22 Aug Faith in Action
A Sermon – Faith in Action
Delivered August 7, 2016
La Mesa Presbyterian Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Biblical Text: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Good morning sisters and brothers. I greet you in the name of our Lord, Jesus the Christ, and on behalf of your 28,000 sisters and brothers in the 159 other congregations and chapels that comprise the Synod of the Southwest. I also bring greetings from your Synod Moderator, Ruling Elder Maribeth Culpepper.
Let us pray: Almighty and most merciful Creator God, I pray that the words of my mouth and the meditations of each of our hearts will be acceptable to you this day.
When Trey asked whether I was willing to present the message on this Sunday morning, he also asked that I share with you the message of concern and hope about which I have written in my blog regarding the level of violence we are experiencing in this nation and what it says about us as a nation founded upon the principles of the Christian sense of justice for all and what it says about us as Christians. I told Trey that while I would love to share that message, I am a lectionary kind of guy and I would, instead be basing my message on the lectionary for this morning. He acquiesced, left the invitation on the table and I accepted. So, as soon as I hung up from our conversation, I immediately went to see what Today’s lectionary was about and, much to my surprise and wonder, the Old Testament lesson was right on point……addressing Trey’s hope and my style. Of course, I am thinking that Trey knew this when he asked me to preach.
At any rate, in Today’s Old Testament lesson, the Prophet Isaiah is sharing a vision from God he had regarding the kings of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. He refers to Judah, in no uncertain terms, as a rebellious nation that has become like Sodom and Gomorrah…..cities we know to have been corrupt and inhospitable, pitting citizen against citizen and citizen against strangers and which cities burned with fire and were like an open sore upon the face of God’s creation. Isaiah tells them that the burnt offerings of the people of Judah and their prayers to the Lord God Almighty are detestable to God and that God hides God’s eyes from God’s people and turns a deaf ear when they offer their prayers. Pretty harsh.
Now, of course, we no longer offer burnt offerings, but we do present our offerings each Sunday to God with the hope that they will be used to further the Kingdom. Likewise, we offer prayers in adoration of God and seeking intercession in all manner of concerns that we have personally and for our community. But, I wonder, is it possible that God sees our offerings as detestable and that our prayers fall upon deaf ears?
I would submit that perhaps this might be true more often than we would wish to believe. Now, I do not mean to say that our offerings, seeking to further the Kingdom, are not presented with good intention and hope. Nor do I mean to demean or undervalue the power of intercessory prayer. I personally know the power of such prayer, having twice been blessed to have my life spared, first from a mortal stabbing and then from the ravages of cancer, because, I am certain, of the intercessory prayers of the people. Likewise, I am certain that the offerings I and we make to God seeking to further the Kingdom have value and often very good result.
The question, brothers and sisters, is not whether we have been abandoned by God, but whether despite all our offerings and prayers we fall short in our faithfulness to God? Do we, in fact, in our daily lives and living do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, correct the oppressor, take up the cause of the fatherless and plead the case of the widow?
I would submit that we, I certainly, fail daily to seek to wash away our evil deeds and wrongdoing and therefore become clean in the sight of God by acting in such matters, as a sign and symbol of our faith in God.
Now, I am sure that by now many of you are feeling pretty offended and uncomfortable by my words; saying to yourselves, but I do daily seek to wash away any evil deed or wrongdoing I cause or I see happening around me…..I am faithful to my God, I make offering to God with a sincere and hopeful heart, I pray for the poor and the marginalized and ask God to make things right for the sake of God’s creation. But, my sisters and brothers, is that enough in God’s sight?
Think about it. When you hear a newscaster on a local station refer to immigrants entering our country without benefit of documentation as “illegal immigrants”, do you write to the TV station and the producers of the show and correct the oppressor, for most certainly by their language they are sided with the oppressors? Or do you change the channel and vow never to watch that news program again until the language is corrected?
When you hear of the inability of single parents raising children, and in New Mexico that is almost always women, do we seek to plead their cause and situation to those in power to find ways to provide them with access to justice and the benefits they need so that their plight may be improved, or do we simply pray that our elected officials will have a change of heart and provide them with the access to justice and benefits they deserve as residents of a supposedly just society?
If someone said to you, Jesus was an illegal immigrant because his parents sought safety from the wrath of Herod and the possibility of death and crossed over into Egypt, would you not correct the speaker of such words and defend the cause and need for such immigration? Shouldn’t we be willing to challenge the established order, as did Moses adoptive mother, one of the very persons who oppressed his people, when she welcomed him into her family? Shouldn’t we remember that Jesus himself, was an unaccompanied minor and immigrant, sent by God into a hostile world that ultimately killed him?
