February 05, 2023*
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 58:1-9a Matthew 5:13-20 1 Corinthians 2:1-12
I’m not sure when it was, but at some point, things started to get weird. Maybe it was decaffeinated coffee that started it, or maybe it was wireless phones, but now we have clear Pepsi, sugar-free sugar, driverless cars, pilot-less airplanes, and crab meat without crab. You can go to a planetarium and look at the stars, or climb into a booth to get a tan, without once going outside, you can buy paper that doesn’t use wood, a drum set that doesn’t have drums, eggs that don’t contain eggs, download an electronic file of music from your favorite artist’s latest album without actually possessing, you know, an album, check your calendar that doesn’t exist on an actual calendar, thanks to Zoom we now have meetings without actually meeting, you can buy gift cards that don’t have a card, and of course we can’t forget meatless meat.
But our modern familiarity with these sorts of paradoxes doesn’t change the fact that sometimes having a substitute for the real thing is very different than having the real thing. This is exactly the thing for which God condemns Israel in Isaiah 58:1-9a when he says…
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.
Just like meatless meat, God calls out the people of Israel for going through the motions of following God, without following God. They fast and they pray, and fully expect God to answer their prayers, but while they’re fasting and praying, they completely ignore the commands and teachings of God and act just like everyone else in the world around them. They say they follow God but make no attempt at all to act the way that God acts. They pray that God would bless them, but they fight with one another and abuse their employees. They follow God without following God. and end up with a faithless faith.
Instead, God says, that the people of God should act the way that he has taught them to act. We should fight against injustice, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, offer shelter for the wanderers and the migrants, clothe the naked, care for every member of our families, and just act like the people of God, and then God will have our backs. Following God requires that we act the way that God acts and do the things that God teaches us to do.
We hear this same message from Jesus in Matthew 5:13-20 when he says…
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.
Salt that isn’t salty is fine if all you want is gravel, but it’s completely useless if what you want is salt. Faithless faith, or unfaithful faith, is useless and isn’t faith at all. Like a lamp on top of a lampstand, God’s people were designed to stand out from the crowd and are intended to be noticed by the world around them. God has called us to be obedient and do the things that he has taught us to do, and doing those things, by design, will make us stand out from the crowd. Christians that blend into the crowd of our culture, or who just go through the motions, and have an incognito faith can only do so by not being the kind of people that God has called us to be and ultimately become unchristian Christians, or people with a faithless faith.
Remember that the Pharisees, despite dedicating their lives to rigorously following every letter of the law of Moses, were regularly criticized by Jesus for not having the character of God. In Luke 11:42, Jesus says,“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue, and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. They were so scrupulously careful to obey the law that they tithed, not only from their income, but even gave a tenth from the herbs that grew in their garden. But while they were counting the dill and the mint leaves in their garden, they were overlooking injustice and had developed a worship of God that was mechanical rather than loving.
So, if even the Pharisees, who devoted their lives to their strict obedience to God, got it wrong, what should we do so that we can do a better job of having the right kind of relationship with the Jesus that we claim to follow? There is a lot of advice about that, from many different writers of the New Testament, but for today let’s look at the example of Paul that we find in his first letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 where he spells out a bunch of things that we don’t need to do:
2:1 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.
Paul begins by listing some things that are not necessary to do the will of God, or for ministry to the people around us, and those are things like eloquence, human wisdom, strength, courage, or persuasive words. Paul says that he didn’t have any of those things. He wasn’t good with words, he was filled with great fear when he attempted to speak to the people of Corinth, and he described himself as weak. But God used his weakness, his fear, and his other shortcomings to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit so that the faith of the church would not rest on the wisdom or personality of the preachers, but on God’s power. The wisdom that we have is not human wisdom, but God’s wisdom that has been revealed to us through his Spirit and the strength that we have is not our strength but God’s strength.
The point, however, is that we cannot be the meatless meat of the church. We cannot have a faithless faith that goes through the motions and follows all the rules but forgets the character of God and fail to act the way that God acts.
To do the will of God, we must not have an empty faith but we must be the people who fight against injustice, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, offer shelter for the wanderers and the migrants, clothe the naked, care for every member of our families, love our neighbors, bring healing to the wounded, have compassion for those that are struggling, and act like the people of God.
Following God requires that we act the way that God acts and do the things that God teaches because having a substitute for the real thing is very different than having the real thing. Because when we talk about what we have, there is no doubt that our friends and neighbors will notice the difference between sirloin steak and meatless meat.
Did you enjoy this?
Please LIKE and SHARE!
Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.
Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.
Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.
*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, 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 or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™