Isaiah 58:1-12 | Psalm 112:1-10 | 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 | Matthew 5:13-20
I should tell you upfront that I have limited time this morning, due to our congregational meeting, so I’m unable to dig into our Scriptures to the extent that I would like to. But that’s okay. I learned pretty early on that people don’t get too upset over short sermons.
If you’re anything like me, your heart has grown heavy in the last few months. Our country has seen a rise in hate crimes, homophobia, xenophobia, islamophobia, and racism. Self-proclaimed white supremacist groups have become more vocal. Our country has decided to ban the victims of terrorism instead of offering them safe haven, similar to the way it decided to turn away boats loaded down with German Jews fleeing the Holocaust in 1939. It has chosen to discriminate based on religion, while somehow saying it’s going to bolster and expand religious liberty (apparently only for Christians, and a specific kind of Christian at that).
Every morning I must pray, read Scripture, and steel myself before reading the news, scared to see what new developments took place while I slept.
So reading passages like Isaiah 58:1-12 are, in a way, both a source of comfort and despair. On one hand, they affirm what we already know, they remind us that God cares first and foremost for the wellbeing of the vulnerable and oppressed over personal security and national prosperity. But on the other hand, reading what we already know does little to change the realities of the world we live in. Reading Scripture like this one is similar in some ways to talking to my Christian friends and family – those who are truly trying to follow Jesus, not nationalist exceptionalism dressed in its Sunday best.
It seems every conversation turns to politics, and every conversation runs through the same points, and we leave feeling more depressed and hopeless than before. What good does talking do? What good does reading Scripture do?
We are only reminded of the great chasm that lies between God’s call to us as the people of God, and the current state of a world that remains hostile to that call. The call to love all, to welcome the foreigner, clothe the naked, and feed the hungry.
But perhaps, in my great despair, I’ve missed a key part of Scripture – one that should give me some hope. And that is this: things always seem to be pretty bad in Scripture. Not always, but usually. Things are usually bad. Does that seem hopeful? It is!
Bad circumstances have never caused God, the prophets, the disciples, or the Church to throw in the towel. All the good parts of Scripture, all the hopeful stuff, is usually said in the midst of the bad – be it Israel lost in the wilderness, King David hiding in a cave while Saul seeks his life, Jesus proclaiming the Gospel on the way to Golgotha, or Paul writing words of joy from prison.
Many of us have grown up with little real danger or political turmoil in our lives, so we’ve read Scripture from a place of safety and security. So when that safety and security is threatened, we start to question all the assumptions we had about God, faith, and Scripture. But the truth is, most of it was written not from a place of safety and security, but from a place of uncertainty and danger.
Bad circumstances do not thwart the promises of God. It’s the opposite. The promises of God are very often born out of bad circumstances.
Often, bad circumstances spur God’s people on. Bad circumstances cause us to seek God’s face in a new way, to suddenly realize how helpless we were all along, we just didn’t know it. We realize that we need a fresh revelation – desperately. Right now we need a revelation. Please, God, send us a revelation! Send us hope! We need God to do something unprecedented. We stop praying because we should, and start praying because we must…just to get through the day. We read Scripture with a new found zeal. We attend church, not out of habit, but because we need one another to speak words of hope and life and resistance.
Our readings from both Isaiah and Matthew acknowledge there is darkness around, which is why we must be the light. Isaiah says we live in a parched land, but God will make us like a watered garden. Notice, God is the one who will make it happen. God will give us the strength we need. We must do our part “to remove the yoke from among us, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil.” We must do our part to “offer our food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,” but God will be the one “to make our bones strong.”
I said earlier that I read Scripture and pray in the morning, and then I read the news. Both these things – reading Scripture and reading the news – I strongly believe, are necessary as people of faith, but they should not shape us in the same way. We must choose which one will define our outlook every day. Scripture or the news?
Will the darkness overtake us?
Or will we rise in the darkness? Will our gloom become like the noonday? Will we be called the repairers of the breach, the restorers of the streets we live in?