By The Rev. Bill Deneke
A call to confession and hope belong together in Isaiah’s prophetic vision. Speaking for God, the prophet/poet proclaims God’s distaste for worship that denies the realities of poverty and injustice. God is tired of hearing your songs of praise, tired of smelling your incense. Quit trampling through my Temple, God roars, unless you first expend your efforts seeking justice. Trouble is on the way for those who forget that God is God and they are not!
Today we can add to Isaiah’s list by naming grievances such as turning a blind eye to mass shootings, abusing those who seek asylum, and perpetuating racism.
The prophet proclaims God as saying, “When you stretch 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.”
I will not listen to your thoughts and prayers.
So where is the hope? The prophet 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.
Our hope remains in the love of God who demands justice and mercy for all, for every single person.
Moreover, today’s gospel reading gives us special knowledge for learning to live in hope: namely, the knowledge that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.
Notice the gospel doesn’t say, where your heart is, there your treasure will be. Just the opposite. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Learning to treasure the goodness and mercy of God, moves our hearts. Treasuring the justice and righteousness of God transforms our hearts.
When I was growing up, there were annual revivals in various churches where I lived. There wasn’t much to do in the small town so the revivals were big things. These were mostly evangelical events focused on converting people. The few left in town who had not been converted. There was a call to self-examination. Self-examination that could lead to a change of heart. But that self-examination was ultimately meaningless unless it included a close look at what was treasured. And that’s what can easily be neglected.
Remember the story of the rich young man who approached Jesus, asking what he needed to do in order to be ready for God’s kingdom which Jesus said was breaking into the world. The young man had done many righteous things. He was a good person. Jesus said only one more thing was needed. Go and give away your riches. It was what the young man treasured that got in his way.
According to the scriptures, that applies to nations as well. What do we treasure as a nation? If it is our right to bear arms, including AK-47s, or our right to invoke white privilege, or our right to make and keep outrageous wealth while others live in poverty, then it doesn’t matter where we say our heart is because where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. What we treasure always determines our priorities.
So, the challenge is to begin a conversation around concerns such as what kind of gun rights are reasonable in our time and why is this issue important. What’s behind it? We also need a conversation about race in America. What are our values regarding differences and diversity, and why does it matter? How do move into the future as a nation of diverse races and ethnicities? And then we need to look at economic opportunities in this country. Why do some thrive and others suffer? If we call our country a land of opportunity, what does that mean and to whom does it apply? How can we make opportunities for everyone? What will it take?
These kinds of conversations may help us to consider what we truly treasure as a nation. They are not easy conversations but they are essential if we want to move beyond political posturing and divisive slogans.
According to the epistle, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. In the newspaper the other day there was a photograph of a woman kneeling before a cross in El Paso. Crosses had been put in place by a group called crosses for losses. There was one for each of the twenty-two killed in the mass shooting. All these friends and families are searching for assurance that life is good and God cares for people. They are called to put their trust in things hard to see right now. Some will lose their faith. Others will grow in theirs. Faith is both durable and fragile.
Nowadays we may wake up in the mornings fearful of hearing some kind of disturbing news. It is a troubling time but not a time to despair for we are called to remain a people of hope, and hope in Christ is not passive but inspiring. I believe it is transforming and the source of real change. It is this hope that enables us to act in love, and it is grounded in Christ and in the Kingdom of God. Grounded in that which nothing, not even moths or thieves, according to the gospel, can take away.
We hold in our hearts those who suffer from injustice, rage and malice. And if we’re wise, we examine carefully what we treasure so we can make our hearts right with God. As theologian and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will come out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping, we are becoming.
The gospel says there is an urgency to all this. The kingdom that Jesus revealed calls us not to tarry but to be ready to act on our faith. Now is the time to embrace hope. Now is the time to give up false treasures. Now is the time, in the words of the prophet Micah, to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.