Let us pray.
Oh God, may we seek justice
That your will may be done on earth
As it is in heaven. Amen.
I love lists.
Lists are the best.
I love making them,
I love looking at them,
I love revising and updating them,
And I particularly love
Crossing them off.
The satisfaction that comes
When I get to click the box
On my To Do List app
I have been known to add already completed tasks
To the list
Just to get that thrill
When I get to check it off
Just minutes after it went on.
The problem is that I am also a profoundly lazy person.
So I will often seek cheaper and cheaper thrills,
Prioritize the quicker of the tasks,
Not the most important,
Because important projects generally take time and effort.
Checking off “sermon prep”
Offers the same amount of thrill as
But one of those sure takes longer.
You can see why I might check off the quick and easy boxes
Before putting in the hours it takes
To really do something like “sermon prep” well.
It would be easy for some of the most crucial tasks
To fall by the wayside
Because they were crowded out
By those more conducive
To instant gratification.
So I understand how the Israelites
Have let their priorities get out of whack
In our Old Testament readings today.
Both the prophet Isaiah
And the Psalmist
Have got some words of judgment for us this morning.
They both describe
In exquisite detail
God laying out his case against his people
As though he were prosecuting them in a court of law.
God’s not just offering a quick word of correction.
God calls for witnesses
To observe his judgment,
Rendered by the one who calls the morning
And bids the night,
Robed in consuming flame
Wreathed by raging storm.
God’s judgment is not against the Israelite’s worship practices.
They are doing a great job
Of offering the animal sacrifices he has prescribed.
The problem is not that they are neglecting church attendance.
The problem is that they have spent all their time on the easy tasks
And neglected the important ones.
As Jesus will later tell the scribes and Pharisees,
The problem is that they tithe mint, dill, and cumin,
And have neglected the weightier matters of the law.
It’s an understandable mistake to make.
It is easier
To focus on getting our worship right.
It is easier
To follow the rules about which bull to sacrifice when
And how many birds ought to be offered.
It is easier
To go to church on Sunday.
To see our friends,
Sing songs we love,
Hear a word of encouragement.
Yes, it is easier to do these things
Than it is
To do the justice God calls for.
The world we live in
Is an unjust world.
It is a world that exploits workers
And oppresses people of colour.
A world that sacrifices human beings
Who get in the way of the almighty dollar.
A world that engages in short-term thinking
About the next quarter’s report
Without regard for the cost that will be levied in the long term
For our plunder
Of this fragile earth.
God’s chosen people,
Too often make not a peep
In the face of such injustice.
Whether it’s because we’re afraid
Or because we have succumbed
To the world’s way of thinking,
I’m not sure.
But we continue to gather to pray
Without having upheld the weightier matters of the Law
Because we get a thrill of checking that item off our list.
And it is an easier thing to do
Than face the overwhelming task
Of doing justice in an unjust world.
We want to see justice done in the world.
But we are daunted by the enormity of the challenge,
And ready to accept the cheap thrill of right worship instead.
Let me be clear:
The rites that God decries through the prophet Isaiah
Are the same ones that he decreed in the Law of Moses.
New moons and Sabbaths
And the burning of incense
Are not what’s wrong here.
Neither do I, or, I think, the prophets seek to discourage church attendance!
These quick tasks
That are easily accomplished
Still need to be done, after all.
(I do, in fact, need to make sure I check the voicemail).
Does not sort his priority list
By degree of difficulty.
Does not consider the hazard of the predicament
When addressing its remedy
It’s not as if God’s work among us could be called easy
In world consumed with efficiency and ease
And a sure thing
God came among us
As a tiny baby.
His mother, Mary,
Went through all the labour and difficulty
Of a normal pregnancy.
She suffered all the pains
Of a regular childbirth.
And her son,
Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Was just as vulnerable
To all the assaults and snares
Of a regular childhood
In a community with a high infant mortality rate.
He waited 30 years, at least,
Before beginning his ministry,
When pressured to resort to violence
In order to achieve the specific goal
Of Rome’s overthrow,
He went and died on a cross.
A condemned criminal,
Cursed according to the very same law he had written
And had come to fulfill.
God does this
Precisely because God does not share our same love for efficiency.
God does not share our desire
For the cheap and easy thrill
Of crossing the easiest item off the list
So we can get it out of the way.
God, robed in consuming fire
And wreathed by raging storm
That that which is easy
Is not always the same
As that which is important
And if we are going to follow him,
We have got to get our priorities in order.
“Cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.”
These are God’s priorities.
To care for those who fall through the cracks
Demanded by systems that care more for their own gain
Than for individual human dignity.
These are the people God loved so much
That he came among us as one of us
And let himself die
Rather than crush them beneath the wheel
Of violent insurrection,
Even for a just cause.
We who follow after him
Must not allow ourselves to become complacent,
In the injustice of the world,
For to do so is to accept as acceptable loss
The children of God for whom Christ died.
As a collection of Jewish teachings says,
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work,
But neither are you free to abandon it.”
It is not too late to make a change.
It is not too late to embrace God’s priorities.
God is always ready to wash away our sins
That the blood on our hands
May become white as snow.
God calls the heavens and the earth to witness
That we might heed his judgment
And turn around
To follow after his way.
To do the work he has given us to do.
For where our treasure is,
There our heart will be also.