Sunday, August 11, 2013

but I obey most of the law ...

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Imagine for a moment you're the kind of person who likes to drive a bit too fast. That, and maybe talk on your mobile phone while you're driving sometimes. Most of the time you get away with it; but every so often you get caught. Grumbling you pay the fine and accept the penalty points on your licence. Time goes by and you realise that you're up to ten – only two more points and you lose your licence! That makes you drive more carefully for a while; but then your nature gets the better of you; you start putting the foot down; and after a while you get a letter in the post saying you've been caught speeding on camera. Your options are to accept the penalty, which means two points; or challenge it in court which means four. And since accepting it means certainly losing your licence, you decide to go to court.

Of course, you have no real defence and the judge doesn't waste any time telling you that. 'But, before I give my judgement,' he says, 'have you anything further to say? Anything that might act in mitigation?'

You think hard. Then you slowly say:

'Well, your honour, if you convict me, I'm going to lose my licence. And I really don't think that's fair. I know I don't obey all the rules of the road – but I obey most of them. I never drive without insurance; I always have my car taxed and NCT'd*; and, other than the speeding and using the mobile phone, I'm quite good about following the rules. So I think it would be a bit harsh for me to lose my licence.'

How likely is it that the judge would be impressed by your defense?  Personally, I'm pretty sure that you'd be walking home from the courthouse! Why? Because plain common sense dictates that obeying part of the law doesn't justify breaking the rest. If it did, where would one draw the line? Would keeping 90% make ignoring the remaining 10% OK? What about 80-20? Or 70-30? And who would decide which bits were fine to disobey and which weren't? Obviously, such a regime would be chaotic. Which is why when it comes to playing by the rules, it has to be an all or nothing proposition.

That's what's going on in our reading from Isaiah today. God, speaking through the prophet says: I know you make the sacrifices required by the law; I know you worship the way you're supposed to; and that you say your prayers. Great. But guess what? You can keep your sacrifices – I don't want your sheep, your cattle, your incense, your offerings of grain. And I refuse to listen to your prayers. Why? Because there's more to holy living than that. And you've forgotten about that. You don't care about other people. You've forgotten about the poor and vulnerable. You don't care that your society is unjust. You should be the defender of the oppressed, but you are not. In fact, there's blood on your hands from the way you do nothing while others go hungry or are exploited – all of your, people and rulers alike. Do you think your prayers and worship make up for all the other evil you do? They do not! In fact, it makes them an abomination in my sight. I have to close my eyes so I don't see them. You may like to think a bit of worship and prayer adds up to a holy life and makes sin in other areas all right. But it doesn't. As far as I'm concerned you are no different to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Strong words. As they should be. Because there is no point in mincing words on topics like this. We have a lot to lose if chose to reject God's law. But it doesn't have to be like that. Isaiah reminds us that there is hope for us all: 
though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. With repentance comes forgiveness. And of course, Gods wants us to repent and obtain forgiveness. That's why he sent us the prophets who continue to speak to us today through Scripture. That's why we hear Jesus say in today's Gospel: Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. But in order to attain that kingdom, we must lead lives that earn us an unfailing treasure in heaven. But God himself supplies us the grace needed to lead the life he desires us all would lead. A grace that I pray that all here will be open to receive – and a life that I pray here will be willing to lead. In Jesus' name. Amen. 

*National Car Test - Irish vehicle safety test


  1. Welp, you've reprimanded me twice today (justifiably so).

    I do generally speed (while paying attention to all other road laws) and I could certainly use a refresher on making sure I'm loving ALL of God's children... not just those ones that are easiest and closest.

    Good reflection (and comparison) for sure!

  2. haha!
    of course, I was just using speeding as an example, and not pointing a finger at anyone ...
    the best thing anyone has said to me in a long while after a sermon came after this one. As I was leaving the church (my third of the day) my eldest son, sitting in the car next to me, said: 'You know, that was a really good sermon today.'
    That put a smile on my face and a glow in my heart ... the only downside is: what does he think of my other sermons then? :-)