Probably most of us have heard people speaking about their faith in humanity as a very intimate and private thing, something you feel in your heart, in your soul, with all of your might, all of your strength something you don’t talk about.
Sometimes you hear politicians say that they have a deep personal faith in God, but they assure us that they won’t let their religion, or lack of it, have any sway or influence on the decisions they make in office on behalf of the people served.
Corporate executives are expected to toe the line of maximizing profits above all else and not worrying about the impact that their decisions have on society.
And they might just face severe backlash and stockholder lawsuits if they stray.
Social commentator, Glen Beck has said if you are in a church and the pastor is about to teach or sermonize about social justice, quickly get out of that church.
He felt rather strongly that talk of social justice has no place in church.
I must confess right here and right now, that until rather recently, I would have readily agreed with the Social Commentator, avoided such teaching, sermons.
Right now, my attitude about “social justice” and the Body of Christ, the Church in God’s neighborhood, God in God’s own neighborhood, is being re-written by my intentional and my purposeful engagement with our God’s Holy Scriptures.
My own deeply held personal beliefs wrought through the fires and floods and furnaces and crucibles of my lifetime of experiences, I now find were informed by biases and prejudices I was not wholly aware of nor would ever acknowledge.
My information was faulty and based almost exclusively on my floods, my fires, my crucibles and my furnaces.
My purposeful, intentional engagement with the “deepest truths” of my God’s Word is now being weaved into and throughout my heart, my soul, by my God.
I am learning to ask questions – learning to challenge my biases, my prejudices, and where God, the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit inform my soul differently through His Scriptures, I repent of the former, to seek out the latter.
Isaiah 1:10-26Amplified Bible
God Has Had Enough
Hear the word of the Lord [rulers of Jerusalem],
You rulers of [another] Sodom,
Listen to the law and instruction of our God,
You people of [another] Gomorrah.
“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me [without your repentance]?”
Says the Lord.
“I have had enough of [your] burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of well-fed cattle [without your obedience];
And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls or lambs or goats [offered without repentance].
“When you come to appear before Me,
Who requires this of you, this trampling of My [temple] courts [by your sinful feet]?
“Do not bring worthless offerings again,
[Your] incense is repulsive to Me;
[Your] New Moon and Sabbath [observances], the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure wickedness [your sin, your injustice, your wrongdoing] and [the squalor of] the festive assembly.
“I hate [the hypocrisy of] your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts.
They have become a burden to Me;
I am weary of bearing them.
“So when you spread out your hands [in prayer, pleading for My help],
I will hide My eyes from you;
Yes, even though you offer many prayers,
I will not be listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Get your evil deeds out of My sight.
Stop doing evil,
Learn to do good.
Rebuke the ruthless,
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the [rights of the] widow [in court].
“Let Us Reason”
“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord.
“[a]Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be like wool.
“If you are willing and obedient,
You shall eat the best of the land;
But if you refuse and rebel,
You shall be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Zion Corrupted, to Be Redeemed
How the faithful city has become a prostitute [idolatrous, despicable],
She who was full of justice!
Right standing with God once lodged in her,
But now murderers.
Your silver has turned to [b]lead,
Your wine is diluted with water.
Your rulers are rebels
And companions of thieves;
Everyone loves bribes
And chases after gifts.
They do not defend the fatherless,
Nor does the widow’s cause come before them [instead they delay or turn a deaf ear].
Therefore, the Lord God of hosts,
The Mighty One of Israel, declares:
“Ah, I will be freed of My adversaries
And avenge Myself on My enemies.
“And I will turn My hand against you,
And will [thoroughly] purge away your dross as with lye
And remove all your tin (impurity).
“Then I will restore your judges as at the first,
And your counselors as at the beginning;
Afterward you will be called the city of righteousness,
The faithful city.”
The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.
For our scripture text this morning we are still in Isaiah chapter 1.
Will God ever let us get out of chapter 1?
It takes 66 chapters to save all of Isaiah’s writings; will we ever get out of chapter 1?
