Youth are invited to Amy's house for a cook-out and to share our Montreat experiences, SUNDAY, 11am - 1pm, August 25
Session will meet TUESDAY, 7pm, August 27th.
LAST SUMMER WORSHIP: Sunday, Sept 1, 9:30am
NORMAL WORSHIP SCHEDULE WITH SUNDAY SCHOOL AT 9AM & worship at 10:30 am resumes Sunday, Sept 8
Marys and Marthas gather Sunday after worship Sept 8
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
August 11, 2019
This Monday, after the Sunday Gene Eplee told me at 9:27 am three minutes before worship, about the two shooting sprees: One in El Paso and one in Dayton, both by young men inspired by racial hate and white supremacy rhetoric, that killed 29 people; leaving two communities and a whole country reeling and devastated;
This Monday, after the Joys and Concerns of last Sunday when I said I just didn’t know what to say about yet more gun violence;
This Monday, after Hampton Riggleman shook my hand after worship and said he wouldn’t be surprised if God has had it with us and any day now another flood came to wipe us all away;
And after Jennie Pilato shook my hand and said, “Why isn’t anyone doing anything?” and I told her it was against the law for any government agency to research or even track gun violence;
After all that, I came into my office Monday morning, and noticed I had not picked a scripture passage for today. Which is unusual, because normally I work several months ahead knowing which lectionary passage I will use.
And so, Monday morning, I checked my calendar, which lists the 4 scriptures for each Sunday, and I opened my Bible to the first one, from the prophet Isaiah: 1:1, 10-20. These words record what happened beginning in 742 BCE, more than 700 years before Jesus is born. Isaiah is introduced, then speaks the word of the Lord to a ruling class and government which has used the legal system to enrich themselves and cheat the needy, saying this:
The vision about Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah, Amoz’s son, saw in the day sof Judah’s kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah:
Hear the Lord’s word, you leaders of Sodom. Listen to our God’s teaching, people of Gomorrah!
What shall I think about all your sacrifices, says the Lord. I’m fed up with entirely burned offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts. I don’t want the blood of bulls, lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from you, this trampling of my temples’ courts?
Stop bringing worthless offerings. Your incense repulses me: New moon and Sabbath and the calling of an assembly – I can’t stand wickedness with celebration! I hate your new moons and your festivals. They’ve become a burden that I’m tired of bearing. When you extend your hands, I”ll hide my eyes from you. Even when you pray for a long time, I won’t listen. Your hands are stained with blood.
Wash! Be clean! Remove your ugly deeds from my sivht. Put an end to such evil. Learn to do good. Seek justice, help the oppressed; defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Come now, and let’s settle this, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be like snow. If they are red as crimson, they will become like wool.
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; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
And these words, written almost 3000 years ago, to a people long gone, stopped me in my tracks. I was convicted. And I don’t remember the last time I felt such trepidation stepping into this pulpit.
In case you missed it, let’s put Isaiah’s words into more plain English: God is saying the people are worse than Sodom and Gomorrah – And it has nothing to do with sexual immorality, because they were guilty of sexual violence – Isaiah is saying these folk are worse than people who will willingly give up their children to be raped in order to keep the bullies and bandits ruling the city appeased and satisfied. That’s a pretty horrible standard to exceed. Yet Isaiah says according to God, they have sunk even lower. And God says this: Your worship is pointless to me. It’s an insult and desecration. Why should I listen to your prayers when you have blood on your hands? When you leave this place and instead of caring for the vulnerable in your midst, you sacrifice them to the bullies and bandits – To those in charge, just to satisfy and appease them. I’m not going to listen to you anymore, until you change your evil ways. Let’s talk this through, and you will be well cared for. But if you don’t, you will die by the sword.
Friends, I have not been faithful. I have not trusted that God’s love for us is far more powerful, holding us together, than anything that might divide us. I have let fear keep me silent, instead of God’s love making me brave. I have been scared to find out if we truly believe “whoever you are, there’s a place for you here.”
I have let culture and society and fear define what is political and therefore off limits in church, and in doing so, I too have been seduced into thinking certain things are to be avoided in the pulpit because they are “political.” But there are things going on in our midst that are not political. They are moral.
I had to look up the law for Maryland to see if there was a chance someone could be carrying a concealed weapon into worship this morning. Apparently, legally, you can. About a year ago some folk here talked about putting a sign on the main entrance saying that this was God’s sanctuary and guns were not permitted. But then other folks said that would be seen as too political and not everyone would agree with them. Clearly, if even putting a sign on the door of a church saying guns are not welcome here is considered “political,” this issue is appallingly, sickeningly, embarrassingly, divisive. If I had questions about that, the responses to my face book post on my personal page when I said last Sunday I wanted a candidate for president who would fight to reduce gun violence opened my eyes.
