Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Cease to do evil. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Rescue the oppressed.
God, according to our reading from Isaiah this week, cares not for our religious rituals if they are uncoupled from real-life interventions on behalf of vulnerable people. Showing up on Sunday morning is not enough. In fact, showing up on Sunday morning and then leaving to exploit others any other day of the week elicits God’s anger. Consider for a moment what this might look like in our day.
We get up early Sunday morning and put on our church clothes. The most pious among us reads a Bible verse and says a prayer before we leave the house. We go to Sunday school, maybe even teach the class. We sing hymns with gusto in the sanctuary and drop money in the collection plate. Then, feeling good, we head out to the local restaurant to enjoy the tasty brunch. We drive past fields of peaches, where migrant workers perform back-breaking labor for low pay and with little ability to advocate for better working conditions. We see the public school on the right where over half of the children qualify for free and reduced price lunches, but since it’s summer, many of those kids face long months with less-than-full bellies. We sit down for a good meal and ask the host where our regular server is today. She’s been in a car accident. She’s going to be OK, but her car isn’t, so she has no transportation to get to work. She set up a GoFundMe site to help with the emergency room bill, which is pretty steep when you have a job but no health insurance. Enjoy your lunch, he says.
Should we? Can we? What are we supposed to do about any of the things we’ve seen? Is Isaiah talking to us this week? We’re good people, right? We collect canned goods in the narthex and take them to the food pantry every month. We pray for people near and far, not just in worship, but at home some days too. We tutor at that local school. We donate backpacks and pencils. We will make sure to look up that GoFundMe page and contribute. Surely, God doesn’t hate our solemn festivals.
The difficult truth we must grapple with this week is this: When we read Isaiah’s prophetic indictment, it is in fact to us and for us. Reading each verse reminds us of how far from the will of God we’ve wandered. Rescue the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Plead for the widow. If you don’t, God admonishes, I will be deaf to your prayers and blind to your calls for help. Such jeremiads feel harsh given our good intentions and sincere attempts at following God’s commands. We instinctively get defensive, look around and point out that we are not nearly so bad as so many others – like those people over there. We’d like to think this divine diatribe is directed at them.
But those seeking to mature in Christ don’t point fingers. They take a long, difficult look at themselves. They light their lamps and attempt not to flinch when they see all that the light of their Lord reveals, not only about the world, but about the one in the mirror. Such honest spiritual examination renders us potentially ready for a meeting with the Son of Man, no matter the hour of his return. When we heed the prophet’s warning, we make way for transformation, we ask God to wash us and make us clean.
Let’s argue it out, God says. Make your case. Tell God how righteous and right and obedient you are. Does such an accounting make you uneasy? It does me. Let’s see… this week I – wait, let me think a minute. I know I must have sought justice somehow. Certainly, I want to defend the orphan. I know it is good and right so to do. But hey, I was busy. I studied these texts in order to write this reflection. I took some time to plan what I will say at some upcoming church events. I gave alms, yes, yes, I did. I did not, so far as I know, actively promulgate evil in the past 24 hours. I may or may not have learned to do good. I did, however, listen to that devotional podcast and I prayed. I read the Bible, too. Didn’t plead for the widow so much, though. Now that I really think about it, I devoted the lion’s share of my time and attention to much that ultimately wears out. If this were in fact a court battle, God’s case would be open and shut.
The hope, however, is this: God is the prosecutor and defender and judge. God does not desire our condemnation. God longs for our obedience. God’s heart breaks at the thought of our estrangement. So much so that God sends the Son of Man to seek us out, to save, to set things right, to stand trial in our stead. The jury, as it were, is still out. We still have time to act on faith, to live the life of readiness to the presence and will of Jesus Christ. We can desire a better country and know that our home is with the One who prepares a place for us. Our prayers and praise, our worship and solemn assemblies, can once again be pleasing in the sight of our God because they both shape and reflect goodness and justice both within the sanctuary and out in the world.
I cannot possibly win an argument with the Most High God. My behavior, my actions and inactions, even my thoughts, they are indefensible. But through faith, because of Jesus Christ, they are no longer irredeemable. I can confess my guilt and know that the judge will seek restoration, not retribution. In faith, I can ask for help and know it will be given. Through faith, I have another chance to store up treasure in heaven. In faith, I can plead not only my case, but that of the widow and orphan as well. Through faith, I can trust that the Spirit will work against evil and for good. In faith, I can seek justice and extend mercy and defend those unable to defend themselves. Daily, we can let our light shine, illumine the darkness, expose evil, make visible the Way, the Truth and the Life of Jesus Christ, cease to do evil, seek to do good until that time when no one is a stranger and all are welcomed home.
- Do you think the reading from Isaiah applies to you? Your faith community?
- When you imagine that courtroom scene and you “argue it out” with God, what do you say? How does God respond?
- What does it mean to store up treasures in heaven? When have you sold your possessions and given alms?
- Do you often consider being ready to meet the Son of Man? Do you think you are ready?
- If you were to write a one-sentence definition of faith, what would it be?
- How can you rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow? Who are the oppressed, orphans and widow sin your community? In our nation? In the world?
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