Sunday, August 14, 2016

Year C, Proper 16, Isaiah 58:9b-14, "Lord of the Nations"

Isaiah 58:9b-14

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.

I've never had a parishioner ask me to address political issues from the pulpit.  Quite to the contrary the concern, the desire, is that as a pastor I steer clear of anything that can be considered political.  Just this last week the concern was raised during an interview.  My reaction surprised me.  "If we're preaching about 'little bo peep has lost her sheep' while the Twin Trade towers are smoldering, we run the risk of being totally irrelevant."

An interesting study would be to create a red letter edition of the Bible that highlighted the passages of scripture that had a specific political implication.  If we did that what we'd discover is that, whereas our bias today is to view all religion as a deeply personal matter, the Biblical context was that religion was predominantly a societal matter.  The prophets, for example, most frequently spoke to the nation as a whole, the body politic.  The righteousness of which they so frequently spoke was of the nation, not the individual.

And need I say that the "Kingdom of God", Jesus favorite theme, carries with it some specific political ramifications???

I suppose a rather biting retort to the concern that pastors be apolitical would be to respond, "And so, what you're saying is that you do not want me to preach from the vast majority of the Biblical texts?"

And so, what are we to do with the prophets?  This passage from Isaiah can be read from the individualistic bias of today's world.  But such a reading is simply not the context of Isaiah's words.  He is speaking of "a nation that practiced righteousness" not an individual.  

"Offer your food to the hungry, satisfy the needs of the afflicted".  The Biblical witness is that God has a special concern for the less fortunate among us.  The widow, the orphan, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the sojourner in our land, "the afflicted".  Do Justice.  Show Mercy.  And walk humbly with your God.  

I believe that one of the reasons we are uncomfortable with the political implications of the Bible, is that we do not believe a nation can exist based on the Bible's political premises.  Jesus was a idealist.  The "Year of Jubilee" where all debts were forgiven and all property was returned to the original owner is simply not doable.  Forgive your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.  Not so wise for a nation dedicated to its own survival.

But think what we are saying when we relegate the Biblical witness to the individual, and exclude its witness to the nation.  What we are saying is that, in the end, God has a good word for us personally, but knows nothing about politics or governance.  "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe. . ."  That's a political statement about God.  We are more comfortable with accepting Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior.  

Could it be that the Ruler of the Universe might actually have some knowledge, some wisdom, and just some plain good advice on how to run a nation?  Radical concept.

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