Monday, May 26, 2014

To Hell With Religion. We Need Justice. (Isaiah 1) 

All praise and worship and prayer is meaningless if it does not flow from a life dedicated to the justice and love of the God it claims to praise. One cannot speak truly of the character of God when one denies that character by one's life. To ignore injustice and then claim to extol the name of the source of all justice is abominable.

Isaiah 1:14-17 (ESV)
"Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates; they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.

Isaiah’s name means “God is Salvation”. The book that bears the name lives up to it. The entire book of Isaiah is about the salvation of God, speaking of it more than twice as often than all the other Hebrew prophetic books combined. But this salvation was not of the personal and private kind, as we often speak of salvation in the 21st century church. The salvation of God in Isaiah is a complete restoration of an entire people whose land has been decimated and their people scattered to exile among the empires of the North. Better than that, Isaiah prophesies of a salvation of all nations, and of all of creation. This salvation is better than a reformation, better than a revolution.

The salvation of Isaiah is a resurrection.

All corruption and injustice will be destroyed by the judgment of God, and a new world, a New Creation will grow to life from the ashes of the old world.

Isaiah prophesies of a coming Messiah who will turn all things to right, who will be the beginning of the end of the old way, and will by his authority turn the world to justice. No other book in the Hebrew scripture but the Psalms is quoted more frequently in the Christian New Testament than the book of Isaiah, confirming the Messianic Anointing of Jesus Christ, and continuing the story of salvation of all Creation from Jesus’ resurrection to return in harmony with Isaiah’s prophesies from hundreds of years before.

Isaiah’s book does not begin so hopeful, however. Before describing things as they will be, it condemns the injustice in how things are.

Isaiah 1:1-5a (ESVUK)
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
    for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
    and the donkey its master's crib,
but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.”
Ah, sinful nation,
    a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
    children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the Lord,
    they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
    they are utterly estranged.
Why will you still be struck down?
    Why will you continue to rebel?

The judgment of the people of God is heard in the courtroom of all of Creation. All of the earth and heavens are called upon to hear of the corruption of God’s people. Those of us who claim to be of the people of God today should take care to remain humble. God’s people are held to the standard of the Word of God they know. We have no excuse.

God describes his people as his “children”. In the book of Exodus, Moses was told by God to call Israel “my firstborn son” when telling Pharaoh to let his people go (Exodus 4:22). Exodus tells the story of Israel rescued from slavery in the land of Egypt by God’s hand. 800 years later, Israel is now a ruined nation, attacked, destroyed, and occupied by the empires of the North. Isaiah tells us that this, too, was by God’s hand.

God’s patience with his people’s hypocrisy had come to an end. Their religious practice had become nothing but a worthless show. Though they may continue to go through the motions of religion and piety, Isaiah compared them to the stubborn donkey or stupid ox, two animals who could at least remember to return to their home, while God’s nation offended God by arrogantly building their own empire of violence and slavery, completely forgetting the story of their redemption, or the God who had called them to minister that same freedom they’d received to others. They were adopted into the family of God, and chosen so that they may display to the world the justice they’d come to know by their salvation from Egypt. Instead, they’d become worse than Egypt, worse than the nations that God had judged outside of his covenant. They were worse than Sodom and Gomorrah, burnt by fire and sulfur from heaven. God even addresses them as Sodom and Gomorrah, lest there be any doubt.

Isaiah 1:9-15 (ESVUK)
“If the Lord of hosts
    had not left us a few survivors,
we should have been like Sodom,
    and become like Gomorrah.
 Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
    says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
    or of lambs, or of goats.
 “When you come to appear before me,
    who has required of you
    this trampling of my courts?
 Bring no more vain offerings;
    incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
    I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
    my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
 When you spread out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.”

Do we hear this? Even our complicity in the oppression of others stains our hands red with blood. We are responsible for the treatment of the poor among us. Without seeking justice for the least of those marked by the Image of God, our religion is absolutely worthless.

Let us seek to emulate the God we think we know before we dare to speak to or of God. All such words will only become a witness to our own corruption, evidence that we truly do not know God at all. God promises to be revealed in us if we will repent and follow God, according to God's word and will. This life of justice is the work of God in us, making us righteous, if we will submit to it.

However, if we continue in the outward practice of religion without seeking to right injustice in our own communities . . .(End Page 1 of 2 - Click here for page 2 of 2)

Tomorrow: Isaiah 2: Swords to Plowshares
Thursday: 1 Peter 1 - Salvation and the End of Suffering
 Click above for the whole series from Isaiah

No comments:

Post a Comment