True Worship

Sermon Feb 9


Today we have been hearing about fasting and about true sacrifice. There is a contrast between outwardly religious behaviour, and the real religion that springs from the heart.

God, through the prophet Isaiah tells the people that it is a waste of time to make sacrifices and look humble, to cover yourselves with sackcloth and ashes and stand with heads bowed down, if you then go on to oppress the workers, to defraud people of their wages, to quarrel and to be violent.

It is about consistency. It is so important to be a Christian through and through, in everything we do and say, in every molecule of our body. Giving lip service to the form of religion is a waste of time if our hearts are not in line with God. What should the true sacrifice be? Isaiah spells it out for us.

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?’

The church in Christchurch can be quite effective at the second part of this. We know how to feed the hungry, how to clothe the poor. This is not unfamiliar. But there are a few other things here that we need to look at.

How about the injunction not to hide ourselves from our own kin?

This can be difficult can’t it? Do you have a family member who when you see coming up the driveway the temptation is to hide in the back room and ignore the knock at the door? You know from past and bitter experience that they are only going to cause disturbance, asking for money, or reviving old hurts, and it’s easier to avoid them.

But our word of scripture tells us not to hide ourselves from our kin. Many things are difficult in the Christian walk, and this is certainly one of them. The closer we are to people, the more they can get under our skin. What do we do then when trouble comes knocking? We can’t do it in our own strength, so this is a time for prayer. Not a long, literary prayer, with beautiful images, but a quick arrow prayer. Help Lord, I can’t do this in my own, but I know you have my back. Then, knowing that the Holy Spirit will put the word into our mouths and the love into our hearts, we can be confident that the encounter will be bearable.

If we hide ourselves from our own kin, how can we be the light and the salt of the world to them? You might think, no matter how much I tell them about Jesus, they never see the light, they never want to understand. They just swear at me and my church. But how about the salt? Salt isn’t always nice is it? it’s good on your porridge, and tomatoes on toast wouldn’t be the same without it. But you don’t want salt in your eye, or in an open cut do you? Salt can hurt, but, more importantly, salt can clean. It chases out infections – paddling in the sea does wonders for small cuts and bites on your feet. Salt can preserve, and help the good stay good longer.

If we are the salt of the earth to our family who come to the door, we may well have a positive influence on them, helping their wounds heal even though it might sting a little, helping them to preserve what is already good. Don’t hesitate to take up this opportunity when it presents itself. It won’t be easy but you are not alone.

Salt is a good image to have because it’s not about just being nice. Many Christians think that being nice is all it takes. Sometimes being nice doesn’t help the problem at all – tough love is necessary. Giving someone money when you know it’s just going to go on drugs isn’t being nice, it’s enabling destructive behaviour. Being the salt means not being a door mat, not taking it when you are insulted and abused, but it also means staying there in the situation, with the assurance that God is there with you.

Let’s look at the Isaiah again:

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?’

This is about a wider sense of justice, of doing what is right for every person to flourish. If the benefit rates are too low for single people to survive without the food bank, we can help loose that bond of injustice. We can speak up, talk to the MPs and those making decisions. We can be a voice for the voiceless, and help them navigate the difficulties of life. You might think that the language about bonds of injustice sounds like people getting put in prison in the old days for not paying debts, and that this picture doesn’t have relevance today. But whenever someone is caught up with payday loans at horrible interest rates, whenever the debt is getting bigger and bigger with no way of escaping it, these people too are caught up in bonds and yokes, just as surely as if they were really thrown in a prison.

The kingdom of God is all about freedom, and the freedom from debt is part of that. Does that mean that we should give all our money away to help them pay the debt? Not necessarily. But we can be a part of the decision making to take on the debt in the first place. Those of us who are good at managing our finances, good at surviving from one pay day to the next, can help those who struggle.

Christians Against Poverty does this, and in our food bank we have these conversations too. Can you do any more to help? We need to have a relationship with people to be able to help them with this sort of personal stuff, so sharing God’s love as we get to know people is really important. Maybe you are not able to talk to someone about their finances because you are too frail, but you can still pray for them.

Let’s make this our prayer focus this week, praying for everyone in our parish, everyone living and working and going to school in Linwood and Aranui, to be wise with money, that they will all receive what they are entitled to, which is a huge minefield in itself. Let’s pray for careful use of the resources God places with every person, that good decisions will be made so that everyone can flourish.

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