Is 58:1-12 Epiphany 5, Feb 5, 2017
What are some things you know to be true, but have a hard time acting on? It doesn’t take long for me to come up with a list. How about for starters, flossing teeth. I’m convinced that this is a good idea, and yet for almost 60 years now I only do it a day or two before my dental appointment. Exercise is another such example. Again, you don’t have to convince me that it’s a good idea to get out walking each day, get your heart rate up with cardio exercise several times each week, work on core strength, etc… but I rarely do it. Another that comes to mind is drinking plenty of water. How simple is that. 8 glasses a day, or roughly 2 liters. Should be simple enough, but more days than not I fall short here too. To this list, I could add practicing guitar, doing my voice exercises for choir practice, staying in touch with relatives and old friends, and reading my Bible. No shortage of things I know to be good, right, and true…and yet fail to do them.
Several of today’s Bible readings confront us with this this grim reality of not always acting on what we know to be true. The OT text from Isaiah seems to start out well as the people of Israel are busy seeking God and His ways, even denying themselves food as they fast for righteousness sake, but there’s one small hitch. With all their knowledge, fasting, and prayer, they’re lacking one important spiritual discipline…action. They know all about justice, mercy, love, and peace, but in their day-to-day dealings with others, not much of what they know is getting through, ”Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.” Is 59:3b,4. Knowing truths about God’s will doesn’t seem to be quite the same as doing them.
I love Mark Twain quotes, and one of my favorites deals exactly with this issue, “ It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand”. And one of the reasons those verses tend to bother him, and should bother us, is our tendency not to act on what we understand. If there was any doubt as to what God expected of his people in the time of Isaiah, the words of the prophet should clear it up, “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?
One of the criticisms that is often leveled at us Christians is that we are hypocrites. That word originates not from the world of theology, but rather from the theatre, and ultimately came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “an actor” or “a stage player.” The Greek word itself is a compound noun made up of two Greek words that literally translate as “an interpreter from underneath.” That word makes more sense when you know that the actors in ancient Greek theater wore large masks to reveal which character they were playing, and thus interpreted the story from underneath their masks. It is now used to describe someone who acts contrary their beliefs and confessions, someone whose mask, and the character he/she is portraying don’t match up.
To the charge of being a hypocrite we should rightly confess, “guilty as charged”. God said as much to the people in Isaiah’s day, and not much has changed since then. We need to be reminded of these essentials on occasion, but even more so we need to actually begin putting them into practice. God is adamant about such things as justice and fair treatment of the poor, sharing our bread with the hungry, and providing shelter for the homeless, etc. We don’t need to ponder the mysteries of the Christian faith “ad nauseam” (to the point of wanting to throw up), before we can begin living out some simple and clear directives. Doing so won’t get us into heaven (remember what Paul and Luther said about being saved by grace through faith), but they may cause atheists, secularists, and those of other religions to stop and take notice, and perhaps be open to hear what (are more so, who) is behind these deeds of mercy. Oh, and when we’re at it, it might not hurt to drink an extra glass of water each day… and floss once in a while. Amen
I Can See Clearly Now… 1 Cor 2:1-16
Those of us who wear glasses or contacts know what it’s like to look through a lens. For me, if I don’t look through this lens, the whole world become blurry, and it’s hard to distinguish one thing from another, or one person from another. In that sense, my glasses shape the way I see and engage the world.
Rather than looking through a pair of spectacles (although this may have been helpful too, as many commentators think Paul had a problem with his vision), Paul sees the world through the “cross of Christ”. He states this in varying ways through his letters, and here specifically in saying, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified”. Even in reading through the rest of this particular letter we discover that there are any number of topics that St. Paul will be addressing ranging from church unity, to matters of sexual purity, to the use of spiritual gifts, but the discussion of all of these is shaped by a particular “lens” of the cross of Jesus.
We Lutherans have taken up Paul’s way of seeing things, and continue to use that very lens of “Christ and him crucified”. As such, we view all Scripture through the lens of Jesus, and specifically his death for the forgiveness of our sins, and his resurrection for our hope of glory. Even inasmuch as we profess that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” 2 Tim 3:16, we approach all of scripture through Paul’s lens. “Christ, and Him crucified” (and all that implies) are the axis on which Lutheran Christians (and others I would suggest, but not all others) spin. It’s how we understand who God is, who we are, and the implications of both for daily life. Even though the gospel message is somewhat sandwiched today between two “law texts” (understanding that often texts have at least a bit of each), the Gospel continues to inform such things as how we live righteous lives with the poor and the outcast. The cross of Christ not only gives us a crystal-clear picture of the love of God for each of us (who are btw, also poor and outcast), but both calls and enables us to a life of humble service in light of that. We don’t view God or the Bible as a means to an end (how to “get to heaven), but rather through the lens the Holy Spirit gives us, we see who Jesus is, what he has done, and how he invites, even compels us to enter into that kingdom life with him.
Just as its not “fair” to expect people who don’t have glasses (but yet need them) to see the world clearly, the same is true for those who do not have the “eyes of the Spirit”. As this text goes on to say, the lens through which we see “Christi and Him crucified” is not one we possess in and of ourselves, rather it comes from without. Prior to his conversion, Paul had no lens to view either the Holy Scriptures or the person and work of Jesus. After his conversion, his eyes were opened and he could see clearly.
Inasmuch as we can see “Christ and him crucified”, we give thanks and praise to God for the lens of His Holy Spirit. Inasmuch as we can’t, we pray, “open the eyes of my heart Lord…I want to see you”. Amen