Immediately after worship last Sunday…in fact, no sooner then we had exited the sanctuary, a man from our community confronted me. He shot verbal arrows at one of my weak spots. He said he had started to come in earlier but heard “yelling” and left.
Now, the Hebrew scripture lesson on which the sermon of the hour was grounded began with the resounding verse:
Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Isaiah 58:1 (NRSV)
There’s no secret that passionate prophetic preaching is not the preference of this era. Therefore, I’m certainly not surprised by the man’s complaint, but I am deeply concerned about the spiritual ramifications and the struggle to discern God’s will in the way I live my life and how I act in obedience to God’s Word.
The if-then message that I spoke is roughly summarized below.
God told the prophet Isaiah to shout out…if
…if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. Isaiah 58:10-12(NRSV)
Isaiah…the prophet writing of the 6th century B.C.E., stood on the shoulders of generations of prophets striving to faithfully proclaim the Word of the Lord. Generation by generation the Holy Spirit inspires the prophet…demands of the prophet a choice…choose this day whom you will serve…The prophet must decide whether or not to give voice to the “if-then” proclamation of God. So today I cry out!
Who among us has been listening to the prophetic voice of Rev. Dr. William Barber II of “Repairing The Breach Ministry” in North Carolina? He challenges God’s people to take a stand. I join him in declaring: this is a time when we cannot allow Christ’s church to be defined by false prophets who claim to speak in Jesus’ name, but speak words directly opposite of what Jesus taught!
Regardless of political persuasion….forget about denominational lines, worship style preferences, theological perspective…liberal, conservative, liberation, progressive, traditional!!! This is a time for all Christians to refuse to allow Christianity to be coopted by haters, to take a good close look at the breach, and to figure out what it is going to take to repair it!
In “Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus”, author, Bishop Michael B. Curry, points out that the commission Jesus has given us is IMPOSSIBLE…we likely agree…Lord how can we? We are weak. We don’t have funds….we are few…others are better equipped…. Our children, our seniors, our weak and vulnerable are at risk!
Well…thank God our ancestors trusted God enough to do the impossible! “We’ve Come this Far by Faith”….Now its time for our generation to Build!
Since waiting until we are strong and free to start building is not an option, God’ Word today provides us with a 3-part blueprint for building now!!!
First, to repair the breach; we must build up our spiritual strength… HOW? Cry out to God!
We are connected to one another! All of creation is interconnected…when one suffers, all suffer…we must cry out for each other!
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Our participation in healing the breach requires our willingness to CRY OUT! Cry out to God…to seek the way to share with the needy…the way to speak on behalf of the oppressed!
Second build up our spiritual courage (to repair the breach) HOW? Turn back to the law of God.
In this building now adventure we are called to be courageous Christians, recognizing that as we build up God’s beloved community…we will meet with opposition …and we must face our own fears in order to do so.
At first when we read or speak publically, when we testify, when we bring a message or teach a lesson, when we sit at a board room table…we tremble, we fear we won’t get it right…then after a while we figure out…that’s true…we will fail, we will get it wrong sometimes…we won’t make a great impression every time…and realizing that we grow in humble appreciation of the Holy Spirit that continues to urge us on anyway!
The apostle Paul didn’t say it was easy for him to teach the gospel, he said that he trembled…why should we expect not to tremble when we take a stand for what is right and just…
So today! We are called in a time of great uneasiness to take a stand for the truth of God…that is, as the prophet Micah 6:8 said, “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God”…To speak out when injustice is apparently directed toward any of God’s creation! To realize that without kindness there is nothing holy regardless of who is speaking or acting!
Jesus…Mahatma Gandhi…Martin Luther King, Jr. …All taught that the power of love must be the power that is used to overcome evil. Otherwise, the power shift is simply from one manifestation of evil to another manifestation of evil…If we depend upon the unenlightened human concepts of “right” we will always fall into the trap of political or military coup after coup…with perhaps the faces of the oppressed changing from one racial or ethnic group (one tribe) to another depending upon which time period or which part of the globe, but always “wars and rumors of wars”…putting our faith in Jesus Christ means putting our faith in the One whose sword is the Word of God (the Word which is God’s Law!)…The One whose power is in the power to speak worlds into being out of nothing…the One whose power is committed to love and justice for all!
