The Word This Weekend - February 9, 2020

The Word This Weekend – February 9, 2020

“In the Breach”

 

The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst

FLCS Senior Pastor

 

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; a
nd 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.
(Isaiah 58:9b-12)

 

Dear Companions,

 

This Sunday, paired with the continuing words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, comes a striking word of prophecy from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. These stirring words, spoken by the prophetic master work whose testimonies bridge the history of Israel’s exile and return from Babylon, are stirring and strong. They speak of the calling of God’s people to shine bright in the world, to witness to the justice and compassion of the God of all humankind.

 

Perhaps the most memorable of these words is the following:

 

You shall be called the repairer of the breach,

the restorer of streets to live in.

 

There are many ways to hear these prophetic words, but I would urge you to see these pleas for justice through the lens of “The Breach.” You know, the times and places where conflict reigns, where evil and corruption hold sway, where the power-hungry rob the fragile poor and marginalized of their God-given dignity, where shrunken-hearted and deadened souls would wrest justice from the powerless in their thirst for advantage over those Christ names as his kin and his concern.

 

Among the variety of images and injunctions the prophet uses, the ways we God-followers are called to enter and live in the breach, are these –

 

Remove the yoke among you – these words instruct God’s people to liberate those in bondage. Among those who would belong to God’s sovereign reign there must be no enslavement – not to literal slavery, and not to the bondage of dislocation, impoverishment, cruelty and oppression. If we would be the bright-shining people God calls us to be, we must not shy away or be complicit in this monstrous Breach.

 

The pointing of the finger – my Grandmother was fond of saying, “When you point one finger at someone else, three point back at you.” It seems to me that we humans are experts at seeing the splinter in our neighbor’s eye while ignoring the beam in our own – at least so says Jesus our Teacher. So good we are at indicting and judging – and blaming – those we deem lazy, immoral or vile. We build our walls and moats ever higher and deeper, masking our fear and ignorance with self-righteous judgments and poorly reasoned conclusions. For Isaiah, and for Christ and his followers, our fingers must not be misused in such a way. Hands were made for praying, for embracing, and for serving – not for the intramural sport of condemning and dismissing others we seem to excel at more and more.

 

 Sharing your food with the hungry – the Breach of hunger and destitution is among the most visible in our world of need and greed, and the calling of the righteous doesn’t get any clearer than in this woeful gap. Our bread is a gift from God, and one with which we have been richly provided in this oh-so-blessed society. It is to be extended in friendship and solidarity with others, and not as an idol to be clutched and worshiped. As the great offertory hymn puts it, “We give Thee but Thine own, whate’er the gifts may be; all that we have is Thine alone – a trust, O Lord, from Thee.” The measure of how we stand in this breach is so simple, and so hard. What have we been given, and what does God expect of us in return?

 

Addressing the needs of the afflicted – beyond the gnawing ache of the belly, we who follow God must acknowledge and respond to the many other afflictions of our neighbors, near and far. We must recognize and address the affliction of the refugee, robbed of home and safety, yearning to breathe free. We must act with compassion and care for those afflicted by addiction, abuse, cruelty and dishonor. We are called to enter the breach where people’s lives have been savaged by evil, whether caused by disaster or by corruption. To be a holy people, God’s own people, demands of us nothing less.

 

These are just some of the breaches to which we are called, by the prophets of old and by the Prophet of Nazareth who bids us see Him in the faces and needs of the least of these, our kinfolk of the human family. Later on in Matthew’s gospel account, long after the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges us with these prophetic and sovereign words:

 

“I was hungry and you gave me no food,

I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

I was a stranger and you did not welcome me,

naked and you did not give me clothing,

sick and in prison and you did not visit me.

 

“Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ And he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” (MT 25:42-45)

 

That’s the Breach, and that’s who waits for us in the midst of it all – the hungry, thirsty, foreigner, naked, sick and incarcerated. That’s where Christ is to be found, and that is what the Word of God calls us to be and to do once we’re there.

And, as always, these words of command and warning come with a promise as well, a promised reward and hope for all who will enter the Breach, called to be Christ for our neighbor in every circumstance:

 

For, dear friends in the Breach, this promise is for you, in good times and ill, whether the world around us issues curse or recrimination:

 

 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.

 

---------------------

 

So my friends, I hope to see you in the Breach this weekend. To wash to the water, abide in the word, and feast at the table.  To recognize our need of God’s grace, and celebrate in faith the provision of that grace in the benevolent love of the Christ of God. To prepare to foray out once more into the mission field, called once more to live lives of blessedness, advocacy, compassion, care and self-giving love -- all in obedience to the Christ who bids us follow in faith, and who promises, “Take heart – I have overcome the world!”

 

With You in God’s Good Work,
 
Bill Hurst