Sermon: Majoring in the Minors and Minoring in the Majors
Scripture: Isaiah 1.1, 10-20
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date: August 11, 2019
Over the years, I was taught a slogan by a mentor that is a troublesome little idiom used in business. He’s a successful venture capitalist and he told me, “You know, as a leader you always have to ask of yourself or of your business, “Am I majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors?”” In other words, in one’s personal or organizational leadership, we are to pause every once in a while and ask ourselves if we are spending the majority of our time, resources and creativity on the minor things that will not produce very much and are we investing too little time, resources, and creativity to those major items that will generate the most return for the organization. In our case, that would be the Church. Am I, are we as a church, majoring in the minor unimportant things? Are we minoring on the needed, beneficial major things? You see, it’s all about a question of stopping to evaluate whether one’s expressed values are truly matching and aligning with their expressed actions.
Our text this morning is one that is an ancient example of God asking the people of the southern Kingdom of Judah whether their lives and worship expressed the values of their God or do their actions reflect more like the values of the decaying culture around them? The deal is, God already knows the answer to the question and so our text from Isaiah 1 is God’s way of declaring to the people of Judah, “Your lives, your worship, your very community is majoring in the minors and are minoring in the major, life-giving values of what it means to follow me and be my people”. Listen to the opening words from the Prophet in chapter 1:1, 10-20. Hear the Word of the Lord!
1The 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….
10Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11What 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. 12When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; 13bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.14Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. 15When 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.
16Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.18Come 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. 19If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Written during a very unstable political period where wars and rumors of wars were swirling, the prophets of God were trying to forestall a calamity. The kings and the people were playing fast and loose with the covenant they made with God and were at best giving God lip-service in their relationship. The prophet Isaiah quickly opens up his diatribe with a courtroom scene and the people of Judah are on trial. He immediately outlines the problem in verses 11-17 and then verses 18-20 offer the promise from God if the people get their act together. Sadly, we know from history that the people of Judah failed to get their act together and were taken into exile.
So what’s the problem? In this courtroom scene, God speaking as the judge goes and compares the leadership and the people to those inhabitants of the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sadly, he’s not the only prophet to do so. In Ezekiel 6:49 as the prophet address the people of Jerusalem, he says,
This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but you did not aid the poor and the needy.
This was God’s charge against the people. The people were guilty of committing injustice with their blessings. The Torah demanded the people look after the most vulnerable people in society: The poor, the orphaned and the alien, or as we call them today, the migrants who come searching for a better life among God’s people. A part of the fabric of the Torah was the belief that the covenant people of God looked out and after one another. There was a built-in safety net that demanded they take care of each other. As God showered grace, protection, and provision upon the people delivered from slavery in Egypt, so the people were to exercise the same grace, protection, and provision with their neighboring Jew and alien in their midst. But they didn’t. Everyone was out for themselves.
Years ago, I heard businessman and author, Ken Blanchard, speak about the problem of expressed values in leadership and the leader’s lack of living into those expressed values. Blanchard, head of a multimillion-dollar company, believed that all employees be treated with equal respect and dignity whether it was a senior vice-president, a Board member, or the night janitor. He had a stated edict among all his employees that if at any time an employee personally felt Blanchard treated them with disrespect or gruffness, they had the right to come to his office and say, “Mr. Blanchard, Gap!” In other words, if they ever detected that there was a gap or break between Blanchard’s expressed values on how people are to be treated and how he actually related with them, they had the right to come and call him on it. They would tell him there was ‘gap’ between what he said was important and the way he actually acted.
Friends, our text today is God telling the people of Jerusalem, “Gap!” Isaiah has God telling the people that their sacrifices, their prayers, their incense, and their worship are making him nauseated. All their special holy day celebrations, all the animals they are needlessly sacrificing do not mean a thing to God. In God’s eyes, their worship is shallow. In God’s eyes, there is a gap between what the people are expressing in worship as love and adoration to God and the way the people are treating the ‘least of these’ in their community.
There’s a gap between the peoples’ celebration of God’s provision when there are hungry people in the streets.
There’s a gap between those shouting, “thank you, Jesus!” and the way the poor are exploited with unfair wages, limited housing, and unjust labor practices.
There’s a gap between how the spiritual community is lifted and celebrated as the highest ideal and the way the people of the faith community actually live out their faith. Sadly, frankly, God is sick of all of it.
Yet, God being God and all, offers a solution and a way out: The Lord says in verses 18 and 19 if you purify yourselves from sin and restore the gap between what you say you believe and how you really behave, if you seek justice for the most vulnerable of the community, if you defend the orphans and widows, then your sin will be bleached white, you will prosper and enjoy the benefits of the land. If your inner compass is directed towards me, and your life reflects what you believe about me, then you will prosper. If you continue to rebel, you have set the course for your own demise.
Beloved, let us stop right here and pause for some self-reflection. What is our text saying to us as members of Christ’s church? What does it say to you as you reflect upon your professed faith in the Lord and how you worship and serve the beloved lambs of God who are on society’s edges?
Our text today is a reminder for thorough spiritual Examen on our parts. You know, we often have a tendency to compartmentalize our lives into our family life, our social life, our business or school life, and then our spiritual life. The greatest gap of all emerges when we think this way because the reality is our spiritual life is the all-embracing womb that provides nourishment and growth for our family life, social life, business life, and school life. When our spiritual life is not the womb that nourishes, supports, and embraces our whole life, we will live in a perpetual gap-state. We will live our lives majoring in the minor issues of life that are least important and minor and treat lightly life’s major issues like racism, bigotry, hate and the erasure of moral boundaries.
Our worship of God is the drivetrain that propels us into the world for mission. If it is not, our discipleship is flat and the Church’s future is doomed. The prayers, songs, and offerings of worship that are beautiful in God’s sight are when we inconveniently go out of the way to love the orphan, the widow, the homeless, the sick, the lonely, the hungry, the migrant, the Jew, the Muslim, the Democrat or the Republican. Until we can become aware of that, work on that, and naturally and spiritually live like that, well, God’s not going to be a Happy Camper.
Beloved, what are the gaps in your life? Does what we personally profess we believe and value match with the way we express those values and love to others in the world? What we say we value as a church match with our commitment as a church with our investment in and with the ‘least of these’? That’s our homework friends. That’s our homework. Amen.
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.