What God Loves

December 13, 2020

Series: December 2020

Category: Advent - Joy

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Tags: justice, oppressed

Today's Scripture

Isaiah 64:8-11

8   For I the LORD love justice,

          I hate robbery and wrongdoing;

     I will faithfully give them their recompense,

          and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

9   Their descendants shall be known among the nations,

          and their offspring among the peoples;

     all who see them shall acknowledge

          that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.

10  I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,

          my whole being shall exult in my God;

     for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,

          he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

     as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,

          and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

11  For as the earth brings forth its shoots,

          and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,

     so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise

          to spring up before all the nations.


Today's Sermon

“What God Loves”

            We made it worshiping in person for one week before returning to a virtual-only gathering.  It was the right thing to suspend indoor gathering, but it’s a loss.  What losses might you count among those that have been greatest for you in this time?  Today we lit the Advent candle of joy, and it may seem odd then to speak of loss, but sometimes it’s through honest accounting of what has been taken from us that we are able to find our joy.  Those of you who attended the spiritual life gathering a week and a half ago will know the power of welcoming whatever it is you feel.

            We can name the big losses – the loss of life, the loss of being able to be with people when their lives were lost, the loss of income and livelihood the loss of precious family time, gathering with friends.  There are other losses too, the little ones, but real nonetheless and they compile.  I miss strolling the aisles of the local library looking for something to read.  What of these littler things have you missed? 

Little or big, the losses are all around us. I read about a couple from Chicago that had to postpone their big wedding.  Can you imagine?

            If there has ever been a time in which we need good news it is now, isn’t it?  As we learn when we are young Christians, the word gospel simply means good news.  The angel says I am bringing good news when they tell of the coming of Jesus, good news and great joy.  Christians have forever viewed Jesus through the lens of the prophets.  We return to this this time of year as we ready ourselves for Christmas.  That’s how we tell the Jesus story and talk about what he came to do.  Listen for how the prophets spoke of their mission from God: 

            The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,

                   because the LORD has anointed me;

            he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

                   to bind up the brokenhearted,

            to proclaim liberty to the captives,

                  and release to the prisoners;

            to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, (Is. 61:1-2a)

            Jesus echoes this in Luke’s gospel, quoting these very lines.  In the simplest of terms, the good news that Christians see in Christ is to bring good news to those for whom it has been bad.  An undefined good can be no good at all.  Sometimes I wonder if we have lost the definition and direction of God’s prophetic message to the poor, to the oppressed, to the brokenhearted, and to the imprisoned.  The good news is to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  The year of the Lord’s favor was about widespread economic forgiveness, very worldly terms.  The now disgraced, but undeniably insightful, Jean Vanier said, the good news is not that God loves the poor.  They know that.  The good news is supposed to be that we love them, and we are to show them that in very tangible ways.  This is the call of justice, the bettering of people’s everyday realities.  That’s where God meets us in Jesus, in the tangible.  Christians are called to ask how they are living that how as individuals and as a society.  You have to have both.

            Christianity and justice have a strained relationship in some corners.  Have you ever noticed that some people who care deeply about the poor don’t want anything to do with Jesus?  Have they met him?  And similarly, those who care deeply about Jesus seemingly want little to do with the poor?  Have they met him?  In fact, some wish the church would talk less about justice, but what is the opening line of today’s second reading from Isaiah?  “For I the LORD love justice…”  God loves it.   Isn’t that good news, for what is justice, but the capacity for everyone for a have a chance to experience joy.  We don’t to lean on our faith to escape the losses of this world.  We can allow our faith to invite us into making joy more accessible for all right here.  Things really can change, and we can be a part of that.

            I love the hymn with which we’ll close.  It describes Christ’s coming as a dramatic turning in the world.  The first line of that hymn is, “My soul cries out with a joyful shout…”  It is a joyful proclamation that we are called to work for justice.  The theme of our Vacation Bible School this past summer featured justice as “making it right.”  Christ doesn’t just make it right, he invites us into the project of making it right particularly for those for whom things have gone terribly wrong.  And as the prophets do, Isaiah doesn’t simply give us a laundry list of things to do, but rather speaks with the imagery of a poet and lays out a vision,

            For as the earth brings forth its shoots,

                and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,

            so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise

                to spring up before all nations (v. 11).

 The people will be known in the world for how they order righteousness in their society and it will be like a garden that will bear good fruit.  Reaping what is sown is a collective axiom as much as an individual one.  What is sown will spring up.  We are do the work that causes our common life to bear good fruit especially for the hungriest among us.

            Back to that Chicago couple, the one who had to cancel their big wedding.  Their names are Emily Bugg and Billy Lewis.  They ultimately decided to get married in a small city hall ceremony, but they were stuck with a $5,000 catering deposit. So, they had the caterer make meals, only this time they requested a Thanksgiving theme and donated them all 200 of them to people with serious mental illness and substance use problems.  The caterer said she was used to couples trying to get their money back, not fully appreciating the time and resources that go into preparing for a wedding or big event, so this came as an inspiring surprise, one that took care of the caterers and some of the hungrier people in the community. 

            That is enough of a feelgood story for many.  Singular good deed done, and everyone can feel good about the situation.  What makes it extra powerful, prophetic even, is this was not a one-time generous act.  This is the way of being for this couple.  It’s not always dramatic, but then again most life isn’t.  It’s just the daily hard work of preparing a garden you might say.  Emily Bugg is an outreach worker at “Thresholds,” a Chicago nonprofit dedicated to helping people with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression.  They serve elderly folks, many veterans, and those who experience homelessness.  The work is dedicated to changing the conditions, living out the proclamation that the poor and struggling know we love them, we haven’t forgotten them.  Their story was so inspiring that a man whose retirement party had been canceled learned of it and decided to put his deposit toward Thresholds to feed the hungry, this time in the form of Christmas meals.[1]

            How can we acknowledge our losses this season and turn them into a gain for someone else, to spread justice with joy?


[1] https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/06/us/wedding-deposit-to-feed-needy-trnd/index.html

Quotes, Questions & Prompts for Reflection, Discussion, and Prayer

“God is with us (Jesus points beyond himself to the source of love and power in the universe); God is with us (on our side, working with us, not instead of us, to bring justice and fulfillment to all); and God is with us (all of us, not just privileged human beings, but all people and all other life forms, especially the needy).”
- Sally McFague

1. What does Jesus’ coming mean to you?

2. What does Jesus’ coming mean to the world?

3. What response does Jesus’ coming ask of us?

4. To whom, and for whom, is Jesus’ coming directed?

5. What does Jesus have to do with justice?