A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin
February 5, 2017
Lections: Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13:20
Today we hear a clear message: the Lord rescues us from death.
He hears our cry, and he brings hope to those in need.
He prospers us and defends us.
And in return, we respond to God:we rejoice, and we gladly praise and adore him.
We listen for his call in our heart, for he has made us in his image:
he who was salt and light has made us salt and light.
Indeed, we are blessed.
Let us then, in the word we hear today, trust God’s blessings,
by discovering how they are found in his promise;
for the promise of God is trustworthy,
and by his promise, we are saved from death.
We will be free.
Each of today’s readings contains a promise.
The promises are as God himself: lovely, worthy, and wonderful.
Therefore, as we contemplate them, let us acknowledge
what God’s promises require of us.
The prophet Isaiah calls our attention to a familiar situation:
we are a people who do not practice righteousness,
yet we desire to be judged mercifully;
we disregard the ordinances of God, but delight to draw near to God.
In short, we are a rebellious people, but we pretend to be otherwise.
We pray and we humble ourselves, while we serve our own interests
and oppress those who labor among us.
We quarrel and we say one thing to a person’s face and another when he and she
are out of earshot.
As we approach Lent, we should keep the truthful view of ourselves in focus;
otherwise we will be adding insult to injury with fasting and ashes.
Specifically, because righteousness is a public, not a private matter, we should listen
to Isaiah and commit ourselves to overthrowing injustice and freeing the oppressed;
we should follow the many examples we have of the saints,
and share our food and clothes with the needy, and invite them into our homes.
Isaiah tells us that God’s promise is conditional; if we are righteous,
then God will reward our righteousness with his mercy.
To step back for a moment: we know what righteousness looks like.
It is to act justly and with compassion, especially toward the stranger
and the downtrodden.
As we have heard in the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
This is the first promise we are given today:
when the hungry who thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart,
and the peacemakers; the compassionate, the just, and all those
and all those who are persecuted for righteousness sake
call on the Lord, he will answer;
when this global “we” – this nation of God’s people – cries for help, he will say,
“Here I am.”
Then we shall see that the mercy of God is light,
that “shall break forth like the dawn,”
and healing, that “shall spring up quickly.”
The psalmist gives this promise a slightly different coloration.
The psalmist says, when we delight in God’s commandments,
our children too will be faithful; they will be strong and prosperous.
Here the emphasis is placed not on our own salvation,
but on the salvation of our children.
When we amend our lives, our children will not live as we have lived.
They will be gracious, full of compassion, generous in lending,
and just in their affairs.
They will not be afraid, and they will see the downfall of their foes.
They will give freely to the poor, and they will be exalted with honor.
Again, as we approach Lent, let us keep the truthful view of ourselves
in focus; have the lives we have lived left the world a better place for our children?
And if in our hearts we answer “no,” then what can we do to correct
this lapse in righteousness?
1 Corinthians 2
Paul writes to us that he has decided to know nothing among us
except Jesus Christ and him crucified;
Paul comes to us not with the plausible, but with a demonstration
of the Spirit, that our faith might rest not on human wisdom
but on the power of God.
Paul also comes with a promise. The Spirit searches everything,
even the depths of God,
and we have received the Spirit, so that we may understand the gifts
bestowed on us by God. Paul says, “We have the mind of Christ.”
One way of looking at this is to recognize that we have an advantage
over the nation of Israel that Isaiah preached to:
we have the gift of the Spirit. Our approach to Lent needs to include
an assessment of how we have used this Spirit.
How can we be turning away from sin – and turning toward righteousness –
when the leaders we have put in power, whether we voted for them or not,
do not act justly or show mercy or view the downtrodden with compassion?
Consider what we are doing to our natural resources. How will our children live
when our leaders plunder for their own wealth and riches the diminishing natural
resources everyone – especially our children – will require?
What will our children give to the poor,
when we have left them nothing for themselves?
Christ tells us this:
We are the salt of the earth.
We are the light of the world.
Do we not think he is talking about us?
Christ tells us this:
He has come to fulfill Moses and the prophets:
that is, to make good on his promises to his people.
Therefore, he says, Do not break the commandments, but keep them.
Do not teach others to break the commandments.
And then Christ himself makes a promise:
Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the most righteous people in your nations
and churches, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
So what choice do we have? What can each of us, right now, do differently,
to enter the kingdom of heaven?
The kingdom which is the goal and the end (the telos)
of our being and of all creation.
We must start again today to live as the salt of the earth.
We must start again today to live as the light of the world.
We can do this. We can do this by trusting God’s blessings
and by discovering how they are found in his promise to rescue us from death.
And all the people said, Amen.