A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown, Ct on January 29, 2023
Isaiah 58:1-12 : Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and [God] will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
Matthew 5:13-20: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
In the middle of last month, I was reading the travel tips column in the Washington Post and came across an essay written by someone who flies, a lot. He wrote:
Flying economy can be a nightmare. There are few, if any, ways around this. When you’re in the air as much as I am, you have to scratch and claw for every ounce of satisfaction — not to mention humane treatment.
With my frequent flier status on our side, even my traveling companion can benefit. We can enter the lounge together and enjoy a few drinks in a comfortable environment; we can check our bags for free; and we can board the plane early, securing invaluable overhead space. Sometimes, we can even both be upgraded to first or business class. But if there’s one seat available and I’m the next in the line, I’m sorry, but I’m taking the seat and leaving you behind in economy.
I’ll send you back a freebie drink or two if I can — I’m not a monster — but if there’s an opportunity for a lie-flat business bed, I’m jumping on it without hesitation and putting myself down for a night’s rest. See, I had to earn that airline status, and there’s no easy way to do it. I log hundreds of thousands of flight miles every year to climb that ladder. It’s my blood, sweat and tears (okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration), which has me rocking double Delta Diamond and United 1K status, and I very much intend on using the upgrades I’ve amassed.
. . . . I empathize with your discomfort, I truly do. But that’s all the more reason I should alleviate my own instead of suffering beside you. There’s no honor in being miserable together for the sake of it.
[Jake Emen: https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/tips/seat-upgrade-debate/ 1/16/23]
Think about this: He says — There’s no honor in being miserable together for the sake of it. So, if I get a chance to better myself, I’m leaving you behind… hey, I’m paying for the tickets.
It’s times like this when I wish they’d bring back that British tv series “Walks With My Dog”…. just 45 minutes with some vaguely recognizable British tv star and his or her dog, walking around rural England. It seemed like every episode ended with the two of them at the pub or the ice cream strand. No fights, no arguments, just peaceful, quiet, low-key stuff, and the most beautiful photography.
No one on Walks with my Dog ever says “me first” and I’ll share if there’s any left over (well, maybe the dog thinks that…..)
But Walks with my Dog isn’t real life, is it? I don’t know that it ever was life, but if it was, it’s not these days. These days, our world’s more like the one the traveler describes…. I’ll take care of myself, and if there’s an extra bag of peanuts, I’ll pass it back to you.
There’s such a strong temptation to just close our eyes to what’s going on. It’s tiring to live with endless selfishness, with constant conflict, and just one thing after another. We can close our eyes, we can unsubscribe from the news, but it’s still there. Turning our backs doesn’t solve anything.
Now, I’m not talking about the respite times we all need – the 24 hours without media, or the day trip to the beach, or time with a good book. Those times are intended to help us regroup, recharge and re-enter the struggle. But sometimes we just want to step away, not just for a moment, but forever. And if we step away, it means the meanies in our world win.
So, today I want to remind you that what we’re doing is the most important thing in the world.
We are engaged, as Christians, in the struggle to loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free… to house the homeless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and strengthen our family and community ties. And in the doing of that, we are the salt that brings savor to all of life.
We’re working to make a difference for people who have no power on their own. We’re working to build a community based on God’s love for all the world. We’re working to end hatred and war; we’re working to bring justice to our land.
This is hard work. It’s tiring. Sometimes it feels as though we’re making no progress at all. But it is absolutely worth our time and effort.
Here’s the second thing:
What we’re doing is making a difference. Sure, we can’t see it all that well, and yes, sometimes it feels more like we’re headed backwards.. but that’s only true if we see things in the short haul. When we look back and remember where we were not all that long ago –we can begin to see that we do indeed make change. Just think about the changes we’ve made here in Middletown:
Today, we care about issues of racism, and we act to change the way racism still affects our society. Fifty years ago, we couldn’t bring ourselves to act to change the restrictive real estate practices of our city.
Today, we are a fellowship based on our common commitment to build community and change the world. Fifty years ago, we were a place to see and be seen. Then, belonging to this church said that you mattered; today it says you love God and want to make a difference.
Our lives as Christians are built on a platform of love.
As Christians, we are called to live lovingly.
We are called to turn away from anger, to reject contempt.
We are called to actively stand up for love.
We are called to know the truth, for with the truth, we will be free.
Go now, in love.
© 2023, Virginia H. Child