Luke 12:32-40 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he[a] would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Orthodoxy means “right belief” and is easily tied to rituals. The people of Isaiah’s day made sure they never missed a holy day observance or a prescribed sacrifice. They were orthodox in their beliefs and rituals that supported or illustrated these beliefs. “Orthodoxy” is a word and a concept with which we are familiar.
Orthopraxy: It means “right conduct,” and unlike orthodoxy, which is all about what we believe, orthopraxy is all about what we do, or practice.
This has been a tough week for me professionally and personally. I sat with the definitions of the two words on the paper all week, but I just couldn’t get myself to finish the sermon or really to start it, to be honest. The two shootings have been weighing on my heart. Especially, as the news reports more and more about El Paso and how they were victims not only of gun violence, but because of their race. We read of the people that were rounded up in Mississippi and almost half of them have been returned home because they made mistakes. Most of them from Latin America. The blood on the hands of America as a nation grows, it appears.
Last Sunday had the opportunity to walk on holy ground as a parishioner entered Life Triumphant. I was there for several days before and was allowed to pray with him and the family a few minutes before he took his last breath. I also learned Sunday night that my best friend from high school and college father passed away. His service was Wednesday and I went and visited with my long-time buddy after the service. His father was a pastor in this town for many years in the 80s and 90s. He died just as my Dad did, busy playing tennis, mowing the lawn, stops to have a cup of coffee with friends and takes his last breath. A massive heart attack. Friday was my Dad’s birthday, he would have been 83.
The text for this week is not cherry picked, it come from the lectionary. Isaiah has been called by God to try and get the people back on track for they have wandered from their ways. That is the story of the Bible, between God and God’s people. God does something miraculous and the people are so excited they fall down and worship. Then time passes, they lose their way and God tries to remind them of the way that they are living is not in accord with God’s ways. The ignore God, then something happens, usually bad like a takeover of their kingdom. The people repent and God then restores them.
The text has Isaiah beginning the ministry and sets the timeline prior to the fall of Judah. He tells the people that they are living like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s not that they are forgetting God completely, but they are ignoring his commandment to love one another. He tells the people that we see you going to church or the synagogues. He tells then that God sees them making their sacrifices and smells their burnt offerings. The orthodoxy of the day is present. But you are going through the motions.
God is fed up with the emptiness of their hearts. Isaiah says the offerings and the show are too much for God. The people are pretending and not acting out what they know God desires. There is no orthopraxy. Isaiah speaking for God says, there is blood on your hands. Oh, how I felt that this week. There is blood on my hands. There are so many times that I have led worship and prayed and yet left it all here and not found ways to take it outside these walls.
God says, wash your hands, make yourself clean and stop doing evil things. How that reverberates in my head. God says instead, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow. I see the news and there is little of that going on. People in refugee camps, children crying and made orphans from shootings and having parents taken away, widows knowing that their husbands will never walk through the door again—how often we see words and orthodoxy and how little we see orthopraxy.
Jesus says much of the same in his teaching. Do not let the greed of the day become greater than giving alms and storing the treasure for the kingdom of heaven. Make sure your purses don’t wear out save by doing the work of the kingdom not hoarding money for personal gain. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I see drug companies making so much money that people have to choose between eating and taking their medication. There was an elderly couple that left a note after an apparent murder/suicide that cited the bills from medical expenses were to great and they were broke and had no where else to turn so they checked out permanently.
Returning to Isaiah we read “Come now let us argue it out says the Lord.” (v.18) “though your sins are like scarlet they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson they shall become like wool.” God reminds the people that they cannot cleanse their own sins and neither can we. I find myself railing against a political party and gun lobbyists and big pharmaceuticals but then I am not seeking justice, helping the oppressed, the orphan or the widow. I have no orthopraxy. I go through the motions and yet I come up empty. The reason for it is because I am seeking to build a treasure here and not in the kingdom. I can talk a good game, but my feet are not hitting the ground often enough. My worship is to make me feel better and not to honor God.
This week when I went to the funeral James read a letter that he had received from his Dad 15 years ago. James had written prior he said and was kind of laying a guilt trip on his Dad for being so busy in his life and how James was not doing that he was taking care of his family. He was seeking approval from his Dad for the way he was living. The letter that Art wrote back talked about how James was a good person and a good Dad but to stop seeking his approval and to look to find ways to honor God. Art wrote about that being his calling to honor God by helping those around him. Seeking God’s approval was way more important than seeking the approval of one another.
“If you are willing and obedient you shall eat the good of the land” the Lord told Isaiah. Today after worship we will eat the good of the land in our potluck dinner. But what happens when we get hungry again? Do we go back to railing? Do we seek to make ourselves feel better and then throw up our hands and do nothing because it is overwhelming? Or do we seek to honor God in our actions. Do we let God make our sins whiter than snow or do we try to do it ourselves? Do we seek justice? Do we try to help the oppressed, the orphan and the widow among us or do we just show up for church on Sunday and pray about it? We can’t have orthodoxy without orthopraxy. If we do our efforts are hollow. We do not honor God. We fight for ourselves and our good feelings. We know how, but its just vain attempts.
The God who created us all wants more from us, because God knows we have it within us. We can do better, maybe not all at once, but one step at a time and one day at a time. It takes a change deep down. It takes being willing to stand for something that might not be too popular with the world or the nation or even the friends we have coffee with. Yet, it is the change that honors God. It is the caring of God’s creation known as humanity. There can be no higher calling. Amen.