As many of you know I returned from San Francisco this past week following vacation leave time, where our family was blessed beyond measure with the birth of a child to my middle daughter, Amanda and her husband Morgan. Their third child and our sixth grandchild. A little boy name Fletcher Robert Ramsey. The Robert comes as a great honor and I guess as the patriarch (a young one) of the family. "Fletcher" - well your guess is a good as mine. It sounds a little "Californian" to me but I of course love it too. Fletcher's oldest sister, Savannah, who is in first grade, has decided to call him "flash" for a nickname, instead of Fletch - which is great -And it could not be a more appropriate nickname for the starting shortstop for the 2040 San Francisco Giants baseball team. I also discovered to take visiting my daughter and her three small children off the "vacation" travel category and put it under work related mission trips in my personal journal. Because its hard work for an old man - admittedly of a different kind. However, work and lack of sleep aside - as I know you can imagine - there is no greater joy than the birth of a child and I would not trade for the world.
Although being away from Washington provided a certain respite from the daily news barrage, it eventually reached our ears; and my personal happiness was juxtapose with some of the disturbing political news of initial directives from White House about a variety of issues such as the banning of God's children from our country because they are Muslims, punishing cities who offer immigrants sanctuary, maligning the judiciary, and other minor matters like restarting dumping coal mining residue into country rivers. (Minor of course, unless you live next to that river)
It was a little heartening being in California because Californians see themselves as an almost independent republic which has recycled an old fire brand liberal governor -Jerry Brown - I think his nickname was governor moonbeam in the sixties. And in his state of the state message, with all due respect to the new president, he claimed status as a sanctuary state defending the rights of immigrants and will continue to champion clean energy and a scientifically based approach to the impacts of global warning and support women's rights health issues particularly for the economically disadvantage and are gearing up for a fight White House efforts to financially punish states who do not fall in line.
So there I was - happy as lark in my personal life and and depressed as hell...in my public --Sound familiar to anyone?......Optimism, new life, joy at home and fear, scare tactics, exclusion, and a proposed new world order of winners and losers and a new round of militarism and saber rattling in the world around me.
Luckily because of the old fashion Presbyterian discipline that you and I have chosen to share to come to church each week and listen to the beauty and wisdom of ancient scripture; God has a word for us who find ourselves in this boat. The prophet Isaiah speaking to a confused, mixed up and bewildered people, speaks of how to worship God and live one's life in such times. He says-You may feel like being just being silent - holding it in and just shaking your head- not knowing what to says, But don't - the very first verse - "do not hold back" - "Shout"- why even "pretend that your voice is a trumpet". Announce to the the people their rebellion and sin- What is the sin that we are to announce? The people say they seek me - they say they delight in my ways- they say they are practicing righteousness - In the slang of today.......that we want to be a "Christian" nation again and draw closer to God. And yet - "they forget the ordinances of God"
Isaiah says they are really just "serving their own interests". If all you are doing is picking a fight - "striking out with a wicked fist" - "your voice will not be heard on high" - Do not dare call this a day that which will be acceptable to The Lord. What is acceptable to The Lord?: "loose the bonds of injustice - undo the yoke and let the oppressed go free - do not oppress workers - share your bread with the hungry - bring the homeless into your house - when you see them naked, cover them" --Guess what? "They are your own kin". And you do not hide yourself from your own kin.
(You might not know it to look at us but Benny and I kin - that is right. Think that is strange? You know President Obama and President Trump are kin - Not sure President Trump knows that yet - but President Obama does. Why do you think he has that million dollar smile-(My brother, Barak is saying to Donald) But the new President doesn't seem to smile much)Then Isaiah says with these actions - "Your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly".
And then Jesus comes along 600 years later and Jesus loves to read Isaiah and he says basically the same thing in another way: 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."
Most of the time we read these passages as an admonition to be sure that we do not think that all we have to do is to come to church once a week, sing songs, pray, read scripture, la-di-da; and then go out in the world and do what we want -and live by the rules of a " me first" world. That God sees that as the highest hypocrisy - when our worship and actions do not jive. That God cares 100 times more about what you do on Monday Morning than he does on Sunday Morning. And that is indeed an important message. But this tends to encourage us to continue separating worship and church with the outside world and our everyday lives. One being sacred and one not. One being holy and one mundane. And we look at (and feel) life is splintered. But the deeper message here is that there is no difference according to Isaiah and Jesus- It's all one ball of wax. . You recall Paul's great description of God ("God is that and whom in which we live and move and have our being").
