081119 Pentecost 12
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Today’s passage in Hebrews catalogs the acts of faith of heroes from the history of Israel. At the end of the list, the writer says, All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland, a better country. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; and has prepared a city for them. The United States has become a nation of people who don’t seek a better country. We demand instant gratification for everything from food to healing our addictions and national problems. We could use a few people like Hebrews describes – mature adults, whose faith understands the limits of a single generation, who contribute their small part to the ongoing march of history. People like that invest in projects that are not evaluated by last quarter’s earnings, but by the impact on a generation: how will our children and their children benefit from these projects? What changes do we need to work for in public life? How must we form and transform institutions that will serve for into the future?
Next week we will read, all these did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect. They couldn’t do it without us! It takes more than one generation to save or destroy the world. We can’t finish the job in one generation. Knowing that affects how we work. Governments can’t take actions that only serve to get them re-elected, while knowingly hurting future generations. None of us can invest our lives in tasks whose impact will die when we do. The still unfinished Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona is a testament to that. If Antoni Gaudí had believed his project needed to be finished in one generation, he never would have begun construction in 1882. Almost 140 years later, construction continues.
Each generation chooses a trajectory: either it saves or it destroys; the leaders of ours are choosing to destroy precisely when future generations most need us to save. I was both furious and grateful last week when I learned that my five year old grandson had an active shooter drill during his first week of kindergarten. That is just one symptom of our destructive trajectory. Israel in the time of Isaiah also chose destruction. Isaiah writes, your hands are full of blood. Ah, but that doesn’t mean they’d lost their religion; in fact, religion was doing fine: they constantly offered sacrifices, they assembled regularly for religious services and made many prayers. It meant they had lost their morality: they trampled the courts, permitted bloodshed and ignored evil. Sound familiar? Is that not what we are living? Isaiah and the Psalmist said that God would no longer abide such evil. Isaiah wanted to shame and embarrass the leaders of Israel by calling them rulers of Sodom and people of Gomorrah. The Psalmist says, God will not keep silence… calling the heavens and the earth from above to witness the judgment of the people. Last week Uruguay, Venezuela and Japan issued travel warnings about travel to the United States after back-to-back mass shootings. It seems that some nations our leaders treat like Sodom and Gomorrah are beginning to stand in judgment of us.
God’s people must not keep silence either. There are many ways to speak out. In the last sermon roundtable we realized that we had been saying the same things for over two years, and that we needed to act, and make our voice be heard. So, we came up with the idea of posting short videos on Facebook as one small step; Heather Woodbury took the call seriously and used her gifts to create a post that we hope will be shared by many. I’ve invited Heather to perform her post today. Listen.
A song in Spanish that was popular some years back is entitled, Jesus is a Verb, not a Noun. While grammatically incorrect, the song expresses an important truth about Jesus. A couple of lines from the song say, Jesus wants us to act not to talk…Jesus converted all his sermons into deeds. The same could be said about faith. Often faith is used as a noun, to describe a body of doctrine, a set of beliefs, an official dogma. Those who adhere to the faith are called the faithful. Those who don’t are called heretics. Those who define faith this way tend to care more for religious orthodoxy and sacrifice than doing justice. Isaiah makes clear what God thinks of them: Your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
Like Jesus, faith is a verb: a way of life
characterized by risking, trusting, growing and expanding. Those who live faith as a verb are called witnesses. Those who don’t are called fearful. In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls witnesses my little flock. The strength of the “little flock” is its willingness to live out its faith, not primarily as an intellectual assent to theological claims or a list of dogmatic propositions, but as a way of following Jesus wherever the Good Shepherd leads. The Book of Hebrews reminds readers of those who have been part of the little flock over the history of God’s people; folks like Abraham and Sarah. The reading skips over Abel, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Miriam, Joshua and Rahab, but we must hear them. Noah endured ridicule as he built an ark in the desert. Rahab, the prostitute, received the spies in peace in Jericho. Moses chose his Hebrew roots over his rights to Pharaoh’s house. Sarah struggled to believe that she would see the fulfillment of God’s promise to multiply her seed until she had as many offspring as the stars of heaven.
Jesus roots this kind of faith in knowing that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. I keep insisting that our faith is rooted in knowing that at the root of the Universe is love and acceptance. That’s what God’s good pleasure is. That’s what the heroes of faith knew. Last week I attended the funeral of Sister Pat Krommer, a Catholic nun who embodied this quality. When I heard that she died last month, I wrote the following words: Sister Pat is one of the most faithful women I have ever known. Her faith filled every corner of her life, from the way she treated people to her prophetic voice about justice. I always felt like she was only paying attention to me when I was in her presence. That is a great gift. She was a lover par excellence. Her legacy is strong and will continue to impact the world as she transitions to another mode of life. Everyone at her funeral felt the same way. The preacher said that Sister Pat always told him what a good job he had done, even after preaching what he knew was a terrible sermon. Pat lived out her faith, and empowered others to live out theirs by affirming their goodness, and her good pleasure in them.
Friends, people of faith have always lived on the edge. They dare to question the way things are when everyone has lost their way and don’t know it yet. They’re prophets who announce future consequences for present actions. They are dressed for action and have their lamps lit as everyone else parties while the master is away. They don’t know when the consequences will come, but they live and work today for the wellbeing of future generations. They are able to dwell in those edgy places because their lives are grounded in love, in God’s good pleasure. They know that God will give them the kingdom. They say with Isaiah, Make yourselves clean; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us reason together: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword. It is God’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. Let us live in a way that will make us happy to receive it and enter it.