Lot of mixed feeling this morning.
Here I am writing a sermon from Isaiah 58 which if you take scripture seriously you will note gives little room for responding with “but”. The prophet has no time for people who want to be pious but turn a deaf ear to their oppressed, hungry, homeless , naked neighbour. Fast all you want boys but if the fast finishes with a slap up brunch at the Ritz rather than justice and care of neighbour, stick with brunch and forget the fast.
You can tell Jesus read his Old Testament because he speaks in the same way. Jesus tells his disciples, just like Isaiah tells Israel, that holiness doesn’t come from performing rites of goodness or by keeping rules but by having a life directed towards being salt and light. Holiness is shown by living holiness and the prophet is happy to give you a checklist. If you love God, you love what God loves. God just happens to love your neighbour to bits.
We have a funny relationship to this prophetic stuff. The prophets are not shy in telling the people of God to get out there and be the image of God. I find it ironic that we teach our children songs in Sunday school like “Be Bold, Be Strong” which echoes God’s words to a worried Joshua before he led Israel across the Jordan into the promised land and yet talk about loving our neighbour as something which is scary and hard and should be done with great deliberation and with lots of conditions.
The Old Testament is strong about not being afraid. The Lord is with us. Treat the foreigner like one of your own because once you were foreigners and slaves in Egypt AND I SAVED YOU. The widows, the orphans, the slaves, the refugees, the poor, the disabled, those from the wrong families…they are not subsets of the children of God. The mighty and the powerful and the rich are those things so that they might be providers and the protectors of all who are not. You make sure your workers can live on what you pay them, that they may have a Sabbath too and be full citizens. Or you will taste the wrath of the LORD.
The Lord is with us. The Lord is for us. Love what he loves.
Two of my sons braved the Manchester cold last night to protest the choices of the American President in how he rules and shapes the world around himself. They aren’t naive idealists who believe the world is benign. But they believe that everyone has the right to escape oppression and to have their story heard honestly and compassionately and to be given relief if it is in our power to do so. They believe in loving your neighbour and creating a society which works together for the common good. They know too that though the president is thousands of miles away, what he does has a possibility of infecting our politics and common life. They believe people of other faiths and cultures and sexualities are not to be feared but to be engaged with and learned from. They know that holding a placard in Albert Square isn’t going to change the president’s mind but it will help them to know their own.
Their protest is a declaration of what is in their hearts and an acknowledgement that what is in their hearts needs to come out into the world so the world might be a good place to live for all. They know they are privileged and recognise they need to share that privilege with others for it to have any worth. In Christian terms they know that their words and shouts have to be backed up by salt and light. I’m really proud of them (and their older brother who is doing the same where he is). I’m really proud of them not being satisfied with fear and hate and demonization. I’m proud of them wanting to say “This is not good enough” and wanting to use their futures to be people who shape the world as a great place to live for all.
The Kingdom of God does not begin with secure borders and suspicion of the stranger. It begins with God inviting us to be refugees from the kingdom of darkness so that we might be citizens of his kingdom of marvellous light.