Based on Isaiah 58:1-12, 1Corinthians 2:1-16, Matthew 5:13-20
In Judaism there is a term, “Tikkun Olam” (pronounced: tea-coon oh-lam) which is translated as the “repair of the world”. Jewish theology speaks to the fact that the world was created with all that it needed, but that God left room in it for human acts of improvement and healing; our appropriate stewardship of all God gave to us. Tikkun is the word for repair, but according to the website Chabad.org, it can also mean to “improve, fix, prepare, set up or just do something with”. Olam means “all of time” or more commonly translated as “world”. Thus, tikkun olam means to not only perform acts that repair anything that is wrong in the world once, but to repair and improve the world for all time so that it is able to operate in the way it was created.
Most commonly, acts of tikkun olam are carried out in the realms of social justice and environmental awareness – actions which most can agree are targeted at repairing our world for all times. However, acts of tikkun olam can also be our everyday activities; every aspect of a person’s life. In our daily work or school lives we can be building connections, seeking to crazy glue the world together in a more peaceful and harmonious way. Additionally, the way you eat and what you eat, the way you treat others, the commitments you make to family and neighbors near and far – all of these are examples of tikkun olam, bringing the world ever closer to the optimal functioning for which it was created by God.
Our scriptures today speak to us of tikkun olam, a concept that would have resonated with the authors. The texts today speak of righting social wrongs, doing worshipful acts for the right reasons, living fully into our God image and actively participating in what God created us to do in the world. Let us turn now to God in prayer and thanksgiving that God loves us so much that God created a world in which we can actively join God in making it better…
Paul states to the believers in Corinth that it was not the power of his words or his earthly wisdom that created in them the desire for God, rather it was the power of God alone at work in them. Paul speaks to those who are more spiritually mature in the secret and hidden wisdom of God – secreted and hidden from worldly powers. Paul notes that it is through the Holy Spirit’s action alone that we are able to identify and use the gifts that God has granted to us for bettering the world. Paul notes that those who do not believe in God do not acknowledge that they are gifted by God for special purposes in the world, and so they consider such language foolish. Only those who are in the Spirit can discern spiritual things and thus they are set apart through the mind and heart of the Christ to do God’s work in the world. To paraphrase Paul, those of us who believe must perform the acts of tikkun olam which will enhance and repair the world.
Jesus continues to teach in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells his Disciples that they are to share their saltiness and light with the world around them. Salt and light which are not used are wasted and might as well not exist. They are gifts from God and need to be used in the world to help transform it for God. Likewise, Jesus tells everyone that He is the fulfillment of all that has been spoken by the prophets of old. All of the laws must be fully lived into and taught so that the kingdom of heaven can be realized on earth. This lived witness must not just be a legalistic interpretation however, it must be lived within the spirit of why the law was given in the first place. The Temple leadership knew the laws but failed to live into their spirit and thus they created a dysfunctional and oppressive system than God ever intended. The laws were created for tikkun olam, not for the purposes of taxation and retribution.
The prophet Isaiah speaks to the people of Israel reminding them of what God desires from them and us. God does not want us to conflate holiness with fasting on favorite foods, wallowing in guilt, or manufactured suffering simply because we think it is what God wants. God created us in love and wants us to live lives characterized by knowing joy, true community and the fulfillment that comes from living into our God-image. Isaiah teaches that what God wants is for us to live in a way that brings God’s love and justice to the world. God’s desire for us then begs the question (as stated by the prophet) how do we square some of our worst behavior with God’s stated desire that our fasts would loosen the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free while breaking every yoke? Our fasts, God says, should be performing works of tikkun olam, not serving our own self interests.
A tikkun olam fast might be that we need to consider how we need to stop our marginalization or “othering” of people who look and dress differently, talk differently, worship differently, or understand gender and who they love differently. Perhaps our need is to fast from the societal attitudes often displayed towards those who are oppressed by an economy which is set against them as they try to provide for their families. Perhaps there is the need for us to fast from the idea that we who are immigrants ourselves have no stomach to engage in much needed immigration reform. Perhaps we should consider fasting from our blindness toward the plight of young brown and black men who are unjustly arrested and charged, provided no access to competent legal advice, are threatened with long sentences before ever seeing a judge and are told to plead guilty whether they are or not. Perhaps we need to fast from the chains we allow to bind those who work long hours in minimum-wage jobs, who live in substandard housing, eat from the food collected by local pantrys, and know food insecurity as an everyday challenge, all while living in the most prosperous country in our world.
God through the prophet tells us that these are the kinds of acts of tikkun olam in which God wants us to engage. Engaging in acts of tikkun olam by making sure that everyone who wants it has adequate shelter, nourishing food, adequate clothing, life-giving work, and are embedded in a healthy and supportive community. These are the everyday acts by everyday believers which will repair our world. Listen to what Isaiah says, “…If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light will rise in the darkness and…you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in….”
Today’s scripture lessons teach us once again that a life of discipleship is intended to be one which is actively engaged in our world. They also teach that we are called and gifted by God to live lives which seek to combat the social and political injustices and evils of our times through the power and wisdom of God. They teach that we are called and gifted to perform acts of tikkun olam within our family, neighborhood, local community, region, state, nation and world through the power and guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. We are called and gifted to use the wisdom of God and our gifts to season and light a world that has gone bland and dark. The world will call our acts of tikkun olam foolish and misguided. The world will never understand us because we are focused not on personal gain but on the betterment of all creation; enlightened by a narrative of abundance and unity rather than an anxious narrative of scarcity and competition. Let us go forth from here to live our lives together as disciples of God actively performing everyday acts of tikkun olam. It is what we have been created and empowered to do by our loving God. Amen and amen!