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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Epiphany 02/06/2011

Last week I suggested that the Beatitudes which begin the Sermon on the Mount could be taken as Jesus’ invitation to imagine the possibilities of an alternative to what seemed to be unchangeable realities.  Creating those images is one of the roles of a prophet. Today though it’s more of that other role of a prophet, a role defined by telling it like it is and that’s what we get today from Isaiah and I think from Jesus too, although maybe in a different way and in a somewhat gentler voice.

Isaiah however, is not gentle because the Lord won’t let him be.  “Shout out, do not hold back!  Lift up your voice like a trumpet!”  Most of you, maybe all of you, have been here on Christmas Eve or Easter when “O Come All Ye Faithful” or “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” begins with Gary’s trumpet.  If you’re like me you have perhaps thought, “Man that’s loud; can’t he play that thing any softer?”  Well, come to find out, in the Old Testament the sounding of the trumpet was indicative of a life and death matter being announced, among other things the trumpet was used to summon the people of Israel to war; it was meant to get your attention. 

When you think of it that way, what is proclaimed and celebrated on Christmas and Easter is a matter of life and death.  It’s appropriate then that the trumpet be loud, that it wakes us up, because in my case there is something important for me to say and in your case there is something important for you to hear.  So I come here to praise Gary not to bury him, to praise him for getting our attention.

With the call to Isaiah to “Lift up your voice like a trumpet,”  apparently the words he has to speak are meant to get the attention of the people.  The truth he is called to speak is that there is a disconnect, a hypocritical gap if you will, between the worship of the community as opposed to how they live their lives and there’s nothing very subtle about what Isaiah says as he identifies their hypocrisy; it’s pretty much telling it like it is.

The gist of the message is that they are paying attention to the ritual obligations of worship, even delighting in them but that their day to day life doesn’t reflect their worship.  Instead it reflects self interest that has little to do with the concerns and character of the Lord who they claim to worship.  “Here we are Lord,” they’re saying.  “We’re worshiping you; aren’t you impressed?”  It’s all about them in other words, it’s about what they can get from God.

My tendency is to get defensive when I hear texts like this.  Some of it I suppose has to do with my role as worship leader and the fact that I think what we do here is pretty important; but I also want to defend you; I want to say my church doesn’t have this hypocritical gap.  I don’t know everything about all of you, but I don’t think this church is full of people who come to church on Sunday or Monday and then for the rest of the week live “me first” lives without thought or concern for the issues of justice and care for others raised by the prophets and Jesus after them.  I don’t think that’s true.  I want to defend who you are, and who I am, and I think there is legitimacy to it. 

But then I have to ask, is my defensiveness just another version of what I cautioned against last week, that being our desire to be dismissive of the difficult teachings of the Bible as we try to find ways to get around them?  In this case, I hear the accusation of Isaiah, and I think it’s a valid accusation, but I want it to be about somebody else.  I mean, I’d be happy to point the finger at the hypocritical gap I see in the people and pastors of other churches, those I don’t like very much, but as soon as I do that my own thoughts and words convict me of the very hypocrisy I’m defensive about.  In effect I’m doing the same thing that the people Isaiah addressed did saying, “Here we are Lord; we’re not like those other people; we think and act the right way; we’re generous like we’re supposed to be; aren’t you impressed Lord?” at which point I should hear the blast of Gary’s trumpet in my ear.

It’s a blast that should also remind me of other hypocrisies; the hypocrisy of being self-satisfied with how we attend to issues of justice while being blind to ways we could be doing more, blind to the fact that as generous as we can be, it’s still hard to get out of the “me first” mentality.  It should remind me of my own personal hypocrisies, for example how I can be snide and nasty and mean spirited with the best of them, not always paying attention to my own sermons, not always very Christian in other words.  You perhaps have your own laundry list of hypocrisies to be reminded of as you hear the sound of the trumpet.

I don’t think Jesus played the trumpet.  His tone is different, he’s not quite as direct as Isaiah, but the message comes through, leaving us to sort out some things, knowing we can’t escape from the need to sort them out.  It’s not as blunt as what we get from Isaiah, but the same kind of accusation stands and we have to pay attention.

Isaiah kind of whacks you upside the head where Jesus leads with “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.”   Note too that there’s no if/then about this.  It’s not “if you do this that and the other thing, then you are the salt of the earth;” it’s you are; it’s an identity; salt of the earth, light of the world; it’s who we are and it’s proclamation, it’s not explanation. 

The temptation for the preacher is to explain, to explain what Jesus meant when he said these things and the temptation for you is to want explanation, or at least to think that’s what you want.  Jesus explained very little though and I think there was a reason for that and it’s why in my own preaching I don’t do a lot of trying to explain things anymore.  Maybe you like that, maybe you don’t, maybe you find it frustrating, likely it’s some combination of all that depending on what mood you’re in.  I can assure you though that there are lots of sermons being preached this morning on how to be salty Christians or something to that effect and I’m sure that in those sermons some helpful advice will be offered.  There’s a place for that, but again I think there was a reason that Jesus didn’t provide a how to manual; there’s a reason he proclaimed more than he explained.

Explanation can tend to lead in one of two directions.  First of all it can lead to the kind of self satisfaction I mentioned earlier.  If I say here’s what you/we need to do to be salty Christians we can wind up saying, “We’re doing a lot of that.  We’re pretty good, better than most anyway.”  The other direction it can lead is to resignation, the thought that you/we can never do all this anyway so what’s the point?

Neither of those directions is particularly helpful, and I think Jesus knew that which is why he got his message across in other ways.  His tendency was to leave it to his audience to sort out.  “You are the salt of the earth,” he said, and in essence he says, “How are you going be that?  How are you going to season your world?   You are the light of the world; how are you going to let your light shine?”

It’s not the same for any of us.  The instruction manual doesn’t work because everybody’s situation is different.  Each of us has to figure it out.  Jesus didn’t have to play the trumpet, he didn’t have to explain it and yet his message is no less clear that that of Isaiah.  Jesus uses the metaphors of salt and light but you know what he means; you know where he’s headed with this.  He nudges us with reminders of the law, the commandments, but still we’re left to sort it out for ourselves, because Jesus knows our response is more meaningful that way, more meaningful than just being told what to do. 

We can sort it out knowing that we don’t have to delude ourselves with any “holier than thou” comparison games because Jesus isn’t playing.  That’s the game the scribes and the Pharisees were playing and Jesus effectively dismisses that approach with his comment about exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.  You are the salt of the earth, Jesus says.  You are the light of the world.  Our identity, and thus our righteousness is secure in his proclamation.   The journey of sorting out that identity however, the journey of faith, continues.  That’s why we’re here.

Jesus doesn’t sound the trumpet; his approach is different than that of Isaiah.  Trumpet or not though, we know what he’s talking about.  No less than Isaiah, he does tell it like it is.           

Rev. Warren Geier              


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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