Delivered at First UMC Clairton, Pine Run UMC, & Glassport UMC. Just a reminder, this is pretty much a transcript of the sermon, so it's written as I spoke it, not how it would be written it for publication.
There was a preacher who preached a sermon to his church that was pretty good. She got some compliments on it, and after the service she left. No big deal. The next week, she went up, preached the same good message and the churchgoers were slightly confused, but they just thought she forgot to write a new one for the week. The following week she begins the same sermon and someone from the audience finally stood up in the service and shouted, “Pastor you’ve preached the same sermon for three weeks in a row! You have to come up with something new!” The pastor paused, looked up from her notes, and stated to the parishioner, “I’ll preach something different when I see that you’ve got the message!”
The interesting thing about humans is that we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. The Bible has somehow kept its relevance over millennia because of this very reason. We sometimes can’t seem to get things right. Children don’t always learn from the mistakes of their parents. We don’t pay attention to the world around us. And in fact, the cycle of behavior for generations is so predictable that there is a name for it, at least in the United States: the “Strauss–Howe generational theory” in which generations are born into a High which creates idealists, followed by an awakening which creates a reactive generation, followed by an unraveling which creates a hero generation, then a crisis which creates an adaptive generation, and the process repeats.
The scripture in Isaiah and Luke that we are focusing on today are both about just action. How we should be living as Christ followers.
In the book of Isaiah, God is rebuking the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. We like to use the people of Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of bad people. We tend to remember them by their acts of sexual immorality, their abandonment of God, and their lack of hospitality,. This characterization exists to make us comfortable. We can do wrong, but at least we are not as bad as those in this story. But to be clear, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were similar to many of today’s churchgoers. Isaiah tells us that they sacrificed to God often. They prayed to him. They burned incense to God. It was about performance to them. They were trying to show their holiness to everyone else.
And in the midst of this passage, these people who claimed to know God were given a demand. “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
The question we must ask ourselves when reading this, is if our worship is acceptable to God?
One of the biggest issues I have with the modern American church is that we tend to not actually do the work that God has given us to do. We tend to ignore what it actually means to be a Christian and instead we put on a show every Sunday. The riff in the Christian church right now isn’t between traditional or contemporary music fans, or between those that believe in predestination or free will, or those that decide to marry homosexuals and those that do not. The biggest riff is between those that seek daily to do the work of God, worshiping Him with their actions and those that only want to perform a worship service every Sunday.
As Beth Moore put it, “When the gospel has become bad news to the poor, to the oppressed, to the broken – hearted and imprisoned and good news to the proud, self – righteous and privileged instead, it is no longer the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
For this reason, the urgency of the command that Sodom and Gomorrah received live on today as we are reminded in Luke. One Pastor put it perfectly, saying "Being ready for Christ's return means doing what we've been instructed to do, and living in the manner we've been taught to live. And we're to do that every day, as if the master were already here with us, because in a sense he already is with us." There is no time to waste! In this passage Jesus is giving us a fair warning to care about others or live to see the consequences and yet some of us treat church as a chore.
We need to live our lives in a way that constantly and persistently reflects our duty to be Christians to those that need us. Revival does not start with the pews that we worship with being filled with new people. Revival starts with the people already in those pews dedicating themselves to bringing others in. We often wonder why more people don’t come to church, or why church has been perceived as to have lost its relevancy in culture. Yet we often neglect the work that we are told by God will bring people in. We are so often surprised when people so easily believe misconceptions or misrepresentations of Christians and yet we do not often use those instances to take a look in the mirror.
Maybe if we were doing the work of Jesus more effectively, we would be known for our fruits instead by those that falsely claim to represent us. We ignore faults with ourselves and try to push responsibility for our failures as a church onto the victim of our failure rather than the ourselves as individuals.
This sermon is titled, “Thinking About More than Just Yourself.” It’s a difficult thing to do in a culture that is so materialistic - and for a society that has tried so hard to form an identity around Christ, we do a poor job at actually carrying out what he told us to do.
Church, God’s call to Sodom and Gomorrah was not exclusive to them. It was a command to all of us to worship God with our actions every day. I pray that we would Wash and make ourselves clean. I hope that we will stop whatever evil we are doing; stop doing wrong. I pray we will Learn to do right and seek justice. I pray we would Defend the oppressed. I hope that we Take up the cause of the fatherless and plead the case of the widow.
I hope that we will be the church. I hope that we take back the meaning of the Gospel and use it to love others.
Last week I stated that how we view our time, talent and resources determines how we view justice. If we don’t view our resources as a way to accomplish our missions as Christians, we won’t be able to live justly. Today I am and going to pass out more of those pieces of paper. I want you to think back to that mission statement I’m going to challenge you to think of ways that you can constantly live your statement and write it down. Then you’re going to put this with your other one. Expand on it. Think about what you need to be doing in your life.