Yes, eventually, by God’s grace alone we will be released from chapter 1.
But first, there are still many important lessons we can take with us into 2022.
But please remember, chapter 1 introduces many of the themes developed in the following 65 chapters, so I’m happy to hang out in chapter 1 for a while longer.
Our scripture lesson is Isaiah 1:10-26. After I read it, and then re-read it, I now challenge you to read it and re-read. You tell me whether Isaiah saw religion as an inward thing, related to the realms of personal faith and feelings, or whether he saw religion as something impacting all of life, even including social justice.
Yesterday we talked about God’s complaint against the people of Judah, which was a very personal complaint. They were his beloved children and he wanted them to love him as He loved them, but we read they were rebelling and getting themselves into serious trouble and he really wanted them all to come back.
By reading and re-reading these verses, I hope and pray you heard that for God, being a Christian, even in 2022, can never stop with just a heart relationship with God. It also includes a right-relationship with our fellow human beings.
And this day, which the Lord hath made for you and me and all of His children, I want to try to look quickly at 5 commands in verse 17 that make that concrete.
God told His Children, the people of Israel to “always learn how to do good.”
In the New Testament the apostle Paul repeatedly told the early Christians to do good works, and when he specifies what he’s talking about, often the context is clearly the good work of sharing with others in need.
That’s a Christianity that goes many echelons beyond feeling good and secure inside. It’s a Christianity that purposely, intentionally, reaches out for others.
Then, also in verse 17, Isaiah tells the people of Judah to “always learn how to seek out justice and learn how to always walk humbly with your God.”
Now there are a lot of different ways of defining justice.
There’s a kind of justice which says,
“I’ve got mine, and nobody’s going to take it from me.”
And we believe in protecting personal and property rights.
We are against theft and criminal behavior.
That’s kind of, sort of, a start to defining, writing, an encyclopedia of justice.
But Isaiah tells the people of Judah, and he tells us, too, that we need to go beyond that encyclopedia.
“I’ve got mine” justice can be content to look at a kid whose lost his parents or is born into a one parent situation where one party felt incapable of meeting the demands of parenthood and maybe feel sorry for the kid but feels no obligation to go “the extra mile or two or three or more if necessary” to volunteer, “help.”
And that’s no justice at all. It’s not fair to that kid at all.
The kid has very little chance in life. The kid is really hurting inside. Justice shouts out to us, “When the parents aren’t there, we need to help that kid.”
“I’ve got mine” justice can build a really nice life for itself, but it takes upon itself limited accountability, personal. professional, responsibility for others.
The Word of God revealed through Isaiah in chapter 1 tells us that justice is about more than me. And our responsibilities in life never stop with just me.
These verses from the first chapter of Isaiah calls for God’s kind of justice that intentionally, purposely watches for the oppressed, those who are held down.
And what are we supposed to do when we see them?
Are we supposed to feel sorry for them?
Are we supposed to analyze whose fault it is that they are in that shape?
Are we supposed to argue about whose job it is to help them, the government, the church, business or private charity?
God’s Prophet Isaiah does not let those arguments distract him.
What do we do if we see someone oppressed? Strive to Rescue them?
And who is that talking about?
The idea is someone who is weighed down, held down, doesn’t have a fair chance. How does one, in 2022, define what “have a fair chance” means?
If we’re talking about people who are oppressed, how about the people whose homes and businesses and livelihoods were just wiped out by “Acts of God?”
UMCOR is there.
FEMA will carry the bulk of the assistance, but UMCOR is great about finding the people who fall between the cracks and for sending in teams long after the immediate emergency to help people clean up, rebuild, restore what can be.
UMCOR goes straight to the United Methodist Churches who have been on the spot, who know the needs, who know who is hurting, so it can intentionally do the most good, efficiently, purposely, conscientiously, serve the most people.
Isaiah gives another example of what biblical justice looks like by calling us to defend the orphan.
What theory of justice in this world could say “I’ve got mine, too bad about that orphan”?
For Example ….
