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What Does God Ask…

August 6, 2016

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The day after Christopher (Denise’s youngest) flew out to Colorado, we decided to take what the guidebook said was an easy hike with minimal elevation change. We have lived in Estes Park for almost a year now and been hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park for nearly that long. You would think that we would understand by now that the guidebooks are sometime misleading in under rating hikes for folks who are still getting used to the altitude and especially for someone who had been at sea level a mere thirty-six hours earlier!

We decided to head to the Western side of Rocky since it was later in the morning and the parking lots on our side were already full. Before hiking the Lulu City Trail, we headed a bit further down the road where we saw a Mama Moose and her baby off the road. After hitting the trail along the Colorado River we met rain, lots of stones and rocks on the trail, and our neighbors. Four legged neighbors, that is. A small herd of deer, three elk and one calf, and two Park Rangers on horseback with two mules packing their gear, and this fellow towards the end of the return trip. So what did we find at the remains of the old mining town called Lulu City? Well… as a young girl who was hiking with her siblings said as we asked how much further said, don’t get your hopes up!

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Yep, that was it… a sign! But it was a good hike with plenty of wildlife that helped us to ignore painfully sore feet and legs (especially for poor Christopher who had been at sea level the day before!). As I reflect upon the hike, it wasn’t about Lulu City or even the disappointing sign. It was about the journey together and the wonderful opportunity to see so much wildlife and beautiful scenery.

That is where the readings for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost come in. In Isaiah, we read about God’s chastisement of the people concerning the sacrificial system. The sacrificial system was the bedrock of the Jewish religious system and life. It was central to the whole Temple worship structure. Yet Isaiah, in Chapter One, shares God’s displeasure with the system!

“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 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 asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation– I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. 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.” (Isaiah 1:10-15)

What, Lord? The foundation of Temple worship is no longer pleasing to you? What about all the rules and rituals? We have used them to appease and please you for generations! What, Lord? You don’t want empty sacrifices? How do you want us to prepare our hearts and meet you in life and worship, then?

“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.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)

If you have been reading my blog for any significant amount of time you will recognize one of my favorite concepts from Scripture. Micah 6:8 tells us that what the Lord wants, rather than empty sacrifices, is for us to “do justice, love kindness (or mercy), and walk humbly with God.” Isaiah 1:17 pretty much says the same thing. Cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Yes, in Isaiah’s statement, he was comparing Israel (the people in Exile) to Sodom and Gomorrah. The judgment in verse seventeen pretty much matches the condemnation Ezekiel shared in chapter sixteen, verse forty-nine. “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”

God was not happy with empty sacrifices. God was not satisfied with lip service via the sacrificial system that didn’t match the actions of the heart. To paraphrase Micah, you can sacrifice all the calves and rams you want and pour all the gallons of oil you wish, but that is NOT what I want! Do Justice! Love Kindness! Walk Humbly with ME! That’s worth more than all the sacrificial oil and livestock in the world!

As we turn to the Gospel reading for tomorrow (Luke 12:32-40), one might wonder what the connection between the two readings is. Honestly, at first glance, I struggled with the connection as well. In it, Jesus begins with the admonition to not be afraid for God is going to give us the kingdom. He follows this with the admonition to sell all possessions and give to the poor. For as he said in verse thirty-four, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If we ended there, we would have a set of challenges but also some resolution. Where is our treasure? Is it with our stuff as I preached about last week? Or is our treasure God? If our heart is with God and with serving God by serving those in need, then our heart is right. If our heart is with our stuff, then our heart is far from right!

Curiously though, Jesus changes horses in the middle of the stream when he tells the disciples about the people waiting for the return of the master. Have your lamps lit and be dressed for action! Be prepared for the return of the master!

It is when I look at these two concepts together that it makes sense. What does God want? Does God want our stuff? Does God want sacrifices? Nope! God wants us to live our lives in service to God and to our fellow humankind!

Dear reader, we need to listen carefully, especially in this day and age where narcissism and “stuff” seems to be all important. In a day and age where a presidential candidate sees nothing wrong with belittling, bullying, and justifying violence against those whom he decrees are less than him; we need to listen carefully. Doing justice does not mean sticking it to the other guy. Loving kindness does not mean belittling or bullying the less fortunate or those who are different from him. Walking humbly… well, that would be the subject of another entire blog.

Part and parcel of preparing our hearts and lives is deciding how to live and serve in the present time. Be dressed for action! What is that action? Do Justice! Love Kindness! Walk Humbly With God! May God strengthen and equip us to live boldly in that way as we serve God and neighbor right here and right now!

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