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November 30, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

ISAIAH 1:21-23, 2:6-10

We have heard words from Isaiah magnificently spoken and beautifully sung. Isaiah preached and taught in Jerusalem in times similar to ours, before Jerusalem fell. A mighty nation under King David had become weak and vulnerable in Isaiah’s time. Isaiah could see trouble ahead, disaster coming. Isaiah foresaw and predicted the judgment of God. Isaiah preached, taught and wrote before Jerusalem fell, before the mighty armies of Babylon descended upon that city, knocked down its walls, tramped on its streets and destroyed the temple—the holy sacred, loved temple— and carried off its leaders, carried off people into captivity. Isaiah preached, warned, and pleaded for the people to realize what was happening to them. 

Isaiah lived in time similar to ours,. There are many parallels. Our nation has not yet fallen, but there are many doom specialists who predict such a fall. There are many people pointing to things that are wrong in our country. Some of these reasons are wrong reasons. But still, the warning and pleading of a prophet like Isaiah need to be heeded. So listen to Isaiah this Sunday and subsequent Sundays in Advent as we look and try to understand the judgment of God. Isaiah saw many signs of judgment. And the hope, 2:3, “Come to the temple and let the Lord teach us that we may walk in the path of the Lord,” that the judgment may be averted and avoided.”

Listen to some of the signs of unrighteousness and injustice that Isaiah saw in his society, the kind of unrighteousness and injustice that bring the judgment of God. You heard it read in 2:6. The first sign: the land is full of sorcerers, soothsayers, astrologers. And in our day, the occult is becoming popular and many serious minded people actually consult the stars and get their readings before they make decision. The land is full of sorcerers. 

Second sign: 2:7, “The land is full of silver and gold and treasures beyond counting, full of horses and chariots without number.” Full of automobiles and freeways full of wealth. Wealth abounded in Jerusalem for a few. It was not a shared wealth. 

Sign number three: the land is full of idols—people worshipping, honoring, seeking, longing something other than God with which to fulfill their lives. People were putting the highest priority in their life something other than God. That is an idol. And the land was full of idols. 

Sign number four: 1:21, he lamented, he wept over Jerusalem and said, “What a harlot Jerusalem has become.” Once integrity lived there, but now, assassins, loss of integrity, loss of honesty, loss of honor, fairness and an increase of violence. And he goes on in 1:23, “All are greedy for profit, and chase after bribes.” Isaiah is not talking about Washington D.C. or Sacramento, California, but Jerusalem. All are greedy for profit and chase after bribes. 

The fifth sign, the most serious of all, 1:23. They show no justice to the orphan. The cause of the widow is never heard. The orphan and the widow in the Old Testament symbolize the powerless people—the people who are poor, the people who are not in the mainstream of society, the people who are easily victimized and oppressed, the people who are used and manipulated. When those people are ignored, abused, victimized and exploited, says Isaiah, the judgment of God is at hand. There are five signs— sorcerers, wealth, idols, increase of greed and the victimizing of powerless people. 

Because of those signs, Isaiah says the judgment is coming. He describes the judgment in 2:10, “They will hide in caves in the rocky hills or dig holes in the ground to try to escape from the Lord's anger and to hide from his power and glory.” And that happened when Babylon sacked Jerusalem. That happened when that weak and vulnerable nation was defeated as much from the lack of moral fiber within themselves, as from the strength of the enemy. A day is coming, Isaiah says, when human pride will be humbled and human arrogance destroyed. Then the Lord alone will be exalted. And so, because of the signs of judgment, Isaiah pleaded with the people, begged the people, cried with the people, “Come, go to the temple of the Lord. Let the Lord teach us that we might walk in the path of the Lord.” Isaiah pleaded for righteousness. He predicted that the Messiah would come some day and bring righteousness to the earth, but judgment may be averted and avoided if we will be righteous. 

Righteousness means right living and right relationships. Righteousness means to walk in the path of the Lord. Righteousness was forever dramatized in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our model. Jesus is the one we name as the Messiah. Jesus is the one who fulfilled the predictions and the longing of this Old Testament prophet. Jesus epitomized righteousness. Jesus shows us for all time a model of what it means to be righteous, of what it means to walk in the path of the Lord which includes integrity, honesty and morality. But those aren’t the major items. 

What we see in Jesus is a person who cared, first of all, most primarily about people, about the hurts, agonies and pain of people—the hungry, the naked, imprisoned, the oppressed. We see that Jesus on every hand accused those in authority, accused those in power of putting their morality above people. People who are moral can be evil, for morality removed from the needs of people is evil. And Jesus accused the leaders and those in authority that they are putting the law above the needs of people, putting the religious law, and religion removed from the needs of people can be evil. 

We see in Jesus, a person who was criticized as one who eats with sinners. He associated with the outcasts and the poor. They couldn't understand that. Righteousness means to walk in the path of the Lord and be concerned for the powerless, the hungry, the poor. Jesus calls the church to be his body. We are Christ's presence in this world today. The Messiah has come, the Messiah has brought righteousness and you and I are now the righteous ones. It is our calling in this day and age to be those who speak up for people—to business when it is tempted to put profit as their only motive. Those who walk in the path of the Lord must constantly challenge them—Hey, what about people? What about the poor? 

To the schools after Proposition 13 with its financial cutbacks are tempted to put the district first, or the administrators, or even the teachers, those who walk in the path of the Lord must constantly challenge the school—Hey, what about the children? They are first. And especially remember, the poor, the socially handicapped child. Remember the slow learner. Remember the one who doesn't fit into the mainstream, the isolated one, the one who may not make it. What about him and her?

And to the city. With its financial cutbacks, the temptation is to put first of all the interests of the city, or the institutions, or the taxpayers, or business. Those who walk in the path of the Lord must constantly challenge those in our government to remember the people, remember the hungry, remember the elderly, remember those who live on one little Social Security pension in substandard housing and who do not have enough to eat. Remember the people.

And to the individual person in America today who is tempted on every hand to be concerned, first of all, with me. Those who walk in the way of the Lord must challenge—Hey, remember those around you. Remember those less fortunate. Remember the needy. 

One of the greatest troubles in our country today is self-interest of labor unions, self interest of business, people who are concerned about their rights, and what’s due them. People are concerned about their profits, their retirement, their future, and the heck with everyone else. 

It is greed, selfishness, self-interest that brings judgment upon us. When the less fortunate, when those out of the mainstream, when the poor and the outcast are exploited, victimized and oppressed because of our selfish greed, the judgment of God may come. 

It is our call to be the Righteous Ones, the righteous remnant who belong to the Messiah. Jesus is our model. And Jesus gives us power through his life, death, resurrection, through fellowship with him through Holy Communion, through the sacraments, through our worship. Christ gives us the power to be the righteous ones to care about people. 

Come Holy Christ this Christmas we pray. Come Christ to this world. Come Christ to this nation. Come to our church, come into our lives, O Christ. Make us righteous that we may walk in the path of the Lord.

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris