Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Will the Piety of Sunday Produce a Passion for Justice on Monday?

This is part of a sermon preached by John Piper on Isaiah 58 and you can listen to the whole sermon at the link provided at the end of this except of his talk.

There is a well-known sermon that many of you have heard about the pain of Good Friday turning into the joy of Easter, called "Sunday’s comin’!" The refrain occurs over and over, "It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’!" Well, we need another sermon to become well-known, namely, "It’s Sunday, but Monday’s comin’!" We’re here with our voices lifted and our heads bowed and our prayers rising! What does God think of it? You’ll find out tomorrow: "It’s Sunday, but Monday’s comin’!" Will the piety of Sunday produce a passion for justice on Monday? That’s the question of Isaiah 58.
Then in verses 6-7 and 9b-10a Isaiah tells us what the social justice and practical mercy look like that please God. "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 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 him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?" Then look in the middle of verse 9: "If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted."

Five Kinds of Human Need for Passionate Concern

In addition to the all-important need for faith and forgiveness and personal holiness, there are five kinds of human need that Isaiah – and Jesus – are passionately concerned about. 1) The need for freedom from bondage and oppression. Four times in verse 6 and once in verse 9 he hits on this. Verse 6: "Loose the bonds of wickedness, undo the straps of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, break every yoke." Verse 9b: "Take away the yoke from your midst." 2) The need for food. Verse 7a: "Is it not to share your bread with the hungry?" 3) The need for housing. Verse 7b: "[Is it not] to bring the homeless poor into your house?" 4) The need for clothing. Verse 7c: "[Is not this the fast I choose:] When you see the naked, to cover him?" 5) The need for respect. Verse 9b: "Take away . . . the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness." In other words, stop accusing unjustly and belittling and exploiting.
Isaiah preaches justice to the people of God, and Jesus displays justice to the people of God and suffers to cleanse and empower the people of God, so our piety will produce a passion for social justice and practical mercy. If it doesn’t, our piety is empty. And if it does – if our faith and love and devotion to Christ do produce a passion freeing the oppressed, and feeding the hungry, and housing the homeless, and clothing the naked, and putting away belittling talk and demeaning gestures – then, O Bethlehem, you will break forth like the dawn.
All the rest of this text is promise for what good things happen in our lives when we give ourselves away to others in the cause of justice and mercy. And we know from the fulfillment of this prophecy in Jesus that this does not mean we earn God’s blessings. God himself, through Christ, purchases them for us at the cross and empowers us to fulfill the conditions for them. Verse 8: If you give yourself away to bring justice and mercy in the world, instead of just living for your own comforts,
"Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am.'." [He continues in the middle of verse 10:] "then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 11 And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in."

Descriptions and Dreams of Who We Want to Be

Is this not a beautiful description of what we would like to experience as a people in Roseville and downtown Minneapolis:
  • light in darkness,
  • healing for wounds,
  • righteousness in front and the glory of God behind,
  • a God who hears when we cry to him,
  • guidance from the Lord,
  • satisfaction for our souls in scorched places,
  • our very bones made strong for battle,
  • being so watered by the Lord that we become a spring of water for others to drink and find refreshment,
  • being used by God to rebuild what has been destroyed and make a place of life and hope.
To me it is amazing that all this and more is promised to people whose piety produces a passion for God-exalting justice and practical mercy. So, Bethlehem (Roseville attenders and downtown attenders) dream a dream for you and your family and your friends for how you can
  • free the oppressed
  • feed the hungry
  • house the homeless
  • clothe the naked,
  • and put an end to belittling gestures and words.
This is the will of God, this is the work of Christ, and this is the way to break forth like the dawn. Amen

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