1st Scripture reading: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 and Psalm 50
The reading from Isaiah starts out with the prophet’s proclamation of what is NOT pleasing to God: God does not want any more bloody sacrifices of innocent animals. God abhors corruption, injustice, cruelty and murder. God is not impressed by the hypocrisy of empty ritual and high ceremony.
This is what God wants, according to Isaiah: “cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow.” I invite you to notice what is not in that list: go to church every Sunday, wear your finest clothes, speak dishonestly to your neighbours, ignore the obvious needs of some of them, and think yourself better than most. Instead, wherever you find yourself on Sunday morning: “cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow.”
And there is always hope. No matter how far you have fallen, no matter how scarlet your sins, if you are willing and obedient, they shall be “white as snow” - cleansed from you, purified.
Refuse and rebel against this way of life, Isaiah proclaims for God, and the consequences will be dire: more violence, more injustice and cruelty, war without mercy, and “you shall be devoured by the sword.”
My mother, raised in the Baptist church, used to warn me as a rebellious teenager, that “if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.” As we look around our world today, a world bereft of these teachings it seems, we might change the wording a little but the message is the same: “If you live by the gun, you will die by the gun.” Our young people are dying by the gun in ever greater numbers it seems, and their elders who should know better are reluctant to restrict their access to them, or to teach them how to live.
And even so, many young people are themselves speaking out against the gun culture, demanding that their governments step up and do more to protect them and to restore peace and harmony to their communities.
God speaks thru the prophets, in the psalms, and thru children these days it seems. But make no mistake – God still speaks, and the purifying fire still happens as a direct consequence of our own choices. God’s ways are not our ways, but we are blind if we choose not to see the importance of the decisions we make for our families and for our world.
Hymn #299VU “Teach Me God to Wonder”
2nd Scripture reading: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 & Luke 12:32-40
This reflection is about faith. What IS faith? Paul’s definition in his letter to the Hebrews is this: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Let me give you a really mundane example: every time we get on the ferry to Powell River we have faith that it will get there safely, and we have faith that we will get back the same way and usually the same day. We believe that, we don’t doubt it and we don’t worry about it. And yet….we don’t know how competent is the crew, we don’t know the dangers of weather and sea conditions, we don’t know the ship is mechanically sound and we don’t know the intentions of the head office re medical emergencies, etc. But we have faith that all will be well. And ninety-nine percent of the time it is. Our faith is justified.
Our faith as Christians, and as described by Paul, is in a world created by the word of God – made visible from something invisible. I don’t believe this faith is incompatible with what scientists are discovering about the origins of the earth – new knowledge they call “the Big Bang Theory” – which is incomplete at best, and full of lots of anti-spiritual rhetoric. I am personally in awe of the work of astro-physicists, astronomers, and mathematicians, but I am much more in awe of the creative force behind all that they do and all that they learn.
So people, like Abraham, who step out into new territory are like strangers or foreigners in a new land. People inspired by God’s call to “Cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow”, in world of gun and gang violence, government corruption, and blatant disregard for human rights, those people are as strangers and foreigners in a new land. They are striving to establish God’s kindom amidst drive-by shootings, destruction of other species habitat, reno-victions of the poor and the sexual exploitation of minors.
But they have faith – faith in the righteousness of their calling, faith in the love of God for all Creation, and faith in the redemptive power of that love. They believe that this is the Divine Plan for human life on this planet, and they believe that there is a place prepared for them, either in this land, or after death, or both. We all know we may not see the Promised Land, just as the saints who have gone before us did not see the realization of God’s promise, but we also believe, many of us, that there is more to come.
We believe the words of Jesus who said in our reading from Luke this morning: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s (God’s) good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He told us not to cling to earthly possessions, or to power or reputation. You don’t need anything else except your faith in his teachings and your orientation to a more spiritual, just and humane life as the way to that kingdom. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And where your heart is, is what matters to God.
And where does the God of Love live, people of God? The God who is Love lives in our hearts – in our goodness, in our kindness, in our love for God and for one another. God lives in us, to the extent that we will allow it. How we live our lives matters a lot – this we believe.
Hymn Solo: “How then shall I live” by Linnea Good DVD