The Wolf and the Lamb

Isaiah 11: 1-9

BY Rev. Dr. David Gray
Jun 2 2013

June 2, 2013

Watch the sermon.

I’d like to begin with an exercise in listening retention/comprehension.  Turn to one person near you and together fill in the following sentence.  “The ___ will lie down with the ____.”    I’ll give you a hint.  It’s a phrase from the Bible.  And it involves two animals.  We just heard Jack read it.  The _____ will lie down with the ____ 

100 people surveyed, top 5 answers on the board.  No, this is not Family Feud.  

The _____ will lie down with the ____. Go ahead.

Did any of you say “the lion will lie down with the lamb”?  (many hands).  How about “the wolf will lie down with the lamb (many hands – from sermon title).

Anyone come up with “the leopard will lie down with the kids?”  (no hands).  That is exactly what we just heard.

That is because the phrase, “the lion and the lamb” rolls off our tongues doesn’t it.  It has become a cultural metaphor.  It’s musical. Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, all covered the Thomas Dorsey song "Peace in the Valley."  The song includes the words:  “The bear will be gentle, and the wolves will be tame.  And the lion shall lay down by the lamb, oh yes.”

Even Woody Allen once quipped, "The lion may lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won't get much sleep."  One of you told me your father used to say, “the lion will lie down with the lamb, but the Presbyterians will never lie down with the Lutherans.”

Well, it’s not in the Bible; there is nothing in it about a lion lying down with a lamb!  But something consistent with that idea.

As Jack read, in Isaiah 11:6 we hear, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;” and so forth.

Isaiah prophesied that a day is coming when leopards and kids will lie down together, and lambs and wolves will live together.  That means that the natural world order will be transformed into something new and peace will reign. 

When even previous enemies, like wolves and lambs, will get along. 

It’s a powerful image, though an unnatural image, of two animals that usually don’t get along well together finding connection and peace.

Like a Good Morning America story I saw in March where a bossy cat led a dog around by its leash.  It’s a good YouTube video.

There is something hopeful in these images.   The hope that a time would come when if animals can find a way to get along perhaps humans can too. 

But this all may strike us as difficult at a time when Congress seems hopelessly polarized and deadlocked on important issues.  When 70,000 people have died in the civil war in Syria.  Where disagreements turn into shootouts too frequently on American streets.

Isaiah’s prophetic vision was important for Israel.  For Israel was vulnerable.  Israel was used to being the lamb.  King David and others had long used the image of God’s people as being like sheep.   Israel was used to being attacked by larger outside aggressors.  Whether it was the Egyptians, Philistines,  Assyrians or others, Israel often felt on the defensive. 

And it’s where we often are.  We often feel vulnerable.  Or are haunted by past dreams.  Or are unsure of the path ahead.

Isaiah’s vision was of a Messiah in the line of David bringing peace.  Then the wolf and the

Notice Isaiah doesn’t promise that the wolves would be defeated or the lambs would out number and contain them or that some super-sheep would arrive to crush the wolves.   Although there were many in Israel at the time who wanted a messiah who would defeat their enemies for them. 

That was a common vision, the hope of many in Jerusalem who cried out “Hosanna” “God save us” as Jesus rode in on a humble donkey on Palm Sunday.

Many in Israel were longing for a chance to be a wolf.  It’s generally more fun being a wolf than a sheep. 

But the vision God has is not one of some role reversal.  It’s an image of lambs and the wolves, leopards and kids, getting along.

History is riddled with examples of vengeance and payback.  It occurs on the international, national and family level.  So when you feel like being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, let Isaiah’s image call you to your better nature.

In the post 9/11, post-Boston marathon-bombing world, many of us feel like vulnerable lambs.  Yet at other times, when we feel angry at someone we might feel like a wolf.

Life is a mixture of experiences when we are wolves in one context and lambs in others.  You may have a chance to boss around a younger sibling, but then your teacher or parent puts you in your place.  At work there may be a colleague you realize you are hard on but then you realize you need a secondary recommendation and your attitude changes. 

Growing up in Ohio there was a boy named who lived across the street.  He was a few years older and captained our high school tennis team my freshmen year.  He was the senior sweeper on the soccer team, the same position I played.  In 1985, his rendition of Tommy Albright in our school production of Brigadoon was my model for when I played the role on a different stage nine years later.  A very good guy.  I looked up to him in a lot of ways.  He came to Washington too and as fate would have it most recently served as the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. 

