Sunday, August 7, 2016

“Trample My Courts No More” (Isaiah 1:1, 10-20)

The Book of Isaiah begins at a time when Judah, the southern kingdom, was being threatened by a powerful neighbor, Assyria.  In the prophet Isaiah’s understanding, the real threat to the life of Judah was not simply the might of Assyria, but the nation’s own sin and disobedience toward God . . . their lack of trust in God.  For this reason the prophet begins his ministry with vivid words and action to call the people and their leaders to a life of righteousness and justice, and warned that failure to listen to God would bring doom and destruction.  Now remember, Isaiah is the messenger . . . the messenger for God, and God is angry . . . very angry.

How angry is God?

God is angry enough to mince no words.  God is angry enough to do a little name calling.  God is angry enough to turn away from the people . . . to ignore the people.  God is angry enough to even threaten destruction if the people don’t shape up.  God is angry because the people and leaders have trampled the Lord’s courts . . . ignore God and God’s ways . . . made a travesty of all that God represents and truly is.  God is angry and Isaiah is the chosen vessel to deliver this anger to the people.

During this time in the history of God’s people, the Temple has been rebuilt and the nation restored . . . it was a time of transition.  During times of transition there is often a period of change . . . of what they call scrumming in rugby.  You know what a scrum is in rugby.  That is that point in the game when the ball is still and the two competing teams hover over it in one great mass with each pushing to get the best position in order to win.  It is a big pile-up with lots of pushing, shoving, pinching, punching, and even biting to see who come up with the ball and control of the game.  Such is the situation in this time period of transition as many groups are vying for control and power.  In this, the people have lost focus on what is important . . . God and others.

Now this probably doesn’t make sense.  From the sound of God’s own complaints it would seem as the people were quite religious . . . quite faithful.  There were services of sacrifice . . . burnt offerings . . . worship services . . . it seems as if the Temple was a happening place with lots of stuff going on to express the religion and faith of the people.  Yet, God is not happy with any of it.  True, it looks like the people are being faithful; yet, at the same time God sees it for what it is . . . busyness.  There is no depth, no meaning, and no purpose in what they are doing.  It is nothing more than a charade.  In the actions of the people they attempt to hide the reality.  The reality is that they are a sinful people who have turned their backs on God, God’s ways, and it has spilled out to destroy the lives of those who they have been called upon to love and serve.  God is sick and tired of the people trampling upon God’s holy court . . . God is angry.

In the eyes of God, this is a cover up to hide that which the people are not doing.  They are not loving one another . . . they are not taking care of each other.  They are mean and nasty towards one another.  They are ignoring those in need . . . the oppressed, the orphans, the widows, the people on the outside looking in.  They have turned their backs on God and the ways of God to seek out their own glory and power.  They have chosen to rely upon themselves and not God.  And, God has had enough.

I imagine, that in the listening to this passage, more than one or two of you sitting out there probably thought to yourselves that this description of what the people were doing at the time of Isaiah is not too far off from the time that we are living in.  I imagine that more than one or two of you saw the similarity of what was happening in the reading as being true for today.  As a people of today . . . of now . . . we are not without our prophets, and those prophets have been calling for the people to listen and change in light of the times we are living in.  These are not times for the weak as we look around and see the turmoil and violence occurring on a daily—nearly hourly—basis.  The prophets of today are echoing the words of God spoken by Isaiah so long ago.

But, wait.  The faithful still have a presence in the world.  There is worship.  There are gatherings.  There are celebrations.  There are meetings.  Yet, the question that needs to be asked is whether or not any of this is making a difference . . . is our faith changing the world to be a better place . . . to a place where all are accepted, embraced, and welcomed into the fellowship and family of God.  The question is are we about “kingdom” building or are we just going through the motions?  Or, are we playing an elaborate game of charade?

To be honest, I have my opinion . . . just as each of you has your opinion.  With those opinions we can argue and debate for days on end and still get no closer to attaining God’s will for the family of God.  In doing this we only perpetuate the charade.  No, we need a plan of action.  God, through Isaiah, offered the people a plan of action.  God says, “Come now, let us reason together.”

Let us reason together.  To reason with God we begin with prayer.  In the presence of God we offer to God our lives . . . not only our words, but our actions . . . the very way that we live our lives.  In prayer we offer ourselves and then we wait in the silence to hear the voice of God.  God will speak . . . God will speak if we are patient and truly listening with all of our senses.  And then, we discern.  We discern the message of God to each of us . . . discern what it is that God is asking us to do.  If we do not understand what it is that God is asking, then we offer that up to God also.  We continue to pray for God to receive us as we are and to send us out into the world to live God’s will.  In this process we reason with God.  In this way we return to God.

This was the offer that God gives to the people in our reading this morning.  It is a call to return to God and God’s ways.  A call to set aside the charade . . . to set aside the selfishness causing them to sin . . . and, to return to God once again to embrace the grace and love.  To obey God.  To trust God.  If the people are willing to do this then God promises them redemption.  “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best of the land,” says God to the people.

That is a promise.  God says so.

At the same time, God warns the people: “. . . but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.”  God is not going to choose for the people, it will be up to them.  Neither will God choose for us.  It will be up to each of us as individuals . . . as the children of God.
Faith is not a state of being.  Faith is action . . . action that reflects what we truly believe.  In light of the world we are living in today, does our faith truly reflect our love for God and for one another in such a way that we are striving to build God’s kingdom in this time and place?  And, if it is not, are we just trampling down God’s courts?  The only way we will ever know is to take it to God in prayer, discern, and strive together to do God’s will.

God loves us . . . shouldn’t we love God?  May our lives truly reflect the love of God in all that we do and say.  Amen.

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