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The Peaceful Kingdom
Fall Quarter: The Sovereignty of God
Unit 1: The Sovereignty of God
Sunday school lesson for the week of September 4, 2016
By Rev. Denise Walton
Lesson Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-9
The writer of the Adult Bible Studies Sunday School Lesson suggests we begin with an overview of the book of Isaiah. A common understanding divides Isaiah into three major sections: chapters 1-39; chapters 40-55; and chapters 55-66. Today we focus on text found in chapters 1-39, commonly referred to as “First Isaiah.”
It is important to note the events in history related to Isaiah span an extended period and cover many events. First Isaiah deals with the prophetic events related to the people of Judah and Assyria (the super power of that time) and Babylon. Biblical history reveals that Babylon in 587 B.C. replaced Assyria and destroyed the temple, placing the people of Judah in exile.
For the people of God living through the events of history during the time of First Isaiah, there are constant political, social, psychological, and spiritual threats. It is within this environment that we engage the passage of scripture Isaiah 11:1-9 as a passage of hope for the people of Judah. In the midst of the contemporary realities, Isaiah points to the peace of God, the kingdom of God, and a truth of God that is larger than the present circumstances.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra's den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper's nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
(Isaiah 11:6-9, NRSV)
As United Methodists, how do we understand who God is in the midst of the contemporary world we live in with all of its complexities? How can we in the midst of the current political, social, environmental and spiritual realities of our time, consider Isaiah's message of God's peaceful kingdom for our current time?
The major attribute of God in today’s lesson is God’s sovereignty. However, let's take a look at the way United Methodists understand who God is in relation to our faith. The description of God’s attributes below, from The United Methodist Member’s Handbook, helps us to understand our Christian identity as it relates to God. I invite you to read and reflect on the questions following the reading.
Who God is
When we say the Apostles’ Creed, we join with millions of Christians through the ages in an understanding of God as a Trinity – three persons in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God, who is one, is revealed in three distinct persons. “God in three persons, blessed Trinity” is one way of speaking about the several ways we experience God.
We also try to find adjectives that describe the divine nature: God is transcendent (over and beyond all that is), yet at the same time immanent (present in everything). God is omnipresent (everywhere at once), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omniscient (all-knowing). God is absolute, infinite, righteous, just, loving, merciful … and more. Because we cannot speak literally about God, we use metaphors: God is a Shepherd, a Bridegroom, a Judge. God is Love or Light or Truth.
What God does
We cannot describe God with certainty. But we can put into words what God does and how we experience God’s action in our lives. God works in at least these seven ways:
- God creates. In the beginning, God created the universe, and the Creation is ongoing. From the whirling galaxies to subatomic particles, to the unfathomable wonders of our minds and bodies, we marvel at God’s creative wisdom.
- God sustains. God continues to be active in creation, holding all in “the everlasting arms.” In particular, we affirm that God is involved in our human history – past, present, and future.
- God loves. God loves all creation. In particular, God loves humankind, created in the divine image. This love is like that of a parent. We’ve followed Jesus in speaking of God as “our Father,” while at times it seems that God nurtures us in a motherly way as well.
- God suffers. Since God is present in creation, God is hurt when any aspect of creation is hurt. God especially suffers when people are injured. In all violence, abuse, injustice, prejudice, hunger, poverty, or illness, the living God is suffering in our midst.
- God judges. All human behavior is measured by God’s righteous standards – not only the behavior itself but also the motive or the intent. The Lord of life knows our sin – and judges it.
- God redeems. Out of infinite love for each of us, God forgives our own self-destruction and renews us within. God is reconciling the individuals, groups, races, and nations that have been rent apart. God is redeeming all creation.
- God reigns. God is the Lord of all creation and of all history. Though it may oftentimes seem that the “principalities and powers” of evil have the stronger hand, we affirm God's present and future reign.
When all is done, if we have difficulty in imagining who God is or in relating to God, there’s a simple solution: remember Jesus, for in the New Testament picture of Jesus, we see God.
United Methodist Member’s Handbook, revised by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), pp. 72-73, was taken from Our Christian Roots: God, www.umc.org.
- What are the barriers to the peaceful Kingdom of God in the world today?
- How can we as Christians recapture the biblical image of these passages of hope for a peaceful kingdom?
With hope and peace,
Rev. Denise Walton serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.