Today, it is estimated that Africa has some 17 million children who have lost their parents to AIDS.
How big a number is 17 million orphans?
Take the entire population of metro Chicago, some 8.9 million, and then add to that population the entire population of San Antonio, Texas being 2.413 million plus the population of the Baltimore, Maryland metro area being 2.845 million plus the population of the Portland Oregon Metro area being 2.5 million plus the population of the Buffalo, New York metro area being 1.137 million people.
That’s approximately how many children are AIDS orphans in Africa today.
What chance do they have as orphans in villages where there isn’t much hope of healthy food, clean water, quality healthcare for kids who have both parents?
What justice would there be in a world that does “not nearly enough” to defend, place greater value on the sanctity of the lives and wellbeing of those children?
Well, Praise and thank God for volunteers, organizations like World Vision and UMCOR and many others who are there. And let us do all we can to help them.
But there are a lot of vulnerable children and adults in all areas, too.
What about underserved kids whose parents are failing them, in jail or even abusing them so badly that the court needs to take them out of their home?
We have dedicated social workers to help them, but as budgets have been cut their ability to give the kids the support they need is really, really stretched.
What about the Homeless populations? The Homeless Veteran populations?
Right now, our nation is in a major crisis as we have spent a whole lot more money out of the national treasury than we could afford, and we are desperately looking for places to more efficiently, more intentionally, purposely, love our God in His Neighborhood, serve our communities, our neighbors in some way.
Let’s remember that Isaiah calls us, that God calls us through these timeless and most ancient of words from Isaiah chapter 1, to defend the orphans.
And I think it’s exceedingly, abundantly fair to expand that to include children who have both parents, and those single parent households where economically parents can’t provide proper nutrition or proper medical care for their children.
And in all the talk of needing to cut our government deficits, too often it is programs to defend vulnerable children that people want to cut. I think that rigorous and vigorous advocacy is most definitely appropriate ‘social justice.’
And, finally, the words of Isaiah chapter 1 tell us to plead for the widow.
Isaiah lived long before social security, in a time when women may not have even had clear property rights.
And if their husband died, they could be in big trouble. Today our government has stepped in with social security and Medicare and they really, really help.
But any sense of God’s justice calls us to watch out for our widows, to comfort, advocate and support them as they grieve, to support them as they may struggle with maintaining their homes, providing meals, and to visit them when lonely.
While we are engaging God in His neighborhood, what more can be done here?
But still, the lingering questions always remain when we engage our Faith in Humanity with our Faith in an Engaging and Intimate and Loving and God.
1 John 4:7-21Amplified Bible
God Is Love
7 Beloved, let us [unselfishly] [a]love and seek the best for one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves [others] is born of God and knows God [through personal experience]. 8 The one who does not love has not become acquainted with God [does not and never did know Him], for God is love. [He is the originator of love, and it is an enduring attribute of His nature.] 9 By this the love of God was displayed in us, in that God has sent His [One and] only begotten Son [the One who is truly unique, the only One of His kind] into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [that is, the atoning sacrifice, and the satisfying offering] for our sins [fulfilling God’s requirement for justice against sin and placating His wrath]. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us [in this incredible way], we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. But if we love one another [with unselfish concern], God abides in us, and His love [the love that is His essence abides in us and] is completed and perfected in us. 13 By this we know [with confident assurance] that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given to us His [Holy] Spirit. 14 We [who were with Him in person] have seen and testify [as eyewitnesses] that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
15 Whoever confesses and acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 We have come to know [by personal observation and experience], and have believed [with deep, consistent faith] the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides continually in him. 17 In this [union and fellowship with Him], love is completed and perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment [with assurance and boldness to face Him]; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love [dread does not exist]. But perfect (complete, full-grown) love drives out fear, because fear involves [the expectation of divine] punishment, so the one who is afraid [of God’s judgment] is not perfected in love [has not grown into a sufficient understanding of God’s love]. 19 We love, because [b]He first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates (works against) his [Christian] brother he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should also [unselfishly] love his brother and seek the best for him.
