When I was in college, and a part of Campus Crusade for Christ, we would share the Gospel using a tract called “The Four Spiritual Laws.” Law One is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” I found law one to be incredibly good news because as a freshman student I had no clue where my life was headed. So I was more than glad to hear that God had a plan for me.
But this idea of law one poses a question. Is it possible to miss God’s plan? Our lesson today from Isaiah would indicate that it is possible and that is why Isaiah is delivering such a strong message. As we look into this passage it is important to see that Israel didn’t miss God’s plan due to a simple oversight or because they were in the right place but at the wrong time. No, Israel didn’t miss God’s plan because of a mistake, they missed God’s plan because of grievous sin.
But let’s back up. The verses that come before our reading today show us what God’s plan was for Israel. It begins in Isaiah 2:1
It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD.
The LORD had chosen Israel to be a model for how life should be lived and how the kingdom of God would unfold on the earth. He would be their God and they would be His people. They would learn His ways and walk in His path and others nations would be drawn to Him through their example. But Israel failed to meet that plan.
Although Israel failed the plan would be enacted when the Messiah of Israel appeared. It is noteworthy that a number of Church Father, such as Cyril of Jerusalem, Theodoret, Augustine and Gregory the Great all interpreted the mountain that Isaiah speaks about as a metaphor for Jesus. They also interpreted the line “For out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” as a reference to the Gospel being preached. The Old Law came out of Sinai while the New Law, which is the New Commandment, comes out of Zion or Jerusalem. And then it goes to Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth so that all the nations could walk in the light of God.
Additionally Christ and His kingdom will be marked by peace. “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,and their spears into pruning hooks;nation shall not lift up sword against nation,neither shall they learn war anymore.” That is a stark contrast from the kingdoms and empires of this world that only know how to expand their power by the use of the sword.
Because Israel chose to walk in her own ways, the prophet Isaiah is calling her out. He mentions three areas before he addresses their issue that we read today.
First Isaiah confronts Israel for her compromising ways that resulted in unfaithfulness towards the LORD. Verse 2:6“For you have rejected your people…because they are full of things from the east and of fortune tellers like the Philistines and they strike hands with the children of strangers”. They were supposed to be a unique people, like a city set on a hill. But instead their dealings with the pagan people and their syncretism caused them to adopt pagan ways and Israel lost her uniqueness. She ended up looking like all of the other nations.
Second Isaiah confronts them for their materialism. Verse 2:7 “Their land is filled with silver and gold and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses and there is no end to their chariots.” As St Chrysostom pointed out, “The prophet was not criticizing the use of their possessions but the misuse of them.” There is a vast difference between the wisdom to acquire wealth and the wisdom to use wealth correctly in a godly manner and with godly priorities.
Third Isaiah confronts them for their idolatry. Verse 2:8 “Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands to what their fingers have made.” St. Augustine commenting on this passage reminds us that idols are not just statues. We can make gods of just about anything that acts as the ruling factor in our lives.
But their syncretism, materialism and idolatry are just symptoms. In the verses that we have before us today Isaiah confronts the true illness which is pride. Verse 2:11. “The haughty looks of man shall be brought love and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the LORD alone will be exalted on that day.”
Isaiah’s references to the cedars of Lebanon, fortified walls and the ships of Tarshish are about the things that men look to in order to undergird their might and power, which in turn increases their pride. If Isaiah had been prophesying to Rednecks he would be speaking of four wheelers, bass boats and AR-15s.
And what is God’s answer to such things? The LORD repeats Himself. Verse 2:11 “The haughtiness of people shall be humbled, and the pride of everyone will be brought low; and the LORD alone will be exalted on that day.”
Since the Church is the New Israel it is worth asking ourselves what Isaiah would prophecy to us today. Would he find compromise and syncretism with the world? Would he find materialism or secret idols? Above all would he find pride?
Sadly the answer is yes, in varying degrees. We see all kinds of compromise and syncretism in the mainline denominations, as well as non-denominational churches that causes them to be extensions of the world rather than lights to it.
Sadly I have seen abounding pride in some neo Anglican church plants. I visited one on a Sunday evening to see what was being planted and I left discouraged. It met in a beautiful stone Presbyterian Church but you would not know that we were in sacred space. Men had their hats on and everyone was milling around in the Nave with either the mandatory cup of coffee or giant water jug. You would have thought they were hydrating to cross the Sahara. Conversations were very loud which made prayer and preparation for the Sacrament very difficult.
When the service began there was very little about it that indicated it was Anglican. That is because the goal of such churches is to be seen as woke and hip. Not only were no vestments there was not even a clerical collar in the room. But of course the leaders’ long sleeve shirts were rolled up in order to reveal tattoos to give them street cred.
