Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24 Luke 12:32-40
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
“Rulers of Sodom!” “You people of Gomorrah!”
For a moment, it is easy for Isaiah’s audience to convince themselves that the prophet is addressing someone else, a people long dead. For a moment, it is easy for us to do the same. After all, the people of these cities perished long before Sarah ever bore Abraham a son, long before the age of the prophets, and certainly long before us.
It’s all too easy to use Sodom and Gomorrah to console ourselves. We may at times be battered by storm or by conflict, but we are not utterly destroyed. We may have those we lock away for unspeakable crimes, but surely there are at least ten righteous among us, right? We are at church, here! At least we aren’t as bad as Sodom. At least we aren’t as bad as Gomorrah. At least we aren’t them.
Isaiah counters our self-deception. “You people of Gomorrah”, he calls his audience. Suddenly the consolation is gone. Stop fooling yourselves, Isaiah chides. You are Sodom. You are Gomorrah. The people of Judah and Jerusalem have failed to reckon with their crimes, with the times they chose to turn away and estranged themselves from God and from their neighbors who needed them most, with their systemic oppression, their casting out of the widow and orphan. Their sins stain everything like scarlet.
The people Isaiah addresses have turned instead to value religious appearance over their own people. Episcopalians are by our nature a people of religious ritual, so this can be hard for us to hear. We love our church calendar, our advent wreaths, our “smells and bells”, as they are sometimes called. But Isaiah warns us that, pageantry for its own sake, if it is empty, does not please God. Now I don’t think Isaiah would hide our sanctus bells or our thuribles, but he might ask us why we didn’t feed the poor before paying for a crate of incense.
This summer we have followed the journeys of the prophets. We have studied the Lord’s prayer and many of us have had wonderful conversations about our prayer lives. I believe that today we can find the Intersection of our learning on prophets and prayer.
Our gospel today talks about what we treasure. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” Jesus tells his disciples. Treasure can amount to many things, a vast array of material possessions. It especially means our loved ones. Treasure is also money, time, emotional attention, attention in prayer. Treasure is what we choose to get up and show up for. It’s what and who we chose to put first, what we choose to prioritize in our often hectic schedules.
Isaiah invites us today to treasure the disparaged among us; the widow and the orphan, to treasure those who have fallen on hard times, who are victims of violence or systemic oppression. Isaiah invites us to get up and show up for them, to treasure them with our resources and our time.
As we ourselves prosper, as our society prospers, let us not forget those that are struggling. Let us first, give them our attention in prayer. And then let us turn those prayers into actions, praying with our eyes and our hands and our feet as we go to meet the needs of those around us. Let us meet for worship, letting our rituals renew and invigorate and remind us of what we are called to do and carry that worship out into the world.
If we cease taking part in systemic evil, if we seek justice, if we defend and plead for the marginalized, if we are willing and obedient in doing these things, we shall “Eat the good of the land”, Isaiah tells us. If we do these things, we shall prosper together. This is a beautiful promise from our prophet-poet. But like all prophets, Isaiah carries in his message a warning as well. If we refuse and rebel, we shall be devoured. Then people might console themselves by looking back across the generations at us and say, “we’ll at least we aren’t them.”
Let us pray.
Heavenly father, you created us all with different colors and creeds, yet all in your divine image. Forgive us when we fail to recognize the risen Christ in all of those around us. Help us to treasure our neighbors and for our hearts and hands and feet to be with them. Help us to keep our lamps of compassion always lit and teach us to heed the timeless call of your prophets.