AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
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A 3-Minute Read
by Katherine Carrier
The heart of God, as voiced through the prophets comes to us fresh in 2022 with vivid language unfolding like a poem, layered, pointed, prescriptive, and descriptive. As we approach All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween, consider the chilling words from Isaiah in chapter 59:4–6.
No one cares about being fair and honest.
the people’s lawsuits are based on lies.
They conceive evil deeds
and then give birth to sin.
The hatch deadly snakes
and weave spiders’ webs.
Whoever eats their eggs will die;
whoever cracks them will hatch a viper.
Their webs can’t be made into clothing,
and nothing they do is productive. (NLT)
Years and years later we get the great poet Dr. Seuss describing the Grinch as having “spiders in his soul.” Apparently, that which chills us humans has not changed much through history. Back up just one chapter in Isaiah and hear the Lord inviting people into true worship, not just a costume for others to see:
No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help. (Isaiah 58:6–7, NLT)
As with the words of so many prophets, this is such a smack down—“and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” Yikes! How many cheeks burned on hearing this?
Isaiah’s long poem pleads with people to worship God alone and to administer justice and mercy. Micah and Amos call for humility and merciful living in often quoted passages:
But let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24 NASB)
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 NASB)
The people receiving the prophecies didn’t want to hear these acerbic words. Yet the words flowed. Still, the people continued to seek out the man-made gods forgetting the Creator and Sustainer, Who kept calling them back, through the words of the prophets. If we look closely at their gods today, at their social structures, we may recognize symbols and systems the modern person relies on for personal gain and pleasure.
Many of these prophets were ordinary people who were pressed upon by God to deliver a message. Amos admitted, “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs.” The Lord revealed to Amos a coming famine, and not a famine of food but “of hearing the words of the Lord,” “where people will stagger from sea to sea and wander from border to border searching for the word of the Lord…” (Amos 8:11–13).
After so many prophesies of Messiah, we get Word made flesh in Jesus, an unlikely Messiah, and a new covenant. How new is the covenant? Reading the lines of the prophets, it’s hard to miss the grace and mercy that Jesus brought in the flesh. God’s heartbeat revealed through the prophets was always redemption and reconciliation; God’s heartbeat was justice and mercy, and for us to join in on the love and grace for humanity.
But we have Jesus in the flesh. His words are as pointed as the hated prophets: “Woe to you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness… you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness…” (from the Eight Woes in Matthew 23). And to round out the Halloween vibes, here we have a picture of zombies, really, dead men walking around sucking the life out of everyone around them, in the name of religion.
And yet those who heard Jesus, who believed, who followed, they entered life full, abundant and eternal, a whirlwind of revolution that would turn the world upside down. And now here we are, today, caught up in the grace of God, asking ourselves in our little house churches how we can address big needs in the community around us, how we can answer the call to justice, mercy and faithfulness. Like Amos, we are ordinary people with a call of God on us.
I appreciated Keith Jennings’ words for our Milton house church Sunday, to notice what’s going on around us. He called us into a time of listing where we have interactions with other humans, what needs are all around us, and ways to serve. This was an opening discussion. His encouragement was to not be weary of the breadth of need but to notice, prayerfully, what needs are around and how our gifts and giftedness may intersect with helping someone.
As we all begin to notice, in a posture of prayer, God will show us needs and show us ways to serve. As Frederick Buechner wrote: “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” Perhaps we can apply this to how we serve.
Perhaps there is a famine today, like Amos wrote, of seeing the Word of God, the Word made flesh, entering the community and working for justice; co-laboring to feed, clothe and house people in need; giving attention and resources to the poor, the orphans, the widows, the strangers.
Altogether we possess great wealth: time, talent, money, experience, connections, energy. And most notable, we share The Spirit of the Living God. We come into communion, share community and have the ability to co-mission with God, and together, to bring hope and healing to a broken world.
Here are just a few resources to consider as we embark on this commission:
See some wonderful ministries in action and read Anglican Church white papers on framing discussions around needs and also on meeting modern-day needs: AnglicanJusticeandMercy.com
Some books to help without hurting:
When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fokker
Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton
And for me, one of the most influential books on serving is The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.
Finally, a prayer, from the Anglican Justice and Mercy website cover page and from the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, you created us in your own image: Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and help us to use our freedom rightly in the establishment of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
Book of Common Prayer 2019