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Be the Church

Rev. Dr. Karin Case
Sun, Feb 05

Texts: Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-16

Some of you may know the story of Le Chambon-sur-lignon, a small village in the mountains of Vichy France. In 1940 the first refugee arrived, a Jewish woman who was fleeing Nazi persecution. She showed up on the doorstep of Magda Trocmé looking for shelter. And a movement began. Magda was the wife of the local pastor, Andre Trocmé, who had been posted to this remote rural village because church authorities considered him an intransigent pacifist and troublemaker.

Under the leadership of the Trocmés, local residents began harboring Jews and others who were fleeing the Nazis. They welcomed the refugees into their households and integrated them into village life. Between 1940 and 1944, the cluster of villages around Le Chambon had doubled in population, taking in 5,000 new residents, including 3,500 Jews.

Such acts of defiance and resistance would seem to require extraordinary courage, but this is the remarkable thing: The community of Le Chambon claimed no special valor. This was simply how they lived out their faith. Here’s how Magda Trocmé described it.

Those of us who received the first Jews did what we thought had to be done—nothing more complicated. It was not decided from one day to the next what we would have to do. There were many people in the village who needed help. How could we refuse them? A person doesn’t sit down and say I’m going to do this and this and that. We had no time to think. When a problem came, we had to solve it immediately. Sometimes people ask me, “How did you make a decision?” There was no decision to make. The issue was: Do you think we are all brothers or not? Do you think it is unjust to turn in the Jews or not? Then let us try to help! (1)

There is striking heroism in this story, but there’s also something else—equally powerful. For these French Protestants, there is utter continuity between their inward heart and outward actions. Their hearts are shaped by faith and that faith shines forth in actions.

Each of our scripture readings today touches on this theme, but in very different ways. Let’s look first at Isaiah—the passage Kate read so beautifully this morning. Isaiah rails against a certain kind of piety. He condemns empty rituals and practices that are meant to show off our devotion and virtue. Isaiah homes in on the observance of fasting, which had become a corrupt practice, more a way of trying to display one’s piety than a symbol of true inner transformation.

According to Isaiah, God is not pleased by the wearing of sackcloth and ashes—outward signs of penitence and public displays of mourning and sacrifice. After all, it's possible to make this kind of showy display, while standing with your boot on someone’s neck. Piety without justice has no value in the eyes of God.

What pleases God is a transformed heart which gives evidence in acts of justice, kindness and mercy. Isaiah writes, this is 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,
to share bread with the hungry and
bring the homeless poor into your house.

How many of us—when we hear these words—hear them as if they are directed to us as individuals? As we listen to Isaiah, do we conduct a mental inventory of how we’re doing—personally—in terms of all these measures? Individual accountability is critical, but it’s only part of the prophetic call.

Isaiah’s ethics are communitarian. He addresses the whole people of Judah—the collective. The prophetic call is to radical social transformation. And that will take all of us— working together.

It was because the whole community pulled together that the people of Le Chambon accomplished something truly astonishing and of enduring value. It is in community that we make God’s love and justice real.

This past Thursday night about 35 of us from First Church went to a GBIO action at Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain. And we had little taste of God’s kin-dom! Greater Boston Interfaith Organization does a wonderful job of gathering people of all faiths and traditions around issue of social justice in our communities. Nine hundred of us from mosques, synagogues and churches all over the Boston area were packed to overflowing. We shared our own stories with each other and heard powerful testimonies about health care, affordable housing, and criminal justice reform.

There was a good spirit in the house that night. Together, we are diverse, multi-racial, multi-cultured and multi-faith. Together we are strong. Together we commit to work for the welfare of our cities.

The prophet Isaiah calls forth this same spirit of love steeped in justice. Love made manifest in visible works. I believe Jesus knew this love instinctually. But if he was paying attention in his Torah classes, he also learned it from the Hebrew scriptures—from prophets like Micah, Amos and Isaiah. This is our tradition—proclaimed by prophets and apostles, a way made know in Jesus.

In the last few weeks many of you have said that you’re struggling—having trouble sleeping. You’re waking up in the morning feeling angry or sad, or frightened—a roller coaster of emotions—trying to comprehend what in the world is happening, trying to discern what to do, and how to act.

Hear these words of comfort and solidarity: You are not alone. You are part of a whole communion of saints. And the world needs you now—your fierce passion for justice, your love and care for your neighbor, your strong instincts about mercy and kindness.

Matthew says it this way: You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. There’s nothing timid or conditional about it. Jesus doesn’t say try to be salt and light. He doesn’t say you might become salt and light. He says you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

It’s more of a Nike situation. Just do it. Be what you already are—in all your striving, aching, yearning and outrage. In your goodness, your woundedness, your humility and your honest love for what is good and right and holy.

Be the church. The world is aching for what you already are.

1) https://www.facinghistory.org/holocaust-and-human-behavior/chapter-9/le-...

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