August 11, 2019, The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – Year C, Proper 14
The Rev. Anna C. Shine

Readings: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strong rock and our redeemer.

Enough is enough. Such says God through the words of Isaiah in today’s Hebrew Scripture reading. Enough is enough! I don’t want your burnt offerings, the multitude of your sacrifices. Stop performing these rituals. I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity, says the Lord. Your hands are full of blood. Isaiah, serving as God’s prophet, is calling out these hands, which are “hands stained by murder and violent oppression.”[1]God is upset because the rituals and sacrifices are being done without sincerity and integrity. Rather than serving as vehicles for transformation, they have become mechanisms for self-assurance. As the notes in my study Bible remark, “God rejects ritual worship until such rituals are accompanied by a genuine change to moral behavior.”[2]And God, through Isaiah, tells us how we can move towards that moral behavior –wash, make ourselves clean, remove the evil, cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. These are clear dictates, all involving action. We cannot remain static and passive as followers of God. Although rest and renewal are necessary, they are not a permanent state of being. The rest and renewal break apart the consistent and necessary processes of acting - of growing, of grounding, of transforming.

Enough is enough. Our hands are full of blood. This past week in the United States has been horrifying. Shootings in El Paso and Dayton. ICE raids leaving children stranded and orphaned after school. And today marks the two-year anniversary since a young woman was killed in Charlottesville, VA at a white nationalist rally. As Christians, we can no longer ignore what is happening. We cannot stand idly by. We must move towards the moral behavior to which God calls us. Wash, make ourselves clean, remove the evil, cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Political rhetoric that incites hatred and catalyzes violence cannot be condoned and must be called out. There are bodies riddled with holes from bullets. Sacrificed on the altar of “white is right” and “this land is my land.” The commandment not to murder is nullified by the idol we have made to the false god of guns.

Where is our love of neighbor? And when did neighbor become defined by the color of skin, the gender of birth, the preference of love, the country of origin, the faith of the person, the ability of mind, the agility of body? These sacrifices are slaps in the face of our God who is a God who came down and entered the body of the most reviled and oppressed person in that time – entering the womb of a young, Palestinian woman, who was Arab and Jewish, unmarried, practically a child, and giving her a child whose existence was at any and every moment in mortal danger.

That is the God that our Epistle to the Hebrews calls us to faith in. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God who called us to never forget to care for the stranger and foreigners in our land, for we, too, had been strangers and foreigners in Egypt. The God who prepared the worlds by God’s word. Who created us all in God’s image. Allof us!

When we gather at this table and take communion, let it not be a mere ritual that can be checked off your list of to-dos for the day. This altar is a space for transformation! Otherwise, Christianity risks being irrelevant. Stepping up to this rail to receive bread and wine, to place your hands together in a gesture of dependence and need, week after week, forms a posture that hopefully awakens your recognition of that look and gesture in others and pulls you towards caring for and loving them. It is a way of preparing ourselves, of uniting ourselves as the body of Christ.

After all, Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel calls us to vigilance. Be prepared. Be ready! The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. What if one of the children who died in the detention centers was Jesus? What if Jesus were one of the victims of the shootings? And why does it take imagining Jesus as one of them to make a difference in how we see and treat human beings?

Our God is a God of love. A God who Jesus tells us would be pleased to give us the kingdom. But the kingdom that God brings is not what we understand a kingdom to be. Jesus did not conquer the Romans, did not lay siege or create an army for war. Jesus rejected the power systems of his time and instead chose the power of love. And it killed him. And we are supposed to follow him. He never says, “worship me.” He says, “Follow me.”

Christianity is not a religion of comfort. It is not easy. It should probably make you uneasy. Because although it is simple, it is the most difficult way of life. To love others, truly love them, is to love God. And to love God, truly love God, is to love the other, who is beloved-ly made by God in the image of God. That means the other in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, China, Russia. It means the other we have not yet met, and the other we see each day. 

But we became wed with the power structures of the Empire and it has twisted our understanding of what it means to follow the will of the God of love. Because those power structures rarely follow the way and the message that Jesus gave and showed us.

We must return to the faith of Jesus. Only then can we behold and recognize that kingdom – the kin-dom of God that is nearand within you.[3]And that is good news! We do not have to despair, because the world that is, is not the world that has to be. We can begin to live into the kin-dom now! It begins with us. And it requires action. Ritualistic action that prepares us like communion. And action that moves us towards the moral behavior to which God calls us – seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.How will you live into one of these actions this week? And what would it look like to do right by our neighbor?

Because enough is enough.

Amen.

 

[1]Attridge, Harold W, Wayne A. Meeks, and Jouette M. Bassler. The Harper Collins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/deuterocanonical Books. Fully Revised and Updated. Student edition. San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, 916.

[2]Harper Collins Study Bible, 915.

[3]Luke 10:9; Luke 10:11; Luke 17:21; Luke 21:31; Matthew 4:17; Matthew 10:7