Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Every day I wait. I wait for the train. I wait for the shuttle. I wait for my boss to be available. It's an unavoidable human calling, and our lot in life. It also seems to be a Christian vocation, a lowly part of life that is made holy, and almost a prayer. Jesus talks about it in this morning's Gospel this notion of waiting.
"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes"
Jesus would have those who follow wait, wait for a new manifestation of his presence. We do liturgical waiting. We wait during the season of Advent, and in a similar fashion we wait in Lent. In a sense we wait during these Sundays after Pentecostwe wait for all of this green of ordinary time to disappear and to enter again into the festival half of the year. We are a waiting church. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews mentions it in the second lesson:
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." We wait in faith and in hope that what has been promised will come. When Paul and the author of Hebrews were writing there was a fervent waiting in the church. There was a waiting that believed that Christ's coming again was around the corner. Indeed there are those yet today who harbor such hopes. For most of us however it's been a bit of a long wait, and the question begs to be asked, "What do we do in the meanwhile?"
Living in the meantime
The prophets waited, but their waiting was one of dread. As messengers of what God thought of the present time, they had the troublesome duty to announce that what was waited for was also something to be dreaded. They were of the opinion that judgment and punishment were in the wings, and they waited to be proved right.
Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, and the Isaiahs all had the same message, but there was a fundamental difference. They saw beyond the national God of Israel, and glimpsed at a God who knew no such boundaries. More than that, they saw a God who was ultimately concerned with justice.
"who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you, even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow."
While we wait upon God, the temptation is to fill the air only with our prayers and praises. But what is of real value? (A theme and question that continues from last Sunday) What is of real value? Our religiosity? Our being here? This morning?
Isaiah sees two things of value. And these things become our vocation while we wait on the Lord. The first of these things is Community, and it calls our attention to aspects of our community that often escape our eye: the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow. Are there some among who have not been oppressed by poverty, or racism, or sexism, or homophobia? Are there some among us who have not been abandoned my friends, or family, or society, sort of social orphans easily forgotten about? Are there some among us who have not been widowed by friends, lovers, husbands, wives, partners, parents, children who have been suddenly taken from us?
The second thing of value that Isaiah sees, and it is of special value to this community we have just described, is justice. And this is not a justice that we only wait for for ourselves. This is justice for the world. This is the justice that asks questions about our own or our national intent. This is justice that reacts with restrain, rather than anger. This is justice that is long-suffering that waits until it can be fully made real. These are Isaiah's things of value.
Living in our baptisms
When you enter this room, there is a clue for you at the door. It is a clue as to how to live in this time of waiting. It is a clue about the community we are to embody, and the justice that we are to bring. It is a simple bowl of water sitting on a table to your left as you come in the main entrance. Touch it! Get your finger wet, make your forehead wet, and remember that you are baptized.
This baptismal community of justice has been something a thing of value that Trinity Church has embodied ever since I first became acquainted with it. Out of this place and its rectors, priests, and people have flowed examples of community and justice for the hungry, for women, for gay and lesbian people, for the elderly, for those who suffer addiction, for those with AIDS, for those who need shelterthe list goes on.
We know about the community of baptism, because we embody it, and we remind everyone about it when they enter this place. It is an invitational community; it is not a restrictive one. It calls out, and gathers in. "Wherever you are on your spiritual journey"
There is also a justice about baptism. Augustine and others described this justice as the water that washed away original sin. I would describe baptismal justice as that justice which anticipates all, is prepared for all, and forgives all. This community and this justice that stems from the baptismal covenant is that which moves us in our waiting to wait upon others to serve them.
Take a moment and pull out of the rack in front of you the Book of Common Prayer, and turn to page 304. (Pause) There you will find the Baptismal Covenant that describes the justice that Isaiah and Jesus both speak of. It is described in the questions that are asked of the baptismal candidates just prior to the washing with water. Listen to these questions and what they call us to do:
1. Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? Establishment of the community gathered at cross and table.
2. Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Continuance and forgiveness for that same community
3. Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? And now comes the justice. The first aspect of justice, at least God's justice, is that there is forgiveness. Some of you know that lesson very well.
4. Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? The second aspect of baptismal justice is that it doesn't remain here with us, but should be passed freely, liberally, to those around us in city, nation, and world.
5. Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? And now the final aspect of baptismal justice is to extend to every person, friend or enemy, that same justice which God has extended first to us respect and dignity.
We are called not only to wait, but also to serve our communities with justice and forgiveness. It is our calling. We mention it every Sunday in our Mission Statement - "Serving others with grateful hearts". There is only one response. "I will, with God's help."