Sermon Proper 14 C 2019                                              

The Rev. John M. Atkins

The Prophet Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

1The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

10Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!11What 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. 12When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; 13bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. 14Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. 15When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

16Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil,17learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. 18Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

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Gospel of Luke 12:32-48

32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

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Mahatma Gandhi once claimed,

“…Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.”

Isaiah listened to the compelling voice of G-d. He responded, “Here I am.  Send me.” Then, G-d thrust him into the prophetic spotlight in the mid-700’s BCE. Bravely facing the consequences for truth-telling, Isaiah was a prickly thorn to religious and political leaders of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

Isaiah spoke G-d’s truth, calling out the lie Judah was living. G-d’s beloved had abandoned G-d. Judah trusted in foreign powers and neglected the needs of the poor, widows, orphans, strangers and all who were oppressed.   

About 150 years after Isaiah’s warnings, Judah paid for her sins. Foreign powers destroyed the Southern Kingdom, Jerusalem’s Temple lay in ruin, and most of the population was either murdered or taken into captivity. As Cornel West writes:

“There is a price to pay for speaking the truth. There is a bigger price for living a lie.”

A plethora of color cascading from the stained glass illumined one side of the high-hanging, wall cross. The site provided a tranquil setting for Wednesday evening’s Vigil at Christ Church. 

The purpose of the gathering was to remember the 35 victims of gun violence in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton, to provide a place to connect with G-d and grieve, and to be emboldened to become instruments of societal change. 

As each name was called a bell tolled, a candle was lighted, and tears flowed. I kept thinking of how sacred breath was stolen from each of G-d’s children; how divine purpose endowed in each of them has been silenced; how inaction, once again, allowed evil to win another victory.

Even so, if G-d’s people speak and live G-d’s truth, there is hope.

Nearly 800 years after Isaiah spoke truth to Judah, Jesus, too, spoke G-d’s truth.

With deep affection for his followers, Jesus invited his “little flock” to live in assurance of G-d’s immense love, “…for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). This message offers challenge, hope  and a call to action.

As Jesus traveled to face his fate in Jerusalem, Jesus had already reminded his followers that G-d’s eye is on the sparrow and G-d is aware of the number of individual hairs on each person’s head. He had warned his followers that they will be dragged in front of authorities for rebelling against the powers of this world. 

In our passage from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus invites his followers into confidence that G-d’s vision for the world is for their good and for the good of all G-d’s creation. G-d’s vision of a new kingdom on earth will turn the present power structures upside-down. G-d’s vision for a new kingdom is not based on equal distribution of resources or privilege, skin tone or ethnicity, belief systems or wealth or power or lies. Rather, G-d’s vision of this new kingdom is grounded in G-d’s surprising generosity, grace and delight in providing for those who are willing to receive God’s promised new world. And, G-d’s kingdom is characterized by justice, peace, healing and G-d’s immense love.

Unlike the people of Judah, we must be aware and repent of how our conformity to present societal structures does not represent G-d’s vision for humanity. Putting our trust in things other than G-d’s love and desire for us expressed through this vision pushes us away from G-d.

Episcopal priest, Matthew Fox, writes:

“The crises we find ourselves in as a species… –  including religious ones – and reinvent them. Change is necessary for our survival.” 

These words as well as Jesus’ message are disturbing, especially, if we have spent a lifetime investing in the present power structures.

Do you see why, after 2,000 years, G-d’s vision as told by Jesus isn’t already realized? There are many people who don’t want it; for we all will lose our power, but, we gain G-d’s protective care, infinite generosity and passionate delight.

Through his truth-telling, Jesus intends to give us hope and courage for being rebellious against the lie that oppresses and holds captive many in our world.

Jesus desires to embolden us to act in bringing G-d’s vision for humanity into our reality.

G-d wants us to speak the truth to our self, to our families, friends, neighbors, nation, and the world. We must speak and get to work with hope, courage and confidence as we set our site on G-d’s promised vision for the good of all.

I’m a great-uncle to a 9-month-old little girl I haven’t yet seen. Her name is Edylln. Great-grandma tells me, Edylln now has 5 teeth. Great-grandma also told me that 2 days ago, while being held by one of her parents, Edllyn saw a cookie on Grandma’s counter, reached for it and gleefully ate it. I can see that Edylln is certain kin to me.

This reminds me that if we want a different world of G-d’s vision of justice, healing, peace, overwhelming generosity, care, delight and love – we need to reach for it. If we’re tired of living the lie society teaches and we’ve normalized, we must act to change things. Once again, in the words of Cornel West:

“There is a price to pay for speaking the truth. There is a bigger price for living a lie.”

Jesus invites us to accept the truth and live the vision of G-d’s promised, benevolent realm.