International Ministries

The leopard shall lie down with the kid...

December 21, 2010 Journal
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Well.  This is clearly no leopard.  And my good friends Ron and Eric have not been kids for... a... while....  And, of course, they were never "kids" in the sense that Isaiah meant!  Still, this was the image that came to mind as our pastor, Karen Selig, did a wonderful job of leading us into the meaning of Isaiah 11 a couple of weeks ago.          

In March of this year, Eric, Ron and I were once again part of an international faculty that has been doing inductive Bible study seminars in different places around the world for many years.  At the end of the seminar, I traveled to Rangoon/Yangon, to do some work on conflict transformation with people in Burma/Myanmar, and my friends went to a place near the Thai-Burma border that has become known as the "tiger sanctuary" (or "tiger temple").  As you can see, the tigers there do, indeed, lie down with those they would normally fear or eat:  us.

The conditions at the tiger sanctuary are unique.  (In fact, they are controversial.  Some claim the reality behind the scenes is very different from what visitors experience.  I do not have adequate information either to attack or to defend it.  What struck me though--and what I want to highlight here--is that my friends say it was an amazing taste of strikingly different possibilities for life in this world.)  Those who run the place are inspired by Buddha, not Jesus.  Still, I think followers of Jesus can learn something from its very existence.  For, thoughts of the tiger sanctuary came to mind for me first, not as Pastor Karen read the words of Isaiah 11:6, but when she reminded us of the amazing things that God has done through the work of Koinonia Farm, in Americus, Georgia.

Here's the short version of what went through my mind:

Isaiah was inspired to use a variety of metaphors as he talked to his fellow Israelites about the disasters that were headed their way... and the outpouring of blessing that would eventually follow.  New growth would sprout from the stump of a tree that had been not only cut down, but burned.  Out of apparent annihilation, God would bring a totally unexpected new burst of life.  Not a plant, a person.  That person, we confess by faith, was Jesus of Nazareth--who is none other than the risen Lord.

As Pastor Karen added a small ceramic goat to our congregational nativity scene, she reminded us that Isaiah's vision of leopards lying down with kids is not so much about animals, as people.  The real transformation of predators and prey that needed to take place in Isaiah's time--and desperately needs to occur in our own time--is the transformation of human predators and prey.

If that transformation still needs to happen, over 2,000 years after Jesus' birth, what does it mean to sing carols about peace on earth?  At least part of what it means, is that we live by faith and hope, not by sight.  Also, to sing about peace in a world like ours should mean committing ourselves to live out and work for what we sing about.  Just why the Lord has chosen to take thousands of years to move from the inauguration of the Kingdom of God in Jesus to its full expression at the Second Coming is a mystery.  But this "in the meantime" that we have been granted is an opportunity to move from watchers to workers in the longest long term project in history:  God's transformation of the very fabric of human life.

It was as she encouraged us to join in the work God is doing that Pastor Karen called our attention to the great example of Koinonia Farm.  There, Clarence Jordan and those who joined him knew they were living and working on "a demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God."  Koinonia Farm was not and is not the full expression of the Kingdom--not even in its own internal life.  But it has embodied a serious attempt to live into and live out the message of Jesus.  And, God has used that "demonstration plot" to produce some amazing fruit all over the world (not least through one of its daughter ministries, the better-known Habitat for Humanity). 

At the tiger sanctuary, Ron and Eric got a brief taste of radically different relationships between predator and prey.  At Koinonia Farm, Habitat for Humanity and myriad other churches and special-focus ministries (including those served by International Ministries!), people get a taste of the future that is coming.

We are still very far from experiencing the fullness of life that God intends for humanity.  That, truly, is bad news for us all.  But it also means there is a lot of room for more "demonstration plots" for the Kingdom of God.  In fact, there is both room and need for such "demonstration plots" wherever we are.

I am grateful for the chances I get to be a part of such expressions of God's Kingdom, whether in Royersford, Vietnam or anywhere else in the world--a world that is somehow both God's and ours.  As we celebrate again this week the coming of God in Jesus, may it whet our appetite for the fullness of what it promises... and quicken our hands to pick up a hoe and work the field of our own little demonstration plot!

May God grant you a joyous celebration of Jesus' birth... and also make of you and those with whom you serve daily, a fruitful demonstration plot for the Kingdom!