Instead of saying: worship is not as important as your actions - I believe they are saying that everything you do is an act of worship! And the best way to worship is to love. Jesus says - I have not come to abolish anything Isaiah told you - I have not come to make these commandments less strict or less important. In fact, I have come to make them a little stricter. "Not one letter of these words will pass away. The least of them is still super important. You have to follow them better than the Scribes and Pharisees do". And how you do all that? And this is where Jesus offers a unique perspective. You do it by "not treating them as commandments" but as God's grace given to you. As what love and live is all about.
Now You know this better than I do...Jesus came embodying God's love. Living it. Not treating it like rules and regulations but revealing the passion and heart of God. To Jesus, doing what was right and what was compassionate was not a way to win points and get to heaven, it was a way of joy, meaning and fulfillment. It is the essence of a wonderful life (hard yes, but the best life ever, was it not?). Jesus was "in love" with the world. So he spoke of it as a rebirth. A transformation of the heart. A transformation (metanoia) of how one sees others and their life. God's heart gets transplanted into yours. Love becomes part of your being - compassion your mantle. I am so convinced that this what folks are really looking for when they say they want a spiritual life - want to be closer to God.
The blessing of a child, of new life, of being a parent or a grandparent or an aunt or uncle, or god parent, or friend, or just visiting the hospital and looking through the window at all new babies; is that you feel that love intently and personally. You can't help it. You get all wrapped up in the glory and grace of of it all. (If I could I would take a mission trip to the maternity ward annually). I walked out of that hospital embarrassing my other grandchildren for I would stop strangers on the street or roll down the window to let them know we had a new baby and how happy we were.
Babies reignite our gut level love instinct. The first part of it is wonder and amazement but you quickly learn that is more about caring - caring for - that human babies can do so little for themselves - that they are so vulnerable and so much in need that your "feeling" love has got to become "action" love right away! And we know that is the way that God and Jesus mostly if not exclusively saw love - as actions - with out actions the love was nothing - non existent - like salt with no taste (its not salt) - like light that no one noticed or did not light the way (everything was still dark). You can' talk a good game and repudiate God's love in your public actions.
A funny thing happened to me when I walked out of the hospital after seeing my new grandson and my daughter so happy and strong - everything I did (at least for while) was ..."in love". And I had a sense that this is how God wants me to live my life - "in love". To come to church - "in love" / To go to work - "in love" / To get up in the morning - "in love" / to go to the grocery store and walk down the street - "in love"/ To go to the next church meeting - in love (that might be tough) / to evaluate what is best for the country and the people of the world - "in love". Not the gushy
kind of love - my feelings - which can come and go - But the kind of love the bible describes - care and concern and priority for immigrants, poor people, prisoners, hungry, homeless, kin (yes - you are related to everyone like it or not).
Salvation (or let me use a more common word in our vernacular today - "Greatness") is always found in love. Not in scaring people. Not in saying that everything is terrible and rotten. Not in wanting to go back to another time .....And what time is that by the way? A time of more not less racism? A time of not less but more nuclear tension and brinkmanship? I may not be much of an historian but I am pretty sure you can not make anything better by going backwards to another time ---Not a country ---(listen now) Not a church ------Not a person - your own life ---It is by going forward --Forward to the upward call of God in Jesus Christ. Salvation and Greatness are always found in Love and Love is always found in loving.
I hope that I have not been much of a "threatening" or hell fire and damnation pastor.....but I do have a stark admonishing to share - The day that you forget that Jesus loved those roman soldiers who put him to death is the day that when you get to the threshold of the church you should turn around and go home " - because if you do not believe that and you decide to exclude that from your faith - then everything else does not matter. Cause everything we believe and hope for is based on the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. I might say sacrificial and boisterous -We may be tempted to be quiet - to just shut it down a while and hold our tongues and action . We may be tempted to shout over them about how awful they are and how right we are - Shouting has its place -Prophets probably did a bunch of that - But it is no way to live day after day and be at peace with your soul. I think Jesus offers another way --speak loud and clear in word and deed - And always do it "in love" - in care and concern for the other and the ultimate victory of the righteousness and compassion of God.
Isaiah said, why not try being like a trumpet; and make music for both saint and sinner alike.
Sermon Feb 5, 2017 (Isaiah 58:1-9, Matthew 5:13-20)