The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
What is the point of our faith if it doesn’t change the world? What is the point of believing in the God of grace, the God of hope, the God of love if that grace and hope and love aren’t manifesting in our lives and changing the world?
These are the questions Isaiah asks over and over again.
In our scripture today, we hear the voice of the people calling out to God:
Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?
And God answers:
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Your faith is a performance, God is telling the people. If you’re fasting in order to be seen fasting, if you’re fasting to seem like a faithful follower, your faith is a performance and nothing more.
Isaiah talks about fasting, but we could replace “fasting” with “coming to church on Sunday” or “reading the Bible every day” or “praying Morning Prayer daily.” It’s not that these things are bad things to do. It’s that if we’re praying Morning Prayer every day or reading the Bible regularly or coming to church every Sunday but we’re ignoring the fact that yet another Black man was brutally murdered by police in yet another routine traffic stop, then our faith is a performance and nothing more.
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.
Sometimes we need someone like Isaiah to get in our face and tell it like it is. To tell us that coming to church is the start of faith, not the end. This is practice, not the game. This is meal prep, not the main course. If we don’t take what we nurture here and live it in the world, then all we’re doing is performing and hoping God sees.
Because what we’re called to do is to live into the fullness of how God created us, and in doing so bringing the Kingdom of God into our world. Today's gospel says:
You are the light of the world. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Coming to church reminds us that we are the light of the world. But if we leave the practice of our faith here when worship is over, we’re putting our light under the bushel basket.
If we’re not calling to account people who hurt our neighbors, we’re putting our light under the bushel basket. If we’re not dismantling systems that harm our neighbors, we’re putting our light under the bushel basket.
White supremacy is a system that hides all lights under a bushel basket. White supremacy devalues Black and brown lives and dehumanizes all of us. Because it requires dehumanizing oneself in order to dehumanize another person. And yes, that system teaches Black folks to devalue other Black folks, to devalue and dehumanize themselves.
So when we hear that it was Black police officers who killed Tyre Nichols, we’re still talking about white supremacy. Because white supremacy is about who is in power. And those in power will give a hammer to anyone who is willing to protect that power.
You don’t think that Jews were complicit in protecting Roman power at the expense of other Jews in Jesus’ time? It was Jews who were hired to collect oppressive Roman taxes from their neighbors. It was a Jew who betrayed Jesus to the Romans and to his death.
It’s not about who holds the hammer, it’s about who is the nail.
I might sound angry, and I am. How many of our Black neighbors need to die, how many children need to lose their fathers, how many parents need to lose their sons before we decide to tear off the bushel baskets and demand that the light of all God’s people be seen?
Anger always points to injustice, real or imagined. It is not a sin to be angry any more than it is a sin to be sad. Jesus gets angry many times in our gospels. He flips over tables in the temple. “My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers,” he says. He gets angry at the Pharisees: “You hypocrites!” he says over and over again.
Justice puts the well-being of people over profit, according to Jesus. Justice puts the well-being of people over rules, according to Jesus. And when that doesn’t happen, Jesus gets angry.
Anger is a valid emotion, but it’s always a covering emotion. It’s always protecting a more painful, more vulnerable emotion. I imagine that for Jesus it was devastating to see people taken advantage of, especially in God’s house. It was devastating for him to see people suffer needlessly.
And under my anger is devastation. Under protestors’ anger is devastation. Devastation for our Black and brown siblings who continue to suffer and die. Devastation for myself and my white family and neighbors who continue to accept and perpetuate our own dehumanization.
Devastation that God has given us all this love, all this light, and we continue to hide it under a bushel basket.
Cornell West said that justice is what love looks like in public.
As Isaiah reminds us, coming to church, praying every day, reading the Bible is food to nourish us for the love we’re called to live in public, the justice we’re called to create.
You hide your light under a bushel basket whenever you don’t allow yourself to feel the anger, the devastation, of injustice. You hide your light under a bushel basket whenever you aren’t using your gifts to lift up God’s love beyond worship, beyond your personal spiritual practices, to live that love in public.
No, not all of you are called to stand in front of a crowd or be on the front line of protests or run for office to make change.
But some of you make art. Can anyone remember the red, white, and blue Hope image of Barack Obama from the 2008 election? Raise your hand if you do. That’s the power of art.
Some of you work with kids. Some of you talk to people all day. Some of you work with your hands. Some of you play music. These are all avenues for creating justice. I don’t know exactly how, but I trust the Spirit will show you if you ask her. That’s what prayer is for, that’s what coming to worship is for: learning to hear your call to live God’s love in public.
Then 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.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and God will say, Here I am.