Last week I mentioned that this community is about three core things: We love Jesus, we love each other, and we love the world around us. And so for our first couple of months together, our time of teaching is going focus on those three ideas. What does it look like to love and follow Jesus? What does it look like to be a family of people who truly love one another? And what does it look like to be people who genuinely care for, and meet the great needs of, the world around us? We are going to explore how these three values that we hold up are intwined together and actually inseparable from one another.
If you were with us last week we began with a story of Jesus at the house of a religious leader with an uninvited guest. This guest was a truly broken women, who out of her place of brokenness, loved greatly because she was overcome with the acceptance and love that Jesus showed her. We are able to love with great love out of a place of brokenness because when we realize we are all broken, what gets out of the way? Pride gets out of the way. We get out of the way.
So we love each other in the midst of our brokenness, but we do this because we believe there is a God who actually loves us and meets us in our brokenness and mess. And then what is our response to this love of God? We worship. We love Jesus. We come together like this and we thank God for loving us the way that God does; a love that meet us, accepts us, embraces us right we are at. We are passionate about God through singing songs, prayer, teaching of the Bible. So we are a committed to each other no matter what life throws at us, and we give thanks and gratitude to God for meeting us where we are at and forgiving us, but how does that translate into our love of the world? That is what we are going to explore tonight.
I used to work at a church in La Canada, California, and every October a group of older adults would take a trip to Tutwiler, Mississippi, where they would work with Habitat for Humanity to build a home for a family in great need. It was a trip they had been doing for 20-30 years and they had built quite the relationship with the community in and around Tutwiler as you can imagine. It was a trip that was about so much more than simply building a house. Well, even though the older group was a little reluctant to let a bunch of teenagers come on the trip, we managed to get the youth to become a part of this trip, and so we went along with the older people and worked side by side them building homes. The first year I went on the trip I just kind of sat back and learned the ropes of how this things worked and how the youth would fit int the trip. I became fascinated with one of the older women in the group. Her name was Ruth and she was in charge of the chop saw that cut literally every piece of wood that would be used to build the home. As year two I rolled around I realized that Ruth was a bit of a legend, both in Tutwiler and La Canada. She had a nickname, “Chop Saw Ruth.” And I thought to myself, I want to be a legend. I want a nickname. I didn't know how it was going to happen, but year three was going to be my year.
So year three roles around and the chips just began to fall into place. Sadly, Ruth was having some health issues and was not able to make the trip after being on this trip for some 20 years in a row. They needed someone to run the chop saw and I volunteered. I had never run one before in my life. But before you knew I had it figure it out. People were shouting measurements out to me and I was cutting the wood like crazy. I even had a team of about 4 students who would get measurements, mark the wood, and then hand it off to me. Then it happened. They gave me a name, “Bone Saw.” I had arrived.
Well being a chop saw legend can get tiring pretty quickly and so late in the day, towards the end of the week, I decided to take a break and go sit up on the roof of the house we had built. As I was making my way up to the roof I remember being a little frustrated that a lot of the students were no where to be found. High school students. This isn't going to go over very well with the older members of the team. But, I sat down on the roof and was pretty proud of myself at achieving legend status on this trip, and then I noticed something that moved me deeply, and to be honest, made me feel quite foolish. All the students who had “gone missing” were about a block down the street playing with a large group of kids from the community. They didn’t do this at my urging, but on their own. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had forgotten that this trip was about so much more than simply building a house, it was about building and maintaing relationships with the people of that community. The two were inseparable. The high school students got it. I clearly missed it.
Tonight we are going to explore how our thanksgiving and gratitude toward God is connected to our daily life. I think more often than we might realize, we forget what worship is about and how connected it is to our interactions with people. We isolate worship as a stand alone event that is in no way connected to how we live our life. Or maybe this is our first experience with being a part of a community like this; a worshiping community. If so, that is great. But I am speaking out of my experience, knowing that way to often I make worship something that it is not.
Text Background: A little context for the time when this text we are about to we read was written in Jerusalem: The economy was extremely unstable. There was a severe famine in the region, there wasn't enough food to go around. People were having to mortgage their fields, vineyards, and homes in order to get enough food for their families to stay alive, and people were being charged a ridiculous amount of interest on the mortgages. They were being taxed a crippling amount of their income as well. All of this was forcing many of them to force their own children in slavery.
The government at the time was both lax and oppressive which had led to significant violence and disorder. The city had become a place of great violence, and it was the leadership of the city that was primarily responsible. They were continuing to seek their own personal welfare and advancement at the expense of the poor and marginalized. So you can begin to get an idea of the setting that these words spoken by the prophet Isaiah were first said.
So first question. What is a prophet? What is their role? To shares God’s nightmares and dreams. Speaking things people often don’t want to hear. A mouthpiece for God.
Text: Isaiah 58
A Closer Look: Isaiah 58 is all about worship, particularly fasting. Jerusalem has a temple of sorts at the time of this prophecy where people would gather together to worship publicly through fasting and praying for justice in a time where there was blatant injustice.
