The texts for today’s message are Isaiah 1:1,10-20; Luke 12:32-40; and Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16
Today’s message is a “combo-special” that weaves a spiritual vitality theme. All of today’s material can help combat the threat of summer slumber and August apathy.
Brace yourself, because bursting through Jerusalem’s great Temple walls and across the faces of horrified Levitical priests is God’s proclamation to the Prophet Isaiah. Many people notice how the Old Testament is a harsh realm, burdened with horrendous judgments and ruinous rules, warped by a suffocating ritualism. These characterizations are contrasted by Isaiah’s timeless insights.
Isaiah’s shocker is that God was fed up with the sacrificial cult of the privileged bureaucrats, whose priestly oligarchy plagued ancient Judaism. God had an entirely different plan that turned the Old Testament world upside-down: “I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats” (Isaiah 1:11b). God here denounces excessive, formal religion and detests killing for the sake of sacrificial magic. God’s declaration marked a monumental change in religion in that sacrifices would no longer dominate.
Rather than sacrifice, God instilled in both ancient and modern followers a mandate for a magnificent spiritual life, a status that transforms faith from a blood-soaked altar of butchered animals into a life of redemptive, spiritual vitality. No amount of ritualistic religion substitutes for transformed thoughts and actions. Isaiah attests that God’s once vital people had substituted hypocrisy for love and diverse evils for truth. All this confirms that even a fine-tuned ancient religion can decay. Our duty is to help ensure that what happened in Judaism does not similarly destroy Christianity.
In the New Testament, the writer of the Hebrews verses elevates enlightened faith, which helps people avoid bad religion. Legitimate faith is the spark of spirituality, the heavenly force driving upward and onward, away from the perils of captivity within deficient religion. Faith is the magnificent hope and yearning for what we can’t fully apprehend with humans’ five senses.
Moving forward, Jesus’ words in Luke 12:32-40 set the priority: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke12:34). Those who claim to be people of faith cherish goodness and justice rather than hate and divisiveness. The core Gospel message of loving God and neighbor rise above all other concerns, a lesson that the Christian church has continually struggled to implement.
Step out in faith. Be ready to do what it takes to engage people wherever they are and share with them God’s love and truth. Use the latest, most effective tools and technologies to get peoples’ attention while God’s spirit redeems them. Churches can avoid the death spiral of musty, inbred social clubs, which withdraw from the world and ignore God’s transformative Spirit. Rather than resisting change or simply tolerating it, thriving churches joyfully embrace challenges.
Jesus further encourages us to “be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (Luke 12:35). This means that we strive to be proactive and adaptive, not passive and regressive. Having a lit lamp means that you’re awake and using the light as a guide. Sadly, many people are sleepwalking in the dark. People can be biologically alive but sterile or dead internally. If you carry God’s light then you’ll illuminate a path for yourself and those around you.
Are you spiritually conscious? “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes, truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them” (Luke 12:37). What an amazing promise, that when we, God’s servants, keep watch then the Almighty will meet our preparedness with wondrous blessings. Why do so many people fail in this process? Many are debilitated by fear, ignorance and anger. Overcome these dangers and be ready and receptive to God.
Being a church leader or having decades of church attendance on your résumé doesn’t ensure spiritual health. Nor is it productive to show-up fifty-two Sundays a year only to coast blithely through the liturgical motions without effectively promoting your spirituality. To achieve soul health requires maintaining a comprehensively, holistically healthy lifestyle.
Jesus’ encouragement to be awake and watchful can help you prepare for anything. Your part is to remain alert and vigilant, ready to perceive challenges before they overtake you. It is worth the effort because you don’t want to be caught unaware and unprepared when the hour of testing and peril arrive. As with the returning master in Jesus’ parable, God wants to empower you to be ready.
Are you ready to increase your level of spiritual engagement? No one else can do this for you; no one can carry you there. Realize that cherished rituals and church traditions only play a limited role in developing spiritual health. It is ultimately your responsibility to create a vibrant, enthusiastic life, one guided by the presence of God’s spirit flowing from the inside/out. Perhaps it’s time to clean house, and not wait for a catastrophe to grab your attention. Get ready and get real. I assure you that God will bless you with the best possible life.