Brothers and Sisters

Isaiah 58:1-9a

Matthew 5:13-20


In Matthew Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world and we are not to hide that light. The light of which Jesus speaks, is the light of God … and for Christians that light is channeled through Jesus. We are to be reflections of Jesus and thereby reflections of God. That light is to be seen through us: our behavior and life style must reflect the light of Jesus, not just in church but in every one of our endeavors. It is to be reflected in the way we speak, the way we interact with people, the way we judge events, and the way we make decisions.

And just as a light is a guide, we are to be examples of how Jesus behaves. We are not to be intrusive about it, such as wearing a Christian logo to boost of our salvation and asking everyone we meet if they have been saved. Rather we are simply to live the life Jesus requires and live it publicly as well as privately. We are the light of the world … not just of our church and home, but of the whole world.

And just as a light can be a warning like a light on an airstrip, we are to stand up for what is right and righteous. We are to be courageous and bold in our judgment and our acts to help Jesus build up the Kingdom of God here on earth in this present time.

Indeed, we need not proclaim our Christian motives. Our righteous acts and our words should be sufficient.

But what acts and what words did Jesus have in mind? He goes on to proclaim that he has not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them.  Our text from Isaiah is one such prophecy that Jesus calls us to fulfill.

In this passage God is not pleased.  The people have become fraudulent in their worship of God. They think fasting and humbling themselves in the Temple is all God wants. So they arrogantly ask God for judgments in their favor and for God to befriend them.

God has had enough! God tells them what they should already know: they fast for themselves and not for God. While they are claiming to do God’s work they commit all sorts of sins of neglect and overt disregard of God’s will. Going to church or claiming to be a follower of God doesn’t work.

Indeed, the light is dulled if not entirely snuffed out in such living. God doesn’t want hymns and prayers and communions if that is all we think we need to do. First God wants hymns and prayers and communion that breaks the chains of injustice, that frees the oppressed, and that feeds the hungry and houses the homeless. Then we will truly be a light unto the world and the world will see that light.

Now all of this is very overpowering. Are all of us now to run away to Africa or inner city Newark, abandon our families (as Peter did) and do God’s work? Well if every Christian went off like that, we probably have a lot of hungry and homeless missionaries who are likely to be in prison for their activities in one tyranny or another. Indeed some Christians are called to do just that and God bless them. But most of us are just ordinary people trying to hold down a job, stay healthy and raise a family.  We aren’t going to start a revolution.

But even we homebodies have a role … a powerful role in God’s call for justice. If we consider other teachings of Jesus and put them all together, we have to accept that we are kin to every human being on earth. We are all brothers and sisters, every human is a child of God without exception.

Ask yourself would you let your brother or sister or son or daughter be unjustly incarcerated or starve or go homeless? Yet we do it everyday … millions of our brothers and sisters are imprisoned or starving or homeless.

And we are a dysfunctional family. We fight among each other … very violently. We persecute each other and steal from each other and on and on …

If your nuclear family was like that wouldn’t you be heart-broken that your children fight and maybe even cheat each other? Wouldn’t you work very hard to put your family back together?  So it is with God’s family. God is heart-broken by the way we run this world.

So even if we aren’t called to drop everything and become a missionary, Jesus still wants us to live a life that shines the light of hope and freedom on whomever we encounter in our ordinary lives. And we must not shine our light out of duty or fear of damnation, but because we want to do it. God doesn’t want us to help if we do not want to. We must love God so much that we want to do what God wants us to do.

Within our own sphere of influence we can light the world around us. We can look at everyone we encounter as a brother or sister. We can be polite, but even more so respect them, support them. At times we may even be able to reach out and help them.

For example, a simple thank you or hello to the waste management folks who collect your garbage is so simple and yet I suspect it is meaningful to them. They are invisible to most people, but they provide a critical service. And likewise we can do the same for the people plowing our streets in this snowy season.

If you work where immigrant folks provide services such as maintenance and home care, talk with them. They are often also invisible and yet we couldn’t manage without them. There is a movement to discourage them and even deport them. Even this is a sort of oppression of the soul … the constant worry of losing your family, job and home. Welcome them. Our simple everyday support can break their chains. I have found asking where they hail from shows an interest in them and not a rejection of them.

And do the hard thing … stand with someone suffering discrimination of some sort: discrimination by age or gender or ethnic group or sexual orientation. Support them … they are your brother or sister too. You don’t have to agree. But you can support them as a human being deserving of justice and a fair shake.

