Tuesday, March 14 – Marguerite Judson

This sermon was preached for Tuesday, March 14 by Marguerite Judson. The texts for this sermon are: Isaiah 1:2-4, 16-20, Psalm 50:7-15, 22-24, and Matthew 23:1-12.

We’re in trouble. Again!

The Holy One is taking us to court. Our sacrifices at worship are offensive. Our attempts to figure out just what God is asking of us are not working!

And it’s just as true now as when today’s lessons were written. No matter whether we reflect on the passage from Isaiah, the portions of today’s Psalm, or Jesus’ conversation with the disciples (of which we hope we are one!) about knowledgeable and rigorous religious obedience, it’s clear that we are in trouble!

When we look at the first chapter of Isaiah, we find all the legal setting for the Holy One taking the community of faith to court. Creation itself is called to witness. Our rejection of the Holy One who loves us is laid out. Not just rejection…but despising God, being completely estranged from the One who created and loves us.

I think it is important to also look at the verses which were skipped in today’s lesson. What evidence does the Holy One bring against us in Isaiah? How is it obvious that we have rejected God?

As God’s words are so vividly paraphrased in The Message,

“Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings— meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!

Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing

people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.

I watch the news and I see it happening, “…you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.”

I reflect on the ways I judge other people, condemning them for their use of political power, and discover that I am tearing people to pieces in my heart.

This weekend I did the Creating a Culture of Peace training which made it painfully clear how important it is to have compassion or empathy for opponents. I experienced how compassion is necessary to build justice, it is essential when I strive to “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

Thanks, but it’s much easier to focus on what YOU, and other people, are doing wrong!

But still the Holy One offers mercy, invites us to reason it out, to examine what we are doing in the light of what God calls us to do. If we change our ways, God will wash away our sins. If we keep going the way we’ve been going, the natural consequence is to be destroyed by violence. The violence which flows from injustice.

The lessons don’t get any easier to take when we turn to the Gospel of Matthew.

It is important to remember that Jesus tells the disciples to do what the scribes and Pharisees teach.

You might, like me, get caught up on the criticism “do what they say, not what they do” but that’s not the point. None of us is perfect; not scribes, Pharisees, bishops, arch deacons, professors, seminarians, people of faith, searchers, political activists, or family members.

But we might get side tracked by how good we look while we’re doing good!

I am reminded of a vivid lesson at a week-long training I attended 20 years ago as I started doing fundraising. Someone who was raising money for a university spent months and months with one donor, discussing, planning, and finalizing a very large gift. Once the donor signed on the dotted line, then this fundraiser worked with a fundraising team to do a special dinner at which everyone could celebrate

what a big difference this gift would make. Speeches were made, pictures where taken…all of the donor and the dean. The fundraiser was NOT in the picture.

And one of the people on the fundraising team realized: I hate this…I can’t do a job like that, to always be on the sidelines, and NOT be in the picture. So he resigned.

How am I, how are we, like that team member? Must we be recognized by other people for the good things we do? How loudly must I proclaim being on the right side of an issue?

Our goals may be good, our actions could be right, but our focus may be wrong.

During this lent, may our prayer be:

Lord, help us to hate sin. Pour out your healing love, that we may turn to you. Help us to quietly and fiercely, learn how to seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. For we long to walk closely with you and with your beloved people; all people to whom you give the gift of life; all of creation which sings your glory; and with the angels and saints – past and future – among whom we now stand. In your holy name we pray. Amen.

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