Isaiah 59:1-15


            “Truth stumbles in the public square.”  That is the prophet Isaiah’s summary phrase of ancient Israel’s moral situation.  He wrote to a post-exile community that was still reeling from losing their land and finding their way among the rule of others.  They were not a free people – by a long shot.  And their deliverance from Gentile dominance was not coming anytime soon, for a reason.  They still had not really dealt with their own problems.  They wanted salvation without confession, and freedom without repentance.  But Isaiah reminded them that their separation from God was a result of their violence, deceitfulness, and corrupt system of justice.  The Jews were neither pursuing peace, nor the common good.  There would be no deliverance apart from facing those sins and renouncing them.
             Without a virtuous citizenry, truth stumbles in the public square.  That is, if national morality and personal ethics are absent, truth erodes and any system of laws and justice devolve into a morass of selfish agendas and lack of concern for all persons.  People might haggle and disagree on what is the best way forward for a given nation, but if they do not begin with the foundation of truth and virtue, then violence is the ultimate outcome because people want what they want and do not give a damn about anything else.  They will kill and covet, but they will not get what they want since their motives are unethical and immoral.
             This is why the spiritual tools of prayer and fasting, confession and repentance, faith and public moral action must be the underlying conscience of a nation.  Without virtue, truth may stumble but will always be present to speak to power.  Government is designed as an institution to promote the common good of all citizens.  If divine intervention is necessary, the proper course of action is acknowledgment of transgressions.  
             Sovereign God, you are the invisible ruler among the nations.  Our sins are many and they bear witness against us that sound judgment has left the room.  Christ, have mercy upon us, and grant us your peace through the blessed Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Isaiah 57:14-21

            Our God is the ultimate expert on helping the helpless, giving hope to the hopeless, and healing the broken.  In this American post-election season, many, even throughout the world, have either great anxiety or great relief; they are in either in a terrible funk, or are quietly in jubilation.  But from whatever emotional place we find ourselves today, Scripture always has something to say to us that is relevant and real. 
 
            The Old Testament prophets give a word from God.  It is a word that is full of judgment, but laced with grace; it reveals a hard road, but assures that the road will be made level and passable.  Today let the words of Isaiah penetrate your weary soul, and let this word from the Lord become internalized as a steady ballast for your ever-swinging feelings:
 
14 God says, “Rebuild the road!
Clear away the rocks and stones
so my people can return from captivity.”
15 The high and lofty one who lives in eternity,
the Holy One, says this:
“I live in the high and holy place
with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.
16 For I will not fight against you forever;
I will not always be angry.
If I were, all people would pass away—
all the souls I have made.
17 I was angry,
so I punished these greedy people.
I withdrew from them,
but they kept going on their own stubborn way.
18 I have seen what they do,
but I will heal them anyway!
I will lead them.
I will comfort those who mourn,
19     bringing words of praise to their lips.
May they have abundant peace, both near and far,”
says the Lord, who heals them.
20 “But those who still reject me are like the restless sea,
which is never still
but continually churns up mud and dirt.
21 There is no peace for the wicked,”
says my God. (New Living Translation)
 

 

            Lord God Almighty, I trust you to save me.  Then, I will not be afraid.  My strength comes from you.  I will celebrate your greatness because you are here to help me through Jesus Christ my Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

John 5:19-29

            There are many things in this world of great importance:  how we govern ourselves as a free people in America; tackling issues of poverty, education, taxes, healthcare, terrorism, and international relations; local community relationships and business; the ability to go to work every day and make a decent contributive living; being a responsible citizen; and, loving and nurturing our families.  Yet, it is my unshakable conviction that the issue above all issues, the height of importance for every human being on planet earth, is our relation to God in Jesus Christ.  In short, people need the Lord.
 
            Jesus said, “I tell you for certain that everyone who hears my message and has faith in the one who sent me has eternal life and will never be condemned.  They have already gone from death to life.”  Seasons, eras, centuries, and even millennia come and go; people are born, live, and die; generations exist and then are no more; but Jesus is alive, and he continually lives bringing life from dust, beauty from ashes, and everlasting meaning from seeming meaninglessness.
 
            Today Jesus is still on the throne of all creation.  Right now Jesus remains attentive to people, even interceding for us at the right hand of his Father in heaven.  At this moment, God’s Holy Spirit roams the earth and continues to mysteriously and graciously apply all the redemptive consequences of Christ’s cross and resurrection to the lives of millions.  Sometimes we just need to remember what is really of ultimate significance in this old broken world.  If people need the Lord, then it only makes real sense to live in ways that foster connection with Jesus.  So, this morning I did what I do every morning:  began the day with Scripture reading, prayer, reflection, and gratitude – all done with the realization that Christ’s authority is real and pervasive, and his reign is supreme.
 

 

            Sovereign God, in Christ you rule all of creation, even when it feels like you are distant.  Your authority is both benevolent and all-powerful.  Thank you for deliverance from sin, life in the Spirit, and your eventual return.  To you be all glory, honor, and praise.  Amen.

2 John

            Perhaps it is ironically significant that today’s lectionary New Testament lesson is all about love.  After an acrimonious season of electoral politicking, and a forward look at some more of the same, we need the message of this oft forgotten little epistle.  And, so, yet another irony is that this brief letter is nestled in a place in the New Testament where few believers ever take a peek.  Perhaps love itself has become a forgotten virtue among the very people entrusted to uphold its beauty and grace.
 
            Everything in the Christian life rises and falls with love.  Even to say this is a gross understatement because God himself is love.  John is known as the Apostle of love, and he consistently and constantly espoused the primacy and permanence of love whenever he had the chance.  Truth and love must go together, always.  John says to the church, personified as a very special woman, “We love you because the truth is now in our hearts, and it will be there forever.”
 
            The true muster of the church and of individual believers is their love.  A profound lack of love is the litmus test that belies a faulty and heretical doctrine of Jesus.  No love is always the clue that there is going to be some impure teaching behind it.  The real enemy of Christ is the one who claims Christianity but does not love in either word or deed.  If we really want to love God, we will love one another, and vice-versa.
 

 

            Loving God, there is never a time when you do not love.  Let that same virtue dwell in me all the time, as well, so that the world will know there is a God in heaven who cares.  Amen.