Summary: To be faithful to our God we must be concerned with much more than our own peace of mind or personal holiness. God calls us to care about others and the treatment they get in society.
The Gospel According to Isaiah, Part 4:
God’s Call for Justice
March 18, 2012
Rev. Stephen Aram
Probably most of us have heard people speaking about their faith as a very private thing, something you feel in your heart, something you don’t talk about. Sometimes you hear politicians say that they have a deep personal faith in God, but they assure us they won’t let their religion have any influence on the decisions they make in office. Corporate executives are expected to toe the line of maximizing profits above all else and not worrying about the impact that their decisions have on society. And they face stockholder lawsuits if they stray. Social commentator, Glen Beck said just some months ago that if you are in a church and he pastor talks about social justice, get out of that church. He felt that talk of social justice has no place in church.
For our scripture text this morning we are still in Isaiah chapter 1. Will we ever get out of chapter 1? It takes 66 chapters to save all of Isaiah’s writings; will we ever get out of chapter 1? Yes, we’ll break out of chapter 1 next week. But chapter 1 introduces many of the themes that are developed in the following 65 chapters, so I’m happy to hang out there for a while.
Our scripture lesson is Isaiah 1:16-26. After I read it, you tell me whether Isaiah saw religion as an inward thing, related to the realms of personal feelings, or whether he saw religion as something that impacts all of life and even includes social justice. Now hear the word of God from Isaiah 1:16-26.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
18 Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
21 How the faithful city has become a whore! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her -- but now murderers! 22 Your silver has become dross, your wine is mixed with water. 23 Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow's cause does not come before them.
24 Therefore says the Sovereign, the LORD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: Ah, I will pour out my wrath on my enemies, and avenge myself on my foes! 25 I will turn my hand against you; I will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. 26 And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.
Last week we talked about God’s complaint against the people of Judah, which was a very personal complaint. They were his kids and he wanted them to love him, but they were rebelling and getting themselves into trouble and he really wanted them to come back.
But I hope you heard that for God, being a Christian can never stop with just a heart relationship with God. It also includes right relationships with our fellow human beings.
And this morning I want to look quickly at 5 commands in verse 17 that make that concrete.
God told the people of Israel to “learn to do good.” In the New Testament the apostle Paul repeatedly told the early Christians to do good works, and when he specifies what he’s talking about, often the context is clearly the good work of sharing with others in need. That’s a Christianity that goes beyond feeling good and secure inside. It’s a Christianity that reaches out for others.
Then, also in verse 17, Isaiah tells the people of Judah to “seek justice.” Now there are a lot of different ways of defining justice.
There’s a kind of justice that says, “I’ve got mine, and nobody’s going to take it from me.” And we believe in protecting property rights. We are against theft. That’s a sort of a start to justice.
But Isaiah tells the people of Judah, and he tells us, too, that we need to go beyond that. “I’ve got mine” justice can be content to look at a kid whose lost his parents, and maybe feel sorry for the kid, but feels no obligation to help. And that’s no justice at all. It’s not fair to that kid at all. The kid has very little chance in life. The kid is really hurting inside. Justice shouts out to us, “When the parents aren’t there, we need to help that kid.”