Thursday, October 27, 2016

God Is Fed Up

Around our house, we run on a pretty tight weekday morning schedule. In order for our older two children to catch the bus, they need to leave the house at 7:00. If they are running late and don't have time to walk to catch the bus, we can drive them to catch the bus, but, even then, we have to leave by 7:10. If everything falls apart and they miss the bus completely, we have to leave by 7:20 or else we struggle get them both to school on time. Because of that, we wake up at 6:15 and try to make every second count.

Why is it, then, that my third-grader and first-grader, who have been doing this for at least three years now, cannot figure out that going upstairs and playing instead of brushing their teeth makes us furious? Why haven't they learned that, if they don't want their parents to be enraged, they should stay on task? Why do they think that simply apologizing when they've screwed it up will get them out of trouble?

The prophet Isaiah asks those sorts of questions in Sunday's Track One lesson (Isaiah 1:10-18). "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; ringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me." This lengthy passage about the futility of temple sacrifice is God's way of saying, "I'm fed up with your empty apologies. Why don't you try to get it right in the first place?"

What does God have in mind? That comes near the end of the passage. "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow." In other words, do right in the first place. Don't rely on the mechanics of our religion--the cult of confession and forgiveness--to save you. Remember what this is all about in the first place: righteousness.

I wonder what God would say about the dominant religious voice in America today? Does contemporary Christianity care more about the mechanics of religion--church attendance, budgets, controversy, and property--or the needs of the poor? Do we spend more time figuring out how to pay bills or how to break the cycle of poverty. Are we pleading for a candidate who will make sure that our voice is heard or one who will make sure that the voices of the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow are heard?

As Isaiah reminds us, this is not an exclusively Christian phenomenon or a modern one. Caring more about ourselves and our way of worshipping than God's mission of peace, justice, and wholeness for all has always plagued us. When will we listen? Maybe a better question is when will today's religious leaders take up the prophet's voice? When will preachers like me not only talk or blog about justice and righteousness but change our focus accordingly? How much of my time is spent maintaining a religion--sermons, budgets, bible studies, staff meetings, stewardship drives, capital campaigns--and how much is spent doing justice--demonstrating, calling representatives, holding rallies, meeting with the poor, tackling racism, combatting violence? I'm not preaching on Isaiah this week, but I'll be listening carefully this Sunday and praying that the prophet's words grab hold of my heart and the hearts of others.

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