Isaiah 1:10, 16-20 (Wash yourselves clean...if you refuse, the sword will consume you!)
Psalm 50:8-9, 16bc-17, 21 & 23 (Why do you profess my covenant, though you hate discipline?)
Matthew 23:1-12 (Do and observe all things whatsoever the religious leaders tell you, but do not follow their example)
Wow...what a tough act to follow!
Yesterday, the prayer of Daniel and the words of Jesus spoke to me of discernment and restraint, even in the process of seeking reconciliation; to think slowly and with deliberation. By contrast, today is a study in divine judgment and how it is applied.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God likens the people of the time to the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities that were destroyed because evil ran rampant there (Genesis 19).
Strange though it may seem, Isaiah's contemporaries are supposedly God-fearing people, but God sees right through them, as is evident in verses 13-16 (not part of the actual citation):
"Quit your worship charades...I'm sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I'll be looking the other way!" (vs. 13-15a, "The Message", paraphrase by Eugene H. Peterson)
Jesus agrees, placing the blame on those who are supposed to set the example:
"Instead of giving you God's Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn't think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called 'Doctor' and 'Reverend.'
"Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you'll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you're content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty." (Matt. 23:4-7, 11-12, "The Message")
Even the psalm of the day begs the question, 'just what do I think I'm doing?'
Okay, I could apply Isaiah's preaching to any number of people, many to whom I'm close (and they know who they are). I could apply Jesus' admonition of the scribes and Pharisees to any number of religious leaders, a few of whom I've worked with over the years. And it would all be true.
But when you point a finger at someone, you point three back at yourself.
Over the coming weeks, particularly on Fridays, I will reveal just how much of my authentic self I was not. In telling my story I don't want to sound like Job, who seemingly went on for an eternity bemoaning his state. I've been there and done that. It wasn't all bad, and I learned greatly from all the experience - but it was more self-serving than servant-like. The good news is that I have some of the greatest support in my corner, and in collaboration - which is the way ministry works best, collaboration that doesn't allow for absolute power, for power corrupts absolutely - I'm doing what I believe I'm supposed to do. God is a God of second-chances. Even third- and fourth-chances. I'm forever grateful for that. But I'm not so foolish as to believe that the offer goes on indefinitely if I'm the one setting the agenda.
I'm at a turning point where I could fall back into a pattern of the past, or I can hang back a little and let someone else steer the ship, and get a few here and there more interested in the ride together. That really does sound attractive!
Don't get me wrong. There is a tendency to think here that I'm being complacent, perhaps to the point of condoning things I know I should not. Yesterday's readings say hang back a bit; pray first, discern second. Today's readings call for action, and are a reminder of what consequences can follow if you're supposed to act and fail to do so.