Running the IRS for five years was a great job; lots to do, but the past five months have not been so fun.  Watching my childhood friend testify in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week was a tough experience.  I could see some of the same expressions I knew well come out as he tried to stay calm during questioning. 

There are moments for all of us of being on top of the world and then also of being in the pits.  Of being the predator and being the prey.

So the question then becomes - how does Isaiah’s vision of peace help us?

First, it means we must recognize the wolf and the lamb within each of us.  If we see our nature as having both natures, perhaps we can be more mindful of the times we shift too far in one direction or the other.  Even if we feel strong, once we realize there are times when we will be vulnerable and in need of protection, then perhaps we can be more empathetic, humble and compassionate when we are entrusted with power and influence over someone.  Perhaps like Gandhi and King, we can let revenge go and seek to meet forceful words with love. 

Secondly, if we believe in Isaiah’s vision of peace between warring factions, then we should take seriously our Christian role as peacemakers.  #9 for you Enneagram fans.  “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said.   Those who call others to unity:  on the playground, in the workforce, in policy making.  

Can we forgive the person who really pushed our buttons this week?  Maybe we can give our marriage another chance?  Can America try again to encourage peace in the Middle East?   

It’s hard to compel someone to be peaceful.  But I believe you can model peace.  You can pull peace.  You can invite peace by being peaceful. 

Third, following Jesus makes a difference to our hoped-for peace.  As long as we see ourselves as either an aggressor or a victim, we will never experience real peace.  If we over identify with either the wolf or the lamb, then we only see the world through a narrow lens of separated groups or interests.  But if we can view our whole world as something for whom Christ came to save, then we open our lives to hope, for us now as well as for the future. 

The impact of Christ having come is not only peace in some far-off time, but transformation for those weary and in need of peace now.

Theologian N.T. Wright writes of two significant questions for the Christian journey.[i]  He writes, “First, what is the ultimate Christian hope?  Secondly, what hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities within the world in the present?”  He continues,  “And the main answer can be put like this,  ‘As long as we see Christian hope in terms of ‘going to heaven,’ of salvation that is essentially away from this world, the two questions are bound to appear as unrelated.  Indeed, some insist angrily that to ask the second one at all is to ignore the first one, which they say is the really important one.  This, in turn, makes some others get angry when people talk of resurrection, as if this might draw attention away from the really important and pressing matters of contemporary social concern.  But if the Christian hope is for God’s new creation, for a new heaven and a new earth, and if that hope has already come to life in Jesus of Nazareth, then there is every reason to join the two questions together.   And if that is so, we find that answering the one is also answering the other.”

Much as Isaiah calls for a time when differing animals will be joined together and a little child will lead them, can we join our hopes for the future and the present through the love of Jesus Christ?

Wright continues, “Heaven in the Bible is not merely a future destiny but the other, hidden, dimension of our ordinary life.[ii]  God’s dimension if you like.  God made Heaven and earth at the last and God will remake both and join them together forever.  And when we come to the picture of the end in Revelation, we find not ransomed souls making their way to a distant Heaven but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from Heaven to earth, uniting the two in lasting embrace.”

Through Christ, the impacts of Heaven are brought to us; Heaven and earth are united.  So why wait for a day when the natural order shifts for you to shift your mindset towards peace. Have hope that the same power that gave the wolf and the lamb their natures, has the power to transform natures and to bring peace to your heart and to your corner of the world. 

My backyard here in Bethesda is currently being overrun with rabbits.  One day a few weeks ago my wife and I noticed one rabbit.   Then another.  Two grown rabbits in the spring usually means more rabbits. 

Presently we have bunnies in our backyard.   They hop and eat clover and our kids love looking at them.   We think they live in the hedge under the biggest window we have so they are right there for the kids to enjoy.

Now we also have this dog.  Some of you have met Callie at our blessing of the animals services over the years.  Callie is a ten year old retriever/border collie mix.  

Each morning after I feed Callie, she goes outside.   Most mornings these days we see some of the rabbits sitting near her path.   

A few years ago Callie would have charged at the rabbits.  Now she heads out, grabs a bone or one of her chews and lies down on the side of the grass.   Unless a bunny is right in her path, Callie will pretty much lie down and chew and ignore the rabbits which then come out and hop, and eat clover – right near Callie. 

Natural predator with a natural prey. 

A relationship transformed by time and experience and perspective.

If kids and leopards, wolves and lambs will coexist.  And if bunnies and dogs can live together, why can’t we?  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[i][i] N.T. Wright.  Surprised by Hope.  Harper One.  New York, NY, 2008. P. 5

[ii] Ibid.  p. 19.