Sermon

Epiphany 5, Year A

Technology can be a wonderful thing.  I remember as a young adult easily learning about computers.  Actually, I took the first ‘computer’ programming class that was offered atSierraJunior College.  Back then we wrote simple programs a line at a time on punch cards which were fed into the ‘computer’ and an answer or data was produced.  What we really learned was how to ‘debug’ our own work.  How far things have come in just over 40 years…

40 years, are you kidding?  The 21st century is about instantaneous results.  The changes have been astounding.  Kids have little concept about ‘waiting’.  I wonder if a drawback to all this technology is the need for quick results.  Problem solved – on to the next task.  In our quest to take care of problems – in schools, business, home and church – do we focus on the symptoms, mistaking them for ‘the problem’ – cure the symptom and forget about taking time to find out what’s really happening.  For example, when you come down with a cold, you take medication to alleviate the symptoms of the cold; fever, stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing, coughing – but do we try to minimize our exposure to viruses, that cause of the symptoms, or do we practice a lifestyle that will build our immune system which will also minimize viral infection?  Given how much we spend on cold medications it appears that it’s easier to take a couple pills or a tablespoon of liquid medication.

In the Old Testament reading, Isaiah is called to address the problem of false religious observance.  This morning we hear about ‘fasting’ as one of the symptoms.  The root problem is people who observe spiritual disciplines for selfish reasons (to gain God’s blessings) while ignoring the hunger, poverty, homelessness, and nakedness of those in need.  The problem is that the people are looking for God to provide for their needs because they have followed the law.  The people think that they have been faithful.  They imagine that their fasting and Sabbath-keeping have pleased God. 

The people have stated their complaint –– God has ignored their fasting.  Now God states his complaint –– as an act of repentance or devotion, their fasting is fatally flawed.  They have not fasted to honor God, but have instead fasted for selfish reasons.  They have assumed that God would reward their fasting, so they fasted to earn the reward.  Their purpose was not to give devotion to God but to gain a blessing from God.  Their fasting, therefore, was exactly the opposite of genuine fasting.  Rather than an act of self-denial, it was a self-centered grasping for reward.  Their fasting was not an act of humility but of pride.  What they are about to learn is that God considers them to have been majoring in minors –– to have been faithfully keeping the lesser parts of the law while neglecting “the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith”. 

            God’s response is to describe the fast that comes from true devotion that grows naturally out of love for God.  People who love God will worship him for the sake of honoring rather than manipulating him.  And if we love God, we will also love those whom God loves –– our neighbors.  This is a far grander vision than fasting or sackcloth and ashes.  It demands a great deal more of God’s people than they have understood until this moment.  It is easy to go without food for a day or to dress in humble attire –– especially if we think that we will receive a blessing from God for doing so. It is much more difficult to remedy injustice –– to give freedom to those whom we have oppressed –– to break yokes that bind people to servitude.  That love for God and neighbor will be manifested by taking concrete steps to care for those in need.  The reward of this right relationship with God is that “our light shall break forth like the dawn, your healing shall spring up quickly…you shall cry for help, and God will say, Here I am.”

Being in relationship with God calls us to look at our own lives, to honestly compare what we do with what we are called to do.  To not necessarily come up with a quick solution or ignore issues that may not seem to affect us directly.  Literacy, high school drop-out rates, gang violence, poverty, unemployment – there may be relatively quick remedies for the symptoms, but God calls us to look for the root problem.  I’m guessing it’s big and complicated.  It may well involve us making sacrifices for the good of our community. 

Could it be that we are being called to spend some of our time and talent with those suffering social injustice?  To give up time spent with our own family or our own leisure?  Most definitely it will be monetary.  There’s no way around it, whether directly or indirectly we will need to ‘pay’.  Perhaps one of us will need to get involved politically…the solutions won’t be easy or cheap. 

As a community we can figure this out.  Jesus points out that we are the salt of the earth; the light of the world.  We are called to be, to do.  Some say they can’t ‘do’ anything physical, and it is true.  But you are still the salt and the light by your examples of leadership and caring that you give to us.  And you still have a task that you can do – pray.  In fact, we all can and need to pray – to ask God for help.  Prayer is strong and it is needed as much, or more, today that ever. 

So our work is not done.  We are called to let our light shine out, to continue our good works through the power of the Spirit we have received from God.    AMEN.

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