Breach Repairers from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
1Shout out, do not hold back! Lift your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.
2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways,
As if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
They ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.
3”Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.
4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.
5Is such the fast I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
6Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9Then you shall call and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10If you offer your 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.
11The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail.
12Your 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 live in.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
13You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
17Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come to not abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19therefore, whoever breaks one of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
There’s a breach in the family. Two brothers get into a fight. One of them leaves the First Presbyterian Church of Lowell, walks down the street and founds Covenant Presbyterian Church.
A family is reconciled. Two congregations put aside their wounds. They petition the Presbytery to dissolve both churches, and to organize a new congregation in that town. “This was a move that had long been desired by the Presbytery because two comparatively small churches of the same denomination in a small village made for too much competition and thereby weakened both.” The Presbytery approves both motions, and our congregation is chartered. June 8, 1947.
We are a reconciled church split. We are formed and formatted as repairers of the breech. In our denomination most congregations are plants from other places. A church decides “we’re going to send some funds, and some resources, and some members to this other place, and start and new congregation.” But we are a congregation born from people stepping our of their entrenched positions to embrace their brothers and sisters.
It doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t stop at our founding. Our history is dripping with stories of people coming together around a breach that needs repairing. The prophet Isaiah offers this same heritage to the house of Jacob.
There’s not much I could add to what Isaiah says that would make God’s point more clear. These words speak as clearly in The 21st Century United States as they did to Israel in the 6th Century BC. Seems like people have not changed all that much over the last 2700 years. "Shout out, do not hold back! Lift your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins."
We talked about this passage at length at Lunch bunch on Tuesday, that’s a conversation in which I would love more of our congregation to participate. When we read this together, everyone was able to instantly imagine Isaiah issuing this invective in our own context.
It was easy to put ourselves in the place of the prophet, grabbing at Isaiah's heels so that we could steer his message towards those who, we know, have it wrong. We want to announce to other people their rebellion. Maybe that's why, as once lunch buncher pointed out, there's so much shouting today.
It was more difficult for us to identity our own sins, the places where Isaiah speaks again us. It’s not that the lunch bunch folks were unwilling to do that, but that we were out of practice, like we didn’t know how. “Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways."
There are Christians on both sides of most issues. Their worship, their study of scripture, their experience of the world, has brought them to the place they are. Their heart is in the right place - "they delight to draw near to God." But sometimes we’re out of practice in doing what God expects of us. The liberal who paints scripture on her protest sign and the conservative who seeks to enshrine it in courthouses are both doing so from religious conviction. But, Isaiah reminds us, that doesn't make either of them right.
"Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high." When our religious practices, when our use of scripture, turns us against each other, we are not being faithful. We are baptizing our biases and calling it righteousness.
That kind of self-righteousness will not make our voice heard on high. That kind of self-righteousness announces the sins of one part of God’s house while ignoring our own. That kind of self-righteousness hides the light of Christ under the proverbial bushel basket.
I don't think Conservatives get to claim that Jesus is on their side. Neither do liberals get to say that Jesus was one of them. I have seen posts to both effects on social media. But if we look around the Church, if we look around our congregation, we can see that Jesus chose both conservatives and liberals to be on his side. That’s a different thing.
Presbyterian theology emphasizes God’s freedom to do whatever God wants. It’s an advantage of being sovereign. That’s where our theology begins. “God is God, he can do what he wants.” That means that God can speak through anyone God chooses. The way we make decisions in our tradition is to gather as many different voices around the table so that we have every opportunity to hear God speak, whether from a conservative perspective, a liberal one, or beyond the false binaries that divide our ways of thinking.
Scripture is not meant to drive divisiveness. I don't believe God is much interested in choosing sides. After all, Christ has already chosen us for his side through the cross and the empty tomb. It's up to us to act like it. It's up to us, in response to what God has already done, ”to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.”
And if we’re going to do this thing, we’ve got to do it together. No more laying the burden on others, “remove the yoke from among you.” No more accusing one another, “the pointing of the finger.” No more name calling, “the speaking of evil.” Our calling will require all of the people whom God has gathered into the Church: from the very old to the very young, from the very left to the very right, from the lifelong members to the new converts.
When Jesus calls us the salt of the earth, he’s obviously using that image to remind us that we have a purpose. Our purpose is built into who we are. We are among other things, a reconciled church split. If we lose sight of that, if we lose our capacity to be ourselves, then we’ve lost our taste. “if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”
So, do we still have our salt? Do we still have the faith to love our neighbors, even though we have our differences? Do we still have the faith to hold on to our particular perspectives without letting go of one another? Do we still have the faith to be breach repairers, even when we know that it means connecting across cultural divides?
I believe we do. We’ve got a chance once again to practice who we are.
There’s a breach in our nation. President Trump is in office, and has proved himself to be a lightning rod of controversy. Our fellow Americans are out in the streets crying out for justice. Other Americans, also our fellow citizens, tell them to be quiet, the election is over and it’s time to get in line behind the President and the Congress whom we all have elected.
That breach is deep.
But the people who are the Presbyterian Church of Lowell are so thoroughly qualified to address it. This is not a singular moment in our congregation’s history. We were born in a repaired breach, and we have walked together through each breach that has opened in our history, time and time again. We have been empowered by the love God has for us, holding on to the love we have for one another.
The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has lit us up, and God has put us on a lampstand so that we might provide Christ's light to the whole house.
We’re not going to do it by pretending we’re something we’re not. We’re going to do it by actually being who we are, not First Presbyterian Church of Lowell, not Covenant Presbyterian Church of Lowell. The Presbyterian Church of Lowell, a reconciled church split, looking out into the world and saying “Look! It’s possible. We’re different, we’re diverse, we come from many different places, and we are One in Christ Jesus.”
That’s not who we can be, that’s who we are already. We will continue to reflect the light of Christ, we will continue to not hide who we are, by loving one another, no matter where we fall on a political issue, no matter how we disagree on a theological one. We may have disputes, but those disputes will not divide us. We are not divided. We are reconciled.
Thanks be to God for that.