From our First Lesson, Isaiah 58:  Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?  Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly…  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

The pendulum continues to swing, as it must, back and forth, back and forth.  We focus on grace, on trusting that we have been saved by the goodness of God, and not our own merit or works.  And now the pendulum swings to the side of focusing on how we are to respond to grace: by seeking to live more and more fully in the ways of God.  Grace makes us children of God.  As children of God we now seek to obediently follow the ways of God.  Our inability to ever adequately follow will make it necessary for us to return again and again and again to grace.

Last Sunday we heard from the prophet Micah, who called the people of God to respond to His “saving acts” by moving beyond mere religious ritual into being the kind of people who sought to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”  And now this morning we hear from the prophet Isaiah, who in similar fashion beckons God’s people to do more than simply fast (another religious discipline that can become mere ritual), to being people who seek “to loose the bonds of injustice… to share our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into our house; when we see the naked, to cover them.”

Micah was a pre-exilic prophet, which means that he spoke the word of God during the latter years of the nation of Judah, calling them to repent and to return to the Lord and his ways.  The section of Isaiah that our text this morning comes from seems to be addressed to post-exilic Jews, to people who were allowed to return to Judah after the Babylonians—who had destroyed Judah, Jerusalem, and its temple—were defeated by Cyrus the Great.  Like Micah, Isaiah has already reminded his listeners of the great things that God had done for their ancestors, and now was promising to do for them, and calling them to live the kind of lives God has always intended for His children to live.

In other words, both Micah and Isaiah wanted to see the nation of Israel become great again.  The challenge for the children of God comes in understanding what it means to be great.

In the centuries leading up to the coming of Jesus, the Messiah/Christ, several different mindsets developed regarding what it might mean for Israel to become great again.  The most prevalent understanding had in mind a return of the nation to what they remembered as being the good old days, when Israel was at its highest point of power and prosperity and prestige.  In other words, they were longing for a new King like David.

For Israel to be great again, they needed someone who would come into their capital city and clean house.  They needed someone who would deal with all of the internal corruption that had polluted their government, and who would restore political power by defeating, even destroying, all of Israel’s enemies.  They were waiting and anticipating the coming of a Messiah who would set things straight.

And then along came Jesus.  Along came this new prophet who seemed to possess the divine powers that pointed to Him as being the long-awaited and much-anticipated Messiah, the Savior of their nation.  He fulfilled the messianic signs foretold by Isaiah and the other prophets.  The blind were given their sight, the deaf their hearing, the lame mobility.  Jesus came to set the captive free, and to bring light into the darkness. 

The freedom Jesus brought was not freedom from worldly enemies, but freedom from sin and death and the devil.  The restoration He came to bring was not about power or prestige, or prosperity, but the restoration and expansion of His Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God has always been much larger than any one nation.  The darkness-piercing light Jesus brought and brings is the light of His gospel of grace, the story of His radical love for all people.  Jesus’ Kingdom is a kingdom contrary to the world, an upside-down kingdom comprised of servants, where the first shall be last and the last shall be first, where the greatest are the least and the least are the greatest.

Jesus came to save—but not only Israel—He came to save the world.  God had called Israel to be a servant people, a light unto the nations.  People were to be drawn to God through them as they lived as people of God, as people who had been graciously saved and blessed by God, as people guided by the good and gracious will of God to be people of justice, kindness, humility and compassion.  But instead, Israel’s focus became increasingly internal.  Self-centeredness—in other words, sin—won the day.  They forgot about the saving acts of God, the gracious and powerful deeds of God done on their behalf, and spurned His calling to lives as His people.  And that is why everything fell apart.

For a nation—any nation—to be truly great, the people of God within it must be the salt and the light of which Jesus spoke in our Gospel this morning.  This calling follows on the heels of the opening words of Jesus’ sermon on the mountain we heard last week, the so-called “beatitudes” which spoke of the blessedness of being poor in spirit, meek and merciful makers of peace, of being people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, willing to suffer reviling and persecution if necessary for the coming of the Kingdom of God. 

To be the salt and to be the light that is so sorely needed in this world and in this nation, we, the children of God, must experience the gracious love of God so profoundly that it inspires within us a desire to live more and more fully in the way of Jesus, to have our lives marked by radical grace, compassion, and generosity.  In the words of another prophet, Zechariah: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord.”  True greatness comes from being filled and empowered by the spirit of our Lord.

May that Holy Spirit of God fill us with such a powerful gratitude for grace that we become willing change-agents through whom God works to both strengthen and extend His Kingdom.  What the world needs now—what the world has always needed much more than anything else—is love, God’s love.  The love that looks upon every human being as being a fellow beloved child of God, whose broken life needs the grace that we have received, the grace that we are now called to share in both our words and our deeds.  The pendulum continues to swing, from grace to service, from grace to service, from grace to service. Amen.

   November 2018   
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