Rev. Tony Romaine
Isaiah 1:16-17 says: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
This part of our reading from Isaiah this morning is a message to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and it might as well be a message to us in the 21st Century as well. While you could line up theologians from here to the moon and each one would tell you a different reason why God punished Sodom and Gomorrah, one thing we all can understand is that the cities were punished for their inability to have faith in God and trust in God’s law and their inability to live moral and upright lives.
This message from Isaiah might as well be for America and our world right now. Thanks to Jesus, the cleansing part has happened, but the message for us as Christians is that we need to stop doing evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Isaiah continues to say, and I love this part, “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord:” In other words, “You think I’m wrong about my assessment of you…well, let’s just discuss that!”
“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; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Faith in God is trusting that if we are willing and obedient to stop doing evil, learn to do good, rescue the oppressed, seek justice, defend the orphan and plead for the widow, we shall eat of the good of the land…but if we do the opposite, we shall be devoured by the sword.
We are not living in faith in our society, we are being devoured by the sword; the sword of greed, division, hatred, jealousy, and fear. And in my humble opinion, we need to start choosing God, stop choosing self-interest, and start living lives of faith, lives of unimaginable faith.
Faith can move mountains, but are we willing to move those mountains? Faith can help us through the darkest nights, through the longest days. But faith is not just about trusting in God when everything is going right, or right for us. Faith is also trusting that wherever God is leading us is the best possible place for us. This is unimaginable faith; especially nowadays when the world is based on the greed of instant gratification, where we satisfy our wants and desires at a moment’s notice without hesitation.
Faith is different than this, faith is patient and requires that we take a step back and truly pray and think about whether we are acting in faith or if we are acting in our own self interests. Remember what our reading from Hebrews said this morning: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” This is also unimaginable to our world today. Faith is not always visible, it is not always tangible, but faith in God is trusting in God’s love for us, that God will provide for us as Hebrews continues, like God did for Abraham, who although not perfect, acted in faith and was rewarded not only in his life, but in the future with generation after generation of descendants.
Moreover, when we say that we are Christians and we have faith in God, we are ascribing to a higher faith that requires even more from us. We are, as Christians, putting our faith in Jesus. This means so much more than Sunday worship, it means so much more than communion, it means so much more than singing and praying. What being followers of Jesus Christ means, is that we are committed to the best for one another in this world. It means that we are willing to place our faith in God and put our faith in one another. It means that we are to love God and to love one another.
This means that when we act in society and when we post things on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or wherever, that when we talk amongst our friends or with strangers, that when we go to church and worship on Sunday, that when we go to the grocery store during the week, that wherever we are, wherever we go, we must act in the faith that Jesus Christ is our guiding light. That God has forgiven our sins through the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross and that we must not take for granted the freedom we have been given, but that we must use it to spread the message of the Good News of Jesus throughout our world.
It sounds daunting to be tasked with something so large, but the task is in fact, quite small, yet so undeniably powerful. The difference we make through our faith is the way we demonstrate the love God has for us to one another. The unimaginable faith we demonstrate is that we might not understand one another, we may not understand why God would make someone my enemy, we may not understand the sins of our humanity; but that does not stop us from loving those whom we encounter everywhere we go. Faith is trusting that I do not have to know the end story, I do not have to know why I should love this or that person; faith is trusting that through my love God will work miracles.
See, God has faith in you and me. This is the very important part of our Gospel message this morning. In this sometimes-convoluted story of the house servant waiting for the master of the house to come home and being prepared for the master to come at any time, we see God wanting us to be faithful. While I do not like language of servant and master, what is poignant about this periscope, this Gospel passage, is that faith is what we must have to be prepared for when God returns. If we knew the hour and the time, we for sure would have our house in order, wouldn’t we?!
But the fact is that we do not know the time or place where or when God will return. And thus, we must be constantly prepared for that moment when God will return and assess the situation of the house we were provided.
I’m going to take this one more step further. God will not return until our rooms are clean, and the dishes are done, and we are ready to host the Host of Hosts. In case my metaphor went misunderstood, Jesus is not returning until we have done the work in faith to prepare ourselves for the return. While my Protestant roots place in me a trust in the fact that there is nothing, I can do to guarantee my salvation. That my sins are already forgiven through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, thanks be to God…I also firmly believe that we have been placed where we are for a specific purpose and reason and until we begin to live in the faith of our Guide and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, then God is not going to darken our doorstep.
The promise is that the way we must prepare is to trust in God and make our house ready for the neighbors! Let me say that in a different way…God wants to be invited to our party. Think about it this way if I can stretch the metaphor even further. When you prepare for guests to come to your house, you usually clean, do the dishes, make everything perfect, put on your best clothes, put on the right music, and make sure everything is sparkling and ready for guests to come and enjoy themselves. And while perhaps cleaning is for our own self-interest, it is also to present a house that is in good order so that the guests feel welcome.
God is waiting for us to do that with our souls, with our lives, and God is waiting for us to invite the neighbors to our party. God is waiting for us to take the cleanliness we gained and have through the promise of the Good News and to share it in faith with the world through our actions and words with the world. God is longing for us to be cleansed of our sins; okay, God took care of that through Jesus…Now God is waiting for us to then love our neighbor as ourselves; waiting for us to invite our neighbor to the same party we would want for ourselves. And not just our neighbors we know are Americans, or Christians, or white, or straight, or male or female, or whatever…but all our neighbors everywhere!!!
This is the unimaginable faith we must have today. A faith that trusts so much in what Jesus said, that trusts so much in the promise of God, that trusts so much in that God has faith in us, that we truly and I mean truly, follow the Gospel commandments of Jesus to love God with our whole heart, mind, body, and soul…and to love our neighbor as we would want to be loved.
One last moment on my soap box here…I am sick and tired of people who call themselves Christians, but put their own self-interest ahead of the Gospel call to love one another and who give Christianity a bad name. I am sick and tired of people who call themselves Christians polluting my faith through racism, hatred, bigotry, Bible-mongering, condemnation of belief, and doing the exact opposite of what Jesus calls us to do. And so here comes the other part of unimaginable faith…to love those who disagree with you and to want them to be at the same salvific party in heaven as you are…that is truly unimaginable! But I tell you, until we trust in God’s promise of love for all creation, until we have unimaginable faith, our house will never be clean. And so, while I am sick and tired of those I mentioned, and while I will never agree with a Christianity that is not in line with Jesus’ teaching of love for all God’s children; I also love them and pray they could know true love.
My faith is one where I choose God, I choose Jesus, I choose the Holy Spirit, and this means that I choose to love with a heart that is filled with joy in the faith of a God who loves me and wants me to love others. This does not mean there will not be disagreement, struggle, hard times, or out-and-out death and destruction. What my faith means is that somewhere down the line whether it is in my life or the next generation or the next generation, God will come again, our house will be ready, and we will have learned what living in the faith of love of one another can produce. We will have done good, sought justice, rescued the oppressed, defended the orphan, and pleaded for the widow. It is not where we are now…but I love you all, so I trust it will be one day.
Until then, well, I guess I’ll just have to have unimaginable faith!