Isaiah 11:1-10

“Leader Pointing the Way” Norman Rockwell

If Isaiah 2 casts a vision of hope for God’s people, Isaiah 11 is a great clue on how to get there.  In poetic phrase, Isaiah describes a leader that will lead God’s people into the vision on Isaiah 2.  Parishioners readily identify this leader as Jesus.  But when preaching the pastoral sermon, we must remember that the kingdom is within.  This magnificent leader is inside each of us – giving wisdom and guidance to our governance of ourselves.  Whether you take the angle that the leader is human, guided by the Holy Spirit or the Holy Spirit, alone, the sermon challenges the congregation to self examination and reflection (a rare gift not offered by too many Monday through Saturday places).

Background Information

In the context of the day, many original ears may have assumed the shoot from Jesse’s stump was King Hezekiah.  Even the comments toward a reversal of the laws of nature can be joined with the mysterious mouse plague that sent the Assyrians packing as they planned to attack Jerusalem (Herodutus).  Hezekiah seems to have the gifts of the Spirit:  wisdom, counsel, knowledge, awe and fear of God, righteousness, concern for the meek.  Unlike Ahaz, Hezekiah seemed to be the perfect “shoot” from the stump God created when God acted as a woodsman in Isaiah 10:33-34.  (The actual act of cutting came by the hands of either the Assyrians or Babylonians.)

Lectionary context

The Psalter reading for this Sunday is a coronation poem.  It verbalizes all the qualities the Israelite people hoped for in a king.  The main characters in this poem are justice and righteousness.  Special attention is given to the poor.  This is a great contrast to surrounding nations who are drunk on military power and thrive on fear.  If also planning worship, I recommend that this Psalm be used as a responsive reading.

Preaching the text

Isaiah 11:1-10 introduces (to our Advent 2013 audience) a leader with spiritual qualities that are punctuated by more nature renewal.  The icon of a “shoot from Jesse’s stump” begins the description of the leader who is gifted with the Spirit of the Lord.  That Spirit materializes by “fruit”:  wisdom/understanding, counsel/power, knowledge and fear of the Lord.  The leader has insight beyond human abilities (sights and hearing), he deals rightly with the poor and wicked so much so that he wears righteousness and faithfulness.  Verse 6 begins the renewal of nature. Verse 10 describes what this leader will mean to the people of all nations-unification.

Here are some more notes on the description of the Isaiah 11 leader:

a.  wisdom/understanding – judicial decisions (Ps 72:12-14)

b.  counsel/might – military decisions

c.  knowledge/fear – exemplary piety

d. not be influenced by bribes/power (vs.3)

e.  will not take advantage of poor (vs 4)

f.  recognize and call out wicked (v 4b)

g.  all these gifts of the Spirit plus the renewal of nature attract all the nations to him

This detailed description of the Isaiah 11 leader is also a glimpse into God’s idea of governance.   If ADVENT 1 was God’s hope for humanity, then this Sunday we discover how God plans to achieve that hope – a new leader shall emerge.  And when that leader emerges, this is how things will run.  If finite hope fuels the dreaming of a goal as well as the working toward it, God has a plan; God is on the move.  And Isaiah tells us what to look for in a leader.

To internalize Isaiah’s words, we all have a leader inside of us, helping us to process emotions and make decisions in our unique way.  Isaiah’s hope for a Spirit-filled leader speaks to our internal leaders (by internal leader, I mean the internal voice we listen to that gives us guidance).  Some preacher may assume I’m speaking of the “small still voice” that is often assigned to God.  I am not.  I am speaking about the best part of ourselves that God is constantly shaping.

According to Internal Family Systems Theory, that internal leader is called the Self.  But the Self is not the only part of us capable of being the leader in our heads and hearts.  There are other parts too:  Manager, Exile and Firefighter.  Each part wants a good outcome for Self. But when out of balance, Self is overruled and other parts jump into the forefront.  It is as if the Self is the main role in a play but the play cannot make sense without supporting roles.  Manager, Exile and Firefighter are supporting roles.  But if the supporting role tries to take the lead, the play is upset and the plot is ruined.

The Self is capable of leading these parts by listening, offering comfort, and responding with authority.

Recommended Reading for Preaching a Pastoral Sermon

When the Self is in the lead, the parts will provide input to the Self but will respect the leadership and ultimate decision making of the Self.  All parts will exist and lend talents.  They all want a good outcome for the Self.  When people are allowing the Self to lead, they report feeling “centered” (as opposed to being emotionally tugged or uncertain).  This feeling is the result of self differentiation.  When differentiated, the Self is competent, secure, self-assured, relaxed, and able to listen and respond to feedback from other parts and even external voices.  If Isaiah speaks of a new leader coming, could it speak to the Self inside of all of us?  Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit could Self obtain the “gifts of the Spirit” Isaiah 11 outlines?

In addition to the richness lent to the text by IFS Theory, we also have a church full of listeners that assume this text is about Jesus.  Unlike King Hezekiah (who does deserve props) King Jesus not only has these spiritual qualities but imparted them to his followers (Pentecost).  Now the kingdom of God and the Spirit of God resides intimately in the hearts of humans.  Our Manager, our Exiles and our Firefighter (IRS Theory Terms) all need an Isaiah 11 leader.  If Jesus teaches that the kingdom is within, then Isaiah’s words speak to the Self, which is malleable by the work of God’s Holy Spirit.

Lester describes transfinite hope as creating a future story as it relates to transcending the human condition.  It goes beyond physiological sensing and the material world.  It embraces the mystery and excitement of open-ended future and the not-yet.  God is working within us to create new world order.  Could this text point to the work God hopes to do in each soul?  If we hoped this for ourselves, what would our lives look like?  What would be the ripple effect in our families and relationships, our work and hobbies and all the people with whom we interact if God’s Spirit formed our souls this way?

For this Sunday sermon, I highly discourage introducing IFS Theory to the congregation.  But if the preacher wishes to use it, I suggest seeking more information.  Learn what each role does at its best and at its worst.  The preacher may need to choose a IFS Theory role or just a verse from the scripture passage to focus the sermon.  Here are some links to help the preacher gain a better understanding of the IFS Theory.

If ADVENT 1 is a vision of hope, cast by God, then ADVENT 2 is God’s plan at work.  Thanks to Pentecost, God’s work begins internally with the Spirit of God guiding the Self to lead.  In Hebrews 6:19-20, hope is described as “an anchor for the soul”.  Isaiah gives us God’s finite hope for the leader/Self needed to change the world.  That leader is within us.  We hope in this and we are excited for what will be next.

  • Robert Hurst wrote a great article that incorporates other theories in addition to IFS when writing on the Prodigal Son.