22/7/01 10.45 a.m. Isaiah 58 ( Matthew 25:31-46 )
As the congregation enters the church, give every adult three Smarties and ask them to keep them for use later in the service. Give children none, despite all protests!
Use first half of O.H.P
Set the scene with some statistics: 11 4 million packs of Smarties are produced every year enough to circle the equator. 283 Smarties are eaten every second. A pack of Smarties costs 32 pence (or equivalent). All this is good news for chocolate lovers, except for one thing - if you are a farm labourer in Brazil growing the cocoa beans which make chocolate, the chances are that you earn about 90 pence per day. Reveal second half of O.H.P.
That is barely enough to feed a family, let alone provide them with shelter, education and health care. It seems so unfair that some people in the world can enjoy eating Smarties but that those who grow the ingredients which make them are so poor that they could not possibly afford them - just as unfair as giving sweets to the adults this morning, but not to the children!
Challenge the adults at this point to make sure that the Smarties they have been given are shared out in a fair way.
God's message to those who worship him has always been that those who have been given much should work to make things fair for those who do not have enough as we will see from our first reading...
Read Isaiah 58:
O.H.P Acetate. Imagine this! An elderly woman arrives in a marketplace in Africa. She has walked for fifteen miles to get to market, carrying on her head the heavy sack of rice which she has to sell. When she gets there she is very tired indeed, so she sits clown on her sack hoping to do business. She knows what a fair price for her rice is, so she asks: 'Ten dollars, ten dollars!' The traders are all there at the market. They work for the supermarkets which sell rice to you and me. They're clever! They know that if the woman has walked fifteen miles with a sack of rice on her head, the last thing she wants to do is to stagger back home with it at the end of the clay. So they watch her, and wait until it's practically the end of the clay. Then just before the market closes, the traders pounce They offer her two dollars for her sack of rice. And because she has no real choice, she takes the pitiful amount of money and goes home The supermarkets in our country get a bargain; the woman has to do without meals. It is so unfair! That is basically how it is that, in our unjust world, the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor
Friada Nordez has a story like this. (She and her daughter Aiphonsia appear in the OHP acetate.) She works a ten-hour day, six days a week, bent double and cutting rice stalks with a snail shell. Hers is one of the poorest communities in the world. However, the money Christians have given has allowed something ingenious to happen. Christian Aid funds an organisation in Mozambique which has helped Friada club together with other farmers in her area, and loaned them a tractor. It takes no time at all to get to market now And when the traders come up to Friada at the end of the day and offer her all unfair price for her goods, she says, 'Get away with you! That rice is going back on the tractor.' When she comes back the next day the traders realise that they are not going to get what they want until they manage to come up with a fair price. And Friada gets what she deserves.
Organisations like Christian Aid and Tearfund exist to try and make the world more fair, so that the neediest people are able to lift themselves out of poverty. Why does Christian Aid do this?
Because the Bible tells us that those who love God should help the poor and disadvantaged.
When the Jews came home from Babylon, Ezra discovered that those who had been left behind had behaved in wrong ways. They had mixed with people who cared nothing for God's rules and had become equally bad. It was to these people that Isaiah addressed the last part of his message.
The book of Isaiah begins in chapter 1 by exposing false religion that had the right form and ritual, but no true sincerity. Chapter 58 gives the other side: the spiritual work God prefers.
Isaiah starts by exposing False Religion in verses 1-5. This involved outward ritual such as fasting and lying in sackcloth and ashes but living lives that are violent and quarrelsome, and that exploit workers. Such people cannot expect fellowship with God, verse 4b.
Isaiah then moves on to True Religion, verses 6f. stating that real worship of God involved sharing with those who are poor and seeking justice for them. Lives that have been transformed through a right relationship with God will lead to acceptable actions and acceptable worship. This is what our gospel reading is about ( Matthew 25:31-46 ). It is not that we earn our salvation by doing good, but our salvation frees us to do good. Ephesians 2:10, For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Our faith enables us to offer acceptable worship to God. This has to involve giving priority to worship as well as to justice. Isaiah 58: 13 "If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, 14then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob." Our lives are not our own, they have been purchased with the precious blood of Jesus. Therefore, we are to please God on Sundays and worship him, not do what we like.
Isaiah said God would bless the world if the hungry had their needs addressed (58:10,11).
How can Christians respond:
- pray for the world's poorest people; Pray for work of Christian Aid, Tearfund and other aid agencies; pray for G8 leaders and the implementation of what they have agreed, and for them to reach an agreement to completely wipe out unpayable debt.
- act to change the things which keep them poor. e.g. by buying fairly traded goods consisting of tea, coffee and bananas. I have had Christians say to me that such products are expensive or don't taste very good. Whilst the quality of the first Fairly Traded teas and coffees were not good this has improved a lot recently so that supermarkets are now stocking Fairtrade Tea,coffee and bananas. As for price, are we to be governed by God or our wallets ? For 120,000 workers and farmers in the developing world, Fairtrade means: guaranteed better prices; decent working conditions; fair wages, health and safety standards; the security of long term contracts; fair terms of trade. The Fairtrade Foundation checks standards by regularly inspecting third world suppliers and checking trade terms.
- give money to help poor communities help themselves e.g. via Christian Aid or Tearfund
Every Christian can be part of this What could you do?