I couldn’t tell who the priest was until he popped up from the congregation to give the absolution. Various women stepped into the pulpit to lead different parts of the liturgy, but it did not come close to following the Book of Common Prayer. They wrote their own version of the Prayers of the People offering prayers that were filled with virtue signaling.
What bothered me the most was that the “Worship Team”, dressed like a grunge band, was up in the Sanctuary where the altar should have been. Instead the Body and Blood of Christ were placed at floor level on a folding table.
St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians saying,“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”For generations clergy have attempted to be faithful to learn and then pass on the teachings and traditions of our fathers. But this new crop of neo Anglican clergy evidently thinks it is more important to be hip and relevant than it is to be faithful. That is nothing more than pride and that is why it is so important for our parish to hold the line and to plant other churches so that we are able to preserve and pass on the treasures with which we have been entrusted. These traditions were given to the Church by the Holy Spirit must not be lost.
A cautionary note, however. It is just as possible for us to slip into pride about keeping our traditions. This kind of pride will turn us from stewards of treasures into liturgical experts, and as they taught us in seminary, the difference between a liturgical expert and a terrorist is that you can negotiate with a terrorist. This kind of pride is to be avoided at all costs because when it takes root in a vibrant church it turns that church into a museum.
So how do we avoid this grievous sin of pride? In this Gospel lesson, Matthew 10:34-42, Jesus mentions two things and who better to go to than the Jesus who described Himself as “meek and lowly of heart” ?
First He challenges us to be honest about who is sitting on the throne of our lives. He makes it clear that there is only room for one. If it is my ego that is sitting on the throne of my life then I am in trouble. He said, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
I lose my life by getting off of the throne of my life. But if I decide to abdicate the throne of my life and instead give it to anyone or anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ, then I am still in trouble. Even if it looks like a noble choice it is still wrong. “Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me….”
Thus we defeat pride when we not only take ourselves off of the throne of our lives but also remove anything else that could be an idol. How do you know if it is an idol? Look at what kind of priority you give it in your life. Consider what kind of influence it has over you? Does it receive the best of your time and treasure and talent? If you take an honest look at your life and conclude that God is your co-pilot then for heaven’s sake swap seats. St. Benedict had a very simple rule for his life. “Prefer nothing to Christ.”
The second thing that Jesus makes reference to in this passage that directly strikes at the heart of pride is having a will to serve. “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” Of course Jesus is the perfect model for the heart of a servant and we are commended to follow His example. St. Paul writes to the Church in Philippi, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus:Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant…”
It is especially noteworthy, that on the night before He was crucified, one of the last lessons that Jesus taught His disciples was when He rose from supper, laid aside His outer garment, wrapped a towel around His waist and washed the disciples’ feet….including Judas’ feet.
How do you know if you are following His example? By answering the question, “Whose feet do I wash?”
Including St. Brigid’s we have trained 5 men to answer the call to the priesthood. We have trained them to be servants to the servants of God, and that is a good thing. But I equally celebrate that we have had three women in our parish to answer the call to be nurses. Debbie, her daughter Brianna and most recently Sheryl Findley. What examples they are of servants. From saving lives to cleaning up vomit they take on tasks that most of us would never do.
What about Beth and Charmaine and Amy and the social workers of this parish? They deal with people at some of the worst times in their lives and they do so for little money and even less appreciation.
What about the Craig, Suzanne, Jim and the police in our parish? I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do their job, especially in this current dangerous climate. It is a shameful climate that should be beneath the dignity of our nation. And yet every day they literally risk laying down their lives for us.
What about Wayne, Amanda, Rachel and the teachers in our parish? These servants who are raising up the next generation. Too often theirs is also a thankless job.
If we had the proper priorities as a society we would take professional athletes on one side and nurses, social workers, police and teachers on the other side and we would swap their salaries.
My point is that there are many, many ways to be a servant beyond being a cleric. Nor does your role as a servant have to be rooted in the social sciences. Our financial manager at Raymond James has the heart of a servant. Instead of telling us what to do with our investments he asks about our goals and then helps us to make them a reality. I do worry about him a little bit because I am not sure that he is old enough to have a driver’s license but he has been a great help to us.
In fact you can be a servant even if you are not dealing directly with people at all. You can be a servant if you have a paint brush in your hand all day and never talk to a soul. How can that be? St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” So whatever you do, do it as if you were doing it for the Lord. If you are a painter then paint that house as if it is the Lord’s house. If you are a cook, offer those aromas to God as savory incense. If you clean tables in a restaurant then clean them as if they were heavenly banquet tables. If whatever you do you do it as if you are serving the Lord, then you still are washing feet and crucifying pride at the same time.
I truly believe that the Lord loves you and has a wonderful plan for your lives. But pride can prevent you from discovering that plan. Making Him the Lord of your life and developing a servant’s heart will not only defeat pride but also it will open a door and He will show you the way. The Lord will say to you as He said to the house of Jacob, “Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.”