Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost + Affirmation of Vocation

Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost + Affirmation of Vocation
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry….and not to hide yourself from your own kin (Isa 58:7)

August 21, 2022
By: Pr. Sergio Rodriguez

Let us give thanks, for indeed our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a consuming fire. Amen.

God wants you to ask questions!

The kind of questions that rebuild ancient ruins (Isa 58:12a) that build-bridges that lay a foundation upon that chief cornerstone (Ps 118:22), Christ. In so doing, God names you,“Repairer of the breach, Restorer of the streets to live in (Isa 58:12b).” Jesus himself, when challenged as to why he would heal on the sabbath, asked a restorative question: “Ought not She…be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?(Lk 13:16)”

God wants you to ask these restorative questions!

Can simple questioning restore our soul of the world we inhabit? The students and leadership of our campus ministry are not naïve in this sense. Rather, questions allow for one to reckon with the very visible cracks fissuring our life together. Questioning opens us up to the potential of something or someone new. Lutheran Campus Ministry puts this questioning thusly: we embody God’s compassionate embrace…by enabling members of Rice University to engage with big questions. To engage with the world as it truly is in this present moment. Big questions. Restorative moments.

The sacred circle of Oaks, that is the Rice track, may not easily convey the sense of restorative moments. Big questions, of course. Innovative solutions at the medical center. Yes! Challenging Christian Nationalism, or institutional racism, or LGBTQIA+-phobia, may not be easily perceived. In my time as Campus Minister at Rice University, I can testify to the way that the Spirit is restoring and transforming our world through these compassionate students. We simply need to listen and see. See how God’s grace appears at the university like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail (Isa 58:11). So as this academic year starts anew, the Spirit of God presses us with her own question, knowing that its answer does lie among the feet that walk the quad:

“Is this not the fast that 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?
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 them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin (Isa 58:7)?”

God wants you to listen and to see how transformative questions roll down like water, and restoration like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24, my interpretation). But even more so, to know deep with your being how to see like God see your neighbors. Jesus answers this question for us, in a prayer. A prayer that we may be with him and see him as he truly is in our neighbor: Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory (Jn 17:24a). Who are we, as a collective whole, are not seeing? Who does not want to be seen?

My sermon, “A Beautiful Day in God’s Neighborhood,” stresses that our transformation in Christ occurs as we are being restored to our neighbor. Isaiah pressed the people to see that they needed a fuller vision for life in God. Only God may restore us to embody God’s beautiful Day. A truly sabbath day when God’s neighborhood restores us to our dignity as siblings. Let’s be neighbors then!

Is it a beautiful day for my neighbor?

What was the state of God’s neighborhood when Isaiah uttered the promise: your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations for many generation? (Isa 58:12). Isaiah makes it clear. Day by day, the people worshiped in the temple (Isa 58:2). They fasted in order to recognize their lowly estate before God (Isa 58:3). King Cyrus had already tweeted out his Edict that God’s temple and people should rebuild the neighborhood. But of course, all was not as it appears. Isaiah is very shrewd. The people had built back but not necessarily better. They had served their own interest..and oppressed their workers…they quarreled and [yet] they bow downed the head like a bulrush (Isa 58:3-5). Their transformation did not include the restoration of the neighborhood.

Here’s my first point. We are transformed when we can see God’s vision for restoration. God’s beautiful neighborhood. It was not enough to fast from injustice. They had to truly embody God’s compassionate vision of the world. We heard this vision already: the loosening of the bonds of injustice…letting the oppressed go free… sharing your bread with the hungry, and bringing the homeless poor into your house and not to hide yourself from your kin?

God’s vision is that we see the hungry, the homeless and the affected as our own flesh and blood. As the grace we see to be restored to God’s coming neighborhood. Ask yourself this restorative question: How have I seen and received my neighbors? And further, what within me does not allow me to perceive my neighbor’s as gifts. Or as Jesus would, himself: just as you did it to one of the least of these who are the members of my neighborhood, you did it to me (Matt 25:40).

Let’s make the most of this beautiful day!

Here’s my second point. God restores us in Christ so that we may be Christ and receive Christ as we journey in this neighborhood. This neighborhood, God’s coming neighborhood, is here and now. When we allow for the Spirit to show us Christ and [do] not go our own ways, serving our own interests or pursuing evil affairs (Isa 58:13), our restoration starts to arise within our hearts. This is the deep transformation that Mary experienced when she sang of the Hungry being filled with good things and the humble are lifted up.

When the dignity of each person is respected and received as if Christ himself was among us, this is that coming beautiful day of the neighborhood. This is the Sabbath that Isaiah speaks of. When we can rest in God and through God in Christ. Jesus prays that we can abide in this so that we may be one, in God, in our neighbors, in a common hope: Christ in us and God in Christ, that we may become completely one (Jn 17:23).

What a beautiful Day in the neighborhood!Our students in the campus ministry can hear its sounds as we gather food for the immigrant families at the St. James Family Life Center.

God wants you to ask restorative questions! Our deep transformation and collective restoration are really two sides of the same coin. To ask and to be asked of. To see and to be seen by God. We all want to live into the equality of being children of God, unfettered by systemic ills or the threads of fate. I think through this time of planning, worshipping and waiting, we must learn to ask what it means to be restored to the streets that we live. And be firmly rooted in God’s neighborhood. Amen.