Thursday, August 15, 2019

Defend the Orphan ~Isaiah 1:17

“Defend the Orphan” ~Isaiah 1:17

“Watch , for you know not when the master of the house 
will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or 
in the morning; lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.” 
~Mark 13:35, 36

This is how the Gospel says it in Mark. Today’s Gospel from Luke turns the phrase in a slightly different way. But the message is the same. Watch, be ready; Jesus is coming at an unexpected time.

When I was in the early years of my priesthood I served a church in which the Senior Warden sold insurance by day and played the saxophone by night. His wife often quoted the Gospel words; “You never know when Walter’s coming home, at midnight or cockcrow or in the morning.” She often said the words with an edge in her voice, a pause and then we all laughed. 

When I go to church on a Sunday morning on a beautiful day like this, I hope to hear the Good News of Jesus, and to be among folk who want to worship God. I find myself eager to be in the beauty of holiness, to ready myself for the coming of Jesus. 

But the world is much too much with us. Day in and day out we hear so much bad news. The daily grind can get to us. We oftentimes find ourselves worn down by it all. So when I come here, I want to find my heart lifted toward the holy.

This has always been the case. From the earliest of times, folks have gathered to sacrifice and feast before God in an effort to find whatever connection there is between us and the divine. 

Yet also from the earliest of times the Prophets have confronted and warned us about thinking that worship alone pleases God.  In today’s first lesson from the Prophet Isaiah, we read;
“When you stretch out your hands,
   I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
   I will not listen…
   cease to do evil,
17   learn to do good;
seek justice,
   rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
   plead for the widow.”

How timely these words!

The prophet’s message bears a special immediacy to us. As we round up folks for detention and deportation, the children are left to plead with us. How can they possibly understand the politics of it all? 

There is a little girl in tears who looks up at a camera begging for her father. “I need my daddy. He’s not a criminal. Please don’t take him away and leave me here alone.” I do not understand how it is that we make orphans by the the hundreds on a daily basis, rather than defending them, those of us especially who claim to be under the authority of Scripture.

Therefore I turn to the Bible. In it I find the word “Justice.” It is used 194 times. There must be a way to find our way to a just solution to what divides us. It stands to reason. 
The Prophet continues;
“Come now, let us argue it out,
though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
   they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
   you shall eat the good of the land”

There must be a way to turn our hearts. With God there is “Compassion”; a word that is used 80 times in Scripture and there is the word “Forgive” which occurs 133 times.

Tragically, the word “violence” is also used 76 times. When left to our own devices we end up in conflict which often directs us toward hatred and hatred is expressed in violence. 
The Prophet continues; 
“if you refuse and rebel,
   you shall be devoured by the sword;  The gun and the AK-47
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Isn’t that the tragic truth of it! Dear ones, what we read in this ancient manuscript from Isaiah today sounds as fresh and as raw as this precise moment in our history. 

This is what brings me to gather with good folks like you Sunday by Sunday. Right smack dab in the midst of a world much too present with us we seek to gather and remember who we are and whose we.

The Epistle articulates an especially compelling vision of the Gospel today.  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Interesting turn of phrase; “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

The Christian Hope is the assurance of the Love of God made flesh and blood in Jesus. The word “Love” by the way, is used in the Bible 872 times. If our conviction is in Jesus, surely God’s Love is the thing unseen but no less real. And this is our Faith! “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.

We have received the faith of Abraham who connects us to the Three Great Abrahamic Faiths; Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. For as Paul says in his soaring words today; “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place …not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed…in a foreign land, living in tents…but he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” “A wandering Aramean was my father!” By faith he and Sarah gave birth to descendants ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’” Abraham like the rest of us at one time or another, undocumented aliens in a foreign land, put his faith in God. 

What bring me back again and again to our gathering together is this Faith; a living relationship with Jesus and with the people of Jesus because we are the people who embrace the Gospel proclamation we heard just moments ago; we are the ones who listen to Jesus; “Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

When Jesus comes each and every one of us wants to be engaged in those life giving words; Justice, Compassion, Forgiveness. This is the Way to Faith and the Way to Eternal Life; it is the Way of Love. Justice for the orphans, the widows, the poor; without regard to Nationality or Language, Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Orientation or any variation of all the above. We are all one in Jesus.

And Jesus says; “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

In the Name of God; the Most Holy Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul