Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)
Coming to church every Sunday — well, almost every Sunday — is a good thing! Learning the liturgy, singing the songs, receiving the Eucharist — all of these are good things — helpful things — lifegiving things that are a part of our worship.
But, by themselves — separated from actually living the life that God desires for us to live — they are not enough. I hope this doesn’t burst your bubble! As God speaks through the prophet Isaiah, God informs the people that the real acts of worship that God most desires include not only fasting and observing excellent ritual but things like: loosing the bonds of injustice, letting the oppressed go free, sharing bread with the hungry, and letting the homeless poor come into your house.
Geez, talk about getting practical with your faith!
According to vv. 9-12, what are the results of practicing these kinds of acts?
Psalm 112:1-9 (10)
The psalm text similarly speaks of the kinds of “benefits” that belong to those who live lives of generosity. Especially in vv. 6-8, what are some of the benefits of those “who conduct their affairs with justice?”
1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16)
Preachers and pastors are trained to use “plausible words of wisdom” — at least, that’s what we often think. Paul says that it is something quite the opposite that communicates the power of God here. As you read through vv. 2-5, why is it that the message of “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” is so powerful and effective?
Verse 7 says that God’s wisdom has been “secret and hidden” … and yet v. 10 says that it has now been revealed to us by the Spirit of God. How do you think this happens? In what ways can you remember the Spirit revealing things to you? What should we be doing in order to open our hearts and minds to the presence of the Spirit?
Jesus has a good bit to say about our opportunity to shine as the light of the world — a light that more than one commentator has noted is reflected from the brightness of Christ himself (kind of like the moon reflecting the light of the sun.) What kinds of things show a reflection of Christ in us — bringing light to the world around us? What does Jesus intend for us to do when he asks us to “let you light shine?”
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
“Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
Karl Barth was one of the last century’s great religious thinkers. He said that the parish pastor should prepare sermons with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. Here are some things I learned reading the paper this week. (Well, actually the internet, but you get the point)
Pope Francis’ critical comments about the wealthy and capitalism have at least one wealthy capitalist benefactor hesitant about giving financial support to one of the church’s major fundraising projects.
Ken Langone, billionaire founder of Home Depot and the head of an effort to raise $180 million for the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, told CNBC that “one potential seven-figure donor is concerned about statements from the pope criticizing market economies as exclusionary, urging the rich to give more to the poor and criticizing a culture of prosperity that leads some to become incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.”
The president of Uruguay, Jose’ Mujica, lives in a one-bedroom farmhouse and donates most of his salary to social justice projects. Meanwhile the former Governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell, is being brought up on corruption and graft charges. Apparently he did not find the Governor’s mansion and his salary to be sufficient and solicited funds from a rich friend so that he and his wife could “dress the part,” when they entertained wealthy potential supporters and donors.
And the “income gap, the apparent fact that most of America’s financial growth is going into the pockets of the fabled 1% who own a majority of America while middle class and working class incomes have been steadily decreasing – has become a major argument on the opinion pages and in the halls of Congress. Is it true? If so, who’s to blame? Is there a fix? Etc. etc.
People in poverty. People who work hard at two jobs and still can’t pay their bills. People who struggle to feed their families in the best of times and who begin to starve in the worst of times. People who are denied the basic opportunities to not only survive but to thrive; opportunities this country has long treated as part of our social contract with one another. These are the same people Isaiah is talking about in today’s text. People whom we, who call ourselves God’s people, are called and commissioned by God to serve and to save.
So, here’s the question of the day: What is it we modern Americans do that takes the place of doing justice and mercy in the world? The ancient Hebrews observed the temple rituals, thinking that those things made them righteous, when it didn’t. If Isaiah were pointing the finger at us, what would Isaiah say?
Most of us these days don’t do a lot of animal sacrifice and ritual cleansing; we don’t deck ourselves out in sackcloth and sit in piles of ashes. We diet, but we don’t fast. But we do
do religious things; going to church, giving an offering, singing in the choir, teaching Sunday School, reading scripture, serving on the altar, ushering, being on a committee, working with the youth, cooking breakfast, etc. etc.
And, just like fasting, and sackcloth and ashes, and attending temple rituals; there is nothing wrong with any of these things – unless we think that doing them makes us “right with God,” fulfills some obligation we have to be “holy before the Lord.” They don’t. They don’t – they
are no more effective for us than fasting was for Isaiah’s people.
Isaiah, the Psalm and the Gospel are all full of admonitions to be salt and light, to go out into the world performing acts of justice and mercy in the name of God. The key is to understand that it is not we who do these things; it is God in Christ who does them through us.
Notice carefully in the Gospel reading – Jesus doesn’t say “you should be the salt of the earth.” Jesus says “you are the salt of the earth.” Jesus doesn’t say “you should be the light of the world.” Jesus says “you are the light of the world.”
In the Psalm, people are not told what they should do; they are told what the righteous are like when they delight in the commandments of the Lord – “the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.”
Back in Isaiah the people are told that what they had been doing bee not working, that they have missed the point of being in a covenant relationship with God, and then they are told what their life will look like when they get it. “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”
In the Gospel lesson, when Jesus says that the law will be fulfilled – he is not talking about the minutia of ritual observance. Rather, he is talking about the fulfillment of the Law, the Torah, the Teaching, through the fulfilling of its purpose.
The purpose of Torah was to teach the Jews to be righteous. It was also the purpose of the Torah to make the Jewish community a light shining in the world’s darkness, a city on a hill that would show the way to all the world. In todays’ Gospel lesson, we are invited, called, commissioned, ordained, anointed, to join the Jews in being Torah people. We are sent out to be people who show God’s way to the world more through our lives than through our words.
Pope Francis named himself after Francis of Assisi – a man who gave away everything he had to the poor, a man who walked unarmed into a Muslim army in the Holy Land in hopes of stopping a war; a man who inspired million to lives of love and sacrifice for others. The story is told that one day a new friar wanted to go out “preaching” with Francis. They went around all day helping people in trouble. At the end of the day, the young man protested that he had learned nothing about preaching. Francis said, “You should preach the gospel at all times. Only use words when absolutely necessary.”
Amen and amen.