And I suggest that if you so this you will find your own personal lives fuller and richer and your spirits more satisfied. Try it and I hope you will want to do it.  You will find that you have less fear of the strangers among us. You will have less angst over public workers who we need dearly.

I read an article in Sojourners Magazine’s February edition of 6 Christian women from an evangelical church in TX who invited 6 women from the local synagogue and 6 women from the local mosque to form a cooking club. Over the days and weeks of these women getting together, they learned much about each other’s beliefs and culture. They learned not only to respect each other’s beliefs, but they also were each enriched by them and most importantly realized they were sisters.

And that takes us to the ultimate expectation of Jesus that as Christians we are not allowed to have enemies … not even the devil.  That doesn’t mean we agree with someone who is doing wrong. It doesn’t mean we will turn a blind eye to what they are doing. It means that we will never forget that someone who offends us is still a human being and a child of God. It means that we are always ready to set down, break bread and make peace.

A stranger came into town one day. He didn’t speak English very well and he had strange customs. But he settled into a job and a home. Soon his family arrived and moved in. In a few months, some friends arrived and they found jobs and homes. They followed their own customs and in their homes spoke a foreign language.

Now in town there was a worker, Jake, who was well liked. He hadn’t been in town very long, but he spoke the same English as the town and followed their customs. Indeed, he promoted their annual founder’s festival and was always active in their local events.

On day there was a burglary in town. This was rare, since the town was small and close knit. Understandably folks jumped to the conclusion that it was one of the “foreigners” who had come to town.  They had seen one of them, Juan was his name, snooping around the store before it was robbed.

The townspeople were livid and they rounded up Juan demanding the sheriff arrest him. Jake stepped up, though, and said that this is not right. They had no evidence and convinced them to release Juan. Jake said as Juan was leaving that the sheriff needed to investigate the foreign enclave and see what was really going on there.

The sheriff who had always kept an eye out on the enclave just as he did the entire town, felt pressured to ramp up his surveillance.

Again there was another robbery. The people again demanded from the sheriff to clean up the enclave … except one woman, Shirley, who shook her head among them, thinking how rude and unjust all of this was. When Jake again stood and calmed the folks down, Shirley stood with him to give him support. Jake said the sheriff was doing all he could and they needed to trust him.

Shirley appreciated what Jake was doing and invited him over for lunch. Together they broke bread together. Shirley had seen how he was helping one of the neighbor boys, Joey, who had been in trouble from time to time. Jake was giving him work to do, even though he had very little himself. She voiced her appreciation of how he calmed the folks down and supported the enclave. But he said he didn’t support the enclave. Indeed, he wished they would leave. He just  didn’t want the good folks of the town to do something they would regret. As he got up to leave, she detected a momentary reddish glow in his eyes… an unsettling, disturbing sight. It passed and she dismissed it as an illusion.

Again there was a robbery. This time the townspeople had had it. If the sheriff wasn’t going to arrest someone then they would. Jake stepped in again realizing that events had gone far enough. He encouraged them to make a citizens arrest without any violence or destruction. He led them to the enclave where once again they took Juan to the sheriff.

Out of concern for public peace, the sheriff detained Juan as much for his safety as for any robbery. But he had no evidence and finally, quietly at night he released Juan.

Then there was a fourth robbery. But this time the merchant nabbed the thief. It was Joey. He dragged him to the sheriff who evinced a confession from him.

Jake and Shirley had lunch shortly after. Shirley offered her condolences on Joey. She expected that Jake really felt bad. But Jake ‘fessed up. He knew it was Joey and he didn’t want him caught. It was so convenient to blame the foreigners … Then he said, “don’t you see, we can’t take care of our own, of Joey, if we have all of these strangers around… you must  join with the rest of us to encourage them to leave… or find yourself evicted.” As he spoke, Jake’s voice grew loud and demanding, his face darkened.

And to this Shirley refused. She said, “just as I will always break bread with you though I do not agree with you, so tomorrow I will go to break bread with Juan.” And the devil wept …

Sometimes we let the light of God shine out from us by simply breaking bread with our so-called enemies. Thereby we find we have no real enemies. An estranged brother and sister break bread. Unions and employers break bread. Two world leaders whose nations compete for power break bread. They may not agree with each other and maybe never will, but breaking bread reminds them that they are all children of God … no matter how angelic or how devilish.

Think about it …

God’s grace and love be with you …