Isaiah 58:1-9 (CEB)
Fasting from injustice
Shout loudly; don’t hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their crime, to the house of Jacob their sins. They seek me day after day, desiring knowledge of my ways
like a nation that acted righteously, that didn’t abandon their God. They ask me for righteous judgments, wanting to be close to God. “Why do we fast and you don’t see; why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?” Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want, and oppress all your workers. You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast; you hit each other violently with your fists. You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today if you want to make your voice heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I choose, a day of self-affliction, of bending one’s head like a reed and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes? Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family? Then your light will break out like the dawn, and you will be healed quickly. Your own righteousness will walk before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.” If you remove the yoke from among you, the finger-pointing, the wicked speech;
A very welcome diversion into Isaiah.
A retired Minister in Newton Abbot told me, just after my farewell service, that he had enjoyed my ministry at the church and he wished me well for the future, but that he hoped he was being helpful in telling me that my preaching was too challenging – it made people feel uncomfortable. What people really need, he advised me, is reassurance.
The words of Isaiah are trumpeted from our lecterns and pulpits week in and week out, and (yes!) there are passages like
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem…”and…“Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”(both from Isaiah chapter 40)
But they are more the exception than the norm and Isaiah could never be described as a comforting preacher, his words rarely resembled a warm bath of calming reassurance. Isaiah would never have been invited to be Minister of a local church based on his preaching. If MY preaching is too challenging, then Isaiah is simply off the scale! Here and elesewhere, Isaiah proclaims that God is sick of their worship – their fasting and their so-called prayerful devotion. God is repulsed by it, God will no longer even listen to it. That’s strong!
This is, of course, a very apt time to be thinking about fasting – it’s the start of Lent. Lent is entering the public consciousness with increasing volume. Social Media has had a part in that, I think. I am in two minds about whether this is a good thing. People have the idea that there is a vague connection between Lent and “fasting” or (more acceptably) “giving something up for Lent”. Consequently there are LOTS of fb where people declare their plans to give something up – alcohol is a popular choice, but there are many others… It sounds curmudgeonly to moan about this – giving up alcohol for a while is good for your health! But that’s not really what Lent is about! I can’t help but imagine Isaiah’s voice… Shout loudly; don’t hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their crime, to the house of Jacob their sins. They post on fb day after day, telling all who will hear about their so-called holy fasting… Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family? There are alternatives, of course – “take something up for Lent!” “take a photo every day for Lent – here’s a list of 40 vague and random words to inspire you!” “Do this random thing each day for lent and then send us money!” I am sure all of these things are wonderful and lovely things to do – random acts of kindness are great, sending cash to Christian Aid is great, arty-farting about with your camera and posting your imaginative musings are ACE – BUT – I keep hearing Isaiah’s trumpeting challenge:
Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family?
Here’s the bit where you imagine I am now going to tell you how I have got it right and share with you my plan for doing Lent right!
well – no. For two reasons:
1) I haven’t really got a plan! 2) If I did – I don’t think it is the point of Lent to do it publically and in a showy way.
In case you imagine that I am immune to any of this stuff I appear to be ranting about – far from it – I have done all of it – and provided daily updates on fb for all my friends to see how great at Lent I am being!!
last year I did the Lent photo-a-day challenge. I did it every day – and posted pictures on fb EVERY chuffing DAY!!
If you are interested, here is the album that contains all of those photos in glorious full-size splendour!
ReThink Church Lent Photo-a-day album The year before I did random acts of kindness – and catalogued how great I was most days on fb…
well – you get the point! And, as you can see, that retired minister was probably right about me! 😉