1st Scripture Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-9a, Psalm 112
The Prophet Isaiah in our reading this morning, deals with prayer and other spiritual practices used by humans to improve their relationship with God.
Isaiah clearly feels called by God to “not hold back” , to announce strongly to the people that what they are doing in the name of spiritual work or worship is not pleasing to God.
Isaiah rightly points out that the people want to draw near to God, and that they desire to know God’s ways. He says they want God to be righteous toward them, but they are not being righteous in their life together. “Look,” he says, “you fast only to quarrel and fight and to strike with a wicked fist.” Denying yourself food for a period of reflection, or of inner evaluation is a very old spiritual practice – but the attitude you bring to it is critical.
Are we to demean ourselves? To wear sackcloth and ashes and bow our heads to the earth? If we so humble ourselves, will our practice be pleasing to God?
Not according to God thru Isaiah! “Is not this the fast that 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 the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
Pious or not so pious spiritual practices such as fasting and prayer are not the practices God chooses for us, the prophet says. Rather to look at how we are choosing to live in this world, and in our families and our communities.
God is with us when we act righteously – God answers our calls for help when we align ourselves with God’s purpose and we are willing to do God’s work in the world by acting justly, taking care of the marginalized, and refusing to benefit from the misfortune of others.
“Do not hide yourselves from your own kin,” says the Lord. Honesty in all relationships, but especially in close or intimate relationships is only fair I think we would all agree. But how many of us have secrets we guard, or even secret lives we live, and so bring injustice right into our family life. Every lie we tell damages our relationships, and wounds our own souls. According to Carolynn Myss (author and intuitive healer) this lack of personal integrity puts us in direct conflict with our own conscience, and is often the foundation for disease. We need to become more conscious every day of the words we say, the thoughts we think, and the agreements we make with others – so that our own integrity is not compromised.
When we take care of these things, Isaiah says, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly: your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and God will say, Here I am.”
Praise be to God for the richness of this teaching. God is with us. We are not alone. Praise be to God.
Hymn #245 VU “Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet”
2nd Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 2: 1-13, Matthew 5: 13-20
There is a lot of spiritual meat in these passages – enough for many full length sermons, I’m sure! So I choose to focus mostly on Paul’s teaching about Wisdom in the first letter to the Corinthians.
When I was growing up, there was a lot of emphasis on respect for authority. Lots of hierarchical structures, lots of strict, stern upholders of the Law. Those of us who did not hold any of that power often quaked visibly in the very presence of it. One example: we didn’t have TV (and at first there was very little programming) so radio broadcasting was the way we heard the news and shaped our opinions. All the voices on the radio (except in stories and children’s shows), all the people whose opinions mattered, were male. Over time, and as women moved more and more into positions of influence, those voices began to change. But the first women to challenge male authority on the radio were terrified. Their voices were weak, their arguments not well defended, and I know from experience that their armpits were wet! And their male opponents were aggressive and not respectful – often mocking or bullying. It took a lot of courage to take that on – and the wisdom of the world told us in many voices that it was foolish to try to change the way things were.
But the Wisdom of Sophia, the Wisdom of God and of Isaiah, that Wisdom told women differently. That Wisdom told us that the gender imbalance of power was not fair – it was an injustice, an oppression even, of female voices, of the wisdom of women.
God’s ways are not our ways – not the ways of the world with all it’s variety of social and political structures. God’s ways are not about the denigration of one race of people, or of a different way of worship, or of any particular gender expression.
God wants to know how are we living on this beautiful planet created for us. Are we resisting evil, and promoting good? Are we loving our neighbours – and ourselves? Are we listening to the so-called and often self-appointed authority figures who believe they have a monopoly on wisdom? Or do we trust the voice of Wisdom, the whispering of the Holy Spirit, to lead us on the true path, the path of righteousness and holiness that brings us into the awareness of God’s closeness and God’s love.
It isn’t always easy to challenge worldly authority and power. It is never easy to pronounce the name of the unjust ruler. But if we are not true to ourselves and our identity as branches of the vine of Christ, then we have lost our way. If we hide our light, the truth of what we know, under a bushel basket, then we are of no use to God.
We are called, children of God, to be a Light unto the nations. As we gather in small and large communities of faith, we are strengthened in our listening skills and our resolve to hear only the wisdom of Christ’s teachings and the instruction and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Hymn # 209 MV “Go Make a Diff’rence”