

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Being planted in the rich soils of Zambia to inspire regrowth at home. “Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit” -Matthew 13:8