Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent
December 4, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Isaiah 11:1-10
Sermon Theme: “Old School Lutherans and the Root of Jesse”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas and examples; “You Know You Are a Lutheran If . . .”; “Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen”; Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; Wikipedia)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the many reasons I loved coming here to serve this congregation in 1988 was the fact that my home congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church, Dime Box, reminded me so much of this church. The parallels astonish me.
Like St. Paul’s, whose historical recognition we celebrate today, my home church was also established in 1900. You know, thousands of German Lutherans came to America, many of them to Texas, in the mid to late 1800’s, so by 1900, there were many immigrant churches being founded in Texas, — a blessing to those who probably spoke some English by then, but were not proficient enough in English to easily understand a sermon preached in English or the Bible read in English, or the hymns sung in English.
One of the older members of this church, Anita Mayer, now deceased, told me when I first came on board as pastor here that even though her parents were quite proficient in English, they were opposed to switching from German to English. And even though she herself could read and speak English much better than German, her father insisted that she learn Luther’s Small Catechism in German, and that the pastor confirm her in German. The pastor went along with her father’s wishes, a fact that made the Confirmation class about three times as hard for her. She said she was glad when this church finally did change to English.
Trinity, Dime Box, and St. Paul, Wallis, held German services from 1900 until about the time of World War II, so I grew up hearing all the old Lutheran hymns in German. That old German hymnal was so small you almost had to have a magnifying glass to read it, but it didn’t matter, because by the time your eyesight got bad enough due to old age, you knew all the old hymns by memory anyway. You know you’re an “old-school Lutheran” if you LOVE to sing, but ONLY if they’re the hymns you learned as a child.
We are generally considered “old school” Lutherans if we grew up with the German language used in the worship service. There is a lot about us old school Lutherans that’s kind of quaint and lovable, but we’re also a tad obnoxious at times. Old school Lutherans still make and serve Jello at covered dish dinners in the liturgical color of the altar paraments for that Sunday. Old-school Lutherans fervently believe you have to serve Spam-salad sandwiches at all wedding receptions.
Because they don’t believe anyone should be proud or conceited or a show off in any way, old-school Lutherans always put the organ in the back of the church, they have the choir and the soloists sing from the back of the church, and the pastor prays with his back to the congregation.
Old-school Lutherans hear the pastor tell a joke during his sermon and they SMILE as loud as they can.
America is a country of immigrants, and it was difficult for our ancestors to make the language adjustments, the cultural adjustments, climate adjustments, and become a part of this One Great Nation under God. No doubt that’s a reason today why Lutherans are eager to reach out to immigrants from Mexico and Central America and other parts of the world.
The one thing that tied all Christian immigrants together was the Bible, and, for a while, they had to read it in their Mother Tongue, which for our forebears from St. Paul’s, was German. For some, it was Spanish, for others, Czech or Polish or Norwegian.
The Old Testament reading from the Lectionary is a perfect sermon text for this special occasion today, — Isaiah 11:1-10. For our church founders in 1900, it read like this: “Und es wird ein Ros hervorgehen aus dem Stamm Jesse und ein Zweig aus seiner Wurzel Frucht bringen.” It would be at least three decades before they could read it like this: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his root shall bear fruit.”
The writer of our sermon hymn was inspired by our text from Isaiah. The founders of our church here in Wallis would have sung the hymn like this: “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen . . .” When I was a child and sang that old hymn in German, I had no idea what it meant, but the German words touched my heart as they still do, — just as hearing it in Spanish or Polish or Norwegian might touch the heart of someone else. The hymn speaks to our hearts in many languages.
Isaiah promised a shoot from the root of Jesse. Jesse’s youngest son was King David. Roots and shoots are necessary and interdependent. We need ROOTS, to know who we are by understanding where we come from. In 1976, Alex Haley’s book, Roots: The Saga of an American Family, followed by the television miniseries in 1977, triggered a worldwide interest in genealogy and family history and helped to make cherishing your roots a good thing. The Bible has always cherished genealogy, — especially this genealogy our sermon text talks about. Matthew 1:1-16 says, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham . . .Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse, the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon. . . . and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”
In the time of Isaiah, Jesse’s youngest son, King David, had been in the grave for centuries. Folks still visited David’s tomb in Jesus’ time. They grieved, because no great King like David had reappeared. The tree was only a stump.
So Isaiah’s prophecy in our text brings wondrous news to the people. A descendant of David, the great king, is on His way! This King who comes is more than a great earthly king. This king from the roots of David has no personal ambition or self-service, He will come to set things right.
This king, who is the Messiah, will usher in a new age, an age of radical restoration and fundamental redemption. The poor will receive mercy. Those treated with contempt will get justice. Even nature will feel the difference, “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together, and a little child shall lead them.” This king is the shoot from the stump of Jesse that reconciles us with God and will bring harmony to all creation.
Not only do we need ROOTS, but we also need SHOOTS. In faithfulness to our heritage, we must branch out in new directions and express our being in creative ways that address today’s needs and issues. This is true both personally and corporately as the Body of Christ.
As members of St. Paul Lutheran Church, no matter where our spiritual journey began, — maybe it began in a Baptist church or a Catholic church, in Kalamazoo, Michigan or Dry Gulch, Arizona — at this point of our lives it is continuing here at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, and so it has become OUR roots, too. Visitors, you have your own story to cherish about your spiritual roots. For those of us who are members, St. Paul has become our roots, related and interrelated to those German immigrants who started this church. But all of us, near and far, are interrelated because we are each a part of the Body of Christ.
We need to explore and cherish our spiritual roots, thanking God for bringing the Holy Spirit into our hearts, for His forgiveness, and for the many ways He has called us to serve in His Kingdom. We must thank Him for what He has given each of us, and all of us corporately, through this 116 year old church. We must seek to understand the necessity for new shoots that will glorify the Body of Christ, shoots that are as different from old-school Lutheranism as an oak tree is from an elm, shoots that belong totally to the mighty shoot from the stump of Jesse. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.