When we hear those who are seeking to be elected to office threaten violence against those who oppose them, do we speak out and correct those persons? When people are targeted as dangerous and a threat to our way of life because of their religious beliefs, do we speak out against such rhetoric? When persons are ridiculed because of their appearance or disability, do we speak out against such insensitive and callous remarks?
When insult and name-calling are the tools used by those who seek elective office to denigrate their opponents, do we speak out and say we will not tolerate negative campaigning? Or do we, instead, just idly sit by and accept it as “that’s just politics”?
I believe that our God does not want us to become bystanders in our communities, but active participants expressing and living out our Christian values and ideals. And, we must do so with actions that mirror the non-violent confrontation and willingness to speak truth to power that our Lord, Jesus Christ, practiced in his responses to injustice and set as our example.
And, sisters and brothers, when we learn of young lives taken at the hands of law enforcement officers or law enforcement officers killed at the hands of persons who are angry and who do not value life……not that of others or even of their own…..should we simply pray that God will be with those they leave behind and that God will put an end to the violence that so pervades society? I submit, that our prayers alone will not and cannot suffice. If that is all we do, pray for God to fix things, then why should God even listen? Prayer alone is appropriate when matters are entirely out of our hands, when there is nothing we can do to remedy or address a situation. But, I believe, in a world of violent behaviors, there are things we can and must do, in addition to asking God, in humble prayer, to help us discern what God would have us do and how God would have us do it.
I know that we all abhor the violence which has become part of our daily lives as residents of this great nation and as Christians members of this community. But think about it, when someone who is hopeless lashes out violently against law enforcement officers, should we be surprised? To those who would perpetrate such violence, law enforcement is the only face of this nation’s system of justice with which they are familiar, it is the face of the system which has all too often treated them unjustly. These persons, our sisters and brothers, often come from a legacy of impoverishment, generation after generation, where they have come to believe that their lives do not matter, so why should the lives of others matter?
So, I would propose that we must seek to defend those in our society who are marginalized and oppressed and we must seek to correct the oppressor, which unfortunately and too often is us. For when we do not defend the oppressed, we become part of the oppression and join league with the oppressors. WE must seek to find ways to promote access to justice such that the face of justice becomes one of compassion and caring. Such that the face of justice is not perceived as a tool of oppression, but is experienced as a tool of safety and freedom.
How do we do that? WE do it by taking it upon ourselves, individually and corporately, to be the champions and defenders of the oppressed, taking up the cause of justice by saying to those in power, “provide the funding necessary such that the poor and marginalized are no longer statistics and abstract numbers” and so by our actions we will provide those in power with the political will to stand up against those who prefer the privileged status quo.
Let it be known that we will no longer tolerate or countenance that some person or family that is about to be evicted from their apartment will have no remedy when an unjust landlord who charges a high rent for substandard housing says, “if you don’t like where you live, leave” or even worse, “if you complain I will report you to immigration officials”; or that one of our sisters or brothers is unable to get the assistance they need to provide food and sustenance for themselves and their families because some bureaucrat purposely seeks to deny their claim; or that they are about to lose their home because they lost their job and the holder of the mortgage will not seek ways to keep them in their home and still get the payment to which they are rightly entitled. Far too often, those in power will target the access to justice and benefits of those most oppressed, because they do not have the clout that the oppressors have and so it is easy to cut the budget that affects the lives of the poor and marginalized.
We must say, stop! We must speak out! We must be willing to say, if it will help my sisters and brothers in poverty and difficult circumstances, then we are willing to bear that cost in increased taxes. And we should NOT acknowledge that responsibility and willingness to accept the additional burden only on the condition that the truly rich, the 1%, will be taxed to an even larger extent and degree….we must accept our “burden” joyfully and without condition. Or, we can increase our giving to those organizations that provide services that serve, directly, the poor and marginalized in accessing the justice system and benefits they need. And we must say to those in power, we refuse to live in a nation of haves and have nots and that they, those in power, must take us seriously and act accordingly.
Regardless, we must do what we can and what we should, individually and as a community of faith, to offer to God’s poor and marginalized a portion of that which God has so generously, abundantly and without condition given us!
Sisters and Brothers, there is hope for the communities in which we live. The hope found in an ever faithful God, who loves all creation. But our hope also resides in our faith and faithfulness to our Creator, wherein we live our faith in action……..seeking justice, defending the oppressed, correcting the oppressor, and taking up the cause of those in our society who are marginalized, letting them know by our actions that their lives, and all lives, matter and have great value as we are all children of God.
Let us thus go out and live our lives as Faith in Action.
In the name of God, the Creator; Jesus Christ, the Redeemer; and, the Holy Spirit that Sustains us. Amen.