Isaiah 60:1-6

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord. Isaiah 60:1-6

Yesterday there was an article in the paper about what people have long called “the prosperity gospel”.  Here is another one. So this morning I see this text and I wonder what the people from that corner of the Christian world would do with it. My guess is that such eyes would automatically move to “the wealth of the nations shall come to you” or ”they shall bring gold and frankincense.”  Those are not my first thoughts.

Instead, I thought immediately about an email I received from our bishop recently. Bishop Rinehart regularly sends out commentaries on upcoming Bible texts for worship. In one of those, he added the Old Testament reference to the gifts of gold and frankincense. I have never noticed that before.  I almost wrote back to thank him for the quality of his work and his faithfulness in helping us prepare for Sunday worship but I got distracted.

As we have seen over these past several weeks of listening to Bible readings from Isaiah, the movement of the prophet from gloom to promise is all about telling the people, not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. As is often said, the prophets comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  The prosperity gospel fails to see beyond materialism and, in that, any promise has to do with worldly wealth and no one will ever have enough.

This is what happens when we twist God into the Great Santa in the sky. This feeds our selfishness, blunts our compassion, and ignores Jesus. It happens so quickly, and is so seductive, that we are easy prey.  So what are we to do?

The New Testament warns us about this. In Matthew 7 Jesus warns us to be aware of false teachers. 1 Timothy 4 says “If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

God is our best teacher; Jesus is the living illustration that God uses for our instruction.  Any teaching that draws us away from the lessons of Jesus will misguide us.  The more we learn about the faith,  the better equipped we are to recognize solid teaching and reject false prophets.

Let us pray:  dear Lord, we can be a selfish and disobedient people. We want to go our own way, do our own thing and get what we can get while the getting is good. Forgive us. Guide us to be more like Jesus.  May we love our neighbors more than we love our stuff, in good times and bad. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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