“Enough” Sermon on Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 for August 11, 2019
Rev. Alice Rose Tewell, The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church
I often feel like many of are living lives through two different sets of lenses. There is the lens of relative security and the freedoms that come from that. In my family, I think of this lens as our regular routine.
For the summer it is getting kids up and dressed and to camp in the morning, enjoying a cup of coffee often while on the move, and during this time of the year taking in a last moments of summer while considering a new backpack and some school supplies
In preparation for kindergarten. But that hope of new beginnings also brings in the fear that comes with the other lens too.
This lens of violence is one that is the primary reality for so many in our country. Rebecca Davis, who will give us a Moment for Mission on her work on gun violence prevention, pointed me towards everytownresearch.org providing research of gun violence.
Nearly 2/3 of gun deaths are from suicide. Most people who attempt suicide do not die unless it is by a gun. Our suicide rate in the US is 10 times that of other high income countries.
I have shared with some of you that suicide has affected by life personally. In my work in my sharing, I have found that my story is too common. Suicide creates trauma that can’t be undone and whose affects reach deep into family histories. It is epidemic in our country that stays largely out of public conversation — perhaps because we are afraid.
One third of gun deaths are by homicide, and black males are fifteen times more likely to be shot than white males in our country. Friday was the 5th anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson.
Firearms are the second leading cause of death for children and teens in our country and the leading cause of death for Black children and teens.
In 2019, 31 children were shot in Washington DC and 15 from Ward 8.
From domestic violence, Women are 21 times more likely to be killed by firearm violence than women in other high income countries.
According to the Washington Post homicide tracker, there have been 174 homicides in the DMV in 2019. 126 of them were from shootings.
In 2019, according to the Gun Violence Archive there have been 254 mass shootings including people who were injured only.
Mother Jones reports on the most tragic of 4 of more victims including death in 2019 in
Sebring, Fl, State College, PA, Aurora, IL, Virginia Beach, VA, Gilroy, CA, El Paso, Tx,
When, O Lord, when will we stop?
The reading from Isaiah 1 is not something that I would often pick out of the lectionary choices for today on an August summer morning. It feels so heavy, but that weightiness is what our souls need today.
We are reeling as a country over this violence we wreck against our very bodies. We are scared. And for those of us who still enjoy a lens of relative security, we are scared because this violence that we have often tried to shut out: Gun violence in places where people of power often do not live – that most of us do not live — like Ward 7 and 8. Violence committed onto black and brown bodies; Violence committed at home through suicide and domestic violence. Our relative silence is a sin.
Violence has creeped into our schools — so that lockdowns are a norm — that our kindergarteners already know how to hide in a closet — that our teenagers are having to lead the movement in gun violence prevention. Many of us check the exits when entering a public place from movie theaters to markets to even church.
This kind of existence of fear must end.
As has become the slogan this last few months, — Our Thoughts and Prayers are not Enough — or at least not the pithy thoughts and prayers that lead to no action.
The pithy thought and prayers used as something to say to fill the void — to make it look as though our leaders are doing something — is an abomination. This kind of prayer that doesn’t really mean anything is using God’s name in vein. This kind of prayer is equating God’s power to something feeble that is inconclusive that makes no substantial change.
I do not worship or pray to a feeble God.
I pray to the God who created the heavens and the earth who lead the Israelites out of slavery to was born a human to deeply know the realities and the pains of being human— who was killed by the authorities — and who has defeated evil being resurrected to new life. I worship the God of the resurrection — the God who calls us into mutuality in the same way that God has entered into mutuality with all of creation.I worship the God who calls us God’s own beloved children.
I pray to this Triune God confessing my sins of where I have turned to the lens of comfort and security and turned a blind eye to those who are suffering. I pray to this Triune God that I am tired and filled with anxiety and anger about the deep suffering in this world. I pray to God asking for strength, for courage, and for hope.
I pray to God pleading for prophetic action.
That is the message I hear all over our Isaiah text for today. Perhaps you will read it as I do as a prayer of lament, a prayer of anger, and prayer that says that in order to live — in order for our souls to survive – we must turn towards God’s redemption.
It is a prayer put in the words of God. Verse 2 opens with God speaking. The English doesn’t fully capture what the Hebrew does here. Normally, in the Hebrew the verb comes first followed by the subject. But here, the subject, the name for God — YHWH — comes first with the verb ‘to speak” following emphasizing that this indictment comes directly from God.
The religious and political leaders are compared to the rulers of Sodam and Gomorrah who with so much sin turned to a pile of salt. And we hear the Word of God:
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices, says the Lord? I have had enough of your burnt offerings… Trample my courts no more.”I hear the message — I have heard enough of your empty thoughts and prayers. Enough. No more.
Richard Rohr, the Franciscan theologian, in his book Falling Upward says that our religiosity has become like a Greek tragedy. We are filled with pride and delusion.
We create religious camps of infighting — denomination against denomination – conservative vs. liberal. We forget that what makes us Christian — what makes us followers of Christ is never about our politics. What makes us followers of Christ is believing in God’s divine revelation for the world where we are invited to seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the window.
Rohr puts it this way:“The genius of the biblical revelation is that it refuses to deny the dark side of things, but forgives failure and integrates failing to achieve only promised wholeness… Jesus is never upset at sinners; he is only upset with people who do not think they are sinners.” (Rohr, 59)
Rohr continues that we as clergy and as the church have gotten into the business of sin management rather than sin transformation. “We have blamed the victim, or have had little pity for the victims while daring to worship an victim image of God.”
We have been so horrified by this gun violence that we have often stood by paralyzed by horror. Whether it is children being murdered in our streets, whether it is black and brown men and women being killed by police, whether is the the family tragedy of suicide, domestic abuse pushed into the shadows, or mass shootings stoked by the vile rhetoric and defense of white supremacy from our leaders with the most power, we as people who follow after the God of the resurrection, as people of faith with must
rise up in mutuality with victims and with all power and strength proclaim prophetic action that comes only from the the power of God.
From the brink of rebellion, resurrection is what God offers the people. Commentator Gary W. Light suggests we can read verse 18 and 19 two ways: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow;
they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” The Hebrew might invite us to see these as an an interrogative: “If your sins are like scarlet, can they become like snow? If they are red like crimson, can they become like wool?”
Whatever Israel tries, it cannot make itself innocent again. Their sins are real; God’s accusations are accurate. Yet, there is also the possibility of God’s grace.
This is not cheap grace where God says “Don’t worry about things. I’ll take care of them.” But God is merciful, and God’ recognizes that on their own the people are powerless to change.
God is offering a transforming presence of change — return from rebellion to obedience — return from death to life, says the Lord.
If you look after the verse 20 where I stopped today, there is a break where commentators suggest there should be a pause. In this space of silence, the court holds it breathe — God gives the people the choice:
“If you are willing and obedient you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the mouth of the sword.” After that all that the defendant, the people, the leaders, We today need to say that “We are willing.”
If you read on, that is not how the people of Isaiah’s day responded, but we can be different.
That is the hope. We will not choose silence. We will choose action. We will choose resurrection because our lives and the lives of our children depend on it. Amen.
Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr
Isaiah Interpretation Bible Study by Gary W. Light