Before we begin to or continue engaging with God in God’s Neighborhood,
Before making a personal decision about where we engage our neighbors,
Many, Many Examples of Essential Questions to ponder with God about:
Decisions, Actions, and Consequences
- What is the relationship between decisions and consequences?
- How do we know how to make good decisions?
- How can a person’s decisions and actions change his/her life?
- How do the decisions and actions of characters reveal their personalities?
- How do decisions, actions, and consequences vary depending on the different perspectives of the people involved?
- What is social justice?
- To what extent does power or the lack of power affect individuals?
- What is oppression and what are the root causes?
- How are prejudice and bias created? How do we overcome them?
- What are the responsibilities of the individual in regard to issues of social justice?
- How can literature serve as a vehicle for social change?
- When should an individual take a stand against what he/she believes to be an injustice? What are the most effective ways to do this?
- What are the factors that create an imbalance of power within a culture?
- What does power have to do with fairness and justice?
- When is it necessary to question the status quo? Who decides?
- What are the benefits and consequences of questioning / challenging social order?
- How do stereotypes influence how we look at and understand the world?
- What does it mean to be invisible? (context: minorities)
- In what ways can a minority keep their issues on the larger culture’s “radar screen?”
- What creates prejudice, and what can an individual overcome it?
- What are the causes and consequences of prejudice and injustice, and how does an individual’s response to them reveal his/her true character?
- What allows some individuals to take a stand against prejudice/oppression while others choose to participate in it?
- What are the causes and consequences of prejudice and how does an individual’s response to it reveal his/her morals, ethics, and values?
Culture: Values and Beliefs, Traditions and Rituals
- How do individuals develop values and beliefs?
- What factors shape our values and beliefs?
- How do values and beliefs change over time?
- How does family play a role in shaping our values and beliefs?
- Why do we need beliefs and values?
- What happens when belief systems of societies and individuals come into conflict?
- When should an individual take a stand in opposition to an individual or larger group?
- When is it appropriate to challenge the beliefs or values of society?
- To what extent do belief systems shape and/or reflect culture and society?
- How are belief systems represented and reproduced through history, literature, art, and music?
- How do beliefs, ethics, or values influence different people’s behavior?
- How do individuals reconcile competing belief systems within a given society (e.g., moral beliefs conflicting with legal codes)?
- When a person’s individual choices are in direct conflict with his/her society, what are the consequences?
- What is morality and what are the factors that have an impact on the development of our morality?
- What role or purpose does religion / spirituality serve in a culture?
- What purpose or function do ethics / philosophy have in governing technological advances?
- How do our values and beliefs shape who we are as individuals and influence our behavior?
There are undoubtedly many more questions to ponder as anyone individually seeks to engage God side by side with His Words of hard truth and harder love.
In such weighty matters, be patient with God and be patient with yourself ….
Matthew 6:25-33Amplified Bible
The Cure for Anxiety
25 “Therefore I tell you, stop being worried or anxious (perpetually uneasy, distracted) about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, as to what you will wear. Is life not more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow [seed] nor reap [the harvest] nor gather [the crops] into barns, and yet your heavenly Father keeps feeding them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by worrying can add one [a]hour to [the length of] his life? 28 And why are you worried about clothes? See how the lilies and wildflowers of the field grow; they do not labor, nor do they spin [wool to make clothing], 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory and splendor dressed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive and green today and tomorrow is [cut and] thrown [as fuel] into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Therefore do not worry or be anxious (perpetually uneasy, distracted), saying, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ 32 For the [pagan] Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; [but do not worry,] for your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also.
This morning I want to affirm, with Isaiah, that our faith in God is not just an awkward, inward, personal thing. Our God is very concerned we “do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” AMEN?
1 Corinthians 15:58Amplified Bible
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord [always doing your best and doing more than is needed], being continually aware that your labor [even to the point of exhaustion] in the Lord is not futile nor wasted [it is never without purpose].
In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
Let us Pray,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit ……
“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”