Verse 1: God is going to let the people know that there is a problem with what they are currently doing. Prophecy. Announcing something that is going against the life that was desired by God for these people. So What is the problem?
Verse 2-5: Fasting was a part of the Israelite’s worship, but by the time this scene unfolds, fasting had become a mere cultural spectacle. Times of fasting at this point were institutionalized into four occasions which became a sort of popular holiday which had little to do with worship. Think Easter and Christmas in our culture. What happens?
So the city has erupted into unimaginable injustice and what do the leaders of the city do? They continue to fast and pray that change might come, but do nothing themselves about the injustice that they see all around them. In fact they continue to contribute to the systems of injustice through the very way they choose to live their lives.
As the prophet tells us in verse 5, God is tired seeing life sucked right out of people. But somehow, this is what their worship had become. Not life giving, but life draining.
So the prophet has called out what is unacceptable in the eyes of God.
On the surface they appear to be very religious. They say all the right things. Believe all the right things. They even go through many of the right motions when it comes to their public gatherings for worship. But something is grossly wrong.
Read: Isaiah 29:13
Does this sound familiar to anyone about what we read in the NT with regards to Jesus?
What does Jesus say to the religious leaders of Jerusalem? You worship me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me (Matthew 15:8-9).
So through the prophet, the religious leaders of Jerusalem are told that God is not pleased with what is happening, and we begin to pick up on the idea that their worship was somehow connected to their way of living. But what is worship supposed to look like?
Verse 6-8: The prophet begins to share God’s vision of what worship should look like. Look at verse 6. What do you think that has to do with, knowing what you know about the historical context? These things are related directly to the injustice that is occurring in the city they inhabit.
What about verse 7? Feeding the hungry, putting a roof over the homeless, clothing the naked. Not withdrawing yourself into isolation but remaining connected to the community around you and its needs. Does this sound familiar to anyone with regards to something Jesus says.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story about a king who is separating those he rules into two groups, "just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." Jesus goes on to say that the sheep were those that somehow fed the king when he was hungry, gave him something to drink when he was thirsty, welcomed him into their home when he was homeless, gave him clothes when he was naked, took care of him when he was sick, and went to visit him when he was in prison. The sheep are incredibly confused by what the king is saying to them. They ask the king when these things happened, because of course the wealthy king would never be found in these circumstances. The king responds, "I assure you that when you have done if for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me." Do you see the claim that is being made here by Jesus? Somehow our interaction, our love and worship with God is linked to our love of other people and how we care for them.
Isn't it interesting that Jesus says the most important commandment is to love God with our entire being and and the second is just like it: to love our neighbor as ourself. Again, this idea that our love of God, our worship of God, is inseparable from how we treat and care for other people.
Verse 9-12 And what happens when our worship begins to look like this? Life begins to emerge in the most unexpected of places. Even in dry and withered places, there will be a spring of water. Life. And what will they then be called? “Mender of Broken Walls” and “Restorer of Livable Streets.” This is like urban development. God had a vision for the people of Israel. What was that vision? That they would be a people who cared for those less fortunate than them in their own neighborhood. That they would seek justice in their own neighborhood. That there neighborhood would be one that promoted life at every level, in every nook and cranny. Their worship was inseparable from their ability to not only see the oppression and injustice around them, but stop the ones who were inflicting it, and then come to the aid of those who had been the victims of it.
So when Jesus comes along in the New Testament, what is his biggest issue with the religious leaders of the city? That their worship doesn't match up with how they live their lives, particularly with concern for the oppressed and marginalized. Worship (thanks and gratitude to God) is inseparable from our care for and involvement in the neighborhoods we live in. Especially when it comes to those who are being ignored and trampled upon within our neighborhoods.
What About Us? Our hope for this community of people is that this would not simply become a worship service that is in no way related to the rest of our life, or the world around us. But the sad reality, is that is what many churches become. And that is why church is so often thought of as simply a place, or a building, where we go to to worship. And we then make the worship all about us; our needs and our wants. The service then becomes a sort of spectacle that has little to do with truly worshipping God, but begins to look more like a vending machine that we come to each week to get what looks and feels good to us. When our service, or gathering of worship, becomes an end in itself, it becomes sterile and counterproductive to the mission of Jesus. It becomes very inward and blinded to all that God is doing around us and inviting us to be a part of.
Us gathering together to worship each Saturday evening is very important. But hear this: if our community is not naming the injustice we see all around us, figuring out how to stop it, and caring for those afflicted by it, I would argue that our worship is done in vain.
So I hope we can begin to see how this is connected to last week. If we are broken before one another, we realize our need for wholeness and forgiveness, and our pride begins to lessen. And it is in that place that we are then able to love greatly. This idea of “loving greatly” is worship. We come here and give thanks and gratitude to God for life, but it must then translate into a great love for the world around us that God loves so dearly. We come here on Saturday and open the Word, but then we must go and be the embodiment of the Word for others. We go and put flesh on the word.