Taking Jesus seriously

Ordinary Time 19C; Pentecost 12C; Proper 14C

Isaiah 1.1, 10–20
Hebrews 11.1–3, 8–16
Luke 12.32–40

Right there in chapter one of his book, Isaiah tells Israel that God does not ‘like’ its worship services in the great Temple of Jerusalem. God says,

When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen…

So, how do you feel after a service of worship? Do you enjoy our services? Perhaps ‘enjoy’ isn’t the right word. Perhaps I should ask how you ‘respond to’, ‘experience’, ‘appreciate’ our services.

Maybe you don’t enjoy worship all that much. If not, why not? Often, when people say that they mean the music isn’t right for them. Or the sermons are too long. Or we should have Holy Communion more often, or less ‘liturgy’—whatever that is.

Maybe we feel that the Pentecostals have got it right, with their exuberance, their songs and their spontaneity. Or the Orthodox Churches, with their mystery, icons and incense. It may even be we’re ok with the way things are.

But let’s face the real question: If God didn’t like Temple worship back then, then the real question is not what we think about worship, but what God thinks about it here in Centenary Uniting. How does God respond to our worship?

How do we answer that question? Does God like one type of song more than another? Does God like mystery or spontaneity? Does God like long sermons or long silences? Does God want the service to be over within the hour?

Fortunately for us, God answers that question here in Isaiah 1. God does have an opinion about service of worship, but it’s not about which songs we sing or which version of the Bible we read or whether we are ‘liturgical’, whatever that is.

What God cares about is simply put by Isaiah the prophet. God says to Israel:

Your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.

God’s concern is this: do our worship services help to form us as a people who will care for “the oppressed, the orphan and the widow”?

God doesn’t mind so much about the style of worship. God wants worship which goes hand-in-hand with justice. God wants worship that shapes us as people who “seek justice”. We are made to encounter God in worship—the God who seeks justice for people at risk.

Sometimes, we feel blissfully uplifted when we meet with God. Sometimes, we’re uncomfortably conscious of the need to change our lives. Always, we are aware that we are God’s beloved children, and that God wants to give us the kingdom. Jesus says,

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

This isn’t talk about going to heaven when we die. When Jesus talks about God’s kingdom, he means the kingdom of his own prayer, the Lord’s Prayer:

Your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as in heaven.

The kingdom is coming. The kingdom is here as God’s will is done. “The reign of God that will come fully in the future already invades the present.” (Andrews et. al., Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, Year C)

The kingdom God gives us is good news for the poor in spirit, and for the poor generally. The kingdom brings enough for everyone. No one will have too little, no one will have too much. The God we encounter in worship is the God who gives us this kingdom.

We’re having an election on 7 September, and I am well aware that this could sound very much like a ‘political’ sermon. Well, it is political! Friends, it is impossible to proclaim the message of Jesus without declaring what the world would look like if more people followed it.

But I’m not advising you which way to vote, not one bit. This may be a political sermon, but it’s not a party-political sermon. On 7 September, Australia will elect either Tony Abbott or Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. That’s certain. One other thing is certain: Australia would never elect Jesus of Nazareth. No politician ever said,

Sell your possessions, and give alms.

That’s just not in the political lexicon. But Jesus’ words strongly suggest that when we vote, we should not ask Which party will benefit me most?, but Which party will be better for the poor in this country?

Isaiah’s words make it clear that God seeks justice for those on the edge. Isaiah calls them “the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow”. We might call them “the refugee, the unemployed, the mentally ill”—and so many more.

Jesus says Sell what you have and give it away. Does he really mean that? How can we possibly do that? Do we have to say No to Jesus? Or—if we don’t take Jesus literally, how do we take him seriously?

Old Father Abraham can help us here. Hebrews 11, “the Faith Chapter”, tells of those inspirational men and women of the Old Testament who trusted God. It says,

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.

Abraham set out from his home, from everything that was familiar and dear to him, and followed the Word of God. He didn’t even know where he was going, but he went.

God invites us to do the same. Follow the Word of God. Take a small step of faith. Take Jesus seriously: “give alms”, that is, consider the poor. Consider the poor with your time, talents and money; prayerfully consider the poor as you vote.

You may not know where you’ll end up if you take Jesus seriously. You may end up in the ministry, or doing something you never expected to do. But you’ll walk in faith, you’ll walk in the right direction.

And if you do, one day it may be that you arrive at a place in which the meaning of Jesus’ words for you becomes clear.

In Isaiah’s day, over two and a half thousand years ago, God said:

When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen…

What will God say to us in 2013? Let’s recall the first words Jesus says in today’s Gospel Reading:

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

God wants to give us the kingdom. God is giving us the kingdom. We don’t have to be afraid. We do need to trust Jesus’ words and walk by faith.

1 Comment

Filed under Baptism, Church & world, church year, Liturgy, RCL, sermon

One response to “Taking Jesus seriously

  1. aussiegnu

    Amen. Thanks Paul

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