Kahu's Mana‘o

Keawala’i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Isaiah 58:1-9a & Matthew 5:13-20

“Salt & Light”

Brett Younger is an Associate Professor of Preaching at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Younger contends that our reading from The Book of the Prophet Isaiah is “a harsh unequivocal call for religious people to worship in a way that leads them to care for the hurting.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010, page 315) Like Professor Younger, others contend that churches that offer only comfort and no challenge become churches that “begin to value survival more than courage.” (Op. cit., page 317)

We gather each week and say our prayers. Sometimes the prayers are written out. In some, they are not even thought out.

We all sing, some with instruments; some only with voice. There are usually three hymns and the Doxology or the Gloria Patri. Some sing old hymns, others only sing contemporary hymns. Some only sing a dozen different choruses.

Some people kneel. Others dance and in other churches, no one moves except to stand up and sit down.

For the prophet Isaiah it doesn’t matter what our worship style or practice may be. That is not what pleases or offends God.

What matters most is that we are filled with God’s love and grace and as a consequence of our worship we are able to go forth to share that love and grace in a broken world. Worship without the willingness to embrace justice and what it means for us to be disciples of Jesus Christ is not worship.

Carol Dempsey, a Professor of Theology & Biblical Studies at the University of Portland in Oregon reminds us of the kind of fast that Isaiah contends that God desires most when she writes: “ . . . the fast desired is outreach to those in need, which involves not only feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for one’s own, but also addressing the attitudes and structures responsible for injustices.” (Op. cit., page 316)

Some of us grow weary of listening to Isaiah. Why should we care about what happens to others? We have our own bills to pay. We have our own work to do. We all struggle.

Who is Isaiah to criticize others for the ways in which they treat their workers? Who is he to accuse others of being selfish or to question their desire to please God with their prayer and fasting?

We know that during Isaiah’s time the temple in Jerusalem was filled with those who came to sing psalms, to pray and to give their offerings. What they did not do was let worship trouble their conscience. (Ibid.) Instead, they choose to ignore the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the naked.

Isaiah is instructed to go and blow the trumpet and to shout out to the people that their worship means nothing unless they care for others. If Isaiah’s initial words sound harsh, how would we respond to Professor Younger’s call to worship? “I hope you are not planning to go through the motions in worship,” he writes, “singing the songs but never engaging your hearts, hearing the Scriptures but not listening for God, or giving an offering but not giving yourselves, because if so, you are not doing God any favors. You do not get points for attendance. If you really worship God today, then you will share with the poor, listen to the lonely, and stop avoiding those in need.”

Yikes! And Professor Younger adds if we are not here to give ourselves God and to others, then we should have stayed at home.

But if we respond to the needs of others, Isaiah points out that light, healing and protection will come to those who care for others. It is through such caring that “the light will break forth like the dawn.” (Isaiah 58:8)

Echoes of Isaiah’s words find resonance in the words of Jesus that come to us from reading from The Gospel According to Matthew. Jesus says to the disciples and others who have gathered to hear him speak: “Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father (sic) who in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Attention is to be drawn not to themselves but to God.

I know of those whose light shines.

My dog, Hanu, and I walk every morning and every evening around Wailuku town for an hour each time. We have gotten to known the town very well. We know where the bumps and cracks are on every sidewalk. We know what coconut trees get visited by other dogs out on their walks.

Not far from our home is a tiny park in the heart of town. Every Saturday a truck and a van from Feed My Sheep is there to distribute food to the hungry. Those waiting include a cross section of residents – men, women and children; the elderly; the poor; the unemployed, veterans; and the mentally ill. Down the block a sign at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church announces a free meal every Sunday.

On the other side of Wailuku town is Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center on Waiaele Road. I know in the work that was done by Karen Rollins over the last several years with our youth, they were among those who volunteered at the center to prepare and serve food to the homeless.

Some of you serve as volunteers in the kitchen at Hale Kau Kau at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Kïhei. Others serve as drivers delivering meals to shut-ins throughout South Maui. And our own Outreach Committee provides support for individuals and families in need here on Maui as well as on Moloka‘i and Läna‘i through its own work supporting the Maui Food Bank and the Food Pantry at Keolahou Congregational Hawaiian Church in North Kïhei.
The effort by so many is done quietly but not without notice. More help is always needed.

Isaiah reminds us: “If you offer food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:10) As we gather to share the bread and the cup that is set before us on this day may we be strengthened and sustained in our work so that, in time, the darkness will be overcome by the light and all will give glory to God who is in heaven.


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