A sermon idea based on Isaiah 1:1, 10-20.
Isaiah 1:1,10-20 NRSV
 The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!  What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
 When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more;  bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.  Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.  When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil,  learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
 Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;  but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
The relevant topic I would be addressing, based on this text…
God is far more interested in our repentance over sin and our work for justice than he is in any of our religious ritualism or traditions.
Information about the text that matters to the message…
It’s amazing what you see in some prophetic passages when you don’t “make a bee-line for the cross.” Obviously, as Christians, we believe Old Testament prophecy points toward Jesus’ anointing as Messiah, but don’t be so focused on the messianic possibilities that you miss the message Isaiah intended for his audience in his culture and its significance to our time.
I love, for example, how Barry Webb, in his commentary The Message of Isaiah) points out the practical significance of God’s dealings with his people pre-Jesus and then makes the jump to the cross to increase the weight of our obligation to heed God’s message…
The exodus itself had flowed out of God’s concren for the oppressed, and from the very beginning he had demanded that his people should have a special concern for the poor and defenseless among them… The cross places us under a far greater obligation to love than the exodus ever could.
And Isaiah’s message is very much about the sins of Judah, both individual and collective, both personal and systemic.
Isaiah chapter one is a courtroom scene in which God, the Judge, brings an indictment against the people of Judah. In verses 10 through 15, he brushes aside the ritualistic burnt sacrifices and prayers because they are offered up as though God is like the false gods of surrounding nations who are appeased by such things.
What God really wants from his people, both then and now, is instead:
- Repentance and confession, penitence, and turning from sin.
- Repudiation of evil, a ceasing of injustice.
- Re-education – learning to “do good.”
- Re-commitment to the cause of liberation of the oppressed.
- Refocusing on the plight of the vulnerable.
In other words, if we just make Isaiah about Jesus, we’ll miss the point of his prophecy, which was to point to the larger arc in the story of God’s dealings with his created and chosen people.
Yes, he wants to offer us forgiveness, but he also calls us to join him in the liberation of all those oppressed by corrupt power.
God then offers a chance at a fresh start, as God always does. And it isn’t until verse 20 that I would finally point the needle directly toward the cross as the climactic act of redemption by God. The cross became a necessity not only because of our sin but because of our unwillingness to hear God’s call to repentance.
The big call-to-action in the message…
If you really claim to be in Christ, then let God break your heart for what breaks his – the outcry of the vulnerable. It is our love, demonstrated by acts of love. that is real evidence of our having been made new.
Love doesn’t require us to know all the right doctrines or to practice the spiritual disciplines, though those have great value. Love requires loving action on behalf of those who need it most.
Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1475-1564. Uzziah – Jotham – Ahaz (in the Sistine Chapel), from Art in the Christian. Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.