Putting our faith in God’s Word…in Jesus Christ, is putting our faith in the One who will usher in the era in which we will “beat our swords and weapons into plowshares…”
OUR CHARGE TO BUILD NOW requires us to ….feel the fear and do what is right anyway…to speak truth to power in love even when trembling! God’s Word, God’s law promises God will be with us when we do so.
Third build up our spiritual praxis (to repair the breach)
When we cry out to God and turn to God’s law (The Word of God) God will empower us to be repairers of the breach…THE TASK IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR US…BUT WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE!
No amount of rote or habitual practice of Christian behaviors will earn us salvation…the only salvation is in genuine embodiment of the Christ …drinking the whole cup…eating the whole loaf…living as Jesus teaches us to live. Embodying love and justice.
Bruce Birch and Richard Wilke, in Disciple II, the chapter on “Protecting the Powerless” discuss how the law of God and the civil laws enacted by the people of Ex. & Duet. were purposed to set them apart from the power mongering surrounding top-down authoritarian governments…to organize them as communities situated to remember that they came out of slavery…that they were to commit to compassion…caring for the poor…bringing many voices into decision making…insuring that their legal systems were modeled on commitment to social justice. The structures they put into place were shaped intentionally to, as the commentator said, “turn the world upside down.”
The hungry man who came to our discipleship discussion/fellowship last week…”turned our way of perceiving upside down.” He pointed us toward the love chapter in Cor. What good does it do if we give all we have to feed the poor…but have not love? …What did he see that was loving in the space we have responsibility for? What did he see that was unloving? Where do we have turning to do?
This in a sense “turns our world upside down.” Who would have predicted it would be one of the most vulnerable in our community, one who comes here for food and shelter, who would have predicted he would become our teacher of God’s Word on last Sunday?”
If we are to be healers of the breach, we must turn to God’s law and feed the hungry with love and compassion!
As we come to the conclusion of this message…. Just as it has always, in every generation, been socially, politically, economically, and often physically dangerous to work toward healing the divides between the tribes…Why?… Because it threatens the power base of the powerful and the powerful never give up their power without marshaling all of their forces against the opposition…This is true whether it’s a domestic situation of oppression within the home, or a global situation of oppression across the planet!
Keeping wars going is to the advantage of those who gain power from the wars! Keeping drugs in the bodies of our children is to the advantage of the sellers. Keeping the poor working for less than subsistence wages is to the advantage of the power mongers and the greedy…yet, in the face of the powerful of this world….in the face of the powers that oppose this-our Holy scriptural text instructs us:
Build Community Now!
Share blankets & clothes!
Share fellowship in love!
So…To Build Community Now! Cry out! Live by God’s law And Receive the Power to close the gap in Jesus’ Holy name Amen!
Afterword Yes, my voice rang out! …I realize that this seems out of place in the present era, I often feel uncomfortable with the passionate “country woman” preaching style that emerges when God places a prophetic Word in my mouth. Nevertheless, I continue to say; “Yes, Lord.” Although I can make no claim to appear or to speak in ways that ingratiate me in the eyes and ears of this world, yet I surrender my will to the will and purpose of God my Savior.
The man who complained probably didn’t know that the criticism he offered was one that hit me in a personal weak spot, but thankfully, it is not my weak human abilities that we depend on, but upon the strength of Almighty God!
Prayer Lord, I cry out to you! Please use each of us, each of our voices, according to your will and your way. Please guide us into the Divine purpose established for our generation as we seek to build up your Beloved Community. Strengthen us in our weak places. Let us cry out with upraised voices and passionate pleas to the benefit of God’s people. Lord please forgive us for our sins and teach us your ways so that we can walk in them. We lift this prayer to you in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Coming Soon This prayer seeking instruction in God’s ways points toward the text for this coming Sunday…Psalm 119: 1-9…please read it, meditate on it, and come prepared to rejoice!