February 05, 2017
By John Partridge*
Isaiah 58:1-12 Matthew 5:13-20 1 Corinthians 2:1-12
Are you familiar with sarcasm?
By definition, sarcasm is a form of humor or wit that relies upon the use of irony or satire. The Merriam Webster online dictionary uses this sentence from the weekly column “It Beats Working” in the Charleston Post and Courier as an example: “The best part of being single,” Bryce Donovan jokes, “is being able to choose any woman I want to shoot me down.” In the 1970’s we often heard sarcasm expressed using the phrase “Yeah, right” and during the 1980’s we would end a sentence with the word “not” to express a form of sarcasm, as in “I am the smartest kid in school… not.” And then in 1995, the movie “Clueless” with Alicia Silverstone popularized the expression “As if” to do much the same thing. The Urban Dictionary uses this example: “If a guy tells me he knows I’m in love with him (but I think he’s a total loser), then I say to him “AS IF!””
Curiously, as modern as these sentiments are, we find a very similar message this morning in today’s scripture passage from Isaiah 58:1-12 where we hear God use words that sound very much like sarcasm…
58:1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
As we listen to these words, we realize that this is God’s criticism of his own followers. God says that people come to the temple every day and genuinely seem to desire the ways of God. They ask for justice, and they seem eager for God to be close to them. They fast, and they humble themselves before God, but they wonder why God doesn’t notice them.
But God did notice.
God noticed all those things, but he also noticed that on the same day that these people fasted before God, they also abused their employees. When they are done acting penitent before God they yell and scream and get into fistfights with one another. And God says that he simply doesn’t work this way. You can’t behave that way and expect God to bless you for being faithful. Instead, God says that the kind of faithfulness that God chooses to bless is the kind that fights against injustice, that frees people from slavery and abuse, that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and welcomes the stranger. When we do that, is when we will experience healing and feel God’s protection. God’s blessing doesn’t come when our faith is only words. Blessing comes when we act to bring about God’s kingdom on earth and when we do the things that God has commanded us to do. We will be blessed, and the church rebuilt and restored to its former glory, when we fight against oppression, stop pointing fingers at one another and stop talking smack about each other. We will be blessed when we spend our time, our strength, and our energy caring for the hungry, marginalized, outcasts, vagrants, refugees, the oppressed, and the abused.
And just in case we go off on some mistaken assumption that this is limited to some sort of an Old Testament thing, we find almost exactly the same idea in Matthew 5:13-20 where we hear Jesus say…
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
What Jesus is saying, is that each one of us has been put on earth in order to accomplish some purpose. Salt is supposed to be salty. When it is, it does what it’s supposed to do, but when salt loses its saltiness, it becomes nothing better than just a bunch of rocks. Salt that isn’t salty might be good for gravel in your driveway, but not for much else. Likewise, and I realize that this sounds redundant, lights are made to shed light. No one lights a lamp and then hides it. If they did, then why bother lighting the lamp, or turning on the light, in the first place? Lights are only useful when they do what they were intended to do, to drive back the darkness and to provide illumination.
Jesus gives these two incredibly obvious illustrations to make his larger point about the people who were listening to him, and that includes each one of us. Jesus says that you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You have been created and put on earth for a purpose intended by God. God intends for you, for us, to obey his commands, to do the things that Jesus taught, and to teach others so that God’s kingdom can grow and continue on into the future. Jesus says when his people fail to do these things it’s like salt losing its saltiness, or a light being hidden under a bowl. It’s ridiculous, it’s silly, and it transforms something valuable, into something useless.
And finally, in 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, Paul explains our work, mission, and purpose this way…
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.
Just as we mentioned a few weeks ago, Paul again reminds us that the power of the message of Jesus Christ isn’t anything that depends on us. It isn’t our strength, or our eloquence in using big words or flowery phrases, it isn’t our courage, or much of anything else that we can take credit for. Paul says that he came in weakness and fear and trembling but was successful, not because of anything that he did, but because of the power of God. We can never know the thoughts, fears, motivations, or much of anything else about the people we meet and the people we talk to, but God does and it is God’s Spirit that is at work whenever we have those spiritual conversations about the person and message of Jesus.
Jesus says that you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You have been created and put on earth for a purpose intended by God. God intends for you, for us, to obey his commands, to do the things that Jesus taught, and to teach others so that God’s kingdom can grow and continue on into the future.
What we cannot do is to be un-salty salt, or hidden lights, or people who appear to act as if they want God, but who never do the things that God has asks us to do.
We have been created by God and deliberately placed on earth for a purpose.
Let’s get busy.
We have work to do.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.