By Michael Zdorow
Christ UMC, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
First, read Isaiah 1:17
Today’s scripture reminds me of an experience I had while serving as a missionary in Russia. I was a having a conversation with Ivan, a man raised as an atheist in the former Soviet Union. He wanted to know why I was a Christian. After I told him how following Jesus had changed my life he responded, “I tried Jesus but he didn't work for me.” I didn't know how to respond to his comment. No one ever told me that Jesus didn't “work” for them. He went on to tell me about the first time he tried Jesus.
Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, Ivan saw a large crowd gathering at the city square. There was a man on a stage promising everyone that they could have new life in Jesus Christ. The audience was told that God would give them whatever their hearts desired (i.e., homes, cars, riches, etc.) if they would just put their faith in Jesus Christ. Ivan responded to the altar call to receive Jesus in his life and he asked God for a new pair of blue jeans. After a month passed, he believed that Jesus didn't work for him because he didn't receive a new pair of blue jeans. This was the new life he was expecting from Jesus.
Ivan might sound extremely shallow to some of us but his story is not too far off from the way many people understand the new life God promises. We read into the promises of abundant life and quickly apply them to our personal lives. We believe God will bless us because we believe the right things and worship the right way. We are on God’s side and God should protect our personal interests.
The Israelites in Isaiah’s time had a similar mindset. They knew the promises in the Scriptures. They believed the right things and worshiped God the correct way. They were expecting God to supernaturally intervene to liberate them from their physical trials and bless their lives. When God “didn't work” for them, they demanded an answer.
Isaiah’s response to the Israelites invites us to reconsider how we are to receive God’s promises of abundant life. Devotion to God, religious offerings, and participation in personal and congregational worship are ways we respond to God’s grace; however, they are not the end goal.
God desires our faith to transform our personal lives and society. The heart that is turned toward to God receives God’s grace and out of gratitude graciously shares this grace to others. We are called to “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.”
When we allow our lives to be used for God’s purpose the world is a better place - justice begins to break into our world, forms of oppression are broken, and the marginalized in our society are defended.
When Ivan understood these truths, he decided to try Jesus again. He understood that following Jesus is more about being a blessing to others than receiving a blessing. As Jesus said, It is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).”
Prayer: God, give us hearts to seek your truth. Give us hearts for the people your heart reaches out to most. Let us be voices against oppression in all that we do. Amen.
- In what ways have you expected God to work for you?
- How have you learned to do good as a follower of Jesus Christ?
- Where do you see justice breaking into our world?
- Where do you see forms of injustice and oppression?