For Aug. 11, 2013: Proper 14, Year C

The Reading            Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

During the eighth century before Christ, the northern kingdom of Israel was overrun by Assyria, and the southern kingdom of Judah was embattled. In today’s reading, the prophet Isaiah relays God’s diagnosis and challenge: the powerful people who have paraded their rituals while sinning against God and the poor and powerless must stop and repent.

The Response            Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24

“Our God will come and will not keep silence… he calls the heavens and the earth from above to witness the judgment of his people.”

The Epistle            Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Isaiah prophesied bad things for wicked people. The book of Hebrews is written to very early Christians to whom very bad things are happening for following Jesus. Today’s reading reassures them and us: the promises of God may not all come true in our lifetime, but they belong to God’s people, we who are saints not because we are good but because we are God’s—and, astonishingly, it is no shame to God to be our God.

The Gospel            Luke 12:32-40

“‘You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’”

 

Further thoughts

Just how badly can we screw up and still be God’s, and what is our next move? Today’s readings pose answers that are, by turns, terrifyingly blunt, reassuring, and challenging.

The reading from Isaiah, from the very beginning of the book, opens with a no-holds-barred assessment of the behavior of God’s People. They are likened to the rulers and residents of Sodom and Gomorrah, the names of which cities still stand as bywords for wickedness. The sin of Sodom was not, in the quaint phrase, “men lying with men”, it was the violent and premeditated rape of those who should have been able to expect the city’s protection and hospitality. By extension, God’s Voice through Isaiah is charging God’s own People with a kind of rape of the poorest and most powerless in society, and no amount of ostentatious sacrifice or religious observance could possibly mitigate that sin. But still there is hope: even as God Almighty the Prosecutor pronounces judgment, God Almighty the Merciful holds out hope of forgiveness—if, if we change our ways.

The letter to the Hebrews shows us an unusual relationship between faith and mercy. It reinterprets Abraham’s history to suggest that faith is not the fruit of personal goodness: instead, faith is seeking and believing God, and it is the gift of God. I think this does not mean that failure to feel a particular way about church or even God at a given moment is a failure of faith. In the dry times—and there are dry times in any life—it suffices to keep acting as though we believed, and to seek the company of those who can help bear us up.

And what then? The gospel answers: quit hoarding; be generous; and be ready, at whatever time or place, to do the good that needs to be done.

Might faith also be the ability to recognize and respond to one of God’s children in need?

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