Jeff Davidson – TAKE DELIGHT IN THE LORD (Isaiah 58:9b-14 & Luke 13:10-17)
“Delight” is a word that kind of makes you smile, a word that implies something uplifting, something that makes you happy. What are some of the things we find delightful? For me, I like to stop in the way out of the door in the morning and listen to the birds sing. That lifts my spirits and makes me smile. I like to see our cats do something funny, or something sweet. Getting a thoughtful little note or a gift of some kind is delightful.
What about putting it into a faith context? What does it mean to “take delight in the Lord?” Well, you can take whatever it is that you find delightful otherwise and thank God for it. The beauty and fun of the bird’s songs is something that is an expression of God’s beauty in creation, so there’s a sense there where I am delighting in the Lord. Maybe for you it’s a special moment of worship or a special memory of a religious event like a baptism or a wedding or something.
When I think about that kind of thing I remember National Youth Conference. I got to go twice, in 1974 and in 1978. Each time I felt God’s presence and God’s joy in a powerful way, surrounded by thousands of other kids my own age singing songs, praising God, learning and growing and believing we could change the world, believing the Spirit was with us in a way that would let us end hunger and war and racism and injustice, knowing that with God all things are possible. I remember those places, those times, those people, those feelings. I remember a feeling of joy and peace and connectedness that I have rarely felt anywhere else.
When we think of “taking delight in the Lord” we don’t necessarily think of things like the March on Washington back in 1963. We don’t necessarily think of Dr. King’s famous speech. Those are certainly important and memorable and inspiring things, but are they delightful? Are they joyful? Is the struggle for equality, the struggle for justice, the struggle for peace, whatever the context – is that struggle something that we would describe as pleasant? Happy? Is it delighting in the Lord?
Our scripture reading from Isaiah talks about this. That phrase “you shall take delight in the Lord” is in the very last verse. Let’s hear it again. Verse 14: “…then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Well, that doesn’t help much. It starts in the middle of the sentence. It’s an IF/THEN kind of thing. If this, then that. For instance, if I am thirsty, then I will take a drink. IF something happens, IF someone says something, whatever, THEN you shall take delight in the Lord. So what’s the IF to our THEN?
Well, there are a lot of IFs. The whole passage that we read is two big IF/THEN statements. The first one starts at verse 9b and goes through verse 12: “IF you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, IF you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, THEN your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”
The second of the IF/THEN statements starts at verse 13: “IF you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; IF you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; IF you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; THEN you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Let’s shorten it a little. IF you work for justice and peace, THEN the Lord will guide you and strengthen you and your works will be remembered forever. IF you dedicate the Sabbath to God’s work, THEN you shall take delight in the Lord.
That second one, that one about dedicating the Sabbath to God’s work, that’s what Jesus is getting at in our reading from Luke. Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath. One of the leaders of the synagogue is critical, saying that the Sabbath is for rest and worship and reflection, not for work, and that healing the woman was work. Jesus says no, freeing people from bondage is not work, at least not in the sense that we think of work. It is God’s work. It is what God wants done, so it is an act of worship to God. Healing and freeing people is an act of worship to God.
Think about this day 50 years ago. In Dr. King’s famous speech he looks back another 100 years before, to the Emancipation Proclamation, and traced the struggle from 1863 to 1963. He summed up the situation that many of the marchers were in that day. He said, “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work, with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”
Fresh from narrow jail cells. Battered by persecution. Staggered by brutality. Does that sound delightful, like a cute video of a kitten or something? Does that sound like National Youth Conference or something like that? No, not if we put it that way.
But let’s frame it another way. What it sounds like to me is the IF part we talked about earlier. Working for justice and peace. Doing God’s work, on the Sabbath and on every day. It sounds like what Jesus did. Healing. Teaching. Sharing. It sounds like the hard work that leads to delighting in the Lord.
It’s been 50 years since that march, that speech. A lot has changed. Racial discrimination and injustice still exist, although they tend to take different forms now than in the days of Jim Crow. From generation to generation the ingrained attitudes of racism that defined so many people for so long are dying out. That does not mean that the struggle is over.
And while this is a weekend we’ve been thinking about racial issues and Dr. King, there are other injustices, other things to think about, other issues that demand our action. In Egypt the government is killing Muslims, and Muslims are killing Christians. In Syria the government is gassing its own people. In Nigeria Brethren pastors are killed and churches are burned. In our own country, in our own city there is hunger, and want, and violence and poverty.
The Church of the Brethren issued a statement on racial justice in 1963. There’s a part of it that is worth repeating now in light of all the different issues that we face. “The time is now for action, even costly action that may jeopardize the organizational goals and institutional structures of the church, and may disrupt any fellowship that is less than fully obedient to the Lord of the church. In such a time the church of Jesus Christ is called upon to put aside every lesser engagement.
“The call of Christ is for commitment and courage in such a time as this. This call comes to every one of us, every congregation among us, and every community in which we live. We can dodge neither the revolution nor the call of Christ. Let us respond in works as eloquent as our words, in practices as profound as our prayers, in action as heroic as our gospel.”
This is something we’ve taken seriously here at Washington City over the years. I don’t know when the Brethren Nutrition Program started, but I know that when I came here in the early 1970’s to visit it was going strong, and now over 40 years later it is once again becoming a growing and vital ministry. This congregation was a part of the original March on Washington back in 1963, and I know of some from here that were there yesterday. This congregation has made a strong public witness for peace, and even today has a fund designed to encourage reflection and witness and action for peace and justice.
What this congregation has done so well over the years is just as important now as it has ever been – maybe more important. In 1963 the Church of the Brethren said the time is now. We can still say that today. Not just as a congregation, but for each of us as individuals. The time is now for action, even costly action. The call of Christ is for commitment and courage in such a time as this. This call comes to every one of us, every congregation among us, and every community in which we live. We can dodge neither the revolution nor the call of Christ.
Healing and freeing people is an act of worship to God. The call is to us, and the time is now. If you work for justice and peace, then the Lord will guide you and strengthen you and your works will be remembered forever. If you dedicate the Sabbath to God’s work, then you shall take delight in the Lord. Amen.