Prophet Margins: Learn to Do Good [Sermon]

Way back on August 7th, 2022, I had the honor and privilege to preach at Emmanuel UMC in Laurel, MD, once again. It was during their Prophet Margin’s series and the lectionary reading for that day was Isaiah 1:1, 10-20.

Below you will find the video recording of the 9 AM service, which includes ASL interpretation.

It’s been a while since I preached this sermon so I don’t remember how accurate my manuscript is when compared to what I actually said during the service. But my manuscript is available below:

Opening Prayer from Enfleshed

Redeeming One, where we have learned to push our emotions down for our safety or for the comfort of others, create with us safe places for sorrow and anger to land. Where we have learned to stifle our childlike playfulness, create with us welcoming places to dance with delight. For in you, all emotions are safe to feel and safe to express. Amen.

Good morning, Beloved people of Emmanuel. I’m Yost. My pronouns are They/Them. I’m one of many people here at Emmanuel currently enrolled in Seminary. I have the honor and privileged of filling in for Rev. Edgardo this morning one last time this summer.

Our Hebrew Bible passage this morning, comes from the prophet Isaiah who was likely prophesying this passage during the reign of King Ahaz of Judah, known in the Second Book of Kings as an evil king. His actions led to the destruction of the northern kingdom and the expansion of the oppressive Assyrian empire.

Isaiah directs God’s anger, not to the people suffering under oppression, but the rulers that helped usher in the oppression. “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom!” Right out of the gate, God compares the rulers of Judah and Jerusalem to those of Sodom and Gomorrah. Who were widely considered the worst nations. It’s worth noting that many Church and cultural spaces have historically conflated the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah to “sodomy” or homosexuality.

But that is not what we find in the biblical text. Looking at the sins of Sodom of Gomorrah, we find quite a few issues related to the ruling class of Isaiah’s time and ours. While you listen to the context of God’s anger towards the ruling class, pay close attention to how you think this connects our world. I’ll be providing the space for people to share the ideas in a bit.

Ezekiel 16:49 outlines the sins of Sodom as “pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease” without aiding the “poor and needy”. In the Talmud, a collection of reflections from Jewish Rabbis, one Rabbi describes Sodom as having four Judges with the names “Liar, Awful Liar, Forger, and Perverter of Justice.”1

How do you see similar accusations in our world?

Our Isaiah passage helps us to see that God joins us in our anger in the face of all of these injustices.

The lack of Justice sought by the ruling classes leaves God unimpressed and even loathsome of receiving worship from them. God proclaims, “Bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me.” I’m especially fond of Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of this text in the Message translation:

“Quit your worship charades.

I can’t stand your trivial religious games:

Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—

meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!

Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!

You’ve worn me out!

I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion,

while you go right on sinning.

When you put on your next prayer-performance,

I’ll be looking the other way.

No matter how long or loud or often you pray,

I’ll not be listening.

And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing

people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.”

The more time I have spent with this Isaiah text, the more it seems to me that worship without Justice isn’t truly worship. Instead worshiping God without seeking Justice for the last, the lost, and the least is violent – our hands raised to God in worship are seen covered in the blood of the oppressed.

Another way to think about this. St. Ignatius points out that just saying that we love someone, even God, isn’t quite enough. “Love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words”.2

And while Isaiah targets the ruling class in this harsh prophesy, we can see how we are invited to participate in the ongoing revelation of God’s kin-dom. God shows us how best to show our love for God.

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove your evil deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do good; seek justice; rescue the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow.”

When we look out into our world at the impacts of climate change, systemic racism, violence, and the use of power to control others, it is overwhelming.

Throughout this series we have already spent time seeing injustice with the support of Amos and enter into risky love with the support of Hosea. And now, Isaiah isn’t asking us to do good and fix everything immediately. Instead, he asks us to learn to do good.

Recently I read an illustration by Erin Law, “a somatic movement educator, politicized healer, and multidisciplinary artist.”3 While they were talking about making connections with our bodies, I think their illustration works well here. They reminded me that in mathematics, fractals are generated with one simple set of directions repeated over and over again leading to some beautiful final images. So, in our case, we can learn to do good by choosing to do good over and over again until it slowly transforms our world around us into a beautiful expression of God’s kin-dom.

Our passage from Hebrews outlines how Abraham and Sarah’s faith directly connects with their actions. Abraham followed his call, set out to a foreign land, stayed there for a time, lived within community, and looked forward to God’s future kin-dom. Sarah had sex with Abraham, longing for a child, whom she then birthed, raised up, and taught to live as strangers in a foreign land. Even though they did not live to see the promise of God fulfilled, they still pressed forward with hopeful anticipation. Their seemingly small actions were picked up over generations as the fractal of God’s kin-dom was still being revealed. We too are invited to do the same from our own circumstances as the work of Liberation has always been a series of small wins that transform the world over time.

The best part is that we are not alone in this journey. We have each other to lean on and learn with. I find it quite fitting that today we get to celebrate communion. As it is in the sacrament of Communion, we get to experience together the Spirit of God in a way that transcends time. We are reminded of what Christ has done, that Christ is with us now in our learning to do good, and that Christ will be there on the day that the full fractal of God’s kin-dom is revealed.

So it is here in this space that we find our companions for this journey. So if you look out at the injustice of our world and feel overwhelmed, find the people in this space and your community on the same journey.

Whether that be the Green team seeking to push back against climate change, community partners at Elizabeth house, little flowers, LARS, or Bridges to Housing Stability, groups supporting the work of intentional diversity and the work of anti-racism, groups supporting the liberation and healing of LGBTQIA peoples, or maybe it is something completely different and you’re feeling called to join together with someone and start something new.

For it is in the face of mountains of injustice that we come together, empowered by the Spirit of God, to learn to do good, seek justice, and rescue the oppressed.

Benediction from Enfleshed

Go forth in the name of

the Creator, who calls you inherently beloved;

the Sustainer, who breaks bread into enough;

and the Redeemer, who labors with us towards liberation.

1“Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 109,” accessed August 2, 2022,

2Ignatius and Louis J Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on the Studies in the Language of the Autograph (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2003), 101.

3“Erin Law Embodiment,” Erin Law Embodiment, accessed August 2, 2022,


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