And into this context I read these words from Isaiah, and realize I have not trusted in God’s love. I have not answered God’s invitation to “Come now, let’s settle this.” I have not been willing or obedient. I have let fear rule my heart – Fear of offending, fear of being divisive, fear of being inappropriate, fear of being seen as political, or too political, fear of not trusting you, or God’s love.
For truly, Hampton is right. Isaiah is right. Why would God care how beautiful our hymns or earnest our prayers or heartfelt our worship, when we, like Sodom and Gomorrah, continue to sacrifice children – God’s children, to the bullies and bandits in our culture. How can God not have had enough?
Some have argued that we will always have people in our midst who for one reason or another want to kill others. Yes. But why do we have to help them do it faster, easier, and more efficiently? Yes, people can drive a car into a crowd – We’ve seen that happen –
But let’s look at the evidence – Evidence, by the way, that is illegal for the US government or the Center for Disease Control, to track. There have been 255 mass shootings in the US this year – where 4 or more people have been killed. Today is the 223rd day in the year. So that is more than one a day so far. According to what I could find in my Google search, there has been one driver who drove a car into a crowd this year, in Sunnyvale, CA. They are still investigating whether it was an accident or intentional. Injured 8 people. The mass shootings have taken 275 lives, injured 1065 people.
I read this book, by Mark Manson, whose title cannot be repeated in church, which starts off “The subtle art of not giving a…..” and he makes a very good point: There are always always trade-offs. He uses the example of exercise – if we don’t exercise, we don’t have to wash our dirty clothes, figure out when and where and how to exercise – We avoid all those problems. But there is a trade-off in our physical health, our well-being, our mental health, our longevity. There are always always trade-offs.
It’s a useful paradigm – Because there are always trade-offs. I could have missed any connection between what is going on in our current context and these words from the prophet Isaiah. Or I could have seen a connection but kept my mouth shut. Here’s the trade-off: I would not have risked finding out how true, how strong, the truth that “whoever you are, there’s a place for you here” – Whether you maintain the inherent rights of US citizens to arm themselves however they want, or you think we’ve lost our collective mind – There is a place for you here.
But this passage has these challenging, challenging words, said with compassion, from God: “Come now, and let’s settle this, says the Lord.” Are we willing to risk something big for something good? Are we willing to confess how we all have stood behind fear as God’s children are sacrificed? Fear of the government taking over our rights – Our distrust of the government fueling our willingness to fight to the death, literally, over the 2nd amendment, even at the cost of people’s – children’s - lives. Fear of saying the wrong thing, triggering someone’s anger, being triggered ourselves?
Can we take responsibility for our own reactions when this topic comes up, so that our increased heart rate and our anger and our disdain of folk “on the other side,” and our fury and our panic, - some of which I’m quite aware you may be feeling this very minute – But can all of that become OUR responsibility to figure out?
How I am feeling now is my responsibility of faith – How you are feeling now is your responsibility of faith: To figure out why, to be honest with ourselves and with God – These feelings coming up right now are not a reason to keep silent, nor a reason to attack. Until we take responsibility for why this topic makes our heads explode – whichever side of this debate you find yourself – We cannot be faithful. We are not trusting in God. We are shutting down all conversation. We are putting our fears in charge, they are driving this ship, and we are heading right off a cliff, or into an iceberg, or pick your mixed metaphor.
Is our faith stronger than our anger and our fear and our commitment to ideolopgy and our demonizing the other? Can we stop believing the lies we’ve been fed, confess we have made idols of our ideologies, and stop being so knee-jerk reactive, and instead live into our faith? Isaiah warns us, if we continue to refuse and rebel – If we continue to allow our fear to overcome our faith, if we continue to be in denial how our fear is fueling this whole debacle – We shall be devoured by the sword – Which is Old Testament speak for weapons of warfare. As is already happening all around us.
Let us take a breath. Let us be willing to listen to each other with compassion. Let us have the wisdom to spot how fear in us and in others have overthrown common sense. Let us be honest about how the bullies and the bandits of our culture have hijacked our minds and fanned our fears. Whether you fear guns, or you fear being told your access to guns is limited in order to protect God’s children, it is time to let information, and faith, and facts, and care for the weakest in our midst – It’s time to let all of that inform our decisions about how to move forward. This is not a political issue. This is a moral issue, a security issue, a faith issue. For just like people throughout time, we are allowing the most vulnerable in our midst to be sacrificed to the idols and lies of the bullies and bandits. And God has got to be fed up.
I am reminded of these words from one of my favorite hymns, #319 Spirit together: For we too are blinded to our idols and lies. God is speaking through our prophets to open our eyes. Spirit of restlessness, stir us from placidness, we beg you.
Let us sing the words in the bulletin from Hymn #319
“You swept through the desert, you stung with the sand, and you gifted your people with a law and land. And when they were blinded with their idols and lies, then you spoke through your prophets to open their eyes. Spirit, spirit of gentleness blow through the wilderness, calling and free. Spirit, spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness, wind, wind on the sea.
O Lord, may it be so. May it be so.