Saturday, February 8, 2020

Year A, Ephiphany 5, Isaiah 58:1-12, A Godly Nation

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Following their return from Exile in Babylon the nation of Israel was in ruins, having been destroyed by Babylon a generation before, and now the Israelites were faced with the daunting task of rebuilding the nation.
Isaiah speaks to them at this time in their history.
In today’s lingo, he basically said:  “You want to make the nation great again?  Don’t bother yourselves with all your ‘religious rituals’ like fasting and such.  Do justice.  Obey the ordinances of God.  Then and only then, will the nation be great again.”
Taking Isaiah’s Word and applying it to our context it sounds like this:
“So you want to make America great again.”
“Quit giving lip service to God while ignoring his word and commandments.  Quit pretending to be religious and faithful and instead seek to do God’s will.”
And what is God’s will?
How would God have us act to restore the greatness of our nation?
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist.
Just stop it, Isaiah says.
Humble yourselves.
. . .”loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free. . .
. . .share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if 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.
Do this, and America will be great again.

We live in a highly polarized and partisan age.
And there are those who will say that if we do this, if we feed the poor, bring the homeless into our homes, if we cloth the naked and attend to our families, if we quit pointing our finger at one another and speaking evil, if we end all oppression and injustice, then we are nothing but a socialist state.
And of course, it’s politically incorrect to promote socialism in some circles.
One of the movements in American politics is to embrace the concept of “democratic Socialism”.
I quote from an article in the Business Insider:
In general, socialists believe the government should provide a range of basic services to the public, such as health care and education, for free or at a significant discount. 
In the present day, "Democratic socialist" and "socialist" are often treated as interchangeable terms, which can be confusing given Democratic socialists don't necessarily think the government should immediately take control of all aspects of the economy.
They do, however, generally believe the government should help provide for people's most basic needs and help all people have an equal chance at achieving success.
Jesus had a few words that were similar to Isaiah’s and that also spoke to this notion that we should collectively work to provide for people’s most basic needs.
You know the passage.  It’s in Matthew 25:
31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. ' 37 Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? ' 40 And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. ' 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. ' 44 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you? ' 45 Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. ' 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
So are Jesus and Isaiah socialists?
The answer to that is “No.”  You can’t put Jesus, or Isaiah, into any of our political boxes.  And we shouldn’t.
But on the other hand, in this teaching of Jesus he specifically says things about how our nation will be judged, things like feeding the hungry and thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned.
If that sounds like socialism, then so be it.
But when Jesus said it, socialism didn’t exist as a political movement.
When Jesus said it, as when Isaiah said it before, it was not to conform to any particular political movement or ideology, nor was it about any form of governance.
Caring for the sick is a Godly thing.
Feeding the hungry is a Godly thing.
The point is that rather than identifying these commands of Jesus, of God, with any particular political movement, we need rather to recognize that indeed, this is God’s Word and God’s will.
And if you want to make America great again, listen to his word and do his will.
And God doesn’t really care how we cure the sick or feed the hungry.
God simply wants the sick to be healed and the hungry fed.
And we don’t do these things to be part of some great political movement.
We feed the hungry because they are hungry.
We care for the sick because they are sick.
We’ve been hearing Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount these weeks.
Jesus says some radical things there.  For example, he says: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. ' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
OK, so this is the thing.
When I or anyone else suggests that we should do that people are free to disagree and share that they don’t believe it.
If you don’t believe that we should love our enemies, though, it’s not that you don’t believe me, it’s that you don’t believe Jesus.
Whether or not you believe me is irrelevant.
Whether or not we believe Jesus matters.
This is the thing, though.
If we don’t believe Jesus then all our pious prayers and lip service is simply nonsense.
Here I’ll share a personal pet peeve.
If you listen to some of the public discourse you’d think that all Jesus was concerned about was whether the Ten Commandments should decorate the walls of our courthouses, or whether teachers in our public schools should lead prayers, or whether we call that decorated evergreen tree a holiday tree or a Christmas tree.
Jesus said nothing about any of this.
Jesus spoke of forgiveness.  Loving enemies.  Feeding the hungry.  And all that jazz.
Christmas trees.
That’s such a non issue.  Actually, there is nothing whatsoever “Christian” about a Christmas tree.  It’s not biblical.  It’s a cultural, perhaps even pagan, practice to decorate evergreen trees during the midwinter.
And yet Christians want to make a big deal about what we call this tree.
That doesn’t matter.
Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
That matters.
Feed the hungry.
That matters.
Care for the sick.
That matters.
Free the oppressed.
That matters.
Forgive those who have wronged you.
That matters.
This is the thing.
To be a Christian means that we listen to the words of Jesus and actually seek to live our lives according to his teaching.
It doesn’t mean that Jesus simply blesses whatever we choose to do.
It isn’t about offering all sorts of pious prayers and platitudes.
It’s about conforming our lives to Christ.
That’s it.

No comments:

Post a Comment