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Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126:1-6 OR Luke 1:46b-55, I Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28

Children often seem to have an innate sense of fairness. Who has not heard a child—or an adult—cry out, “It’s not fair!” The Smothers Brothers made an art out of the routine that had Mom always liking you best.

Now I didn’t say that children always act fairly. They can be extremely selfish, always ready to claim, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” They seem to know, though, when things are out of balance, and want to let the world know about it.

Maybe sensitivity to fairness is innate; maybe not. If it is, it seems to get drowned in the sea of greed and aggressive accumulation that characterizes the systems of this world.

Underneath I like to think that the desire for fairness is still there. I know I feel it, and I know of lot of those who seek the path of divine Love feel it too.

It’s a desire with a long history. There have been humans in most ages who have cried out at the unfairness they’ve seen and experienced. The prophets gave voice to it, this week’s reading from Isaiah 61 being one instance. The vision is of a time when there is a startling upset of the status quo and things are set right. Fairness reigns again.

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn . . .” Thus begins Isaiah 61, in words Jesus used in his inaugural sermon in his hometown of Nazareth. (Luke 4:16-19) It was a declaration of his mission, fulfilled, he said, in the “Now” of his presence. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” he said. (Luke 4:21)

The contrasts in Isaiah 61 are rich: “a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” (vs. 3) It speaks of ruined cities being repaired, “for I the Lord love justice. I hate robbery and wrongdoing . . . for as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” (vss. 4, 8, 11) Notice the context is “all the nations.” Worldwide fairness! It’s enough to make the heart leap.

The Psalmist catches the mood. “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy . . . May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Psalm 126:2, 5-6)

In the first chapter of Luke, Mary, when she was carrying the baby Jesus in her womb sang out with joy, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:45) Why is she rejoicing? Because she connects this child with “the Mighty One” who “has done great things . . . he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (vss. 49, 51-53)

While the reading from the Gospel According to John does not specifically mention this upending vision of fairness, it is assumed. It is John’s version of last week’s reading from Mark—the story of John the baptizer as preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah. The hopes and fears of all the years came to focus in the expectation of this one who would come as Messiah. He was the one who would make things right, introducing a kingdom, a realm, where fairness prevailed. Those who hear John preaching want to know if he is that one. (John 1:19-20) He is not that light, looming just on the horizon, but the one who comes “to testify to the light,” i.e., the Messiah Jesus. (vss. 7-8)

Many of us who read and write about this week’s readings, or preach about them, or listen to sermons on them, have a difficult time grasping the joyful message. We are, at times, too comfortable. We don’t think of ourselves, as one of “the lowly” like Mary. Fairness may mean we have to give up some of our toys, or at least share them with all the children of the earth whom Jesus loves. I hope it means that some of those ruled by corporate greed or political ambition are put into the “playpen” of the real world as well. The people who would probably rejoice the most if true fairness came are those who can’t find a room in the inn where they can spend the night, those who’ve been kidnaped and sold for profit to serve the needs of powerful men seeking sex, those who have lost mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters in tribal warfares of revenge.

This list is long. Year after year, the cry for fairness screams from our hearts, and we find that fairness is a long time coming. How long? How long? We are still waiting—sometimes not very patiently. There are those in many nations who gather in the streets to cry out against the injustice of it all.

Waiting or not, the Spirit continues to stir up the flames of hope within. Followers of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speak of “keeping the dream alive.” Whatever the powers of this world do, we cannot succumb without continuing to give voice to the dream of an alternative. It may not come as soon as we would like it to come, but the reading from I Thessalonians offers an attitude and promise to consider in our time of waiting.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances . . . Do not quench the Spirit . . . The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, 24) We are always surrounded by realities that threaten to quench our spirits and the Spirit of Love at work in us. I have always found verse 24 to be a powerful reminder that we are not in this alone. The one who is the source of the vision “is faithful, and he will do this.” Hang in there; it’s not time to give up yet.


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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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